Catholic bishops in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon have dismissed a new commission looking at bilingualism in the country as a missed opportunity. The minority Anglophone population says it has seen its educational and legal system systematically chipped away by the Francophone majority.
Bishops from Cameroon’s English-speaking regions have said a new government commission to look at the rights of the country’s English-speaking minority is not adequate to resolve what has come to be known as “the Anglophone problem.”
The National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multi-culturalism was set up earlier in the year as part of government measures to resolve the long-standing problem of perceived marginalization of the minority Anglophones (who constitute 20% of the population) by the francophone-dominated administration.
But the bishops are saying the commission is simply fruitless.
“A Commission on bilingualism and multi-culturalism cannot resolve the Anglophone Problem,” said the Bishop of Kumbo and Vice President of the National Episcopal Conference, Bishop George Nkuo.
“It should have been a commission on Bilingualism and Bi-Culturalism,” he said, noting that such a commission would help protect and preserve Cameroon’s bi-cultural heritage.
Cameroon’s bilingual and bi-cultural status derived from its colonial heritage. Initially administered as a German Protectorate in 1884, Cameroon would later be shared with France and Britain as League of Nations Mandates after Germany was defeated in the First World War.
The end of the Second World War and the establishment of the United Nations saw the two parts of Cameroon transition from mandated territories to UN Trust Territories.
In 1960, the northern part of Cameroon administered by France gained its independence. The southern part administered by Britain as part of Nigeria was in 1961 subject to a plebiscite in which they were offered independence by reuniting with their francophone Cameroonian “brothers” or by remaining part of Nigeria.
The results showed an overwhelming desire by English-speaking Cameroonians to reunite with the French-speaking part of Cameroon.
The “marriage” was guaranteed by a Federal Constitution that was ostensibly meant to preserve and protect the minority Anglophones and their colonial heritage. But in 1972 then-President Ahmadou Ahidjo organized a referendum that dissolved the federation in favor of a united republic, thereby removing the protections Anglophones enjoyed.
“That marked the start of the ‘Anglophone Problem’,” said Professor Verkijika Fanso of the University of Yaoundé.
He said the absence of protective guarantees meant that “the values that English-speaking Cameroonians brought into the union were eroded.”