Cameroon and its colonial heritage

The conflict between the central government of Cameroon and the Anglophone provinces of Southwest and Northwest has already cost hundreds of lives, including many civilians. In the dialogue International "Cameroon in Crisis" Mission 21 highlighted the background of the current situation.

The conflict in Cameroon apparently moves many people here. The hall was filled to capacity. Laurent Goetschel made the introduction to the topic. He is Professor of Political Science at the University of Basel and Director of the Swiss Peace Foundation (swisspeace) in Berne. He described the theoretical framework of conflicts and then went into the Cameroonian parliamentary elections of 7 October 2018.

Paul Biya, already 35 years in power, has regained it. There were riots and shootings, many voters from the Anglophone provinces did not even dare to go to the polls. On the one hand out of fear of the threat of violence, on the other hand out of resignation that Biya would win anyway and that the opposition would take even harder action against them if there was a high turnout. A phenomenon that can also be observed in other countries, said Goetschel.

"There will be conflicts as long as there are people," continued the professor of politics. In every society living together is a very complex thing and, especially in the African context, structures from the colonial era repeatedly lead to conflicts. With regard to Cameroon, for example, this means that French companies still have an important role to play today and thus influence the economy and politics, which inevitably leads to tensions.

Language borders at the origin of the conflict

Lumumba Togho Mukong, regional coordinator of Mission 21 in Cameroon, then devoted himself to a specific aspect of the conflict: the French-English language border that runs through the country. The linguistic diversity is actually firmly anchored in the constitution of Cameroon. The government is urged to respect and cultivate this diversity. On the other hand, there is the linguistic divide that runs through the various institutions of the country. As an example, Lumumba Mukong cited the school system, where the timetables for the subjects French and English are not coordinated, making it impossible to exchange the two language traditions.

And here, too, the colonial legacy plays its part. After the colony of Cameroon was divided up and passed from Germany to France and England, the language border was established. When Cameroon gained its independence, the Anglophone part had the choice whether to belong to the English-speaking Nigeria or to the Francophone East Cameroon. One referred to the cultural unity and joined the latter. But to this day the central government still lacks appreciation for the provinces in the West and their linguistic tradition.

Participants' experiences

Another interesting element of this event was the large number of participants who attended. Some of them spent part of their lives in Cameroon and brought their experiences and knowledge from the past as well as from today into the group. This resulted in a committed discussion with many exciting questions, with which the topic of the crisis was further deepened. The many requests to speak testified to the existing interests for the conflict and undoubtedly contributed to the success of the event.

Text and Photos: Robin Hill