Cameroon Grants Special Status to Its Anglophone Regions

On December 20, Cameroon’s bicameral legislature adopted a statute granting “special status” to its two Anglophone regions “founded on their linguistic particularity and historic heritage.” Expressly mentioned in that regard were its schools and judiciary systems.[1]

Senator Samuel Obam Assam, from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, the majority group in the Senate, said, “This is a law unique in the world. It is an answer to our fellow countrymen’s concerns.”

But it is unclear whether this new law will resolve the Anglophone crisis.

Jean-Michel Nintcheu, a congressman from the main opposition party, said he did not believe the law would solve the crisis. “The Anglophones, even the moderate ones, want a federal state. This law is not the result of a dialogue.. we were against it.” Another Anglophone leader, Ivo Tapang, a spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia, declared, “We want independence and nothing else.”

The Cameroon News Agency expressed scepticism about this new law. It said, President “Biya has given the cow away but held the rope firmly. Apart from the window dressing post of Government Delegate which disappears but reappears as Grand Mayor, the position of regional executives; there will be someone appointed in the person of Public Independent Councilor. It is not clear whether the posts of SDO’s and Governors will disappear. . . . [T]he most trumpeted Special Status in all ramifications looks sweet on paper but complicated.” The News Agency made the following additional points:

  • “The State argues that they are instituting the special status in the Anglophone regions because of its specific educational, judicial system based on the Common law and their traditional values.” But the common-law judiciary will “suffer from [another] new law that allows French-speaking Magistrates to preside over court sessions in common law jurisdictions in French. [Common law] lawyers launched an unsuccessufl strike action” for Parliament to dismiss this bill. Barrister Akere Muna, however, “says such a law can still be rejected by President Paul Biya by not promulgating it.”
  • The Regional Assembly will have 90 regional Councilors divided into two bodies: House of Chiefs and House of Divisional Delegates [will be] led by the President of the Regional Executive body and comprise 70 members.” The “House of Chiefs with 20 members will be led by the Vice President of the Regional Executive who must be a traditional ruler . . . [and] will be the sole body to ole body to decide on all traditional issues in the two regions including monuments, oral tradition and linguistic map of the regions.”
  • “The regional Executives will be comprised of a President, Vice President, Two Secretaries, A Questor and three Commissioners in charge of (a) Economic Development, (b) Social and Health Development, and (c) Sport, Education and Cultural Development.

Another sceptical reaction was voiced by  Dr. Nick Ngwanyam, a politician who grew up in the Anglophone region. “When we were told that we would have a special status, everybody was confused. It was something we were not really looking at. In terms of terminology, we had to find out what it meant. It was like an empty container and everybody was waiting for the meaning to fill it. And when that meaning came, I for one realized it would not solve our problems.”

“’It is too little, coming too late,’ says Senator Henry Kemende. It says in Section 328: ‘In addition to the powers devolved on regions by the proposed law, the North-West and South-West Regions may exercise the following powers: Participating in the formulation of national public policies relating to the Anglophone education sub-subsystem.’ This is like a piece of sugar in a basin of water, their participation will not be felt. What we would have expected is to empower the regions to determine policies over the educational, judicial, legislative and executive system, to determine issues at a national level, and not just a local level,’ Kemende emphasizes.”

“The power to address issues that directly affect their daily lives is what Anglophones have been yearning for in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions, Kemende said. ‘They are the people who want to be in control of their own destiny, without guidance from somewhere else with foreign mindsets that don’t suit their local realities.’”

Conclusion

The new law for Special Status for the Anglophone regions sounds like a good measure, but as a non-Cameroonian this blogger cannot make an overall assessment of whether it will resolve the crisis.

===========================

[1]  Cameroon MPs pass devolution bill for anglophone regions, CGTN (Dec. 20, 2019); Reuters, Cameroon Grants Special Status to Anglophone Regions, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2019); Special Status Introduces Regional  Executive and Assembly in NWSW, Cameroon News Agency (Dec. 13, 2019); Cameroon: Anglophone’s special status—too little, too late?, DW (Dec. 23, 2019).