In 2005 I went to Ekondo Titi on a professional mission. I would not say a word in English. It wasn’t any big deal to our consciences. Why even bother? Anglophones were putting in a lot of effort to speak French. For six months in Ekondo Titi, I met Cameroonians who, as usual, struggled[spoke French] to make me remain in my comfort zone. All the same, the inconvenience was glaring enough . The unreliable signals of CRTV made everybody turn to Nigerian television channels. It was understandable, for they [Anglophones] felt a better sense of belonging there . How have they [Anglophones] been able to live like that since 1961? How have they tolerated our condescendence all this while? My view was superficial... I will tell you why later. I was a good tourist, coming and going. But in one part of my brain, I knew that one part of Cameroon was not alright.
As if Ekondo Titi had prepared me, I found myself two years later in Qatar. Here [Qatar], they speak English and Arab. I had obtained a job while in Cameroon from a French Company based in Qatar. The language of work was French. At the end of the contract, I joined a multinational company this time round. Fortunately, it was still French. But they wanted an employee who spoke French and a bit of English. I had no problem. Later on there was another opportunity from Nestle Qatar. The job offer of my life. Special lodging, service vehicle, flight tickets for holidays with your entire family, family assistance, without mentioning the salary. In fact, advantages often enjoyed by European nationals. The general manager was French,happy to work with a Francophone. The “DRH” was Indian based in Dubai. During the last interview with the “DRH”, I was rejected because my level in English was not the best. My dream was dwarfed.
How can the citizen of a bilingual nation lose such opportunity? I started regretting having neglected lessons in English. The system[government] had not obliged me to speak English as the constitution demands. The system had shown that English was a second language. Not important at all.
I thought I was at the end of my dismay. The sponsorship system in Qatar stipulated that once you changed a company, you had to have your diplomas and other certificates certified by the embassy of your nation. Unfortunately, there was no Cameroon embassy in Qatar. Returning to Cameroon was the only solution. An official of the interior ministry advised me to go to the UK high commission. He said he had already received documents of some Africans certified by the high commission. If the UK high commission could do so, why wouldn’t the French embassy? Received at the French consulate, you are looked at from head to toe and told they certify only the documents of French citizens. I went to the British high commission and the reception was fantastic. I presented my problem. The official took my documents, turned round and came back some minutes later. “Sir, come back in two days. Your country is eligible”. I didn’t want to know why. I had avoided a trip to Cameroon. And that was the most important thing. Two days later, I got my envelope and asked the lady why things had happened that way. She said, “Your country is a member Of the Commonwealth. For that reason, you are entitled to every service set for the citizens of this zone[Commonwealth]. And everywhere you go, try to check if the high commission of Her Majesty[ Queen Elisabeth] can solve your problem.” Of what importance is the Francophonie to us? But then the media in my country talks only of La Francophonie summits. They drunken your spirit with it morning, noon, evening. Most shockingly, the speeches of the last summit of the Commonwealth in Yaounde were in French
Cameroon is not only rich in its subsoil. I have discovered the blessed nature of this country even in languages imposed on it. Why didn’t my elders take note of this cultural advantage? Is the system [government] involved in the Francophonisation of this country? Certainly; there is every indication. I decided to become bilingual. Truly bilingual. I went back to Ekondo Titi, 15, 000 km away. I also created a forum on Facebook to handle the problem. Everybody declares there is no Anglophone Problem in Cameroon. Why are Anglophones not complaining?
But then the native of Zoetele[part of Francophone Cameroon] adopted in Ekondo Titi knew very well that he was a pure product of a system which had decided to fabricate “other Cameroonians”, “the others”. With the condemnation from Francophones on the page on Facebook, I decided to reconsider myself and become an Anglophone. That’s when I discovered the hideous face of the system.
During military march pasts on the 20th of May, every inscription introducing different motorized factions is in French. Bridges in the North West Region have been baptized “ponts”[French word for bridge]. No speech in English irrespective of the level, for instance, the speech at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth. On holiday in Cameroon, I decided to speak only English. In public offices in Yaounde I heard, “Don’t speak those things [English] to me”… I can quote examples. I can understand why what was considered a strength for Anglophones, is indeed a constraint for survival. For a young person from Muyuka to Yaounde, survival depended on becoming a Francophone. Upon graduation, obtaining a job was conditioned by mastering French. The only company which values English is SONARA, yet invaded by French-speaking staff. I doubt if the general management [of SONARA] has once been handed to a son of the soil [someone from the North West or South West]. Thoughtless of state fonctions or important ministerial posts.
It would be an insult to reasoning if one denied that Cameroon has not been Francophonised. The advent of Anglophone private schools is a question of nutritional survival and not the respect of an article of the constitution which stipulates that Cameroon is bilingual. We are in the same situation as Anglophones who were struggling at all cost to speak French in order to obtain jobs. The business world is becoming English. Even French people from France want to speak English. It’s not limited to Cameroon alone.
Solution(comeback of the term sub-system)
The Anglophone Problem. In fact, it’s not the problem of a language. It’s not the problem of a territory. It’s not the problem of cake sharing. It’s not the problem of sharing the proceeds of petroleum. It’s not a matter of, “Every region has problems”. The name of the problem has deceived everyone. There’s no Anglophone Problem. There is a problem of the respect of management. Yaounde wants to swallow an inheritance. The colonial masters took away our secular cultural heritage and imposed two new sub-systems on us. And one sub-system has decided to use its weight to wipe out the other. Is it a premeditated plan? How can they popularize, (I say popularize, not edit) the OHADA texts without the version in English? How can we just wake up and create a Common Law bench at the Supreme Court in 2017? How can a magistrate who doesn’t speak English be sent to Bamenda? Can the reverse be true? How come this file has been handled with such condescendence?
Now the term “sub-system” is back in the news. Where was it before? We can cite all the decisions taken in 2017 by the government which prove that the issues of this nation have been treated only in one language.
There must be a national conference. And the decisions taken at the meeting must have the force of the law.
Our brothers of the other side of the Mungo have understood everything. Industrial actions had been handled quickly due to the use of violence. Solving those problems meant there were loopholes . With this , why would they stop now? Once you start giving, you must always give. They know and we know it too. There’s only one solution left. Anticipate. Anticipate what? Violence against violence will always take us back to the negotiating table. But there will be losses in human lives and much destruction.
This is the time to convene this national conference. Its primary impact would entail reducing tension. And its national and immediate nature would clear away distrust. This inclusive meeting will see the problems of other regions discussed. Can this regime handle this project? The answer can’t be exclusively military..
At the end, people must feel home in Cameroon at both ends of the Mungo. Is that the case for everyone today? The days to come will tell us.