Anglophones of Cameroon

Alternative names: westerners
Location: north-west and south-west provinces in western area of Cameroon
Population: 2-2.5 million
% of population: 20%
Religion: Christianity, Islam, animism
Language: English, French, various indigenous languages

The Anglophones, inhabitants of Cameroon’s two ex-British provinces, make up 20% of its total population and inhabit one-tenth of the land area. Effective political and economic power lies with a government and military drawn from the Francophones who comprise the majority of the population. However the great majority of both Anglophones and Francophones speaks neither English or French but one of the many indigenous languages. There are over 100 ethnic groups in Cameroon. Sudanic-speaking people inhabit the north and Bantu-speaking groups live in the rest of the country. There are pygmy tribes in remote areas in the east.

Cameroon has been a republic since 1960 when the trusteeship territory administered by France on behalf of the United Nations became fully independent. In 1961 there was a referendum in the British-administered territory of Western Cameroon to determine whether the region should unite with Nigeria to the west or with the ex-French colony of Cameroon to the east. Voters in the north were in favour of unification with Nigeria whilst southern voters elected to merge with Cameroon. The southern region duly joined with its eastern neighbour under a federal constitution in which the ex-British and ex-French regions retained their own parliaments. In 1966 Cameroon’s six legal parties were amalgamated into a single government party, the Union National Camerounien (UNC) under the leadership of Ahmadon Ahidjo. The federation was replaced by a more centralized system in 1972 forming the United Republic of Cameroon.

In 1982 Paul Biya, a bilingual southerner, who had been Ahidjo’s Prime Minister, was elected President with a five-year mandate. There were serious threats of a coup in August 1983 and April 1984 when units of the armed forces stationed in Yaounde attempted to overthrow the government but were defeated by forces loyal to the authorities. The UNC was the sole legal political party until 1983 and in 1984 it became the Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais (RDPC). The UNC/RDPC claims to be working towards national unity out of tribal diversity. In February 1979 Vicor Ayissi Mvodo, the Minister of Territorial Administration, was quoted as saying “the linguistic split is healing. A major factor in the success of bilingualism is party unity”. In November 1983 the Constitution was amended to allow independent candidates to seek office.

Anglophones claim that they are under-represented in governmental positions of power. When Western Cameroon joined the Republic it was as a functional state but in May 1985 Dr Yongbang and “The Elite”, a joint committee of the north-west and south-west provinces, sent a memorandum to President Biya in which they objected to the fact that Western Cameroon was treated as merely two provinces out of the 10 without appropriate constitutional rights for the minority group of Anglophones. In 1985, four out of the 28 ministers in the cabinet were from the Western Cameroon.

Economically the Anglophone region has always been less advanced than the Francophone region and when they united it lost Commonwealth trade preferences and its banana crop has been progressively excluded from British markets. The opening of road and rail links and removal of customs barriers between east and west has meant in effect the rapid decline of the west’s two main ports, Victoria and Tiko, and the growth of Douala in the Francophone east. There was a consequent rise in unemployment in western cities. In 1973 oil was discovered off the coast of Western Cameroon but although the Cameroon government built an oil refinery in Victoria, now renamed Limbe, and redeveloped port facilities, Anglophones claimed that this income was spent on development projects in the Francophone area and that most of the labour employed was Francophone.

Although the Republic of Cameroon is officially bilingual, without French it is impossible to pursue a good career in state administration as all administrative work must be carried out in French. There is discrimination against Anglophones in appointments to private and state corporations even when they are in English-speaking regions, and English place names are being removed (as with Victoria to Limbe) while French names remain unchanged. The two million Anglophones frequently complain of being second-class citizens. They allege that major English language newspapers are often censored by the government.

Despite the fact that bilingual teaching was introduced in primary schools in 1972 in the south-west and north-west provinces the primary school registration rate in the 1970s was 55% in 1975 compared to 82% for the country as a whole. In late 1983 there were demonstrations and strikes by Anglophone students because of cuts in the number of courses given in English at Cameroon’s only university. According to “The Elite” in 1985 London GCE and City and Guilds examinations were being replaced by French-oriented exams, national inspectors of English were in fact French speakers and overseas scholarships meant for Anglophones were not announced, or awarded to “bilingual” French speakers. English students also found that their educational qualifications were considered inferior to those of Francophones and this affected their chances of employment. English-speaking lawyers from abroad have to undergo two years’ further pupilage while French-speaking lawyers can go straight to the bar.

Some Anglophones favour secession from the Francophones of the east. They feel that the western region is being dominated by the east and the north and that westerners are insufficiently represented in government posts. But it appears that any moves towards secession would be strongly resisted by the central government.