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January 2017

‘Language wars’ rock Cameroon

Hundreds have been arrested with at least two killed – apparently at the hands of security forces – during protests by anglophones. Lawyers, teachers and students are on strike over the ‘marginalisation’ of English-speakers in the officially bilingual (French and English) west African nation of Cameroon. The protests, rallies and demonstrations throughout the last three months of 2016 have escalated into calls for ‘federalism’ or even independence for Cameroon’s majority English-language-using Northwest and Southwest regions.

Cameroon was a French colony before it achieved independence in 1960, with the southern part of British Cameroon joining after a referendum in 1961 (the northern part joined Nigeria). Some five million Cameroonians in Northwest and Southwest regions use English or Cameroonian Pidgin English rather than French as a lingua franca. (Few Cameroonians speak either French or English at home.) Government jobs usually go to francophones – no English-speakers have held ministerial, senior defence or regional governor posts since independence.

Protests began in late October by lawyers, who held marches in their full regalia of wigs and gowns in the provincial capitals of Buea and Bamenda against the ‘downgrading’ of English in the courts, with reports of francophone magistrates being appointed to the local courts circuit. Voice of America reported that a 72-hour discussion between striking lawyers and government ended with lawyers leaving with ‘the idea that government doesn’t want to listen to them’.

Demonstrations by the regions’ university and school teachers, supported by their students, quickly followed. The schools and universities closed after clashes with security forces that resulted in at least one death on 1 December in the Southwest regional capital Buea. ‘Massive demonstrations’ followed, according to the BBC, with local youth and MPs from the opposition SDF party joining in. The news editor of Cameroon Concorde news website contacted the Gazette a week later to say two more demonstrators had been killed during further conflict with security forces in the same city.

While lawyers in the Cameroon Bar Association told Voice of America that ‘security forces increased tensions and beat them for demonstrating peacefully,’ government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma stated that ‘law enforcement officers handled demonstrations in Bamenda and Buea with respect and professionalism.’ With damage to shops and property reported in Buea and Bemanda, the US State Department extended its warning against non-essential travel to include Southwest and Northwest provinces (it already covered Cameroon’s regions that border northern Nigeria which are subject to attacks by Boko Haram jihadi insurgents).

Caption: Anglophones in Buea, capital of Cameroon’s Southwest region, gather to hear opposition leader Ni John Fru Ndi speak in support of striking English-speaking lawyers and teachers, as Cameroon’s ‘language war’ escalates. Cameroon’s anglophones have taken to the streets over the ‘marginalisation’ of the nation’s English-speaking minority.

Pic courtesy: The Eye Newspaper weblog Cameroon 

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