Paradoxically, the SDF and Fru Ndi contributed to Anglophone consciousness but adopted a half-hearted stand towards the Anglophone problem

Paradoxically, the SDF and Fru Ndi contributed to Anglophone consciousness but adopted a half-hearted stand towards the Anglophone problem

N Melo
by N Melo
July 29, 2022 0

Paradoxically, the SDF and Fru Ndi contributed to Anglophone consciousness but adopted a half-hearted stand towards the Anglophone problem

Given the Anglophone frustration with the Francophone-dominated state, it is not surprising that the first opposition party in the country emerged in Anglo- phone Cameroon. In 1990 the Social Democratic Front (SDF) was formed in Bamenda, the capital of North West Province, demanding liberalisation of the political space and capitalising on popular frustration among Anglophones following three decades of marginalisation. Its chairman was John Fru Ndi who was to enjoy widespread popularity among the urban masses because of his courage and populist style of leadership (Gwellem 1996; Takougang & Krieger 1998;
Konings 2001a).
After the massive rally to launch the SDF on 26 May 1990 ended in the deaths of six young Anglophones, the state-controlled media tried to deny government responsibility for this bloody event and to distort the true facts (Nyamnjoh 1996b: 26-27). Anglophone students at the University of Yaoundé who demonstrated the same day in support of the SDF and political liberalisation were falsely accused by the regime of having marched in favour of the re-integration of Anglophone Cameroon into Nigeria and having sung the Nigerian national anthem and raised the Nigerian flag (Konings 2002).

Leading members of the CPDM strongly condemned the Anglophones for this ‘treacherous action’ and what they considered as the premature birth of multipartyism in the post-colonial state. Their reaction to these peaceful demonstrations shocked many in the country. Anglophone Cameroonians were termed ‘Biafrans’, referred to as ‘enemies in the house’, and asked by the then Minister of Territorial Administration, Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, ‘to go else- where’ if they were dissatisfied with ‘national unity’. Indignant at his own party’s behaviour, Foncha, the Anglophone architect of the federal state, resigned as first vice-president of the CPDM in June 1990. As Foncha explained:

The Anglophone Cameroonians whom I brought into the union have been ridiculed and referred to as ‘les Biafrais’, ‘les ennemies dans la maison’, ‘les traîtres’ etc., and the constitutional provisions which protected this Anglophone minority have beensuppressed, their voice drowned while the rule of the gun replaced the dialogue which the Anglophones cherish very much.1

There is general agreement that the launching of the SDF was a decisive factor in changing the political landscape in Cameroon. Under considerable internal and external pressure (Konings 1996a), the Biya government introduced a larger measure of political liberalisation. In December 1990 it announced the advent of multipartyism as well as a certain degree of freedom of mass communication and association, including the right to hold public meetings and demonstrations.2
As a result, several political parties, pressure groups and private newspapers were established in Anglophone Cameroon and began to express and represent Anglophone interests (Nyamnjoh 1996b: 38-49). Subsequently, the SDF spread its influence to the South West Province and soon became the major opposition party in Anglophone Cameroon, and among Anglophones in the diaspora at home and abroad.

Nevertheless, informed by not so distant experiences of perceived domination by Grassfielders, the South West elite continued to be suspicious of the aspirations of the SDF leaders for fear of renewed North West domination. With the exception of the Liberal Democratic Alliance (LDA), which has attempted with only limited success to become a serious political formation, the South West has failed to produce a strong and credible party mainly because of personal animosities. Indeed, the subsequent leadership struggle in the LDA between Mola Njoh Litumbe and Lydia Belle Effimba is but a further indication that the elite in the South West
has yet to come up with an effective alternative to the SDF.

The leaders of the SDF helped to turn the Anglophone region into a veritable hotbed of rebellion, leading to several fierce confrontations with the regime in power, especially during the 1991-1992 ghost-town campaign, which was essentially a prolonged demonstration of civil disobedience organised by the SDF and the allied opposition parties to force the Biya government to hold a sovereign national conference.4 The impact of this on the Anglophone commu- nity was particularly visible during the ensuing presidential elections when Fru Ndi received 86.3 and 51.6 per cent respectively of the votes cast in the North

1 John Ngu Foncha’s letter of resignation from the CPDM is reproduced in Mukong 1990: 155.
2 See Société de Presse et d’Editions du Cameroun (1991), Cameroon. Rights and Freedoms: Collection of Recent Texts, Yaoundé: Sopecam.
3 For reports on the leadership struggle in the LDA, see Cameroon Post, 16-22 April 1996 and The Rambler, 30 April-6 May 1996.

4 This was the period from April 1991 to January 1992 when the radical opposition issued calls, ultimatums, tracts, etc., asking the public to immobilise the economy by staying indoors, blocking streets, refusing to pay taxes and bills, and boycotting markets and offices. See Monga 1992; Mbu 1993.

West and South West Provinces. It is hardly surprising that Biya’s declared victory in October 1992 was a traumatic experience in Anglophone Cameroon, with violent protests against his ‘theft of Fru Ndi’s victory’ throughout the North West. The president then imposed a state of emergency on the province for three months and Fru Ndi was kept under surveillance in his house in Bamenda.5 Whereas the United States, Germany, and the European Union denounced the fraudulent elections and the state of emergency in the North West and threatened to abandon their aid programmes to Cameroon until ‘there was a clear advancement in the democratic process’, the French continued to support Biya who appeared to be willing to safeguard their interests in Cameroon (Konings 1996a).

Paradoxically, although the SDF and Fru Ndi contributed immensely to Anglophone consciousness and action, the party increasingly presented itself as a national rather than an Anglophone party. It tried to deny persistent govern- ment charges that it was championing regional rather than national interests, and to attract a Francophone membership. The party actually proved to be so successful in its recruitment efforts in Francophone Cameroon, notably in the neighbouring West and Littoral Provinces, that Francophones soon outnum- bered Anglophones in the originally Anglophone party. Most of the party’s approximately 60 per cent Francophone membership is Bamileke, who are closely related to ethnic groups in the North West Province (Dongmo 1981; Warnier 1993; Tabapssi 1999). The Bamileke are inclined to see the SDF as a springboard to political power.

Increasingly presenting itself as a national party, the SDF tended to adopt a rather ambivalent attitude towards calls from newly emerging Anglophone pressure groups for a return to the federal state (see below). The leadership tried to avoid alienating either the Anglophone or Francophone members of the party but this was not an easy task. Anglophone members tended to be simultane- ously supporters of the Anglophone pressure groups and were therefore inclined to bring pressures to bear upon the leadership to insert federalism in the party programme. Such pressure was usually opposed by the party’s Francophone members who, like other Francophones, tended to adhere to the preservation of the unitary state, often equating federalism with secession. Given this situation,

5 For a government account of the violence that took place after the presidential elections, see Cameroon Tribune, 26 and 29 October 1992, and the Ministry of Communication’s white paper on ‘Human Rights in Cameroon’, published in November 1993. For a detailed alternative account, see Boh Herbert, Cameroon: State of Human Rights Violations following October 11 Presidential Elections, Bamenda, 10 November 1992. The US Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1992, Washington, DC, February 1993, pp. 31-40 is also relevant.

the party leadership, dominated by Anglophones, was eager to reach a com- promise between the two conflicting groups.

Since the SDF adopted a half-hearted stand towards the Anglophone problem, Anglophone interests came to be first and foremost represented and defended by associations and pressure groups which were created or reactivated by the Anglophone elite upon the introduction of political liberalisation in 1990. Some, notably the Free West Cameroon Movement (FWCM)6 and the Ambazonian Movement (AM) of Fon Gorji Dinka, advanced the liberation of the former West Cameroon state from annexation by
La République du Cameroun and the creation of an independent West Cameroon or Ambazonian state, but most initially championed a return to the federal state, especially the Cameroon Anglophone Movement (CAM).7 CAM became by far the most important Anglophone pressure group.

It is the only all-Anglophone association operating legally in the country, having been registered as a socio- cultural, non-partisan association under law no. 90/053 of 19 December 1990. Its roots can be traced back to the South West-North West Elites Association in Douala, which in 1985 submitted memoranda to the Biya regime about the Anglophone predicament (see Chapter 3). Following the introduction of a larger measure of political liberalisation in December 1990, this association revamped its activities and changed its name to CAM in response to its expansion outside Douala. Several new branches and chapters were established in the country.
On
4 July 1992 CAM held its first conference at Buea, the former capital of Southern and West Cameroon. On that occasion, its first chairman, Dr H.N.O. Enonchong, a prominent Anglophone lawyer in Douala, was forced to resign, having been accused of using the organisation for the advancement of his own political career. A new executive was elected headed by (retired) Ambassador Martin Epie (chairman), Dr Arnold Yongbang (vice-chairman) and Albert Mukong (secretary-general).

Besides these associations aimed at representing broad-based Anglophone interests, a large number of other associations emerged hoping to represent more specific Anglophone interests. These included the Teachers’ Association of Cameroon (TAC), the Confederation of Anglophone Parents-Teachers Association of Cameroon (CAPTAC), the Cameroon Anglophone Students’ Association (CANSA), the Anglophone Common Law Association, the

6 See Free West Cameroon Movement (1991), The Restoration of the State of West Cameroon: The Final Solution to the Anglophone Cameroon Question, Bamenda/- Victoria: WCJ.
7 CAM was later renamed the Southern Cameroons Restoration Movement (SCARM).

Association of Anglophone Journalists, the Cameroon Anglophone Public Servants’ Union (CAPSU), the Anglophone Youth Council, and the Anglo- phone Women’s League. Some of these associations scored significant successes in their struggle against the Francophone-dominated state and its subsidiaries. For example, the TAC and the CAPTAC acting together with Anglophone churches and the media forced the government in 1993 to create a General Certificate of Education (GCE) Board. This signified an important victory for the Anglophones in their ten-year struggle against determined government efforts to destroy the GCE.

Anglophone associations and pressure groups, in particular CAM, have regularly been engaged in various forms of protest actions including strikes, boycotts and demonstrations against the Francophone-dominated state. The participation of various strata of the population demonstrates that the Anglo- phone problem is no longer perceived as solely an elitist concern. And how could it be so when marginalisation by the Francophone-dominated state has not been exclusively targeted at the Anglophone elite? Interestingly, these actions are partly directed against the myths and symbols of the unitary state.

Anglophone movements have boycotted the celebration of the National Day on 20 May, the ‘Day of the 1972 Glorious Revolution’, declaring it a ‘Day of Mourning’ and a ‘Day of Shame’.9 They have instead called upon Anglophones to celebrate the ‘Day of Independence’ on 1 October and the ‘Day of the Plebiscite’ on 11 February. On these feast days, the 1992-3 attempts by CAM activists to hoist the federation flag were reportedly answered by the security forces with ‘extreme brutality’.

Significantly, Anglophone associations and pressure groups increasingly referred to the Anglophone territory as the Southern Cameroons. Their leaders alleged (i) that the proper procedures for the enactment and amendment of the federal constitution had not been followed by Ahidjo (see Chapter 2); and (ii) that Francophone Cameroon had seceded from the union in 1984 when the Biya government unilaterally changed the country’s name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon – the name of independent Franco- phone Cameroon prior to reunification (see Chapter 3). From this perspective, they often claimed that the Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons had either never really ceased to exist or had been revived.11 The flag of the United Nations has therefore often been raised during Anglophone rallies to demon-strate the Anglophones’ sustained belief in continued United Nations responsi- bility for the Southern Cameroons.

Although the provocative reintroduction of this terminology has had the advantage of reminding inhabitants about the spatial and historical foundations of their Anglophone identity, Sindjoun (1995) observed that an Anglophone identity can only be claimed by inhabitants belonging to one of the territory’s autochthonous ethnic groups – a distinction which tends to exclude even second- and third-generation Francophone immigrants from Southern Cameroonian citizenship.

Hence the references made to the imagined ‘Eleventh Province’ for those who are seen and treated as ‘Francophones of Anglophone culture’.13 It should, however, be added that the Anglophone leadership has since tried to bridge the gap between ‘pure’ Southern Cameroonians and ‘eleventh-province’ members. Eleventh-province members who have shown a real commitment to the Anglophone cause have been invited to attend Anglo- phone conferences and have been given leadership positions within Anglo- phone organisations.

The 1994 Bamenda Proclamation (see below) even ‘declared that the notion of Eleventh Province is inconsistent with the restora- tion of the autonomy of Anglophone Cameroon and the governance of society within a distinct entity of Anglophone Cameroon and affirmed the necessity of all Anglophones to behave, act and be treated as sons and daughters of provinces comprised within the territory of Anglophone Cameroon’. Among Anglophone students and elites in the diaspora (North America, Europe and elsewhere in Africa), such distinctions have simply been dismissed as diversionary, and the tendency has been to emphasise a common culture and history over territorial boundedness.

N Melo
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