Cameroon – Apprehension about the country’s 56th anniversary

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François Conradie | NKC African Economics 

There is a growing fear in Cameroon that Sunday, October 1, might see serious violence. The reason for that is that separatists in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions on the Nigerian border have chosen the day to mobilise, because it is the 56th anniversary of the birth in 1961 of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, when French Cameroon united with the formerly British Southern Cameroon.

A fair number of protest events have been planned on the themes that have disrupted life in the region for the past year: greater autonomy for the region, greater respect for English-speakers’ rights, and better opportunities for professionals from the region.

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But a few groups want to go further: they intend to use the occasion to declare the full independence of the two regions that make up the Anglophone Cameroon, and have reportedly chosen a national anthem, a flag, a passport and a new currency.

Given the tensions to which the region has been subject over the past few months, people seem to be taking the danger seriously. Many people are leaving the Anglophone region for the weekend, and the government has sent reinforcements of security forces to the region.

There are reports that some radical separatists have threatened people with violence if they do not join protests, leaving people caught between a rock and a hard place. In late August President Paul Biya pardoned a number of Anglophone activists who had been in detention for their role in unrest and dropped all charges against them; this step was welcomed in the region but there is now a risk that, if the weekend is messy, he may be less conciliatory next week.

A return to federalism (President Ahmadou Ahidjo abandoned the federal model in 1972 and imposed centralised rule) would do much to cool tempers in the English-speaking regions, but we see little chance of activists achieving that by means of protest movements, especially if those call for full independence.

It is more likely that renewed protest action will draw the anger of the State and lead to yet more centralisation. The prospects of an opening up of the environment while Mr Biya is in charge are slim. The size of protest events at the weekend, and the government’s response, merit watching.

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