Grace Manning ’21
There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of posts circulating on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, urging people to educate themselves in order to help combat issues of violence and government corruption on the African continent. It started with news on SARS or the Special Anti-Robbery Squad designed by the Nigerian government to fight crime, and the list covers police brutality in Zambia, conflict in the Congo, and gender-based violence in South Africa. Another conflict situation, the Anglophone Crisis, is one that I am more familiar with, having spent time in Cameroon and seen first-hand the consequences of the ongoing conflict. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and more has written several articles attempting to both explain and understand these issues in an undeniable, greater historical context. In the case of the Anglophone Crisis, the current violence cannot be separated from a complicated and confusing colonial history.
The Anglophone Crisis is essentially a civil war between the Francophone majority in Cameroon and the Anglophone minority. It stems from the Cameroonian constitution which states that Cameroon is not, in fact, a Francophone country as it is considered to be now, but that it is a bilingual country and that it must feature English and French equally. While in Cameroon, I spoke with former Holy Cross professor, Professor Kom, at length about the crisis, and a takeaway for me was that this issue, like many issues across the continent, is intricately tied to colonialism. After being colonized by Germany, hence the German cars and signs that remain today, Cameroon was colonized by both the French and the British. They divided the country based on each country’s contribution to the seizing of Cameroon: France had played a larger part, so it controlled the majority of the country. While in theory the country was bilingual, logistically this was impossible as the majority of the population resided in French-controlled areas and spoke French, learned under a French curriculum, and aspired to follow higher education or work in France.
Visiting Cameroon today, you would not know that it is a bilingual country unless you visited the Northern Anglophone regions, now off-limits because of the conflict. French is spoken in the large cities, taught in schools, and written in the newspapers. Speaking English is looked down upon, so Anglophone Cameroonians struggle to find jobs and housing in cities like the capital city of Yaoundé. Anglophones are often ridiculed for their French, ostracized from society and passed over when it comes to choosing who to hire, simply because of their mother tongue. Anglophones often hide their true identities, believing that life is easier as a Francophone. However, this issue is one that can no longer be ignored. Although it is described by Cameroonians as the “Crise Anglophone,” this wording doesn’t do it justice, as it threatens to erupt into large-scale conflict. Over a million people have been displaced and have fled into neighboring Nigeria, entire villages have been burned to the ground and there have been various terrorist acts in schools, resulting in the deaths of students. Because of this, students have been out of school for years and issues present in other countries such as South Africa and the Congo, like gender-based violence, are steadily rising.
While in Cameroon, I was invited to a debate honoring the late Mongo Beti, a Cameroonian writer who lived in exile for much of his life because of his desire to expose the underlying issues still present in Cameroon. Two Francophone and one Anglophone professors led the debate and while there was disagreement as to how the crisis could be resolved, they were in agreement on one key detail: this is not an issue that came exclusively, nor directly, from Cameroon. This is an issue that was sparked and continued by colonialism and post-colonialism.