If there is one thing to look forward to as an outcome of the much-talked-about dialogue, it is for us to cease to be called Anglophones. Depending on other outcomes, you would be welcome to call us West Cameroonians as in the decade following 1961, or Southern Cameroonians as in the preceding years.
This is with due respect to the fact that our brothers across the Mungo actually delight in being called Francophones, in obedience to their colonial master who needs that nomenclature to remind the world that she still has a sphere of influence in Africa. Arguably, today’s Francophonie can be seen as an escape from the challenge of competing with other languages, cultures and governance systems in a global arena dominated by the Anglo-Saxons. No other colonial power still finds it necessary to cling to its share from the partitioning of Africa, more than half a century after all the countries involved became independent. And the populations of these countries willingly make nonsense of their independence by clinging to their old slave identity in everything they do. They can cocoon themselves in this small colonial grouping and create their own norms, several notches below global standards.
And it is not altogether unlikely that what has come to be called the Anglophone problem in Cameroon stems from two psychological phenomena:
- That by insisting on upholding a completely different way of life and set of values, the Anglophones keep reminding the Francophones of what they are missing – a way of life they admire but are not allowed to adopt. In other words, the marginalization of Anglophones could actually be the expression of a cultural inferiority complex. Their growing predilection for Anglo-Saxon-style education buttresses this point.
- That the regime has realized that Anglophone values and attitudes are beginning to rub off on an admiring Francophone population, and that could begin to eat away on their proverbial docility. You could argue that the easy way to stop this process would be to let the Anglos go, which is what they want, to begin with. That would be a much easier option, but for the steady flow of dowry that Yaounde and France are reaping from the marriage. That is the crux of the matter, but is an aspect of the story that Yaounde cannot discuss publicly. And that explains the superficiality with which Yaounde approaches any talks – saying what it does not mean and meaning what it does not say. That is why it is more convenient for them to call Southern Cameroonian’s Anglophones, thereby reducing them to a mere linguistic entity – and by inference equal to the over two hundred linguistic groups or tribes in the country. That is why you easily hear inanities like “les Bamilekes, les Beti, les Bassa et les Anglophones.” And that is why, even in the dead heat of this crisis, all the regime could dream up as solution was the creation of a bilingualism commission. But don’t be fooled. They know it is not a language problem. They are just afraid of grappling with the huge iceberg beneath the visible tip.
That is why Southern Cameroonians should stop calling themselves Anglophones. We are not fighting a cultural or linguistic proxy war between Britain and France, knowing as we do that Britain traded us off to the French in 1961. Unlike Francophones, we are part of a global family, sharing not only the English language but a whole panoply of values and no nation in that family calls itself Anglophone.
Even in the Commonwealth of Nations, the United Kingdom as the former colonial power has had to relinquish every vestige of hegemony it once had over any member state once that member became independent. Even the name changed from British Commonwealth to Commonwealth of Nations, and that is just one other reasons it proudly bears the nickname the “Gentlemen’s Club,” of which Cameroon’s membership is proving a blemish in many ways.
Now you will ask, “What’s in a name?” A bit of history will help here. African converts to Christianity were not only mentally engineered to adopt the Whiteman’s religion, but also to accept, as part of the branding, European additions to their names, which they call Christian names, and which they were taught to consider more fashionable. Africa as a continent has had to endure the same indignity at the hands of European colonizers and explorers who named cities and even whole countries after European monarchs and even less significant persons. Today, at long last, we are waking up and taking ownership of our fatherlands and shedding those slave names. Matabeleland which had been renamed Rhodesia as a trophy to Cecil Rhodes, has since shed its slave label for Zimbabwe. Many other African countries have done the same, demonstrating that they have found the answer to the question – “what’s in a name?” – And that answer is “everything.”
In voting to join what they considered as their brothers and sisters across the Mungo, former British Southern Cameroonians expected to shed the colonial label for a family name. Now we have painfully realized that “francophoneness” is not just indelibly tattooed on our brothers’ body but so deeply etched into their psyche that they feel lost in the world without it. With that realization, it is only fair to let them stay de facto slaves for as long as it takes for the narcotic loses its power.
But they must in turn recognize that West/Southern Cameroonians want to be seen for who they are – a people in a global family that only uses English as a means of communication, but for whom English is not a brand. That recognition should be the bedrock of any parley between the Biya regime and Southern Cameroons.
And for such adialogue to have gone well, it must end the cemetery, with the following epitaph on the tombstone:
Here lies Anglophone,
Vampire born of fear and distrust,
And by his casket in the vault
Waits one for Francophone
His evil twin still on the run
Bleeding a sleepy people white.