The Stream

Cameroon’s language woes

English speakers say French-dominated government treats them as second-class citizens.

Tensions are high in Cameroon, where thousands of Anglophone teachers, lawyers and students are protesting the dominance of the French language in courts, classrooms and other parts of society.  Months of unrest turned deadly recently when government forces allegedly shot four people involved in the strikes that have ground daily life to a halt in parts of the country.

Of the country’s 10 regions, people in the two English-speaking regions say they are being treated as second class citizens by the predominantly French-speaking central government.  Lawyers complain judges assigned to their region use French in their courts and don’t have an understanding of the English common law system they use. Teachers and students say not enough teachers are trained in English, and that there is a lack of jobs and opportunities in the Anglophone regions, contributing to underdevelopment and marginalisation. They say their culture and language are under threat, and are calling for a complete overhaul of the administrative system.

France and Britain controlled parts of Cameroon until the country gained independence in 1961. English-speaking Cameroonians make up just 17 percent of the population, and their demands to be treated as equal citizens have been going on for decades.  A secessionist movement, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), was formed in the 1990s, but it has been outlawed.

President Paul Biya has stayed silent on the issue so far, but a close aide drew outrage when he denied there was any problem with discrimination in the Anglophone regions. Authorities say security forces acted in self-defense, and have blamed the violence on “manipulative forces with a hidden agenda.”

On Monday, The Stream discusses the challenges facing Anglophones in Cameroon, and how the government is responding to their claims of discrimination.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Issa Tchiroma Bakary @MincomCameroun
Minister of Communications

Eugene Nforngwa @EN_Nforngwa
Editor, The Standard Tribune

Harmony Bobga Mbuton 
President, North West Lawyers’ Association

Anne Marie Befoune @befoune
Cameroonian Activist

How can Cameroon’s predominantly French-speaking government address concerns of its English-speaking regions? Share your thoughts below.