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Labor unrest in Cameroon

Moki Kindzeka mc
November 28, 2016

In Cameroon, unrest in minority English-speaking regions over discrimination by majority French speakers is still simmering after violent clashes with police claimed at least four lives.

Soldat Kamerun Maschinengewehr West Afrika
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T.Graham

Efforts by the Cameroonian government to defuse tensions between the country's French and English-speaking regions appear to be making little headway.

Lawyers and teachers in Bamenda, capital of the English-speaking North West region, say they have embarked on an open-ended strike.

Cameroon is still reeling from violent clashes between police and protestors in the town, which local media say left at least four people dead last week.

In a sign of the concern with which the government of majority French-speaking Cameroon views the rioting, President Paul Biya dispatched Prime Minister Philemon Yang to the region from the nation's capital Yaounde to try and calm the unrest.

Karte Infografik Cameroon Region Bandenda ENG
Clashes in North-West left four people dead


English-speakers have been protesting since Monday (21.11.2016) against what they see as their "second-class citizen status" and attempts to marginalize them in the west African nation.

Eight of Cameroon's ten regions are largely Francophone, but two regions, North West and South West Cameroon are English-speaking.       

English-speaking teachers complain that French-speaking counterparts are being increasingly deployed in English schools, despite differences in the curricula and teaching systems.

After 72 hours of talks, Wilfred Tassang, executive secretary of the Cameroon teachers' trade union told DW the government did not show signs of wanting to solve their problems, but said that "a new institutional framework to look into problems raised by Anglophone teacher trade unions will be put in place."

John Fru Ndi, leader of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the main opposition party in Cameroon, said the government should address the problems raised by teachers, lawyers and the population generally, or face more rioting. He said the opposition could help.

"We can summon a big rally here where we will talk to the people. But this should be after solutions to the teething problems that people are asking for have come in from Yaounde."  

Communicating justice

A press conference by five government ministers in  Yaounde did not signal much interest in dialogue with the Anglophone minority. Communications minister Issa Tchiroma said requests that touch on the "exigencies of the nation's life" would not receive a "favorable answer."

Two months ago, English-speaking lawyers said they wanted all French-speaking judges who did not understand English to be transferred out of the English speaking regions of Cameroon because justice could not be rendered when judges, magistrates and lawyers cannot communicate.    

Cameroon's constitution says that English and French - the two official languages inherited from its former colonial masters - should be given the same weight. But many official documents are only in French and some ministers deliver speeches only in French, even in English-speaking regions.

Kamerun Präsident Paul Biya
President Paul Biya's govenrment has had no luch in trying to defuse tensionsImage: imago/Xinhua Afrika

English-speaking Cameroonians make up one fifth of the country's population of 22 million. They wonder why - almost 60 years after independence - there has so far never been an English speaker as minister of defense, finance, or territorial administration.

Cameroon's minister at the presidency, Atanga Nji Paul , believes that outsiders are using the labor dispute by lawyers and teachers for their own nefarious purposes.

"That is manipulation because many of those lawyers took money from foreigners,"  he said."We will not accept any person who jeopardizes unity."     


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