As the Cameroon government struggled to put a stop to the “protests” it resorted to getting its anglophone members to dismissed the crisis with statements such as “There is no anglophone crisis”. Its other concurrent actions belied this attitude on the surface.
The anglophone prime minister set up an ad-hoc committee to “fact-find” in the anglophone regions, purportedly in order to resolve the “grievances”, which, other organs of the government were at pains to point out, were the common problems of all Cameroonians. This was a perverse way to show that the country was united in this crisis. “Everyone has the same problems” became a common phrase in exchanges, which tended to blame the anglophones for a lack of patriotic stoicism.
In spite of these denials the government tolerated the ad-hoc committee which set about discussions with the Consortium – the grouping of the two sectors of protesting trade unions and civil society in the anglophone regions. Though it was made clear that the meetings were only fact-finders to be “submitted to ministers for consideration”, it was more than the government had ever condescended to do before. The previous tactics of intimidation, arrests and beatings ran concurrently, presumably to empty the streets and show the Consortium that it had no support. The population was not fooled. Many voiced suspicion that the leaders of the consortium could be arrested and carted away once they were within the confines of governor’s residence where the meetings were scheduled to hold. Protesters turned up for each meeting to make sure such suspicions would not materialize.
The images of students and others being humiliated, for instance by being dragged in the mud; and other acts of brutality on campuses in Buea and Bamenda underlined the marginalization the initial protests had only hinted at.
It should be recalled that the initial lawyers strike was against the use of Francophone magistrates with no mastery of the Anglophone Common Law system, while the teachers’ unions were striking against the deployment of Francophone teachers with no English skills to teach in anglophone schools where children were following an anglophone curriculum. These two schemes clearly showed a determination by the Cameroon government to assimilate the anglophones and make Cameroon a francophone state. Indeed, many international organisations already considered Cameroon a francophone country, as anglophone students applying for courses in foreign universities were made to take English language tests as prerequisites. Other visible signs were the descriptions on media such as Facebook and Google where Cameroonian places were only labeled in french. Facebook accounts of Bamenda residents described their location as Nord Ouest, Cameroun and could not be customized into English.
Given the policy of assimilation, it was not surprising that the commission, being headed by anglophone functionaries, was only a stop-gap while the government decided what to do next, even considering the stated fact-finding status.
By the turn of the year, when the president was due to deliver his end of year speech, the government has resolved to up its repression. The Consortium was proscribed and its leaders arrested and transported away from the families to prisons in Yaounde.
The government, through the president’s speech floated the idea of dialogue but even that was clearly framed to be in the form of grace and favour dispensed by the government. The government would not let it be said that it was negotiating with common citizens.