The Cameroon High Commission London was in a state of disarray today as many Cameroonians from across the UK assembled there to protest against human rights abuses in the country. Protesters could be heard chanting ‘Safe English-Cameroon’ ‘Safe Southern-Cameroons’ or simply ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’. Some speakers asked the UK government to suspend diplomatic relations with Cameroon until the human rights abuses had stopped.
This demonstration that was quickly called together to express solidarity with the Common Law Lawyers and teachers who were already protesting in Cameroon.
The current Cameroon government which has been in power for 34 years has done everything possible to silence any dissenting voices; journalists and activists have been imprisoned for daring to challenge the status quo. As a result of bad governance and endemic corruption, people have been getting increasingly frustrated. There have been protests in Cameroon in the 1990s and 2000s, but notably in 2008 during which the military combined with the police in shooting and killing innocent unarmed civilians.
The current problem has its origin in the colonial history of Cameroon which saw the country split along linguistic lines in 1916 by the British and the French. There was the French-speaking Cameroon (Former colony of France) and English-Speaking Cameroon (Former British Colony). In 1960 French Cameroon gained independence and a year later, during a Plebiscite organised by the United Nations, English-Cameroon or Southern Cameroon was offered the conditional choice of independence by either joining Nigeria or joining The Republic of Cameroon. They chose the later and formed what was then the Federal Republic of Cameroon with both East Cameroon and West Cameroon retaining their respective parliaments, educational and legal systems. However, in 1972, in what many Southern Cameroonians today consider a move towards annexation, President Ahmadou Ahidjo oversaw the dissolution of the Federation and made it The United Republic of Cameroon.
Upon taking power in 1982, one of the first things that Paul Biya did was to change the name of the country, – without any public consultation – back to The Republic of Cameroon. This name was one owned by French Cameroon before the Federation. It was to turn out to be more than a mere nomenclature. For the 34 years, that Biya has been in power, the English-speaking Cameroonians (Anglophones) have been systematically marginalised. One of the ways this has happened has been the imposition of the French legal system (Civil Law) on the Anglophone Lawyers trained in Common Law through the appointment of French-speaking magistrates to English courts.
Against the backdrop of these and the widespread discontent in the country as a result of poverty, endemic corruption and bad governance, a peaceful protest was organised by the lawyers to challenge the marginalisation and perceived injustices and ask for a bi-jural system and a respect of the Common Law. Troops were however sent out to harass the lawyers, their wigs and gowns were confiscated, they were teargassed and some were injured.
Teachers and other parts of Civil Society soon joined in the protests and before long, the security forces started using live bullets, resulting in the death of some civilians.
Kingsley Sheteh, an activist with Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary
called on other Cameroonians in the UK to carry out this demonstration, so as to bring the attention of the world to what happened and keeps happening in Cameroon.
The arrival of the British Anti-terrorist police at the scene is confirmation that the Biya regime and its cronies are now so scared that they considered a group of activists to be as dangerous as terrorists
The struggle continues until all Cameroonians can begin to live as free citizens in their own country.