Biya halts trial of Cameroon activists

The president of the outlawed Cameroon Anglophoone Civil Society Consortium, Mr Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla. NDI EUGENE NDI | NATON MEDIA GROUP 

Cameroonian President Paul Biya has halted a treason case against several Anglophone activists.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, President Biya ordered the discontinuation of the proceedings before the Yaoundé military court against community leaders Felix Nkongho Agbor and Dr Fontem Neba, opposition leader Ayah Paul Abine “and some other persons” arrested in relation to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

“This decision is in line with numerous measures already taken by the government to address the concerns voiced by the people of the two regions,” the statement signed by the minister of State, Mr Ferdinand Ngo Ngo, said.

A work boycott

Several people have been killed and many others arrested in the wake of demonstrations that started when lawyers embarked on a work boycott in October 2016 and teachers joined a month later, protesting against alleged longstanding marginalisation by the predominantly French speaking Yaoundé regime.

President Biya's move is seen as seeking a peaceful solution to a violent crisis that has rocked the two English-speaking regions of the Central African state since last year.

Yaoundé had responded with a crackdown, banning two major groups; the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) and the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) and arresting the former’s leaders on terrorism charges, and imposing a three-month Internet blackout in the Anglophone regions.

Bilingual country

The crackdown attracted global attention to President Biya’s government.

Cameroon is officially a bilingual country with English speakers comprising 20 per cent of the 23.44 million people.

Cameroon’s Anglophones have held grudges against their Francophone compatriots for 'duping' them in a post-independence reunification deal where they expected to be equal partners.

Federal system

The Anglophones often complain of being treated as second-class citizens.

In 1961, a vote was held in the then Southern Cameroon—today's English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions, over whether to join Nigeria, which had already obtained independence from Britain, or the Republic of Cameroon, which had obtained independence from France.

Voters elected to become part of French speaking Cameroon, and the country practised a federal system until 1972.

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