No let up as Cameroon marks 51st National Youth Day

A television grab of Cameroonian President Paul Biya addressing the 51st National Youth Day fete in Yaoundé on February 10, 2017. The event was largely boycotted by the Anglophone Cameroon to protest against the alleged marginalisation by the government. NDI EUGENE NDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Anglophone Cameroon largely boycotted the 51st National Youth Day fete in Yaoundé to protest against alleged marginalisation by the government.

The event on Saturday was also attended by the youth from all the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) states.

There has been growing disaffection in the two English speaking regions of Northwest and Southwest, over alleged marginalisation by the predominantly French speaking Yaoundé regime.

In the Northwest, state media reported that few people turned up for the heavily-guarded ceremony at Bamenda.

At the Independence Square in Buea, chief town of the English speaking Southwest, the situation was no better.

Lawyers and teachers

People in the two regions have been boiling with anger since lawyers and teachers started a work boycott, paralysing courts and schools, since October last year.

“Due to the strike actions initiated by some trade unions, classes have been disrupted in these regions for several weeks now,” President Paul Biya acknowledged in his traditional address to the youth, streamed live by state television.

The boycott of the youth event was in response to repeated calls by local leaders to the people to stay home in an expression of anger.

The anger has since mid-January taken the dimension of the “operation ghost towns”—which calls upon the residents of the two English speaking regions to stay at home in a peaceful protest against Yaoundé's continued silence over their grievances.

People and property

Several people have been killed and many others arrested in the wake of the protests.

The arrests, which will continue according to President Biya, are the government's measures to ensure peace and the safety of people and property.

“Government had to take measures to maintain order, protect citizens and their property and hand over to the judicial authorities those who committed or were suspected of committing these criminal acts. This necessary action will continue,” President Biya who will turn 84 on Monday said in the televised address.

Cameroonian opposition leader John Fru Ndi. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The Biya government has been severely criticised for using force to quell the protests.

Besides a heavy deployment of troops, especially to the opposition stronghold of Bamenda, the Yaoundé government has also disconnected internet services to the protests-hit regions.

Communication Minister and government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary told university students after the president’s address in Yaoundé that the internet blackout would continue for as long as the demos lingered.

“For as a long as they (protesting Anglophones) will continue to exercise violence, they will not receive internet because they use these tools (social media) to incite the people,” Mr Bakary said at a youth and students gathering at the University of Yaoundé.

Leading opposition political figure John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party said people in the two regions no longer respected the national flag.

An interview

"The Lions age mates are being shot, children are not going to school because their teachers have been locked up, they are arresting children and bringing them to Yaoundé, people are on the run,” Mr Fru Ndi said.

“I don’t think that I want to live and believe in a system that will not listen to you to try and come up with a solution,” the opposition chairman said in an interview with the state radio on the side-lines of a state house banquet in honour of the national football team last week.

According to a peace and governance expert, Dr Richard Ndi Tantoh, it was time Yaoundé understood that violence could not resolve the ongoing crisis.

“The use of lethal force and repression is moving many Anglophones to the extreme position of separation. The sooner the government revises its strategies and face the issue, the better for the federation option,” said Director of Ecumenical Service Peace in Yaoundé.

Sporting activities

“Anglophones are asking for a society of rights. Where rights are defined by law or text, people can claim such rights. Anglophones want structural guarantees for the issues they have raised.” 

Cameroon’s English speaking minority have held grudges against their Francophone brothers for duping them in a post-independence reunification deal, where they expected to be equal partners.

They often complain of being treated as second-class citizens.

On February 11, 1961, a plebiscite was held in the then Southern Cameroons—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 under a federal system. A year later, the country celebrated the first National Youth Day.

On the day which is a public holiday, learners from the primary to the tertiary levels, youth groups and youth wings of legalised political parties take part in marches, parades and sporting activities.

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