Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda, Cameroon. Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda, Cameroon. 

Cameroon: We are not quarrelling over foreign languages.

The Anglophone Crisis of Cameroon has been misunderstood by many as a language crisis. It is a crisis of culture and a crisis of belonging, says the Archbishop of Bamenda, Andrew Nkea.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.

On a recent visit to the Vatican, Cameroon’s Archbishop of Bamenda, Andrew Nkea, spoke to Vatican News.

Every Cameroonian wants to feel they belong

Couching the Anglophone Conflict as a language problem between the French and English-speaking regions of Cameroon is a mischaracterisation of a serious problem, said Archbishop Nkea.

“Many people think, oh, why are you quarrelling over foreign languages. No. It has nothing to do with languages. It is a matter of culture, of tradition, and it is a matter of belonging. Some Cameroonians from the English-speaking parts don’t feel that they adequately belong to Cameroon. They feel they are not accepted because they are the minority 20% of the country. They don’t feel they are accepted by the 80%, so this is where the discontentment comes from,” explained Archbishop Nkea.

Archbishop Nkea continued, “Every Cameroonian wants to feel that they belong to Cameroon. You respect me as I am, and I respect you as you are. This is the Anglophone crisis. It can easily be misunderstood as a crisis of language. It is a crisis of culture and a crisis of belonging,” he reiterated.

A failure of the post-colonial state

The Anglophone Crisis, sometimes called the Ambazonia War, is an ongoing armed conflict between Cameroon’s Armed Forces and Ambazonian separatist rebel groups.

In 2016, what for years had been a low-scale insurgency quickly escalated into a full-blown civil war in the country’s northwestern and southwestern regions.

According to available statistics, the war has claimed the lives of over 6 000 persons and displaced over 500 000 people. More than 2.2 million people need humanitarian assistance.

Advocating for children in the city of Kumba, an English-speaking part of Cameroon.
Advocating for children in the city of Kumba, an English-speaking part of Cameroon.

The history of the Anglophone Crisis is complex.

In a nutshell, analysts say resentment and grievances deeply felt in the Anglophone areas go back in history and have, over the years, been aggravated by the failure of the post-colonial state at inclusion leading to marginalisation. The Government’s decision to unilaterally overturn Federalism in 1972 in direct abrogation of the country’s Constitution boiled over in 2016.

The Anglophone regions interpreted the Government of Paul Biya’s imposition of French-speaking teachers, lawyers and judges in their areas as a deliberate acceleration of years of marginalisation. By 2017, secessionist groups had replaced civil society actors who had been organising peaceful demonstrations and strikes. The secessionists declared the independence of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions. The Government sought to crush the rebellion and the secessionists by sending in armed troops. The Anglophone areas were plunged into a cruel and violent armed conflict where civilians, including children, have paid the price with their lives.

The Church’s response to the crisis

Pope Francis recently received Bishops of Cameroon on their visit "ad Limina Apostolorum" 15.09.2023
Pope Francis recently received Bishops of Cameroon on their visit "ad Limina Apostolorum" 15.09.2023

Asked about the response of the Church to the Crisis, Archbishop Nkea said that the Church in Cameroon has always tried to play a reconciliatory role.

“It is true there are problems, but the way to solve these is not by guns. It is not by war. We don’t solve problems by fighting and killing each other. We solve our problems through peaceful means, dialogue, searching for understanding, and looking for a middle way. This has always been our position as Church,” he emphasised.

Archbishop Nkea also said the Church would continue to play its prophetic role and denounce killings and human rights violations. In particular, the Church protects children who are hardest hit by the war. The education sector in the regions has been disrupted by the fighting. 

“We don’t sit on the fence, but at the same time, we don’t want to take sides. We call a spade a spade. But I can never go out to preach independence or other things. I always preach peace. Secondly, we as a Church have always stood for reconciliation. We have also always advocated for the fact that children should go back to school, and because of this, we have tried to work very closely with the displaced -people displaced from their homes and villages. Caritas is taking a lot of care of some of them. We have also established child-friendly spaces for children driven from their homes because of the conflict. We are assisted in this by UNICEF,” said the Bamenda prelate.

28 September 2023, 15:33