YAOUNDE, Centre–The minister of territorial administration and decentralization has just banned the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Societies Consortium (CACSC).
It came on the second day of CACSC-initiated ghost town protests in Anglophone territories to denounce the shooting by police of four civilians, one fatally, in Bamenda last weekend.
ANALYSIS: The decision signaled that authorities are now planning to enter a more repressive phase in dealing with Anglophone activists after a series of failed talks with teachers and lawyers, who have disrupted schools and courts since November.
In a statement on Tuesday, Minister Rene Sadi ordered regional and divisional administrators to enforce the ban, which specifically targets meetings and activities organized by the two groups.
The SCNC is an older organization founded in the 1990s. Its main agenda is the independence of the North West and South West regions, which were formerly known as British Southern Cameroons.
CACSC emerged at the close of last year and is made up mainly of Anglophone teachers’ unions and lawyers’ associations, whose leaders are behind ongoing strikes and protests in former West Cameroon territories.
Both groups oppose what they term the marginalization of Anglophones and violations of the terms of union that brought British Southern Cameroons and French Cameroon together in 1961.
But they differ widely in strategies and goals.
More inclined to unity, CACSC has demanded the return of the country to the two-state federation that existed before 1972 so that the English-speaking territories of the country can pursue their aspirations in an autonomous state.
Only last week, the group called on the government to organize a referendum to settle the matter of federalism. It has directly engaged the central government in Yaounde, unlike the SCNC, which is pursuing its cause with international instances and refuses to recognize the authority of the Yaounde administration in English-speaking regions.
Sadi said the ban included individuals and other groups with similar goals as the SCNC and CACSC. A few come to mind: At least three other organizations not mentioned by Sadi are calling for either a total or federated separation of Anglophone Cameroon from Francophone territories. A young activist in Bamenda fondly called Mancho Bibixi was behind street protests that turned deadly on 8 December and would unsurprisingly appear on a government watch list. It would be a tall order but not totally dismissible for the administration to target Joseph Wirba, an opposition MP with immunity, who has been calling for “resistance” against the Yaounde administration.
The minister’s decision came at the peak of a week of protests that has seen a surge in anti-establishment activism across English-speaking regions. In addition to an overwhelming response to ghost towns protests, youths have blocked highways in parts of the South West, attempting to prevent the removal of petroleum products and timber.
It is the first time the government has addressed the SCNC directly, even though the group’s leaders have been in an out of jail for decades, mostly for allegedly holding illegal meetings or disturbing public order.
ANALYSIS: With this decision, the government has now moved into a more intransigent position regarding its opposition to any change to the structure of post-federalism Cameroon.
It increases bad blood and casts doubts on the ability of ongoing dialogue to succeed. Even though it has banned CACSC, the government will still be talking with its members in ad-hoc committees set up to discuss teachers’ and lawyers’ grievances. It is hard to see how parties will build on the progress made last week to save the school year.
That leaves only one option: the authorities appear to be laying the groundwork to use even more force, drawing from the ban and wide-ranging powers entrusted in civil administrators to enforce public order. The decision provides a legal basis, even if controversial, for massive arrest of protesters. It may give law enforcement latitude to go after activists operating on social media.
But it is unlikely to end the Anglophone struggle. At best, it will drive CACSC underground and further radicalize a group that has already demonstrated its openness to dialogue and unity, two goals also pursued by the government. By opting for a path that would lead to more confrontations, the government has put these goals out of the reach of both sides, at least in the foreseeable future.