Vous Etes Maintenant au Cameroun’: ‘You Are Now in Cameroun’, Gendarmes Tell Driver Transporting Anglophones to Baffousam



Cameroun Gendarmes at a Checkpoint

 Gwain Colbert, Staff Writer, The Colbert Factor

Babadjou is a vibrant border town to Bamenda, chief town of the English speaking North West Region of Cameroon. It is the economic hub of Bamboutous Division, West Region of the French speaking La Republique du Cameroun. Far from being an en route stop-over in the light of Makenene and Kekem where passengers stop to refresh, Babadjou is noted for its high alert security check-point with a mix of gun-toting police and gendarme officers. Not that English speaking Cameroonians travelling to Baffousam from Bamenda get their first contact with Cameroun gendarmes at Babadjou. On your way out of Bamenda and just at HotSpot Akum village, cars and passengers are thoroughly checked and proper identification assured. Just at Kombou, a border village between the English speaking North West Region and the French speaking West Region is a Customs post that leaves no traveler in doubt that one has moved from one territory to another. The feeling is the more justified when travelers recall that only  Up-Station, Bamenda, they went through a thorough customs check.

While travelling sometime last May from Bamenda to Douala through Babadjou, a fellow passenger sort to know from me why the stretch of road from Bamenda to Babadjou was that rugged while Babadjou to Yaoundé or Douala was express. Before I could think of an official government excuse of lack of funds to give, another passenger sitting behind us replied that government had tarred the road from Yaoundé and Doula and abandoned in Babadjou because people in Bamenda were all hostile to government. He opined that since Bamenda was always opposing the CPDM regime, government had abandoned that stretch of road for the opposition to tar. Although meant to be a joke, the answer reminded me of a similar situation that the village of Abuh in Fundong Sub Division, Boyo Division of the North West Region faced in the 70s.

The story goes that when government dug the road from Wum to Fundong and ended at Fujua toward Liakom, the hard working population of Ngwah and Abuh/Muteff decided to take the challenge and dig it manually. The understanding was that both communities will dig the road until it reaches Muteff, the far end of Abuh. When the road reached Ngwah 3’ Corners, the people of Ngwah refused to continue the digging to Abuh. The larger Abuh community resolved to take the challenge and continue the digging. But when the road was traced to Abuh Market Square, the people of Abuh declined continuing right up to Muteff, then a quarter under Abuh. Their justification then was that Muteff was a forest and that it was of no earthly use to dig a road into the forest. The people of Muteff did not only take offense but resolved that in order never to be deceived again by the people of Abuh, they would declare their independence from mainstream Abuh. After completing the digging of the road and to the astonishment of mainstream Abuh village, Muteff went ahead to declare its independence, create their traditional council and install their village Head. Their compelling story of years of  marginalization and second-class villageship from the people of Abuh left the paramount Fon of Kom with no choice than to grant the village its autonomy.

Teacher waiting for students to resume classes

 That was beside the point. Today January 23, 2017, as many Bamenda City dwellers cram into any available transport vehicle bound for Baffoussam as early as 5 A.M in order to avoid being trapped by a two-day Ghost Towns operations called by the defunct Civil Society Consortium protesting the marginalization of Anglophone Cameroonians by the francophone-led Yaoundé regime that has led to the complete shutting down of schools in the two English Speaking regions, talk is rife with police brutality against any Anglophone that raises a finger any student on his/her way to and fro school. I am among those who have decided to do business across the other side of Cameroon today no thanks to internet being shutdown in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon with the objective of minimizing the influence of social media on the indefinite strike called two months ago by Anglophone lawyers and teachers.  

For a journey that would normally take an hour, we have to spend anything between two to three strenuous hours because of the rugged stretch of the road between Bamenda and Babadjou. As we arrive Babadjou by 8.30 A.M after taking off from Bamenda Finance Junction at 5.30 A.M, we are stopped by a fierce-looking mixed control. As our ‘octogenarian’ Hiace vehicle grinds to a halt, a stern-looking gendarme officer approaches the car and requests the driver to surrender his car documents. After the driver complies, he scans the occupants of the car with his pair of eyes and then ask the driver: ‘Vous venez de Bamenda?’, meaning ‘Are you coming from Bamenda’?. The driver answers in the affirmative. After collecting the usual 1000 FCFA for ‘rite of passage’, the gendarme quickly tells the occupants of the car and the driver: ‘Vous etes maintenant au Cameroun’, which when loosely translated means ‘You are now in Cameroun’. We all laugh and continue our journey as if we have just entered Cameroon from neighboring Nigeria and are being welcomed by a tourist guide.

Sitting beside me is a teacher of English expression who is hurrying to report to work in one of the High Schools in French Cameroon where he has been teaching after graduating from the Higher Teacher Training College in Bambili. He tells me that Anglophones teaching in Francophone Cameroon are now the target of administrators. If he is one hour late for class his name would be sent to Yaoundé for salary suspension on grounds he has joined Anglophone teachers who are on strike. He says he was trained in Bambili as a History teacher but in the West Region, he was forced to teach English language. He weeps for the students as he confesses his ability to teach English when he could not have a pass in English language at the ‘O’ Level.

This again is beside the point. As we pass the Babadjou security check point, we are welcomed by an express high way into the hinterlands of the West Region. Informed by events in Anglophone Cameroon, we begin reflection on the real meaning of the gendarme officers ‘Vous etes maintenant au Cameroun’. A female passenger in front of me tells us that we are from ‘Southern Cameroons’, a country different from La Republique. Another passenger says the gendarme officer is just confirming the fact that there are two Cameroons and whatever song the regime in Yaoundé is singing to the effect that ‘one and indivisible’ Cameroon following two long months of protests for self determination, is  throwing water on a deck’s back. The driver tells us that he feels the difference between French Cameroon and English Cameroon from his steering wheel which to him is his own office. From Bamenda through Santa to Babadjou, he says, one virtually fights with the steering because of the poor state of the road. Once in Babadjou, one feels like one is in Europe because the road is well tarred.

When students join teachers to protest government*s intransigence

Drivers who ply the Bamenda/Babadjou stretch of the road on a daily basis narrate the same ordeal. Gaston, who has been on this road as a driver for over 20 years, thinks there are no two better ways to demonstrate in triumphant detail, Anglophone marginalization.

Not that discussions about a ‘two and divided’ Cameroon started with our gendarme officer at Babadjou. As soon as we crossed Matazem into Kombou, the boundary between English speaking North West Cameroon and French speaking West Cameroon, we were greeted by scenes of thousands of children clad in school uniforms on their way to school. This was in contrast to what has obtained in Anglophone Cameroon as from down-town Bamenda through Santa to Matazem, not a single student, even in assorted clothes, have been noticed. The few youths we have found on the way in Santa were on their way to their potato and onion farms that litter this predominantly agrarian village.

It should be recalled that since November 21, 2016, the strike action called by Anglophone lawyers and teachers have paralyzed schools from Nursery through Secondary to universities in both the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon. After attempts at dialogue by government met with an impasse, government vowed on its honour to make sure schools reopen last January 9, 2017. It never came to pass as the now outlawed Anglophone Civil Society Consortium called for ghost towns and total boycott of classes until all teachers and lawyers’ demands were met.

Judging that the strength of the striking lawyers and teachers lied on social media to mobilize and intimidate parents and students from resuming schools, government not only outlawed the consortium and a separatist movement called the Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, as well as arrest their key leaders, but also went ahead to cut off internet services in Anglophone Cameroon. Despite such moves, parents in the North West and the South West continue to be unruffled as they say the current breed of francophone-trained teachers that have infiltrated the Anglo Saxon system of education have been ‘unteaching’ their children and that enough was enough. Government’s worry that such a situation may lead to a void academic year have fallen on deaf ears as parents now say their children’s future is not assured in the hands of francophone-trained teachers who teach in approximate English when qualified Anglophone youths are left to room the streets in joblessness.

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