French President, Emmanuel Macron, disavows decentralization as solution to Anglophone conflict; opts for regionalism

Jul 26,2022

The Colbert Factor:

French President, Emmanuel Macron, disavows decentralization as solution to Anglophone conflict; opts for regionalism

Image an elephant walked into the room. It’s definitely something you would notice. It’s also something people would describe in many different ways. Some might see it as a monster or a threat, while others (like The Colbert Factor) might think it’s the greatest thing ever. It would ultimately mean something different to everyone, and that would influence the way each person understood it. The visit of the French President was the elephant walking into the Cameroon room.

Last week’s visit by recently re-elected French President, Emmanuel Macron, was too substantial to ignore. To most ordinary Cameroonians, his remarks after the close to two hours high-level talks with long-serving President Paul Biya, were great. To others, (especially those in government), they were a threat to what government had given a pat on its back for a fast-track of the decentralization process with a Special Status for the North West and South West Regions.

The French President’s commitment to assist Cameroon in the decentralization process with more emphasis on regionalism for the two English-speaking regions as the surest way out of the deadly conflict, was a direct response to President Paul Biya’s confession in France, some two years ago, that the Cameroon body polity had since independence, tried to assimilate the two English-speaking regions. But for their tenacity.

Contrary to expectations within government circles that Emmanuel Macron was to thank them for holding the 2019 Major National Dialogue and for according a ‘Special Status’ to the restive two English-speaking regions of the country, French President rather pledged his support for more open and sincere political dialogue (not a military solution as currently obtains) that addresses the root causes of the conflict.

He was the more clearer on the fact that such political dialogue must have as focus regionalism for the two English-speaking regions of the country. This was a complete disavowal of the current content of the special status for the North West and South West Regions, especially as he is not seeing them producing the expected results, anytime soon. That’s probably why France has been reluctant disbursing the promised 40 billion FCFA for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged North West and South West Regions.

To put the discourse in proper perspective, one needs to know the difference that exist between decentralization, (especially as has obtained in Cameroon) and Regionalism as is being proposed by the French President and his Western allies.

Decentralization, (as obtained in France in the 60s up to the 80s, and as has been obtaining in Cameroon since 1996), is the deconcentration or devolution of power from the central government to local authorities. This is simply referred to as administrative decentralization.

Decentralization as obtains in next-door Ghana, Canada, France(from 1980), Germany, Britain, Finland, Poland, and many European countries today, is political decentralization where regions self-elect their Governors and where they enjoy fiscal autonomy. That’s where the French President’s notion of regionalism for the two English-speaking regions of the country, comes in. It simply means that while France would continue to support Cameroon’s decentralization drive in the eighth French-speaking regions, she would love Cameroon to pursue the policy of regionalism in the two English-speaking regions of the country.

To be more specific therefore, regionalism (as opposed to what we have as special status), and according to Wikipedia, ‘is the political ideology that seeks to increase the political, influence, and/or self-determination of the people of one or more subnational regions’.

Regionalism addresses itself to movements demanding territorial autonomy within unitary states. By opting for regionalism, Emmanuel Macron, was virtually echoing the earnest views of federalists and confederationists like Dr. Nick Ngwanyam; falling which, the country may one day face the Yugoslavia-type breakup of the 80s.

The main characteristic of regionalism is its strong local identity and the claims for more political and economic autonomy. Another defining characteristic is that regionalism must be translated into that region having economic or political free reign while still being considered part of the larger political state.

The benefits of regionalism (federalism or confederation) are that beyond improving efficiency and effectiveness, it encourages local government to pull resources, talents and efforts. Grant Wood, the leading artist of regionalism and creator of the infamous American Gothic painting, held the notion that regionalism promoted a sense of pride in connecting to one’s roots and culture, especially of neglected regions.

Just like it’s linguistic regionalism when Coca Cola is referred to as ‘pop’ or ‘soda’, so too is linguistic regionalism when others begin to refer to the two English-speaking regions of this country as ‘Ambazonia’. Just like in Canada, people living in Quebec proudly refer to themselves as nationals of Quebec living in a united Canada, the hopes offered by regionalism as proposed by Emmanuel Macron, are that one day, people living in native West Cameroon, (today referred to as the North West and South West Regions), may proudly refer to themselves as nationals of Ambazonia in the United Republic of Cameroon. Why not, with the two-star flag.

And just like Quebecois attend ‘Le Jeux de la francophonie’ with a Quebecois-only football team (not Canadian national team), it is hoped that such regionalism would enable Anglophones attend Commonwealth games with Anglophone-only football team, not Cameroon national team as has obtained in the past. Why not add to it a national/international airport and dry ports?

*Colbert Gwain is a public intellectual, digital rights advocate, author, radio host and content creator @TheColbertFactor

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