Originally published in Winnipeg Free Press Wednesday, September 27, 1972
Stanley [illegible] YAOUNDE, Cameroun (Special-TPNS)
Eight years ago, when I first visited Cameroun, black Africa's only official bilingual state, the local brewery advertised in both English and French. Some placards read, "Beaufort is Your Beer", others, "Beaufort est votre biere." Now, all the Beaufort ads are in French. It is not always safe to base a political judgment on a bottle of beer, but, in this case, the brewery's advertising is a good reflection of what has happened in Camcroun. In a continent obsessed with rhetoric about African unity, Cameroun has long been hailed as a great experiment It is the only country in Africa made up of former British and French territories. In fact, Cameroon is by African standards, a reasonably united place. But much of the unity has come from French language and culture eroding English language and culture.
A young English speaker who wants to get ahead in the central government In Yaounde had better learn French. But a young French speaker need not worry about learning English. Cameroun has become a kind of mirror image of Canada. There are forces keeping English alive. The schools in the old British territory still teach in it. President Ahmadu Ahidjo, a French speaker, knows that without it, his country would no longer be special. But though English may hang on for a while, there are stronger forces working against it in the long run.
As in most African countries, both English and French are second languages learned outside the home. Few people have any emotional commitment to them. It is just as easy to learn one as another. In such a case, it is pointless to stand in the way of the dominant language. Since [illegible] per cent of Cameroon's six million people live in the old French areas, their ways must dominate.
Perhaps most important, unlike Quebec in Canada, the old British area of Ca- meroun no longer has any separate status or any legal guarantees to protect its identity. These were taken away this year. All this is not a calamity. It hardly matters to Africans who speak their vernacular at home which modern language they use in school, big business and government offices. But it does make Cameroun an uncertain advertisement for bilingualism.
Cameroun once was Kamerun, the pride of Bismarck's German empire. After Germany's defeat in the FirstWorld War, it was divided between Britain and France as mandates of the league of Nations and later as trusteeship of the United Nations. The smaller British Cameroons were ruled as an appendage of Nigeria and largely neglected by the British Colonial office. In [illegible] when independence [illegible]to erupt all over Africa, the United Nations held plebiscites in the British Cameroons to see whether they wanted to remain with Nigeria or join French Cameroun in independence. In the northern half of the British territory, the voters decided to remain with Nigeria. But the southern half, led by JOHN N. Foncha, chose French Cameroun by a vote of more than two to one.
Although FONCHA's campaign stressed the glory of reuniting the old Kamerun a country as large as California, most voters evidently voted his way because they did not want to get stuck in the Eastern region of Nigeria under the.domination of the Ibos, the people who later became the rebels of Biafra in the Nigerian civil war. Foncha and President Ahidjo of Cameroun agreed to a federation with its constitution guaranteeing the idnetity of the English- speaking area.
The federation was divided into two states, English-speaking West Cameroun and French-speaking East Cameroun. The constitution provided that the president and vice president would have to come from different states. The states had legislatures and prime ministers. The 10 western delegates to the National Assembly had the power to block legislation by the 40 eastern delegates. FONCHA became Ahidjo's vice-president and prime minister of the west [illegible]
Mr. Foncha and English-speaking West Cameroun seemed in a good bargaining position, for President Ahidjo needed all the allies he-could get. He faced a partly radical, mostly tribal rebellion in the Bamileke area of his country. A northern Moslem and the son of a Fulani chief, Ahidjo had a weak hold'on the more developed and Christian south. In the manner of most French African leaders, however, Mr. Ahidjo managed to strengthen himself and the central government in a remarkable way in a decade. With the help of French troops, he ended the rebellion.; By setting up a one-party state, he muted all his potential opposition, including the parties of West Cameroun. Mr. Ahidjo also strengthened himself by moving against regional leaders. Mr. Foncha, for example, was retired in 1970.
In a sense, Ahidjo was simply following French tradition. France is a highly centralized state. A federation with great power in the hands of small states seems illogical to a French-trained mind. By this year, Cameroun had become a federation in name only. West Cameroun's government was in charge of nothing but primary education and rural development. French-speaking and gun-carrying gendarmes walked the streets of Buea, the English-speaking capital, Ahidjo's administrator, the federal inspector, who hardly spoke a word of English, was the most powerful man in West Cameroun. Its politicians would not dare oppose anything proposed by Mr. Ahidjo.
In May, Ahidjo, perhaps annoyed by rumors that Mr. FONCHA was trying lo start a new political party in West Cameroun, decided to end the federation. He called for a referendum on a new constitution that would make Cameroun a "unitary state." In his announcement, Mr. Ahidjo said that the federal structure had been a waste of money and energy for small country trying to develop itself. At the same time, he pledged to maintain the "bilingual and pluricultural" nature of Cameroun.[illegible] the new constitution's only concession to West Cameroun was its inclusion of English as one of the two official languages.
West Cameroun would no longer have any special political rights or guarantees. The referendum was held in the manner of many Afirican elections. No politician dared raise an argument against the constitution. Officials harangued the population to vote in favor. The final vote was in favor and 176 against, a victory margin of [illegible] per cent. West Camerounians cast 133 of the no votes. After the election, Ahidjo divided West Cameroun into two provinces, the north- west and the southwest.
Buea, which once had been the capital of German Kamerun, then of the British Cameroons, then of the state of West Cameroun in a federation, was now only a provincial centre.Moschino - Stretch Gabardine Jacket (Cream) - Apparel