Molyko, Southwest Region - Buea, Cameroon


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A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Unity-Disunity Messages and Comments on the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon

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Technological advances has decentralised public communication through networked digital communication. The present paper seeks to make a critical analysis of the contradictory discourses and conversations on Facebook about ways of resolving the Anglophone problem crisis and on the future of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. Since November 2016, the Anglophone populations have embarked in civil disobedience against the Government of Cameroon over the latter’s alleged slowness or refusal to address their grievances.

After some attempts to create and platform for dialog with the protesting parties, and due to continuing civil disobedience in the North West and South West Regions in Cameroon, the Government of Cameroon decided to disconnect the internet between January and April 2017 in the two regions. It was alleged that secessionists in the diaspora used the social media to disseminate their messages and manipulate the populations through fake information.

This paper makes a critical discourse analysis of trolls, and polarized conversations and discourses by Anglophones Activists on Facebook regarding the socio-political crisis that has been wrecking Cameroon since the end of the year 2016. Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) as a methodological and theoretical approach, and nationalism as the ideology, this study shows that there are two opposite views defended by Anglophones on this social media platforms: the separatists’ and the pro-unionists’ positions. On the one hand, the separatist activists through their Facebook posts discourse to repudiate the pan-Cameroonian identity which they associate to Francophonisation and cultural assimilation, and promote a separate Anglophone nationalism.   On the other hand, the pro-unity Anglophone activists defend national unity and reject the secessionist discourse, thereby reproducing and expressing their adherence to the Pan-Cameroonian identity. This study will try to go beyond linguistic elements analysis to include a systematic construction of the historical and political, sociological and/or psychological dimension in the analysis and interpretation of specific texts/discourse.

Key words: Critical discourse analysis, Facebook, nationalism, La République du Cameroon, Southern Cameroons, one united Cameroon, Ambazonia (Amazonians)



1.      Introduction

For more than a year now (Since November 2016), the Republic of Cameroon has been going through a crisis that was ignited by socio-political dissatisfaction. The on-going insurgency began with street manifestations and protests by Anglophone lawyers and teachers Unions, slipped into secessionist’s propaganda, civil disobedience, school boycott, arson, etc.  The socio-political situation of Cameroon is not an isolated case. Secessionist’ propensities and nationalist movements are resurfacing around the world today. According to EFA (2014) in Bieri (2014), separatist movements are also prominent even within the European Union, which now has over 40 separatist parties (EFA, 2014).  The most notable of these movements include Scotland in the United Kingdom, Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain, and Flanders in Belgium (Bieri, 2014, p. 1). In other parts of the world, secession propensities have shaken the foundations of established states like Cameroon’s neighbour Nigeria. This federal state has been grappling with the Biafra secessionist movement since the late 1960s. Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, South Soudan from Soudan. The Kurds in Turkey and in Syria organised a referendum in relation to their national identity in 2017. The longstanding tension between the Quebec Province and Canada is another proof that the established world order has not reached the stable point.

At the beginning of the on-going crisis situation, almost all the Anglophone population agreed that there is an Anglophone problem in Cameroon. Following schools and court boycott by Anglophone teachers and lawyers, the Cameroonian Central Government started negotiations with the trade unions and the civil society consortium, and made many concessions to the contesting parties. The Government put in place some political, judiciary and educational measures to resolve the problem. However, the negotiations resulted in a stale mate. Following that, civil disobedience intensified in the two regions after some leaders of the Consortium were arrested and jailed by the Government. Other leaders who succeeded to smuggle out of the country joined a host of Anglophones from the diaspora and they began organising activities from foreign countries. A great proportion of those populations did not adhere to the new turn of events whereby some Anglophone leaders living abroad began to fight for secession and independence of the two Anglophone regions.

When the open conflict broke out in November 2016, and all through the first phase of the crisis, there were apparently two separate camps: the Cameroon Government and the Anglophone people.  The position of some Anglophones regarding the future of the two English-speaking regions has radicalised, going from request for dialog to outright rejection of any form of discussion with the Cameroon Government. The Anglophone hardliners claimed that secession was the only means of bringing a sustainable and lasting solution to the Anglophone problem. From the request for decentralisation, or federalism, the only plea and request of those leaders was separation (secession), without which things would not come back to normalcy in the Anglophone regions. Following this, there has been only timid resumption of schools in those regions. The unbending positions of the secessionists has provided the opportunity room for the emergence and manifestation of a group online activists Anglophones who openly advocate for non-secession, dialog and peaceful resolution of the Anglophone problem under the Cameroonian nationality.  

1.1 Historical Background and Literature Review

Cameroon is officially a bilingual and bicultural nation which was established on 1st October 1961 after the reunification of the two Cameroons: the French Eastern Cameroon and the British (Southern) Cameroons. This political act came as a result of a referendum in the Southern Cameroons to determine whether the British Cameroons which had been administered by Great Britain under Nigeria under the League of Nations and the United Nations Organisation trusteeship. Before then, the two territories had been one German territory.

On Saturday 12 July 1884, Cameroon became a German protectorate whose colonial rule went with mixed blessings until Germany lost the First World War in 1914. As a result, Germany’s former colonies were placed under United Nation Organization. Cameroon was shared between Britain and France in the ratio one quarter respectively. French Cameroon (the three quarters) became independent on 1st January 1960. The British Cameroons were due to obtain their independence in 1961, alongside Nigeria. However, the conditions of their independence were set by the United Nations and the British Government. They had to choose to join either the French Cameroon, or remain as a integral part of Nigeria under which they had been administered until that time. While the Northern Cameroons opted through a plebiscite to join Nigeria, the Southern Cameroons chose to reunite with their Francophone “brothers’. According to Ebong Njume (P.7)  the British neglected their part of Cameroon as it was annexed to Nigeria and governed it like a Nigerian Province. This poor governance and treatment of Cameroonians as Njume notes “provided pro-reunification campaign ammunition for Foncha’s KNDP in the lead-up to the 1961 plebiscite. (Ebong Njume n.d P.7)”

It should also be noted that there was no consensus among Anglophone leaders about reunification with the French Cameroon in 1961 ((Konings and Nyamnjoh, 2000; Nfi , 2014; Anye, 2008; Konings, 2005[1]; Fonchingong, 1998). In fact, abundant literature shows that a number of Anglophone Cameroonians have always wanted to secede from Cameroon –since 1972–.  It appears that the United Nations and Great Britain that was exercising tutelage on the territory (Konings and Nyamnjoh, 2000) did not admit the third option: establishing their own independent state. Since then, some movements like the Southern Cameroons National Congress (SCNC) have always publicly advocated for secession, and have always attempted to hoist a flag other that the Cameroonian official flag on October 1st every year. However the movement has never been gained popular approval or been expressed so vehemently. The Anglophone dream of making a peaceful and harmonious union with their Francophone brothers of the other side of the Mungo turned out to be a nightmare, as many Anglophone activists lament.   Ebong Njume (n.d.) comments that

“…having been disappointed by the conditions of their annexation to Nigeria for decades, Anglophones are also disappointed by the dismal outcome to date of the more than 50 years of their union with Francophone Cameroon – a whole CENTURY thus lost in the chase of illusions”. (Ebong Njume n.d P.7)

The Anglophone communities have expressed their dissatisfaction about the union at several occasions, some of which were institutionalised. This is the case of the All Anglophone Conferences (AAC 1 and AAC 2) which were held in 1993 and in 1994. The Anglophones complain that their recommendations have received a deaf ear from the Cameroonian Government. Since November 2016, this disillusion of the Anglophones has been expressed vehemently throughout the two regions through civil disobedience, arson, mass protest, as well as armed conflict to obtain secession. The social media have played a great role in mass mobilisation as they have been the key means through which the secessionists (in and out of the country) have propagated their separatist ideology.

1.2 Research Problem

Since the Anglophone crisis is on-going, there is no study that has been carried out so far on how computer-mediated ideological discourse is used to challenge or reproduce the Cameroonian nationality or particularly how the Anglophone community defend Anglophone nationalism while repudiating their Cameroonian collective Identity.

Before the advent of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) resulting in the emergence of Social media, most revolutions and insurgencies have been instrumentalised either directly by orators, or via mainstream media (flyers, Press, Radio and TV). Recently however, the impact of social media has been felt in mass mobilisation for nationalist causes in general and secessionist inclination in particular (Qiyao Yin, 2016, Chiluwa, 2012; Christensen, 2011).

Till date, there are very few researches dealing with the discourse analysis of nationalist issues as they are captured by the social media. Some discourse analysts (Wodak et al, 1999, Cordor, 2000, Edensor, 2004, cited by Qiyao Yin 2016, Shey, 2011) have analysed how people make sense of their national identities in routine activities like shopping, driving and watching football. Other researches (Qiyao Yin 2016, Chiluwa, 2012, Christensen, 2011) have looked at how socio-political crisis have been treated by the mainstream media and the social media.

1.3 Research Objective

The ultimate goal of this research is to analyse how the Anglophone Community (both ordinary people and activists) have (through Computer mediated discourse) challenged while repudiating the Cameroonian collective identity to promote Anglophone nationalism on the one hand, or asserted and reproduced the Cameroonian nationality while rejecting the Anglophone nationalist ideology (separatism) in discussing nationhood in their Facebook conversations since the beginning of the Anglophone crisis in November 2016.  In addition, this research could offer the readers a general view of how ordinary people think about the Anglophone crisis and secession issue.

[1] Konings, 2005

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