Cameroon's Senate is seen in session in Yaounde, Cameroon, Dec. 20, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)
Cameroon's Senate is seen in session in Yaounde, Cameroon, Dec. 20, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

YAOUNDE - Cameroon's Parliament approved legislation granting two English-speaking regions in the country special status. But lawmakers representing the Northwest and Southwest regions says the law will not solve the ongoing separatist crisis there.

Aboubakary Abdoulaye, the French-speaking senior vice president of Cameroon's Senate, the legislature's upper house, who presided over Friday's closing plenary session of an extraordinary session of Parliament, said approval of the bill should end the violence over the issue.

"Permit me to particularly point out the special status which the Northwest and the Southwest regions will henceforth be entitled to. It is therefore high time to silence the guns. It is therefore high time to stop the killings, violence and destruction."

The extraordinary sessions of the upper and lower houses of Parliament were convened a week ago following instructions from Cameroon's President Paul Biya.

Aboubakary Abdoulaye, senior vice president of Cameroon's Senate, the upper house of parliament, addresses lawmakers in Yaounde, Cameroon, Dec. 20, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

Biya's bill, which was voted on by both houses, would create assemblies of chiefs, regional assemblies and regional councils for the two English-speaking regions, with each of them having elected presidents, vice presidents, secretaries, public affairs management controllers and three commissioners responsible for what the bill describes as economic, health, social, educational, sports and cultural development affairs. It would also delegate more powers to elected mayors and give them the authority to recruit hospital staff and teachers.

Cavaye Yegui Djibril, speaker of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, says the new law reflects the views of a majority of those consulted by Biya and Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute prior to the extraordinary sessions.

He said the special status for the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions will consolidate national unity and integration and the will of Cameroonians to live together as an indivisible people. He said the law will boost economic and cultural integration.

French-speaking lawmakers, who constitute more than 80% of the 180-member lower house and 85% of the upper house, largely voted the bill into law. The opposition Social Democratic Front, which has 13 English-speakers out of its 19 members in the lower house and seven English-speakers from the Northwest region in the upper house, refused to back the bill, with some refusing to vote and others voting against it.

SDF spokesperson Denis Kemlemo described the special status by phone to VOA by phone as an insult to English-speaking Cameroonians who want more autonomy in the majority French-speaking country.

Lawmakers of Cameroon National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, are seen in session in Yaounde, Cameroon, Dec. 20, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

"They have deliberative powers and not legislative powers which means that they cannot make laws. This is terrible. Another very vexing clause in that status is that there is no financial autonomy. What goes to the Southwest and Northwest, the special status regions, still depends on the political whims and caprices of the president [of Cameroon] and the government in place at the moment," he said.

Kemlemo said most English-speakers expect the creation of a federal state recognizing their cultural and linguistic identity. He said the French-speaking regions should constitute one state while the English speakers form another in a federal republic. Kemlemo said the bill, a majority of the English-speaking lawmakers refused to vote for or voted against, cannot solve the crisis in the English-speaking regions.

The special status for the English-speaking regions was proposed during the so-called grand national dialogue called by Biya last Sept. 30 through Oct. 4 to propose solutions to the crisis in the country's English-speaking regions.

Separatist leaders invited to the national dialogue refused to take part. On social media, they have called the special status a non-event, indicating that they want nothing but total independence for the English-speaking regions.

Violence erupted in 2017 in Cameroon's English-speaking regions when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority. The crisis has killed at least 3,000 people and displaced over 500,000, according to the United Nations.