BAFOUSSAM, CAMEROON - Cameroon is still basking in the glory of this month’s upset victory at the Africa Cup of Nations. The trophy has been touring major cities in a government bid to bolster national unity. But that plan appears to be backfiring in English-speaking regions where an anti-government strike is deepening.
Thousands of supporters cheered the national football team as the trophy they won this month (Feb. 5) at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations arrived in Bafoussam, western Cameroon.
President Paul Biya called people to come out massively as a demonstration of national unity, says Njitack Ngompe Pele, traditional ruler of Bafoussam.
He says when youth score a victory, it is but normal for the community to recognize that. He says the team merits blessings, protection and congratulations and that is exactly what they are doing so as to encourage other youths to be hardworking and defend the interest of their country.
Boos, jeers in Bamenda
But the trophy got a different reception as it arrived in Bamenda in the northwest, one of the English-speaking parts of the country.
Hundreds of youth jeered and booed. Most people boycotted the event.
Bamenda has been the epicenter of recent anti-government demonstrations kicked off three months ago when local lawyers and teachers in English-speaking regions went on strike.
The government has responded by cutting the internet to the region and deploying troops.
At the trophy reception, youth leader Gregory Achu says the government’s response has made things worse.
"It is not moving. It is not moving. Things are not moving. We want internet back. We want peace," he said.
English-speaking professionals have refused to work in the northwest and the southwest to protest what they say is the overbearing use of French in schools and courts. Cameroon’s constitution says the country is bilingual. While the government has made some reforms and promised others, it has refused to release dozens of people detained in relation to the unrest.
Violence escalated as strikers demanded a return to federalism. Pressure groups calling for the English-speaking regions to secede also joined the movement.
President Biya says the unity of Cameroon is non-negotiable.
The strike has widened with people in English-speaking areas shutting their businesses on Monday’s, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. Schools remain closed.
Anne Nforgwi, an official of Cameroon’s ministry of sports, says boycotting the reception of the trophy was bad form.
"The victory was for all Cameroonians and all Cameroonians should have been happy about it instead of boycotting it because it was not a political issue," said Nforgwi. "So the people of Bamenda were supposed to be happy that they had a continental trophy after a very long time.”
The Indomitable Lions surprised everyone when they lifted the trophy at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. The national football team went into competition as an underdog after several top players refused to compete, preferring to stay with their teams in Europe.