Cameroon’s Parliament is divided over the so-called special status President Paul Biya ordered for the country’s English-speaking regions as a solution to the crisis that has killed more than 3,000 people.
Some lawmakers who convened for the extraordinary session of Parliament on Biya’s instructions suggest that only the creation of federal states, one incorporating the country’s English-speaking regions and the other made up of the French-speaking regions, can stop the crisis.
Others said the English-speaking regions’ special status already cedes enough power and resources to the crisis-prone areas, where separatists are fighting to create an English-speaking state
Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, speaker of Cameroon’s National Assembly, told the lower house of the Parliament that Biya asked him to convene the extraordinary session solely to examine the bill and vote it into law because Biya is determined to restore peace in the restive English-speaking regions.
Lawmaker Njume Peter Ambang from the English-speaking South-West said the section of the bill granting a special status to the English-speaking regions could calm rising tensions for peace to return.
“It is a moment for us to leave a legacy and we should look at this particular document with a lot of seriousness and responsibility,” Ambangsaid. “We owe Cameroonians a lot. This is the moment that I think we have to make Cameroonians to know that they elected us for their own interest.”
The bill envisages the creation of assemblies of chiefs, regional assemblies and regional councils for the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions with each of the two regions 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 also would also create the post of a public independent conciliators, responsible for solving disputes over the functioning of regional administrations. The bill also proposes more powers for elected mayors and would give them the authority to recruit hospital staff and teachers.
But lawmaker Henry Kemende, from the English-speaking North-West region, said the special status for the English-speaking regions will not solve the crisis because most English speakers expect the creation of a federal state recognizing the people’s cultural and linguistic diversity. He said the French-speaking regions should constitute one state while the English speakers form another in a federal republic.
“We thought that will have a bill that will admit the fact that we have failed in a unitary state and that we were going to try something different from the unitary state,” he said.
George Elanga Obam, Cameroon’s minister of decentralization, said by opting for the acceleration of decentralization, Biya is respecting proposals made by people his government consulted.
Obam said after consulting Cameroonians of all walks of life and organizing a national dialogue called by Biya, it was unanimously agreed that effective decentralization is the solution to the crisis in the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions. He said the special status will make the English-speaking regions more involved in making decisions that affect their lives and contributing to their own development.
Separatist leaders invited to the national dialogue this fall refused to take part, calling it a non-event. The talks recommended that the English-speaking regions be given special status.
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.