The `Frenchification` of Anglophone Courts in Cameroon

This is a guest post written by Amabo M.Law Court

The Republic of Cameroon is a multilingual country with two official languages (English and French). These official languages are the heritage of Franco-British rule in the country between the end of the First World War -which ended Germany`s presence in Cameroon and Independence.

However, there is an unequal distribution in the usage of English and French as official languages with a minority English speaking Population and majority French speaking Population. Hence, the policy of official language bilingualism, originally aimed at guaranteeing political integration and unity of Cameroon, now seems to constitute a source of conflict and political disintegration with conspicuous acts of marginalization of the minority by the majority population.

For decades since the independence of Cameroon, the Anglophones have constantly been in the battle of trying to negotiate their identity in the country. There has always been a call to denounce the Frenchification of Anglophone Cameroon and severe criticism of the Francophone-dominated states`s neo colonialism and repression coined the `Anglophone Problem`. The Anglophone Problem is actually not a forbidden ground when discussing Cameroonian politics. In fact, there are several expository write ups on the issue even by Francophone scholars like; `Tribalisme et Problème National en Afrique Noire` .Without exaggeration, the Anglophone marginalization problems is one of the most important problems in the country which the government has so far handled with somewhat irresponsibility. That notwithstanding, one should not overlook the fact that there are equally some Francophone intellectuals and activist who empathies with the Anglophones without necessarily approving the call for federalism.

Among several confrontations between the Francophone-dominated state and the Anglophones were major issues like, the demand for an autonomous General Certificate of Education (GCE) board-1990-1993 and the protest against the government´s announced privatization of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC)-1994, which were the remnants of the Anglophone Identify and Heritage. These were some of the occasions where the Anglophones out rightly demonstrated their solidarity to the course of fighting the Anglophone Battle. However, the victory obtained from these two battles where short-lived following a comeback by the government which took the Anglophones by surprise withdrawing their previously offered concessions. Recently, an event of this nature surfaced with an attempt to Frenchify Law courts in the North West Region- a major English speaking Region.

English language which is the modus operandi in the courts of the English speaking part of Cameroon has suffered major setbacks in North West courts over the past months. A decision by the President of the North West court of Appeal last February 2015, compelling lawyers to make their court submissions in the French language was seen by the Anglophone Lawyers as a complete violation of the Common Law system and procedure, practiced in this region. Apparently, this decision stemmed from the fact that, most of the Magistrates that were recently appointed to courts in the North West Region are Francophone who can hardly use English as a working language-an evidence of Frenchification of Anglophone Cameroon.

Instead of them trying to adapt to the Common Law system like their Anglophone colleagues appointed to courts in the French speaking part of Cameroon, who adapt to the Civil Procedure system; receive court submissions in French and render decisions in French, these Francophone Magistrates rather prefer to cause the Common Law system to ‘adapt to them’.

According to, Barrister Robert Nso Fon, the President of the North West Lawyers Association (NOWELA),“We are obliged to make our submissions in French, so why would they oblige us to make our submissions in French again in our own courts? It is clear that they simply want to completely eliminate the common law system in Cameroon. We the lawyers could understand and even speak the broken French, but what about our clients who understand no single word in French?.

Last year, there was a move by the government to post Notaries to the English speaking part of Cameroon, something which is contrary to the Common Law tradition wherein, every practicing lawyer automatically acts as a Notary Public. This faced fierce resistance from the Anglophone Lawyers.  This year there is the issue of the use of French in English courts.

In the past, it was very common to find discussions of Anglophone problems without constructive and practical recommendations on how these problems can be solved. Frustrated and disgruntled, the Anglophone lawyers (of the Common Law extraction) met in Bamenda on May 2015, to adopt resolutions to address the situation, amongst which is a resolution demanding the French dominant Biya regime to return Cameroon to Federalism. It is ambitiously reasoned out that, Federalism would go a long way to permit the peoples of the two cultures to develop themselves freely while adhering to the same constitution as a Nation. Considering that, these demands have been put forward by lawyers, it is envisaged that it will not be taken for granted.

It is the right of every group of people on planet earth to pursue their happiness and liberty with the use of all the resources at their disposal, without infringing on the rights and liberty of others. If Anglophones in Cameroon, after a `came we stay` marriage of perseverance for more than 50 years, do not see the long courting period productive, it is not over demanding of them to take an `ausfahrt` seeking alternative solutions. The Anglophone problem is definitely not just a problem to the Anglophones but to the Cameroonians because it handles issues like marginalization, exclusion and unfair distribution of wealth throughout the country. If the Anglophone problem can be discussed frankly in the spirit of patriotism without mischievous calculations resulting to seeing Federalism as a step towards secessionism, then that will definitely be a step in the right direction.

Notes: See May 9, 2015, Resolutions of Anglophone lawyers below.

PROPOSALS FOR A NEW DIRECTION IN THE JUSTICE SECTOR IN CAMEROON: 

  1. We demand an Independent Bar Association free of any Government Supervision and Control.
  2. We hereby propose a new direction for the future of the Justice Sector in Cameroon and recommend the creation of a national, Independent Law Reform/Review Commission comprising principally, Practicing Lawyers, Jurists and Judges.
  3. We therefore recommend that:
  4. The government should halt any project on the harmonization of laws until the national law commission is put into place and functional.
  5. All Judicial Processes and proceedings in the Common Law Jurisdictions should be conducted in the English language – in criminal matters; this should be from interrogations through investigations to hearing and Judgment.

iii.           The Two Divisions of Common Law and Civil Law be clearly defined and operated side by side in ENAM and the quota of intake in both divisions known in advance. Only common law trained Magistrates to be posted in the South West and North West Regions and Civil Law Trained Magistrates to the Civil Law Jurisdictions.

  1. That the Educational System in the South west and North West Regions should not be adulterated, English speaking citizens should have their studies in the English language from cradle to professional life. That all Public Examinations be organized in two Poles; English and French with none being translated from the other and the quota in both poles known in advance.
  2. We demand the establishment of TWO chambers of the Supreme Court of Cameroon that represent the Common Law and Civil Law System,with Judges appointed to the Chambers from Common Law and Civil Law backgrounds to address legal issues from both legal cultures respectively.  In this regard, we propose the appointment of Judges from the Private Bar into the Various Courts of Justice of the Common Law System.
  3. We recommend the amendment of law no. 90/059 of 19th December 1990 to organize practice at the bar and make provision for the creation of Law Schools.
  4. We propose the creation of a National Council of Legal Education to ensure the direction of legal education in the Common Law and Civil Law jurisdictions, develop curricula for academic and professional training of lawyers and to set up and supervise a system of continuing legal education for Lawyers, Prosecutors, Judges/Magistrates and other judicial actors.
  5. We also reiterate our previous resolution unanimously endorsed at the Cameroon Bar Association’s General Assembly in Buea on the 28th day of June 2014; that no Notaries be appointed in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon.
  6. We have observed with utter dismay that there has been and continues to be a lack of protection with regard to the rights of the minority(Anglophone Cameroonians) as provided for in the constitution of this bi-jural, bilingual and bi-cultural nation. It is obvious that the rights of the Anglophones in Cameroon in the spheres of education, socio-cultural values,administrative set ups etc, are continuously and systematically being eroded with a view of imposing the socio-cultural and administrative views of the French and or Civil heritage of the majority Francophone Cameroon.
  7. We demand that the State should exercise its Constitutional duty to protect the Anglophone minority and by so doing, protect our history, heritage, education and cultural values. Consequently for the better protection of the minority Anglophone Cameroonians and the Common Law heritage, we strongly demand a Federation.
  8.   We hereby give Government a reasonable period from the date of deposit of these resolutions through the Bar Council to react positively to our demands, failing which this conference shall take the necessary disposition within the national legal frame work and if dissatisfied, seek further redress from international dispute resolution fora as shall be deemed appropriate.

DONE AT BAMENDA THIS NINTH DAY OF MAY 2015. 
SIGNED AND ENDORSED BY ALL PARTICIPANTS PRESENT AT THE CONFERENCE. 

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