BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Excitement filled the air as residents of Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region, awaited the national football team’s matches in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil this month.
Whistling and hooting rose from the streets on June 13, the day of the team’s first match in the competition underway in Brazil. Hundreds of residents donned jerseys featuring the colors of the national flag – green, red and yellow.
In the city’s main market, a group of men and women sporting Cameroon jerseys moved from shop to shop, whistling, singing, shouting and clapping. Merchants and shoppers cheered them on. A member of the group wore a lion’s head mask in honor of the football team, which is nicknamed the Indomitable Lions.
Cameroonian flags hung from every corner of the market and decorated motorbikes zooming through it. Hawkers moved from street to street, selling flags and caps featuring the flag’s colors.
Rene Ngang, an Anglophone merchant in Bamenda market and a die-hard fan of the Indomitable Lions, says he plans to watch World Cup competition from start to finish.
“l have to close my shop most of the time for about a month,” says Ngang, who sells electronics. “I don’t want to miss any of the matches, especially Cameroon matches – not even for a second.”
Watching the Indomitable Lions play is the only thing that makes Ngang feel like a Cameroonian, he says.
At other times, Ngang feels like a foreigner in his own country because Anglophones are hardly involved in governance, he says. Francophones dominate the government, including the National Assembly, Cameroon’s parliament, he says.
Cameroonians elect their representatives to parliament. Anglophones, being a minority, elect fewer members of the National Assembly than Francophones.
The nation’s president is Francophone. Although the prime minister is Anglophone, Francophones hold most other top government positions.
That makes Ngang feel like an outsider, he says. The only exception is when the national team takes the field.
“When Cameroon is playing, I throw away all my annoyance towards the government and focus on the love I have for Cameroon through the Lions,” he says.
English-speaking Cameroonians – who occupy the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country – do not get opportunities equal to those of the citizens living in the nation’s eight Francophone regions, Ngang says.
Ngang, who graduated from college eight years ago with a degree in sociology, has yet to find a job. The dominance of the French language in Cameroon is partly to blame for his joblessness, he says.
Cameroon is bilingual, but since there are more Francophones than Anglophones, French is the country’s dominant language.
Twice Ngang was invited to interview for jobs in private companies in Francophone Cameroon, and he was disappointed to find that both were conducted in French, he says. Unable to speak French, he missed both opportunities.
The companies’ failure to level the field by interviewing all candidates in their native languages is a form of discrimination, he says. But football relieves his frustration.
“With the state of things in the country, my patriotism is dying,” Ngang says. “My spirit of patriotism unconsciously comes alive when Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions are playing.”
Cameroon’s minority English-speakers say the World Cup conjures a rare patriotism amid the discrimination they typically feel by the government and French-speaking citizens. Francophones get most of the government jobs, and development is skewed toward Francophone regions, Anglophones say.
Francophones point out that language can be a barrier for all citizens but acknowledge that Anglophones face more obstacles. Officials say some marginalization of Anglophone citizens may occur but that the government strives to ensure regional balance in its programs.
This year’s World Cup marks Cameroon’s sixth appearance in the competition’s 84-year history. In 1990, Cameroon became the first African team to reach the quarterfinals.
Cameroon has lost to all three of its 2014 World Cup opponents – Mexico, Croatia and Brazil.
Anglophone Cameroon comprises just over 16 percent of the country’s population, according to 2010 data from Cameroon’s National Institute of Statistics.
Agnes Tangie, an Anglophone and head of the history department at the Government Bilingual High School in Bafut, a town in the Northwest region, says Cameroon’s colonial history caused the chasm between the nation’s Anglophone and Francophone citizens.
Britain and France jointly assumed rule of Cameroon in 1916. Britain administered its territory in English, and France administered its much larger territory in French.
The Francophone and Anglophone regions unified after Cameroon gained independence in 1960. Francophones have dominated government and private sector offices since unification, Tangie says.
The minority Anglophones felt like strangers in a foreign country whenever they traveled to French-speaking regions, she says.
Ngang has lost hope of finding a government job and now focuses on his business, he says.
French-speaking candidates are better able to pass the “concour,” an exam people take when seeking admission to training institutions or applying for public service positions, so they get most of the jobs, Ngang says.
He has taken the exam twice and failed, he says. The second time, he passed the written part but failed the oral part as it was conducted in French.
Many Anglophones meet the same fate when taking the exam, he says.
“You drop your application, they hire a Francophone instead,” he says. “You write a concour, and the Francophones carry the day.”
Although government officials have stressed in TV speeches their commitment to ensuring that all regions get an equal share of national resources and opportunities, the government does not carry out that policy, Ngang says.
The government concentrates development projects in Francophone regions, he says. Those regions have the best roads, airports and learning institutions, while the Anglophone regions have poor roads and a run-down airport.
At the time of unification, the Southwest region’s airport, Tiko Airport, was one of the nation’s best, he says. Since the government opened airports in Yaoundé and Douala, cities in Francophone Cameroon, it has fallen into poor condition.
The Northwest region did not have a university until the government opened the University of Bamenda two years ago after Anglophones pushed for its establishment, Ngang says.
“I wish the government took regional balance seriously so there is equitable development in the country,” he says. “I do not hate my French brothers and sisters. I hate the system. I hate the state of things. I hate anyone who is promoting marginalization and discrimination.”
Charity Nebare, an economist working with the divisional delegation of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Donga-Mantung, a division in the Northwest region, affirms Ngang’s insistence that Anglophone regions have received less than their share of development resources.
Road infrastructure is poor, she says. She cites the border town of Bakassi in the Southwest region, which has no asphalt roads even though the area is a source of crude oil.
The Cameroonian Constitution states that all citizens have equal rights and obligations and that the state has a duty to ensure the protection of minorities.
However, development is not the sole responsibility of the central government, Nebare says. Mayors and members of parliament who receive funds for micro-projects should spend it carefully to benefit the people.
Driscol Eyong, an Anglophone taxi driver in Bamenda, also cites discrimination from French-speaking citizens. He feels like a foreigner whenever he travels to Francophone Cameroon, he says.
“It is difficult to go to Yaoundé, Douala or any other French-speaking region because they regard Anglophones as fools,” he says. “Francophones even change the word ‘Anglophone’ to ‘Anglofools.’ I once went to Yaoundé, and as I was asking for directions to a certain office, residents mocked me because I was speaking in English.”
But, like Ngang, he says that football makes him forget about the problems he faces as an Anglophone.
“Football brings Cameroonians together, irrespective of tribe, language and class,” he says. “When Cameroon is in an international football encounter, we all speak the same language.”
Despite the losses that dashed Cameroon’s hopes of winning this year’s championship, many Cameroonians still feel proud of their team’s efforts and recognize the game’s unifying effects.
In Cameroon’s second match, it lost to Croatia 4-0. A visibly disappointed Boris Asonga, a football jersey vendor at the Bamenda main market, says afterward that Cameroonians should unite in support of the team even though it did not perform as expected.
“The Lions need our support,” he says. “Let’s give them the support they deserve, especially in this time of defeat.”
Asonga remains an ardent supporter of the team, and his love for his country has not waned, he says.
Although Ngang had felt confident Cameroon would make it to the second stage – and even the finals – he still feels proud of the team’s participation in the global competition.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m sure they will perform better in the next World Cup,” he says.
Natalie-Flore Ngoumeni, a Francophone and a teacher at Providence Bilingual Primary School in Bamenda, says discrimination is everywhere, although she acknowledges that Anglophones encounter it more.
Although Ngoumeni belongs to the majority, language has also been a barrier for her. When she joined the Government Teachers’ Training College in Bamenda last September, she was surprised to find that lectures were delivered in English even though she had written her entrance exam in French, she says.
In general, lectures are delivered in English at Anglophone universities and in French at Francophone institutions. Only large institutions such as the University of Yaoundé are bilingual.
Cameroonians are admitted to universities irrespective of their primary language and are informed in advance of the language of the lectures. Students pay private individuals to translate lecture notes for them.
To counter the derogatory term “Anglofools” that Francophones apply to Anglophones, English-speaking citizens call their French-speaking counterparts “Francofools.”
But Anglophones face an even bigger challenge in Francophone regions, Goumeni says. People refer to them as “les Bamenda,” or “people from Bamenda,” in a derogatory tone.
“Before, I used to address Anglophones using the provocative phrase ‘les Bamenda,’” she says. “But today, I am a changed person. I have come to understand that we are all human beings, and we are all Cameroonians.”
Francophones feel superior to Anglophones because they are the majority, she says.
Didier Ngono, an Anglophone student at the Higher Teacher Training College in Bambili, a town 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Bamenda, agrees that Francophones get more opportunities than Anglophones, but he says that is because they are the majority.
“It is true there are many French-speaking Cameroonians in positions of responsibility,” he says. “This could be because French-speaking Cameroonians far outnumber English-speaking Cameroonians.”
Despite being a minority, Ngono disagrees with other Anglophones that football is the lone driver of patriotism. He feels Cameroonian at all times, he says.
“I love football, no doubt, but I love my country more,” he says.
Still, Ngono admires the patriotic spirit of all Cameroonians during international football tournaments, he says.
Irene Jaidzeka, regional director of the National Civic Service Agency for Participation in Development for the Northwest region, says she receives a lot of complaints from Anglophones. The most common complaint is that Anglophones are forced to take oral examinations in French and consequently fail.
Written parts of concours are usually done in both English and French, says Jaidzeka, an Anglophone. Candidates who pass the written part of the exam and are admitted to learning institutions in Francophone regions have to face a French-speaking panel for an interview, which is mostly done in French.
Anglophones have also called on the government to offer official documents in English, Jaidzeka says. They argue that the government should be accessible in both languages.
Because not everyone speaks the same language, everyone has the right to write or speak in English or French, Jaidzeka says.
Jaidzeka’s role in the agency is to educate Cameroonians on their civic responsibilities, which it defines as maintaining peace and promoting integration, she says. Although she recognizes that marginalization remains a problem, she encourages Anglophones to look for the positive aspects of their nation.
“In every country where there is a minority and a majority in the population, the minority can never equate with the majority,” she says.
The government considers regional balance when planning its development programs, such as jobs and training, Jaidzeka says. It allocates opportunities to join training institutions and enter public service according to regional populations. More populous regions get more of these opportunities.
There will always be instances when Anglophones feel marginalized, Jaidzeka says. Anyone who encounters a case of discrimination – for example, being denied a job because one is an Anglophone – should take legal action.
Integration between English- and French-speaking Cameroonians will happen gradually as the agency educates citizens on the importance of unity and peace, Jaidzeka says. In July and August, for example, the government will conduct a youth camp on civic responsibilities.
“Change is not a day’s process,” she says. “It is a gradual and continuous process.”
She calls on Cameroonians to be patriotic at all times.
“If Cameroonians could be as patriotic as they appear during international football encounters, Cameroon would be a better place,” she says.
Eyong says he would love his country more if all Cameroonians received equal opportunities in all spheres of life.