TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. September 2010

Sektion 1.3. Re-writing linguistic history – (post)colonial reality on the fringes of linguistic theories
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

The place of the English language in the construction
of a Cameroon anglophone identity

Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany) [BIO]



1. Introduction

The Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals in what is obviously a flagrant violation of the constitution of the country sent shock waves through English-speaking Cameroonians by banning the use of English during his press conference in Yaounde last Friday, January 5. (V.N. Mbai, The Post, January 8, 2007)

[...] nous assistons à l’impérialisme linguistique de certaines langues, il n’est pas inutile de préserver un espace où l’on parle français. (Paul Biya, interview France 24, November 2007)

The two quotes above, uttered in the year 2007, reveal two opposing positions about the status of two languages operating within the same country as official languages under a state bilingualism language policy. The two speakers seem to belong to two (opposing) poles, with each trying to project the importance of the language to which he belongs and at the same time deploring the pervasiveness of the other. These two languages are French and English. The two speakers interestingly are very unequal in political strength: the first is a reporter and the second is a head of state. The country, their country of origin, is Cameroon. But one thing makes them Cameroonians of different and conflicting belonging: the official language they each belong to, evident of course in the position they take in the excerpts above.

The use of strongly worded emotional statements like “flagrant violation of the constitution […] shock waves” and “l’impérialisme linguistique” by the two speakers shows that the languages they come up to defend represent identity signposts for them. These identities, built on two international, postcolonial languages, simply show the extent to which sociopolitical disputes within the country have extended to the linguistic realm and are hence expressed through various forms of linguistic victimisation. The political entities which reunited to form the then Federal Republic of Cameroon at the end of colonialism in 1961, now form themselves into identity in-groups on the basis of their colonial (language) belonging: French Cameroon now the francophones, and British Southern Cameroons now the anglophones.

The aim of this paper is to show at what point the anglophones consider themselves an identity entity through their use of English. In other words, how strong is the English language variable in the construction and consolidation of a Cameroon anglophone identity? Is this linguistic border strong enough to keep away non-group francophones, who, from a political point of view, are considered opponents or in some quarters oppressors? What then is the place of the over 270 indigenous languages in this identity battle? These questions form the basis of this paper and will be answered with the help of certain socio-political issues that have put these identities to a test in the past three decades. A close look at The Buea Declaration—the first official document on the marginalisation of the anglophones—will reveal the importance anglophones attach to English as their in-group marker.


2. Linguistic identities: To speak or not to speak others’ languages

C'est simplement parce qu'il s'est exprimé en anglais. On ne va pas fonder le monde de demain sur une seule langue et donc une seule culture, ce serait une régression dramatique. Nous nous battons pour notre langue. Ce n'est pas seulement l'intérêt national, c'est l'intérêt de la culture, c'est l'intérêt du dialogue des cultures. (Jacques Chirac, EU trade summit in Brussels, 2006)

I have to say I was profoundly shocked to see a Frenchman express himself in English at the [EU] Council table. That's why the French delegation and myself walked out rather than listen to that.  (Jacques Chirac, interview 2006)

‘To speak or not to speak others’ language(s)?’ is an inescapable question in the delineation of identity, especially in multilingual communities where linguistic communities are constantly in competition or conflict. Interestingly, the above statement is not made in the notoriously multilingual societies typified in sociolinguistic research (Africa, South East Asia, and the Caribbean) but in central Europe. With its elastic linguistic policy, it would have been expected that the use of any of the many EU official languages would not meet a radical repudiation as that shown by former president Jacques Chirac. His reason for storming out of the meeting is that “we cannot afford to build the future on one language and culture”, i.e. the English language and culture. To him, there must be a sphere in which cultures can dialogue, even beyond the limits of nationhood, and to achieve this we must not all flock to one culture.

The question that comes up in relation to the above is: How well can postcolonial nationals, who inherited some of these European languages and now have them as official media, create similar sociocultural identity and emotional attachment to them? Do these languages carry a culture that could be attributed to these regions, irrespective of what they represent in their European origins? Why should anglophone Cameroonians feel excluded from francophone circles simply because they speak English, and perhaps vice versa? The relationship between language and identity provides answers to these questions. First of all, these two languages have been significantly nativised to the sociocultural environment of Cameroon to a point where Cameroonians no more think of them as either repressive colonial tools or foreign codes. Second, the desire to thrive in political difficulties has pushed them to solidify in-group (linguistic) boundaries on basis of these two languages. Third, the much talk about bilingualism in the country is more a societal rather an individual status—making linguistic boundaries to be charted on these languages and even geographical basis. As a result, the over 200 ethnic groups with their distinct cultures seem to have merged into two superordinate cultures built on these two official languages. These superordinate cultures, it must be emphasised, are not in any significant way modelled on French or British(1) cultures, but are hybridised entities that bear signs of pre-colonial and colonial ways of life.

The type of linguistic victimisation carried out by Chirac in the above excerpts is also common in Cameroon and could even be worse; even though no Cameroonian claims ancestry to any of these languages. In anglophone as well francophone towns, there is a subtle attitudinal warfare that involves repudiating the other and his language (and perhaps culture too). The anglophones conceive of the francophones as cheats, political usurpers responsible for their marginalisation and so consider speaking French as further stooping to this marginalisation.(2) The francophones, on their part, regard the anglophones as political opponents, who will stop at nothing to oppose them. English for them is a tool of these opponents. Keeping them at bay therefore implies keeping English too at bay. The two groups (though with inherent differences within them) therefore keep reinforcing these identities, which unfortunately, given the diversity within each of the groups, are held together by language. And doing this is best achieved by ‘not speaking the other’s language’.


3. Language, ethnicity and social grouping

Several works have been published that study the intersection of language, ethnicity, race, culture, and identity. Attention has been paid to predominantly monolingual communities and multilingual societies in which speakers switch identities as they switch to other languages. Fishman (1989:7), for instance, believes that “at every stage, ethnicity is linked to language, whether indexically, implementationally or symbolically.” This is true as long as we accept that ethnicity does not preclude bi- or multilingualism. But if ethnicity is exclusive and prevents speakers from speaking many languages without necessarily ethnically identifying with them, then multilinguals would not operate convincingly in their competitive societies. Members of multilingual societies often construct identities that stretch across ethnic ties. In this regard, Le Page and Tabouret-Keller (1985) talk of identity fluctuation in Creole communities. Anchimbe (2005), in the case of postcolonial communities, comes up with the notion of identity opportunism in which multilingual speakers in competing postcolonial linguistic communities switch to the identities of the in-group whose language they temporarily switch to in order to benefit from the group. This makes a clear definition of patterns of social and linguistic identification very complex. It further shows that ethnicity is not always the major deciding factor. Economic survival, political security, and safety seem to be more important especially in multilingual communities in which skin colour does not necessarily betray racial or ethnic origin.

We can therefore talk of differences in the relation between language, ethnicity and identity in monolingual and multilingual (especially postcolonial) societies. These differences are important for any analysis of linguistic victimisation or sociolinguistic exclusion or inclusion in these two societies. In the case of Cameroon, focus, as mentioned earlier, will be on its postcolonial linguistic heritage. Ethnicity is ruled out given that none of the speakers of either English or French in the country can claim ethnicity to these languages. Since these languages were introduced during colonialism, and are not ethnic to the country, in the strict sense of the term, focus therefore will be on how sociolinguistic in-groups have been formed on them. These in-groups are in a way, especially among the anglophones, growing into ethnic entities larger than the indigenous or ethnic languages groups.


4. Cameroon: A complicated linguistic history

As stated by Mufwene (2001), Makoni and Meinhof (2003), and Anchimbe (2006), multilingualism in Africa started long before colonialism. Migration, trade, wars, and inter-ethnic marriages account for the mix of peoples and languages during pre-colonial days, when ethnic or racial entities were not distinguished on basis of nation-state but by their belonging together as cultural, linguistic and social groups. Cameroon, referred to often as Africa in miniature, still bears traces of these migrations. There is an estimated 200 ethnic groups in the country who use a total of about 270 ethnic languages. As Greenberg (1966) further points out, three of the four language families in Africa are found in Cameroon.

Colonialism therefore had two significant impacts on the linguistic status of the country: firstly, it complicated the multilingual landscape by introducing written languages whose functions differed from the local oral indigenous languages; secondly, it increased avenues for the construction of linguistic (and social) identities. The arrival of French and English eclipsed the hitherto smaller identity boundaries around indigenous ethnic languages, making it possible for several ethnic groups to group themselves together on grounds they share one of these languages. The outcome has been sentiments of attachment to French and English, which Anchimbe (2005) calls francophonism and anglophonism respectively. Another outcome has been fluctuations in identities since people often engage in identity opportunism in order to, 1) benefit from the group they are switching to, 2) avoid linguistic victimisation or exclusion, and 3) distil distrust in members of the group they are switching to. The anglophone group has over the years solidified its in-group boundaries to a point where, "the feeling of unity is s strong that 'being Anglophone' denotes a new ethnicity, transcending older ethnic ties" (Wolf (2001:223). This solidification entails creating religious, educational, cultural structures that target or are primarily reserved for the anglophones, especially in francophone towns. For more on the history and political impact of the anglophone identity consult Konings and Nyamnjoh (1997, 2003), Jua and Konings (2004).

Although focus in this paper is on official language identities, these are not the only identity signposts in the country. The official language identities take forestage, however, because they have been exploited for political gains. As explained in Anchimbe (2006), four main linguistic identity signposts could be spotted in Cameroon. These function as boundaries within which each group finds safety from the generally suspicious multilingual environment. These boundaries are: indigenous language boundaries: ethnic identity, official language boundaries: anglophone or francophone identity, English-French bilingualism boundaries: bilingual identity, social esteem boundaries: individual identity. In a sense, the languages in the country, except perhaps Cameroon Pidgin, provide linguistic in-group boundaries for their speakers. At all levels in these identities, there is exclusion and inclusion, sometimes due to the need to construct convenience boundaries to achieve momentary access to the group. These identities could be represented as in Figure 1 below.



Figure 1: Linguistic identity groups


The second tier in Figure 1represent the different identities within the country. These tiers apply to both francophones and anglophones; what may differ is the languages involved. A further tier is added to the official language identity showing the two main groups opposed to one another. Though these two groups claim the official language identity, they still belong to different, and in some cases, conflicting ethnic identities (for instance, the problems among anglophones). They nevertheless overcome these differences and conflicts through their common use of the official language.

It is not only language that gives people the sense of belonging together. Ethnicity, race, skin colour, body features, cultural practices, etc. also function as markers of identity (see Ross 1979, Giles and Coupland 1991, etc.). To these could be added natural geographical boundaries. These serve as physical gateways into the physical homeland, hometown, or own soil (as in son or daughter of the soil) and also the identity group constructed with these natural boundaries as icons.

Many of such natural geographical icons have been used by Cameroonians to build convenience identity groups. These “[g]eophysical similarities are used to bridge the more glaring differences of languages, ethnicity, religions and cultural practices. Common among these”, Anchimbe (2006:250) says “are references to regionally shared characteristics and natural boundaries.” During political campaigns and social crises, the following natural geographical elements are used to construct identities. These identities very often cut across ethnic boundaries and the anglophone-francophone official language divide that has strong historical (colonialism) origins.

None of these identities is foolproof binding. This explains why people generally turn to them only when there is an interest at stake that is above the ethnic or official language identities. The next sections seek to locate the place of English in the construction of the anglophone identity. Although the two anglophone provinces are situated on the other side or perhaps preferably on this side of the Moungo, this geographical marker is not enough to create an in-group that easily filters out non members. The English language seems to be that element.


5. Historical origins of the anglophone identity

The construction of identity groups is generally provoked by social suspicion. Although social identities may be common in all societies, these are not often the outcome of people questioning their belonging, their origin, their identity. These are generally occupational, regional, and generational (youth, elderly) groups that want to show they have something in common and not necessarily to keep off competing or opposing groups. However, in multilingual or immigrant societies, identity construction is in reaction to social hostilities from other groups. As hostilities intensify, so do groups tighten their identity boundaries. In situations where certain languages are imposed on people, the construction of identities may result in opposition camps that use their marginalised language to fight for their linguistic human rights. Kassahun Checole, organiser of the Asmara, Eritrea 2000 conference titled “Against All Odds: African Languages and Literature into the 21st Century” declared in his opening speech : “If you take away my right to speak my own language by mandating another language […], you pull me out of circulation; you take me out of the dialogue” (qtd Omoniyi 2003:13).

The anglophones in Cameroon intensified feelings of an in-group in the early 1990s when multiparty politics was authorised. This period, which Konings and Nyamnjoh (1997:207) term “the political liberalisation process,” saw anglophones complain of unequal treatment in the predominantly francophone administration, especially in appointment to government positions, the disproportionate representation in state agencies, the army, diplomatic missions, etc. All of these complaints have been summed up in the expression, “The Anglophone Problem” (for more see Konings and Nyamnjoh 1997). A brief historical sketch of the relationship between these two communities will help understand the origin of the animosities between them.

At the end of the First World War, the German territory Kamerun was shared between France and Britain. France gave up some of its smaller holdings in West Africa to take a greater part of Kamerun which it added to its Central Africa territories. Britain took two other smaller patches of what was left, i.e. British Northern Cameroons and British Southern Cameroons, which it administered from its Nigerian headquarters. At the time of independence in 1961, British Northern Cameroons voted to join Nigeria while British Southern Cameroons (the present-day anglophone provinces: North West and South West) voted to reunite with Cameroun (the former French colony). Franco-British colonialism could be said to be the beginning of the francophone-anglophone problems in the country today, and their search for identities that keep the other out. Although the two territories accepted to reunify in 1961 as a Federal Republic, they still maintained their official languages: i.e. English for the former British colony and French for the former French colony. During this period, there was no social discontent since each group had adequate autonomy and control over its policies.

In 1972, the two federal states decided to form a united republic. This ended federalism and launched an era in which both would try to find a common national identity that surpasses the regional identities built over decades of colonialism and federalism. The return to multiparty politics in 1990 was the peak of this search. It had two great historical landmarks in the anglophones’ quest for an identity and the disdain the francophones harboured for them: 1) the launch of the Social Democratic Party (SDF) in Bamenda, and 2) the post-1992 presidential election strikes (ghost towns), violence, and state of emergency in Bamenda (see Konings and Nyamnjoh 2003, Jua and Konings 2004, and Anchimbe 2005). 

5.1 Mutual suspicion

Since the early 1990s, both groups have been involved in circles of mutual suspicion. Each has stereotypes of the other, even up to the highest level of the administration. These stereotypes have been extended to the language each group speaks, and are responsible for resistance to learning them by school children and government workers. The low level of bilingualism in both official languages could also be attributed to this mutual suspicion. The impact is also strongly felt in the way members of each group treat members of the other group in government offices. It has resulted in many forms of linguistic victimisation. In some cases, interlocutors are obliged to speak the official language of the government official, and if they do not, they are not served. The following excerpts show how each group conceives of itself and the other. In his discussion of francophone “Anglophobia”, Ngome (1993:28) makes the following observation:

Anglophones see Francophones as fundamentally fraudulent, superficial and given to bending rules: cheating of exams, jumping queues, rigging elections and so on […] The Francophones are irked by what they see as the Anglophone air of self-righteousness and intellectual superiority.

Ngome shows how anglophones attribute positive qualities to themselves and negative ones to the francophones—group they consider is opposed to them or the group oppressing or colonising them (Chia 1990). Chia (1990:2), wrote during the hot political upheavals of the early 1990s. He criticises the dependent attitude of the francophones blaming it on the neo-colonial presence of France. He emphasises the positive attributes the anglophones hold for themselves. This phenomenon is typical of competing groups in mixed societies. It is a means of sanitising the in-group’s stance and giving it the moral backing to oppose the other.

The Francophone psycho-social background is neo-colonised and as such one must not expect them to be as independent-minded as the Anglophones. For instance, Anglophones see themselves as people who can live without depending on Britain and France for aid, but the Francophones do not even believe that they can run a simple administration in the civil service without the so-called expert direction from France. To blame them, nevertheless, is to condemn the deep French cultural alienation of Francophone Cameroon.

As a means of humiliating the anglophones, the francophones often refurbish the colonial link of British Southern Cameroons to Nigeria. Below, the Cameroonian ambassador to Belgium refers to her interlocutor from the South West Province as being part Nigerian and part Cameroonian (see Jua and Konings 2004). In similar humiliating situations the francophones use other words like Biafra, les Biafrains, or insults like anglofou,and anglofools on the anglophones, who also retaliate with insulting appellations like frogs, francofou, and francofools. So, it has moved from just mutual suspicion to mutual insult.

We recently heard the story that when told by a visitor that he hailed from Kumba, the economic capital of the South West Province in Anglophone Cameroon, the Cameroonian Ambassador to Belgium, Isabelle Bassong, exclaimed: “Oh, Kumba, donc vous êtes moitié Nigérien et moitié Camerounais”.

This mutual suspicion goes even beyond competence in both languages. Eyoh (1998:263) reports the frustration of one of his interviewees (a young, well-educated anglophone lady), who is still exposed to linguistic victimisation even when she tries to pass for a francophone. Her accent unfortunately betrays her.

No matter how bilingual you are, if you enter an office and demand something in French, because of your accent, the messenger may announce your arrival simply as ‘une Anglo’ or respond in a manner to mock. [...] But the constant reminder that as an Anglophone you are different creates the impression that we are second-class citizens. That is what irritates Anglophone elites. You can imagine the frustration of older and less educated Anglophones who have to deal with a bureaucracy which operates mostly in French and state officials who are so rude to the people they are supposed to serve.

The response of the anglophones has been outstanding. They have refused to be treated as second class citizens and have been involved in several protests activities that show their discontent. This has forced them into building a group that is united most strongly by the commonality of English. I will refer to just two of such activities.

First, two All Anglophones Conferences were held in Buea (1993) and Bamenda (1994). The Buea conference had the aim of “[...] adopting a common anglophone stand on constitutional reform and of examining several other matters related to the welfare of ourselves, our Posterity, our Territory and the entire Cameroon Nation” (The Buea Declaration). It came out with the Buea Declaration, which listed recommendations for changes in the treatment of the anglophones by the predominantly francophone administration. If these recommendations were not met “in a reasonable time”, then the second conference would be convened, whose aim would be to work towards the autonomy of the former British colony. Because the government refused to acknowledge there was an anglophone problem, the Bamenda conference was convened. Here groundwork was made for secession.

Second, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) formed during the Bamenda conference has launched a bid for secession. Although this was not supported by the SDF, the main anglophone political opposition party, it deepened the rift between the anglophones and francophones, giving them good reasons to intensify the stereotyping and linguistic victimisation. The anglophones have projected English, their claim to the Anglo-Saxon culture, their spirit of the force of argument (and not argument of force as the francophones, they claim), and the respect of law as in-group attributes.


7. The claim to an anglophone identity

This section identifies the qualities and icons that make the anglophones to cluster together as a group. The main marker of this identity, as mentioned before, is their common use of English, which they inherited from British colonial rule. Evidence for this will be provided from the Buea Declaration published after the First All Anglophones Conference.

Due to the historical disputes outlined above, the anglophones in Cameroon have come to consider themselves as a homogenous near-ethnic entity, held together not only by the commonality of English but also by several cultural and ethical values. These values, they claim, make them different from, and thus better than, the francophones. Spread across only two of the ten provinces of the country and occupying less than a third of the population, the anglophones are always united in their resistance or opposition to francophone hegemony. They claim to belong to the Anglo-Saxon culture by virtue of colonialism. This culture, as they hold it, defines the basic characteristics of this identity:

This identity is defined by use of the common law system, which stipulates a person is not guilty until proven guilty as opposed to French law in which a person is first of all guilty until proven otherwise. This is the basis for free speech both in court and out on the street. It perhaps explains why the anglophones are often ready to take on strike actions to resolve crises.

The English language and institutions created with English as major medium of instruction are at the centre of the anglophone identity. The curriculum of the University of Buea (UB) is almost exclusively in English. A running footer on the university’s website reads “UB: The Place to be. The Seat of English-speaking Higher Education in Cameroon”. In the past half decade many English-medium private nursery and primary schools have been created in francophone urban centres to carter primarily for needs of anglophones. These schools take much pride in offering English-only education. These schools are considered the only ‘safe’ places where anglophone children could grow up or develop strictly according to anglophone ideals without being intoxicated by francophone realities. Interestingly, these schools have more francophone children than anglophones (see Anchimbe 2005, 2007 and Mforteh 2006).

The Buea Declaration made several claims about the marginalisation of the anglophones’ language, English. Any misfortune befalling English is interpreted as a direct attack on the anglophones. The Declaration decries the secondary role of English in official texts and documents:

In spite of the officially bilingual character of Cameroon, and in spite of its wide international spread and high international standing, English is treated as a secondary language in Cameroon. Official texts and documents are issued mainly, and often exclusively, in French.

To the anglophones, pushing English to a secondary position is synonymous to pushing them, they for whom English is an identity marker, to a secondary position as well. The Declaration also makes reference to the broadcast of English programmes and events on national TV as opposed to French programmes:

Broadcast time on Radio and Television is very unevenly divided between English and French programmes, even though it does not take longer to inform, educate or entertain in French than it does in English. In the end, Anglophones who share equally in the burden of financing Cameroon Radio and Television get far less than ¼ of the service provided by this public utility.

The Declaration traces the linguistic issue farther back in history. It adds that:

After reunification all cinema theatres in Victoria, Buea, Kumba and Bamenda and other Anglophone towns were compelled to show only French-language films.

Television films and programmes originally made in English are shown in Cameroon only after they have been translated into French, and only in their French version.

The above claim makes it clear that the francophone administration has been involved in a systematic scheme of assimilating, or annulling anglophone feelings or identity. Forcing French-language films on people who had no competence in French at the time, i.e. 1972 cannot be interpreted otherwise. This has rather solidified the anglophone identity.

The use of the same ex-colonial official language has given rise to the notion of “Brother Nations”. Diplomatic documents make reference to some nations as “Brother Nations” but not others.  As the Declaration further points out:

Francophones forget that just as their “brotherliness” vis-à-vis Gabonese, Chadians etc. is enhanced by their common Francophone heritage, so do Anglophone Cameroonians feel “brotherliness” towards Nigerians born of a common Anglophone heritage.

Gabon, Chad, and other francophone countries are not only “Brothers” because of French colonialism but also because they use French like francophone Cameroon. The anglophones, faced with this, are therefore pushed to refurbish their common English language heritage with neighbouring Nigeria. This is ambiguous because anglophone Cameroonians consider it a grave insult to be referred to as a Nigerian. This is a limited type of what Lim and Ansaldo (2007) refer to as “identity alignment” in their study of displaced postcolonial communities of the Sri Lankan Malays.


8. How strong is this identity?

Linguistic identities in postcolonial multilingual and creole-speaking communities are not fixed; there are constantly adjusting and adapting to changing realities (see LePage and Tabouret-Keller 1985, Anchimbe 2007). The strength of these identities depends strongly on the opposition the group faces from competing groups. This therefore means that communities that claim a common identity may still have cones of smaller identity groups within them. These smaller cones are the strict, impenetrable, generally, ethnic bonds smoothed by the use of a common ethnic or indigenous language. The anglophones in Cameroon though united as an English-speaking community, still function on basis of cones of identities, at the ethnic, cultural, provincial and also the geographical specificity level. As mentioned earlier, they still remain bound together strongly enough when countered by francophones. Or put differently, they quickly fall back to their official language identity each time the francophones pose a threat.

But among the anglophones themselves there are many disuniting problems that seem to make it difficult to believe they claim a common heritage almost on the basis of ethnicity. This has led to the use of geographical and cultural characteristics to differentiate or to exclude other anglophones from certain anglophone in-groups. For instance, the two English-speaking provinces often find themselves opposed to each other in political issues. The South West Province considers the Social Democratic Front a typically North West party. As a result, a few parties were created to serve as South West parties on a par with the SDF. Again, to make a distinction between these two provinces, references such as the “grafi” (grassfields) and the “sawa” (the sawa cultures from Douala down the coast to Limbe) have emerged and are often used derogatorily. The “come-no-go” issue was a strong indication that the anglophones were only united inasmuch as the francophones posed a threat to them—since for most government agencies, the two anglophone provinces are treated as one region. The “come-no-go” was an attempt by the South West provincial administration to force out of the province North Westerners who had migrated to the South West province as labour force for the colonial plantations. It has, ever since, been a major rift in the relations between these two anglophone regions.

Besides these provincial disputes, ethnic groups or villages in the North West province have been engaged in several unending inter-tribal wars that have led to loss of lives and destruction of property. A recurrent conflict on these lines is the Bali-Kumbat vs. Bafanji wars. A recent one (2007) was between Bali and Bawock. But beyond these ethnic or village levels, they still identify themselves as anglophones and are united in their struggle against francophone hegemony.

The problems between the two anglophone provinces have somehow spread into diaspora communities from these provinces. These diasporas represent themselves and their anglophone identities online. They make a distinction between the North West (grafi) and the South West (Sawa). On the interactive columns of The Post Online Cameroon ( and Dibussi Tande ( there are many reactions to ongoing crises in the country and on the anglophone-francophone divide. In the following excerpts, the two posters make reference to the anglophone-francophone and the grafi-sawa problems. To the second poster (Ma Mary)—in reply to the first poster (SJ)—the grafi-sawa problem is escalated by the francophones to keep the anglophones divided and hence subdued.

SJ: Looking at the big picture negates the small picture and palavers of graffi and sawa, “northwest” and “southwest,” and it scares the apologists for this fatricidal jungle regime who would want the people of the Southern Cameroons to remain programmed in animus against each other.

Ma Mary: How would you feel if a Francophone said the following (I simply changed the characters in your statement above)?: “Looking at the big picture negates the small picture and palavers of Anglo and Franco, “French Cameroons” and “British Cameroons,” and it scares the apologists for secession who would want the people of the bilingual Republic of Cameroon to remain programmed in animus against each other. (see (Consulted 10.11.2007).


10. Conclusion

The future of an enduring anglophone identity based extensively on the use of English cannot be guaranteed on a hundred percent basis. No clear predictions can be made now given that the spread of English worldwide is still ongoing and may change communities beyond their natural sociocultural structures. One of such changes, as discussed by Anchimbe (2005) and Mforteh (2006), is the francophones’ continuous interest in, and learning of English. Francophone politicians strive to project themselves as bilingual in English and French. Many francophone parents are sending their children to English-only schools in Bamenda and Buea: two major anglophone towns. This notwithstanding, Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon, is determined to carve a haven in which French would continue to thrive in the face of what he refers to as “linguistic imperialism” by English:

We have ancient ties, cultural ties, at a time when we are witnessing the linguistic imperialism of certain languages, it is worthwhile preserving a space where French is spoken” Paul Biya, interview France 24 (November 2007).

The focus in this paper has been on English and how it has been used by those in the former British Southern Cameroons as the major icon of their identification. Occupying just two of the ten provinces, anglophone Cameroonians use English to define themselves, to fight for their rights, to exclude non-group members and above all to refurbish the links of unity created by colonialism. An ethnicity based on English and a claim to Anglo-Saxon culture has emerged, and is the springboard for opposition to the francophone-dominated administration. However, if English were to be taken away from this very multicultural and multilingual group, it would be left with more differences than similarities. But due to the overriding place of English as an identity marker, the strings of unity and similarity are still strong due to several reasons: 1) competition from the other major group, i.e. the francophones, 2) the ever growing strength of English internationally, and 3) the quest for lasting political, economic and social alliances.

Grievances like the anglophone problem, the Southern Cameroons secession bid, among others, are connected to the search for a linguistic identity centred on the English language. The Buea Declaration (1993) touched significantly on the unequal use of French and English. This inequality is interpreted as intricately representative of the marginalisation of the anglophones who are defined in relation to their use of English.

The above discussion has been based on the premise that the claim to any identity is incomplete if it is not accompanied by a language in which such an identity is expressed or transmitted. Since the late 19th century when imperialism was authorised at the Berlin conference of 1884, many European languages found their way into other parts of the world, especially Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. One of the outstanding outcomes of this expansion has been the creation of more identity attachment avenues in these languages. The anglophones in Cameroon therefore find in English a larger identity sphere within which to express themselves and the postcolonial values they consider a part of them.





1 The anglophones nevertheless claim strong attachment to, and affinity with, Britain and what they often refer to as the Anglo-Saxon culture. For instance, the University of Buea is referred to as an Anglo-Saxon-styled university.
2 This is an ambiguous position because anglophones generally have to learn French if they must work in the francophone towns, including the capital city, Yaounde and the economic capital, Douala. For them, emotionally, it is treacherous but pragmatically and economically, it is unavoidable.

1.3. Re-writing linguistic history – (post)colonial reality on the fringes of linguistic theories

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For quotation purposes:
Eric A. Anchimbe: The place of the English language in the construction of a Cameroon anglophone identity - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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