Cameroon: the Anglophone crisis and football
Cameroonian clubs PWD Bamenda and Young Sports Academy have announced their intention of not taking part in next year’s Elite One, the top tier of football-famous African country.
The main reason is neither financial, nor competitive, but safety: Both teams have witnessed acts of terror against them. During the regular season both Emmanuel Ndoumbe Bosso (YOSA coach) and Augustine Choupo (PWD coach) have been kidnapped by armed groups of separatists and have been released only when they’ve been given an ultimatum to leave the region immediately.
Both clubs are based in Cameroon’s turbulent Northwest region, where the Anglophones predominate. In recent years there’s an armed conflict there, with separatist groups aiming to establish an independent republic of Ambazonia. The former region of Southern Cameroons (currently divided into the Northwest and Southwest regions) was administered by the British since the end of World War I (where the former German Cameroon colony was divided between British and French). Back in 1961 the locals, who were trained in English colonial schools, have been offered two choices, to join (Anglophone) Nigeria or (Francophone) Cameroon. They opted for the second choice, but with the safety valve for full autonomy for their region, language and culture.
The Federal Republic of Cameroon lasted only 11 years. In 1972 it was transformed to a unitary state, with Francophones being the absolute majority everywhere, including sports and especially football. There was no coincidence that in 1982, when current president Paul Biya has taken power, the national football team (the Indomitable Lions) has gained world headlines with their excellent performances at the FIFA World Cup held in Spain. They went home without losing a match, holding eventual World Champions Italy to a 1-1 draw and losing a second round spot on goal average.
Football became a major issue of the country’s international image. The government supposedly tried to make it a hard weapon for establishing national unity, but the truth is that Anglophone clubs never had the chance to compete equally with the Francophone region. When an Anglophone club had augmented chances of winning the championship trophy, some poor refereeing and even some rule changes during the seasons were enough to prevent them from doing so.
A result of this football discrimination is that in whole 59 editions of the Cameroonian championship, only once the title have gone to an Anglophone club: That was back in 2009, when Tico United, a club of the Southwest region, went all the way. Nowadays Tico United has been relegated to local division, being stripped off all fine players and sponsor money.
There’s discrimination for the Anglophone players too. Most of them leave the country at a young age to seek their fate into European minor leagues, as the vast majority of them has not any chance for a call to the national team (even at the minor age tournaments), so they can prove their talent and catch various scouters’ eyes.
In fact, in every Cameroon squad from 1982 to this day, Anglophones were a slight minority, if any. Anglophone websites celebrated in 2017, where four Anglophones made the final squad for the 2017 AFCON Championships.
The football federation of the country is trying to avoid violence by relocating almost all league matches, so the Anglophone clubs wouldn’t have their home advantage when entertaining Francophones. But this is rather an ostrich’s reaction, placing the head under the sand and not trying to fix the problem.
From September 2017 onwards Cameroon is close to a civil war situation, as separatist groups from the Anglophone territories declared the independence of the region under the name of Ambazonia and began fighting against the government troops. Major European (and former colonial) power Britain and France called for the conflict to be solved politically and not militarily.