Constructing a Diaspora Anglophone Cameroonian Identity Online

Constructing a Diaspora Anglophone Cameroonian Identity Online

Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch008
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Abstract

The chapter illustrates how Cameroonians living in the diaspora discursively construct their identity as anglophones, i.e., as coming from the anglophone part of the country (the North West and South West Regions) in online interactions. In order to do so, they draw from several sources: the colonial history and heritage of the country, the geographical origins of the anglophones, and the linguistic factor: the use of English. Emphasising certain traits that make them different and superior, the anglophones create an in-group almost on par with ethnicity. This in-group is recreated discursively in the data used here. The data were collected from the interactive feature of The Post Newspaper, online version. The chapter concludes that virtual identity construction follows similar strategies as real identities in non-virtual communities albeit differences imposed by the medium.
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Introduction

Diaspora communication and identities are not at all new in current sociolinguistic research. Several significant findings have been made on how people in the diaspora from the same community or country tend to build in-groups through regular meetings, the use of language (dialects or sociolects), and other strategies (Anderson, 1983; Mühleisen, 2002). These are indeed real communities in which members attach faces to the names they call and the people they touch or see during meetings. But with the arrival of the internet, similar patterns of diaspora community building have emerged (see Donath, 1999; Hinrichs, 2006; Mair, 2003; Ponzanesi, 2001). In the virtual world, people have formed virtual communities representing the real diaspora communities and have engaged in identity construction activities and communication in pretty much the same ways – though with different specificities dictated by the medium – as in real communities. These online communities are, however, different from the real communities in many aspects: identities keep changing together with the virtual nicknames adopted by members of the community; members feel safer and more distant in the different nicknames they adopt and hence often become more ‘daring’ in the extent of their criticism or propositions on certain topics; they find it easier to change positions as long as they can change their identities; and they may be in different locations but are still strongly linked by the internet. Although most of these things also happen in normal, real communities, the patterns are less direct and the threats to cordial co-existence tend to be reduced. An important thing to note here is that, while diaspora communities generally celebrate the home abroad, they also generally transfer the tensions and problems – social, inter-ethnic, inter-tribal, inter-lingual – that are found at home to the diaspora community. These may not be in the same degree as at home, but they are nevertheless present.

This chapter looks into a virtual diaspora community of Cameroonians. Focus is on how anglophone Cameroonians construct their identity as an in-group marked especially by geographical origin: coming from the English-speaking part of the country (former British colony), and the common use of English. This discursive construction takes form especially when there is need to counter the francophones – from the French-speaking part of the country. It involves invoking several aspects supposedly linked to the anglophone heritage, among them, a claim to the anglo-saxon culture (being a British ex-colony), the pride in freedom of expression, reference to pre-independence power balance and political status quo, and so forth. By doing this, they accord themselves good qualities and to the other group bad attributes. Doing this discursively confirms what Seidel (1985) says: “Discourse is a site of struggle. It is a terrain, a dynamic linguistic and, above all, semantic space in which social meanings are produced or challenged” (p. 44).

The website from which the data were collected and in which this virtual community is built is the interactive feature of The Post Newspaper Cameroon (www.postnewsline.com). In these features, Cameroonians abroad react to news stories on issues happening back in the country. Since the reactions are in English, most of the interveners are, therefore, anglophones. They generally criticise the government which they believe is too francophone-inclined, hence distancing themselves from it. They often also defend anyone, especially anglophones or anglophone-friendly people, who are treated poorly in the country or have a misfortune. I am, therefore, concerned with how this Cameroonian anglophone identity is constructed, defended, and promoted in the face of supposed ‘marginalisation’ by the francophones. The data used here is part of a larger corpus of Cameroonian online discourse from 2004 to 2008 I am building. The news stories from which the excerpts are taken were published between 2006 and 2009, and were related to politics, anglophone marginalisation and the general administration of the country.

Key Terms in this Chapter

The Post Newspaper Cameroon: This is a private owned, English newspaper that has been running for about two decades now. It is noted for its critical perspectives on the government. It reports heavily on the anglophone regions. Its original website, www.postnewsline.com, was recently changed in 2009. The newspaper is now located at: www.thepostwebedition.com/Index.aspx. The interactive feature was turned off for some months but was reinstated in June 2009. Many members of the community lost contact with each other. The move has reduced traffic on the website and reduced the number of the community. In fact, there is a new community building up now with new names. The former site is now occupied by the blog “Upstation Mountain Club”, and it gives readers the chance to react to news stories and other articles culled from many sources, including newspapers, magazines, and other blogs.

Virtual or online identity: This could be looked upon from two perspectives: individual and collective identities. It refers to the ways in which an individual presents himself or herself in an online community or to how members of an online community construct themselves as belonging together, as sharing the same features or characteristics, and as propagating similar ideas. The traits of virtual identities, interestingly, are generally discursively projected. Pictures may also be used but the words individuals and communities use to describe themselves or others makes us know where they belong and what they profess.

Virtual Communities: Any group of people, whether consciously organised or not, who frequently share ideas in forums, websites and blogs on the internet or through emails. The communities may be centred around a particular event or around a particular group of people: diaspora from a given country, speakers of English in a non English-speaking country, etc. some of them have moderators who update the site, regulate traffic on the site, sanction those who do not follow the rules, and answer questions from members and non-members alike. These communities have also been referred to as online communities.

Cameroonian anglophones: Anglophones in Cameroon are those who occupy the two provinces or regions that were under British rule during colonialism. They use mostly English, since it is the language they inherited from colonialism. In political circles these two provinces are treated as one and are often erroneously placed on the same ethnic level with ethnic groups like the Betis, the Doualas, the Basaas, etc. The definition of who an anglophone is has been approached from different perspectives: historical, political, linguistic and geographical (see Figure 1).

SCNC: It stands for the Southern Cameroons National Council formed in 1994 after the second All Anglophones Conference that held in Bamenda, North West Region. Its major goal is to ensure that the anglophones secede from the Republic of Cameroon and form their own country following colonial boundaries. Different names have been proposed for the would-be country, Republic of Southern Cameroons, Ambazonia Republic, etc. The Council mounts pressures of various kinds on the government, e.g. it sued the government of Cameroon to the United Nations, declared independence of Southern Cameroons, and organises meetings from time to time. The government, however, treats it as an illegal organisation and has been arresting and detaining its members.

Identity opportunism: It refers to “the spontaneous changes, fluctuations, and adaptations speakers make each time they use one language or another for specific reasons. It covers those strategies that make the use of one language more acceptable than the use of another; that give a sense of attachment or status to a given language and its identity; that make one feel at home and linguistically secure, at least for the moment, in given contexts and situations; and that provide linguistically solid foundations for the exclusion of out-group and non-group members” (for more see Anchimbe, 2006, p. 249).

Diaspora community: Any community of people from the same country or region living in another country (or countries). They are considered a community if they consciously collaborate on basis of their belonging to the same country or region of origin. Collaboration could be through meetings and social events that are or are not linked to life in the country of origin.

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