A story of discord – protest – demonstrations-paramilitary occupation-unlawful killings – razzia’s-guerrilla-war – massacres – even genocide? When will it stop?
“A Union gone sour, or one that never really was” Ato Bob in TAB, March 2017 – see end column
It should be no surprise to regular readers of TAB – The African Bulletin that the situation in the Anglophone part of Cameroon, is going from bad to worse.
The stand-off between the Central Government of La République du Cameroun and former Southern Cameroons, now aspiring Federal Republic of Ambazonia, has grown into a war of oppression and colonial style occupation from one side and guerrilla style defence from the other side.
These loaded sentences and notably the subtitle fail to express what the population, being fired at, beaten, seeing houses or villages going up in flames fleeing and living in the forest has to go through. Ambazonians in the Diaspora also go through worries, fear, despair and agony knowing or with lack of communication imagining what their friends, family and loved ones go through.
However it gets worse when, as I write this (Friday 18.05.18), fresh killing of young men in Bali in the Northwest and torching of villages in the Southwest Province is reported.
How did it come this far?
Let me give you a quick recap.
After more than 50 years the people of the Anglophone North-West and South-West Provinces of Cameroon had finally enough of the marginalization, discrimination and creeping francophonization by the Central Government in Yaoundé. The agreement and understanding by which the then called Southern Cameroons, a UN protectorate administered by the English Colony of Nigeria voted to join the French Cameroun in 1961, has been blatantly disrespected all those years.
It should be understood that the “Anglophone Problem”, as it is called, is not just a matter of language, but more of culture, tradition and differing systems of e.g. ‘Common law’ and Education. The agreed equal partnership, in forming the Federal Republic of Cameroon was supposed to guarantee the differences. The gradual centralizing and unifying administration and governance into a central government in Yaoundé and in particular changing the country’s name from Federal Republic to United and then to Republic of Cameroon, of which the legality is disputed, made it clear that the differences could no longer be guaranteed.
At the end of 2016 lawyers held a public protest march and teachers started a sit-down strike resulting in schools being closed for an entire school year and halfway into the next. In addition to this a weekly ‘ghost town’ manifestation meaning that all shops and markets were closed on a particular working day, as a peaceful protest.
What made it worse?
The peaceful protest of lawyers and teachers continued through 2017, causing courts to grind to a halt and a lost year declared for primary and secondary education.
In the two Anglophone provinces, the para-militarization, I mean the strengthening of police, army, gendarmerie and special rapid intervention units gradually took place, while most heads of administration at provincial, regional and county level were or changed to Francophone Cameroonians
This situation became in hindsight reminiscent a colonial style governance of Southern Cameroons or Ambazonia and distanced the administration from the population.
In the meantime party politics also played a role, as the ruling party bankrolled administration, party and traditional leaders into towing the party line. The fragmented opposition parties had little or no means or energy to counteract.
However, the most important trend and cause for the worsening situation has been the incredible harsh reaction of the central government to any including peaceful demonstration of discontent.
Dialogue was killed when leaders of a consortium created to discuss with the government were arrested and jailed pending court action. The kidnapping of the President of the Interim Government of Ambazonia in the diaspora and his entire cabinet and others in Nigeria was totally unexpected. Despite pleas of Ambazonians around the world to the Nigerian Government through its Embassies, also in The Hague, not to release this group of 47 persons to the Cameroun authorities, suspected to be behind the kidnap, they were all airlifted to Yaoundé and kept incommunicado till today, now more than four months.
Showing strength and organizing capacity of Amazonia’s Government in exile, a new Interim President and cabinet has already been set-up of Ambazonians in the United States of America.
The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of Ambazonia on 1st October 2017 referred to the date in 1961 when the UN approved the change from Mandated Protected territory under the colony of Nigeria to an independent entity.
Demonstrations to celebrate the UDI in major towns in Ambazonia were in Buea and Bamenda met by excessive para-military force, even shooting and killing from a helicopter, causing more than a dozen death and multiple wounded.
After this the gloves came off for the Ambazonians and a spontaneous unofficial local militia being called the Ambazonia Restoration Forces started a guerrilla style resistance.
Even with locally made or captured weapons and no military training they have been quite successful attacking and harming the Cameroun professional army and gendarmerie.
Unfortunately and expected this also led to unlawful revenge killing, massacres, ghastly torture, mostly by frustrated Cameroun soldiers and gendarmerie.
Why does ‘the World’ not see, are they looking away or otherwise occupied?
It is clear that ‘the World’ governments and media are distracted by other events across the globe, like the crisis in the Middle East, Iran nuclear deal, the two Korea’s, all away from Africa. The abuse of migrants in Libya earned temporary attention, though now the numbers have reportedly swelled to a three hundred thousand of failed Europe seekers being detained under harsh conditions to say the least. A sarcastic success for the European supported ‘keep the migrants in Africa’ program. Now it is the lurking Ebola in Congo which is on the screen.
Diplomatic efforts and offers of dialogue and negotiation
Fortunately on the local, Ambazonia level the attention of the French and American (U.S.A.) diplomats has been caught as they both visited the region and spoke to leaders, politician, chiefs and people. This is of high importance as both their countries are among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the highest diplomatic level of peace and security. Unfortunately The American diplomat later had to present the donated two surveillance helicopters, to strengthen the fight against Boko Haram, at the wrong time, almost causing him to be vilified for that. On a recent visit to the Cameroun Head of State, he received the promise that these highly mobile and versatile machines would only be used for the intended purpose, which is of course usual diplo-speak.
The Cameroonian Catholic Bishops have written an open letter to the head of State, expressing their concern and pleading for a ceasefire and dialogue to take place.
Last but not least Presidential Candidate for the 2018 elections Akere Muna, former member and Chair of the Eminent Persons Panel of the African Peer review Mechanism has written an open letter to the UN Secretary General lamenting the situation.
It is perfectly clear that the population of Ambazonia wants nothing more than their independence, the occupying paramilitary force of La République to leave, so that they can live in peace and harmony amongst themselves.
My previous column in TAB ‘How to become a country, Ambazonia and Catalonia’ stated the bare facts and procedure how to become an independent country. In hindsight this might have sounded a bit too objective, perhaps even a bit heartless. So with the above column I balance this and write more from my sympathetic feeling.
Finally if you are a Christian as I am, or a Muslim the best you can do is pray that ‘the Anglophone problem’ may be solved and Ambazonia will be free.
Ambazonia, the population, the economy and last but not least the diaspora Ambazonians continue to suffer unabated.
*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org