How to become a country: Catalonia and Ambazonia

“You can’t be a real country, unless you have a beer and an airline”, Frank Zappa, Rock Musician.

Introduction

‘There’s more to it, much more.’ That’s what you my valued and trusted readers or perhaps anyone reading Frank Zappa’s quote would think.

Yes indeed there is a lot more to it for a territory and a people to become a real country.
I started working in Kenya as volunteer assisting Luo sugarcane farmers to create their cooperative, so they could deal more effectively with the Chemelil Sugar Factory. Kenya was just three years independent and so fresh, with the government infrastructure having all remnants of their colonial forbearer. The ‘Country clubs’ dominated by white settlers were thriving. Like many other newly independent countries, a lot of effort was made by the Kenya Government to promote nationalism, to make Kenya a real country.

Catalonia (formally still) in Spain and Ambazonia or Southern Cameroons (formally still) in La République du Cameroun or the Republic of Cameroon, are two cases in point of struggling to become a country.

As for Catalonia, its case is almost constantly all over the news, so I won’t say much about it, though with others I doubt whether Spain would really allow Catalonia to secede.

As for Ambazonia, unless you are a regular reader of TAB – The African Bulletin or interested in African affairs, you may not know much about this peoples’ plight. Therefore, below I repeat, quote seems a bit heavy, parts of what I wrote in TAB of March 2017.

Ambazonia, soon to be a new West African country

Ambazonia and La République du Cameroon

The people of the Anglophone North-West and South-West Provinces of Cameroon finally had enough of the marginalization, discrimination and creeping francophonization by the Central Government in Yaoundé. Basically the agreement and understanding by which the then called Southern Cameroons, a UN trust administered as protectorate by the English Colony of Nigeria voted to join the francophone Cameroun in 1961, has been blatantly disrespected.

The “Anglophone Problem” is not just a matter of language, but more of culture, tradition and differing systems of e.g. ‘Common law’ and Education, boiling down to disrespecting the agreed equal partnership, in forming the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

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 closed on a particular working day, as a peaceful protest.

The reaction to the recent protests and calls for independence were met by the Central Government with uncalled for aggressive force, in fact paramilitary occupation of the Southern Cameroons – Ambazonia.

The name Ambazonia is derived from Ambas Bay, the bay at the mouth of the Mungo River and part of the larger area the Bight of Biafra. The UN General Assembly voted on 21st April 1961 with a 64 for, 23 against and 10 abstentions for the Southern Cameroons to be granted independence, taking effect on 1st October 1961.

The Ambazonia Government in exile declared their independence on 1st October 2017. As reported in media around the world, the peaceful demonstrations of support in major towns in Southern Cameroons on Sunday 1st October were met by live gunfire on the peaceful demonstrators, even shooting from a helicopter. This caused at least two dozen death and many more wounded.

Ever since the paramilitary security forces have hardened their behaviour, leading to unwarranted abuse of power, illegal arrests and invading the privacy of homes, looking for resistance fighters.

Currently the Cameroon Government declared to resist and ruling out a dialogue, despite international calls for it. Unfortunately the situation has now worsened, as occasional guerrilla tactics and army raids on villages cause many deaths and loss of homes and property. There are more than twenty thousand Ambazonian refugees in Nigeria.

Two ways to become an independent country

The first one to become an independent country is with the consent of the parent country.
This calls for an agreement from the central government allowing the region to secede, at times after a democratic referendum. Although it was rejected, the Scottish Independent Referendum in 2014, based on the Edinburgh Agreement, could have brought Scotland independence with consent of the United Kingdom.

It is clear that for Catalonia and Ambazonia, the consent of their parent countries is presently lacking and even in the future not very likely.

The second way is without the consent of the parent country, in fact ignoring or disputing the authority of the parent country. This is commonly known as a UDI or Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The oldest not generally known one is the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 sent to Pope John XII. Better known is the United States Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. The Declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain would regard themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states no longer under British rule.

Ambazonia declared its UDI on 1st October 2017 referring to the date the UN approved the change from Mandated Protected territory under the colony of Nigeria to an independent state.

Three or four, not so simple, steps to become an independent country

The first step is assuring eligibility by fulfilling the following prerequisites.

– a defined territory with clear undisputed border;
– a permanent sedentary population;
– a government, perhaps in exile, ready to take over;
– the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Ambazonia meets all these points and therefore may claim the right to defend itself on the basis of the 1933 Convention on the Rights and Duties of States applicable to all parties of International Law.

The second step is declaring your independence through an UDI.
Both Catalonia and Ambazonia have done this already.

The third step is gaining (international) recognition

This requires a capacity for lobbying and promotion through international media.
Recognition by other states is subject to whether the new state serves the interest of the existing state in order to be recognized by it. The reaction of neighbouring countries or trading partners or former colonial parent states to the UDI is carefully considered, while being the first to recognize is also an important criteria. In short it means getting the attention and sympathy of the ‘big boys’, the major world powers.

The fourth step is attaining the gold standard, becoming a member of the United Nations.
This involves not just the application, but getting affirmative votes of 9 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council, while the five permanent members should be among those 9. In addition a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly is required.

It is obvious that Catalonia and Ambazonia are still in the process of completing the third step.

Languishing in the waiting room of the UNPO

The Unrepresented Nations and People Organization (UNPO) is an international, nonviolent and democratic membership organisation. Its Members are indigenous peoples, minorities, unrecognised States and occupied territories that have joined together to defend their political, social and cultural rights, to preserve their environments and to promote their right to self-determination. See a map of members at http://unpo.org/nations-peoples
Ambazonia is a member, but its profile is pending.

Conclusion

Having ‘a beer and an airline’ is the easy part, though independent national airlines are becoming rare. To become an independent, internationally recognized and respected country is not an easy process, requiring determination and patience, but most of all faith in its goal.

*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 atobobhensen@hotmail.com

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