The Cameroons have grown accustomed to silence and indifference to the 85 years old dictator, Paul Biya (who has been in power for the last 36 years). What is more baffling is the silence and indifference of the International community. “Where has Britain been, where is the United Nations, the African Union, and why should the Commonwealth cosy up to the Biya regime while the English speaking regions which form the basis of Cameroon’s membership of the Commonwealth are in flames,” laments Jude Ndeh .
A few years back, President Biya used to take pride in describing Cameroon as an Island of peace in a troubled sub-region. From outside, everything looked normal in Cameroon. The economy (and to some extent democracy) though not rising at the required pace was stable. Cameroonians regardless of where they come from and regardless of ethnicity and language could freely travel from one corner of the country to the other. It was an unsteady peace because the reception of Anglophones especially at the peak of the administrative headquarters in Yaounde was just apparent than real. However, it is no longer the case as one’s language and ethnicity now determines if you should live or travel to one part of the country. English speaking Cameroonians are stuck in the North West and South West of Cameroon and are targeted, as government forces are burning down their homes with the old and blind helpless people burnt alive.
Brief background and genocide
Cameroonians from the English speaking regions, who now referred to as Ambazonia, argue that they were being neglected by the successive regimes of Cameroon especially that of Paul Biya who signed a decree in 1984 reverting the name from the United Republic of Cameroon to La Republique du Cameroun. By dint of this action, Mr. Biya was simply seceding from the union with the Southern Cameroons thereby divorcing from an unworkable marriage brokered in an intriguing historical accident fraught with many events! It should be borne in mind that Fon Gorji Dinka, a seasoned legal luminary argued lucidly for the restoration of the autonomy of the former Southern Cameroons which he christened Ambazonia in 1985. This led to the birth of diverse organisations prominent amongst which was the Cameroon Anglophone Movement and the Southern Cameroons National Council. It is a long and checkered history. Development activities were carried out in La Republique and not the breakaway Ambazonia. Southern Cameroonians have very little or no access to basic services, such as hospitals, clinics, schools and other grievances and majority of the Ambazonians are calling for Paul Biya to recognize their independence that was declared on 1st of October 2017.
All major economic activities from Banking to corporations were simply destroyed or transferred to La Republique du Cameroun. Such activities included the Cameroon Bank and the National Produce Marketing Board, which saw the vast financial resources, transferred to French Cameroon. The major economic activities in the North West and South West regions include plantation farming like the Cameroon Development Corporation, Petroleum refinery, manufacturing industries, tourism and much more. The two Anglophone regions of Cameroon account for more than 70% of the economy of Cameroon and Southern Cameroons is home to some of Africa’s most beautiful beaches).
However, despite all the economic activity in the Anglophone regions, very few Cameroonians from these regions own plantations, work in the manufacturing industries or benefit from tourism proceeds. Revenue generated from these economic hubs first goes to the central government which in turn allocates the money to the country’s 10 regions with the investment budget of the North West and South West region always measured as they often receive the lowest allocations though they contribute significant revenue.
In a statement, the Ambazonia ‘foreign minister’, Amos Mudoh said that ‘Paul Biya is a stooge of France. He is a governor, not a president. Cameroon is a colony … Cameroon makes $10m a day from crude oil from Ambazonia. But we do not even have schools. The oil money is syphoned off to French Cameroon.’ Since 2016, Paul Biya has taken several steps to silence Ambazonia including shutting down the internet in English speaking regions in Cameroon for 93 days starting from January 17, 2017. Change.org states that “Since October 2016, there have been no schools and the courts have not been operating in the English-Speaking Regions. Instead of resolving the problems, the government unleashed a reign of terror, arbitrarily arresting lawyers, teachers and members of the Anglophone community and taking them to maximum political prisons over 300 miles away from their homes.” These prisoners (without a crime will appear after long jail terms without charges) and will appear in front of a Kangaroo military Tribunal with trumped-up charges. It is against this background that Ambazonian separatists feel justified in their endeavours to campaign for the complete restoration of their independence. This is exacerbated by maiming, raping, shooting and killing in an indiscriminate manner armless youths, and attacking schools and churches. French-speaking Cameroonians who constitute at least four-fifths of the population are living safely and very indifferent to the plight of their compatriots. Why the difference? This is explain for by two simple reasons.
Clamping down on separatists
The story from the victor and the story from the vanquished will always be different. Not to say that there is a victor or vanquished in this instance but merely to express the different arguments as forwarded by both sides. Those in the North West region, state that the crisis in the Cameroons is a result of the separatists. Separatist is a term that refers to some people from the Southern Cameroons, who have been agitating for some time now to create their own state of Ambazonia and in 2016, they stepped up their campaign for greater autonomy of Ambazonia. The group went further on October 1, 2017, to declare the independence of Ambazonia. This was, however, a mere symbolic gesture.
The decision by Ambazonian separatists to call for greater autonomy did not go down well with La Republique`s President Paul Biya. Soon after the symbolic declaration of independence, Biya issued a statement and openly declared war on the separatist upon his return from the Franco-African summit in Cote D’Ivoire. This pushed the separatists to call and advocate for self-defense. Staying true to his word, Biya has been ruthlessly unleashing terror on Ambazonians in the North West and South-west regions . According to a recently released UN statement on the Cameroon crisis, it said that over 160,000 people have fled their homes in English speaking regions of Cameroon since 2016. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its report further stated that of the 160,000 who have been displaced from their homes, many of them have settled in the bush where they are living in distressful conditions. Others are being hosted by local communities but they are still in danger as they are easily accessible if hunted down by the government forces. The report states that over 20,000 have fled into neighbouring Nigeria with Nigeria’s State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) putting the number of those who have fled into Cross River State alone at a staggering 34,000 people since 2016.
The silence of the world deafening
Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in all this, many including Cameroonians would have expected international actors to intervene and be the sense of reason. That has not been the case however, as the world has remained despicably mute and playing to the gallery calling for inclusive dialogue from a distance.
France, as Cameroon’s main partner, is the biggest culprit. Not only has it failed to strongly condemn the crisis in Cameroon, it has gone on to wine and dine with Biya at a time that he is accused by many people in his country of inciting mass murders. France has significant business interests in Cameroon and it seems that it is prioritizing its economic prospects in the country more than preserving human rights.
Nigeria is equally guilty as France in its response to the Cameroon crisis as it has remained quiet, despite having to shelter over 43,000 Cameroonians who have fled their country in the past year. In addition to remaining quiet, Nigeria also took the unwise decision to deport the leader of the separatists leaders and 46 others. Most of these were arrested or kill upon arrival and have been languishing in prison incommunicado ever since. A number of prominent Nigerian activists and lawyers condemned the decision taken by the Nigerian government to send back the captured Ambazonian separatists.
Call for action
Despite the silence of the world Powers, some local and international actors are trying to put pressure on Paul Biya and his government.
The National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, a grouping of Bishops in Cameroon issued a statement condemning the acts of violence being perpetrated by the government forces on civilians in South-West and North West regions of Cameroon. The statement read, “Let us put an end to all forms of violence and stop killing one another! We are all brothers and sisters; let us retrace the path of dialogue, reconciliation, justice and peace.” The Commonwealth through the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland also issued a statement condemning the unfortunate events taking place in Cameroon. In a statement, Patricia Scotland expressed “great sadness” in the face of the difficulties currently facing Cameroon, a country known as a haven of peace and stability.
The unfortunate part of all this is that not all these actors have the influence or power to force Paul Biya to put a stop to all the madness that is going on in Cameroon. Its needs the voice of the more powerful international actors to force Biya into stopping all the killings in the Southern Cameroons, but it seems that the powers are deaf to hear the pleas and blind to see the cries of the Southern Cameroonian citizens.
Need for inclusive dialogue
The current situation in Cameroon is sad but what is more depressing is that hundreds of lives can be saved by a simple inclusive dialogue. All parties, that is President Paul Biya and the leaders from the separatist group need to meet, discuss and iron out any issues and pave way for a peaceful Cameroon. The silent world needs to take the step to stop the killings by providing the platform and inviting the two opposing parties to a dialogue. The longer this takes, dialogue will slowly fizzle out and cedes in its place, negotiations. This can be avoided if the governors of Cameroon can be humble to begin by declaring a general amnesty!