By Mufor Atanga
Dear Moise Shewa,
It is one thing to express your bias opinion through fiction; it is completely another matter to try to make such an opinion pass as facts, as in your opinion piece in the New African of November 2018, (pp 34 – 38). The actual facts do differ with the general thrust of your article and the otherwise highly respected New African has done itself no favours by publishing such a vacuous diatribe. However, what makes it most disagreeable is your deliberate attempt at fudging the facts. Deliberate, because you should know better or ought to; and if you do not, you should first educate yourself on the subject before making what is at best spurious claims to the truth. It would seem though there is a more sinister agenda at play here; first popularised by the Nazis and now being rehashed by the adepts of Trumpism like yourself, it relies on the simple premise that you only need to repeat a lie several times and people start believing it, even when they know it is not the truth. There are many things that have gone wrong with the way and manner in which the quest for restoration of the statehood of the Southern Cameroons is being pursued. However, that does not in any way undermine the legitimacy of the issues raised, or the cause itself. Ordinarily, I would have ignored your article, as I do most that have been published during the course of the current phase of the Southern Cameroons quest for restoration since 2016. However, this will be doing you and the readership of the New African a disservice if the fallacies contained therein were not to be corrected:
- I read Chimamanda’s piece at the time it appeared and I have watched a couple of JJ Rawlings’s and PLO Lumumba’s outings on the Southern Cameroons. There is nothing in their views that could be contested as being unfounded. What makes your referencing them as the anchor of your article particularly disingenuous is your argument that because they are foreigners, they do not fully understand what is happening in the Cameroons. Your attempt to discredit their stance as such with the rather weak argument of proximity to the situation and circumstances falls flat as it is an argument that has already been debunked on several different occasions and one need not belabour here. As it has been proven several times over, often foreigners are not only more knowledgeable about local history and situations but also do appreciate the nuances that underpin local circumstances and actions.
- Are you ignorant of the fact that in the Cameroonian context the use of the term Anglophone (as with Francophone) has a specific historical, geographic and socio-political connotation that goes beyond one’s mastery of the English language or principal language of communication? It is not some Anglophones who believe that they are marginalised; it is the vast majority of Anglophones who are aware of the fact that they have been under colonial occupation by what is itself a French colony since 1961, and who want to be out of Cameroun through the restoration of the statehood of the Sothern Cameroons. Aren’t you well aware of the fact that it is not about language but the instrumentalization of language, in this instance, English and French? Besides, aren’t you well aware of the uncontested facts on how the Southern Cameroons as a territory and people have fared in Cameroun since 1961, and to say it is simply a matter of belief is another lie? The problem with some journalistic opinion pieces, such as yours, is that they are often shallow and devoid of facts. Besides, it is near impossible to attempt refuting every sentence that is misleading or an outright lie. Often it is a waste of time attempting to debunk an article not only because it is presented as an opinion piece but also because it is not all those who might have read the initial article who would invariably read any rejoinder.
- It is also misleading to state that in 2016 the lawyers were protesting against the use of English in the courts. As important as the language being used in the courts in the territory is, the protests of the lawyers at the time, as you ought to know, went far beyond the use of language. I recall it was Ngongang Ouandji who as Minister of Justice in 1985 whilst on a visit in Bamenda, at a meeting with the judicial corps stated to the effect that there is need to harmonise the legal system; and his very next sentence was that what obtains in the Anglophone provinces is bad, meaning there is need for the Anglophones who practice the common law system to adopt the civil (Napoleonic) law system that obtains in French Cameroun. So too, with the educational system, for until our widespread protests in 1984, led by Anglophone students in the then lone University of Yaounde, our cohort would have been the experimental guinea pigs of writing the BAC syllabus in English in the name of harmonisation of the educational system. Hence, as with the legal system, harmonisation has never been about the development of a unique indigenous system in Cameroun but a superimposition of a bastardised and poorly mastered francophone system onto the anglophone education system. The recent presidential decree (October 2018) truncating the GCE Board further illustrates the point, and bears testimony to the demonstrated bad faith of the Francophone led regime, from the onset of the tacit Union, if any was still required. As amply experienced during the past 57 years, intention cannot be legislated, as the Francophone led regime had approached unification as a zero-sum game and subsequently back peddled on every written understanding entered into with the Anglophone community; for, it is as recently as 1993 that the GCE Board was established after protests by anglophone parents, teachers and students during which many were injured and lives lost. It is that mindset that still informs policy formulation and decision making when it comes to Anglophone Cameroun.
- It is another false argument to state that the Anglophones are protesting against the lack of jobs and development in the territory, as important as these are. As you should know, there was a clearly spelt out tacit agreement and terms which brought the two territories together in 1961 in the form of the federal constitution. The Francophone led regime orchestrated the abrogation of this agreement through the pseudo-referendum that took place in 1972, thereby ending the quasi-federalism that existed until then. Hence the constitutional and institutional arrangements that were meant to guarantee the autonomy of the territory and people were systematically undermined and destroyed. As such nothing legally binds the two territories together. Not only that and as I have amply demonstrated elsewhere (The Anglophone Cameroon Predicament, 2011), the Francophone led regime over the years systematically destroyed all important economic initiatives, both state and private, that could have provided opportunities to the people of the territory turning it into a vast labour reserve. Otherwise, what happened to the once thriving commercial seaport of Victoria where you live and are heavily invested, to mention only this?
- Another not so subtle argument which you make, and is often made by the Francophone led regime and most of the Francophone intelligentsia who are against the restoration of the Southern Cameroons statehood is that the territory historically belongs to Cameroun and was simply returned in 1961. I wouldn’t go into this as it has been extensively exhausted by others. Suffice to extent your logic by asking why the other parts of German Kamerun that are now parts of Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Congo Republic haven’t been returned to Cameroun? I suppose you would claim not to have come across the 2005 Banjul judgement of the ACHPR on the territory and peoples either? Don’t you know of when boundaries in Africa became immutable? And has the position of the African Union on the immutability of boundaries at independence changed?
- Your assertion that the issue in Cameroun is one of tribalism is not only insulting but nonsensical given some of the preceding points advanced and to follow. Does it mean that if tribalism was to be removed as a factor in the body politic of Cameroun would it suddenly rediscover its once vaunted peace and stability? Isn’t it being rather reductionist to conflate and reduce the myriad of governance issues that make Cameroun inherently unstable to the existence of tribalism? Again, it is similar to some of the arguments made by a number of Francophone intellectuals that the problem in the Cameroons is one of tribalism:
- the so-called Anglophones as you very well know, are not a tribe; and there are many ethnicities or nationalities in the Southern Cameroons;
- this is the same argument that the Francophone led regime advances with its since abandoned geo-ethnic policies (in favour of the concentration of power and resources overwhelmingly in the hands of one ethnic group) whereby Anglophones are perceived as an ethnic group in the allocation of resources, spoils of political office and appointments in the civil service; and
- What is the basis of your assertion that the reason for the many wars that have plagued our continent since independence is tribalism? There is no need for me to go into the theoretical and ideological underpinnings of wars here. Suffice to state that the causes for wars generally and in particular in Africa are multi-dimensional. Whilst ethnicity is often a factor in African politics, it is very simplistic to attribute the lack of the ability to manage diversity (which ought to be a source of wealth) to be the main cause of fragility and violent conflict in the postcolonial state in Africa. Besides, the Southern Cameroons (which is multinational and multi-ethnic) quest is not to capture power in Yaounde per se, but for the restoration of its statehood;
- again, to illustrate how simplistic your argument is, how many ethnic groups (or tribes, your preferred terminology) constituted the old Somalia which you covered as a journalist in the early 1990s? And why has Somaliland refused to be part of the old Somali state, given that it is made up of the same ethnic group?
- Another fallacious assertion you make is that most of the leaders of the uprising live abroad. This is not only cannily similar to the argument that the Francophone led regime makes, but it also denies those living the experience back in Cameroun agency and the ability to think for themselves. It was in May 2015 that the lawyers initially made their demands to the government from Bamenda; publicised by way of a Conference Declaration, all of them were living in the Cameroons. It was because the government gave deaf ears to the legitimate demands of the lawyers initially and subsequent follow ups that by mid-2016 the situation degenerated. The teachers soon followed suit during the latter part of 2016 with their own legitimate demands. These were not simply trade union demands as some would rather misrepresent as both the legal and educational systems have a material and immediate impact on the daily lives of the people. It was precisely because the government failed to address the demands that the trade unions along with other civil society organisations hastily created the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) which led the initial attempts to negotiate with the government. The government’s half-hearted attempt to negotiate (perceived in many quarters rightly as an attempt to identify the leaders) with CACSC failed primarily because the government concessions were correctly perceived as window dressing and did not go far enough in addressing the grievances.
- Prior to the CACSC being banned in January 2017, in November and December 2016 the government had already killed hundreds of those who sympathised with the cause of this organisation. It is precisely because the government banned the organisation, arrested some of its leaders with whom it was previously negotiating, whilst others who had escaped the government’s dragnet went on exile that the organisation morphed into the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF). As such:
- Whilst some of the leadership of the uprising are currently to be found abroad, most of them remain in Cameroun and are either in jail or leading various forms of resistance including self-defence;
- It is the government’s poor management of the crisis which led to its degeneration and the demands for a return to federalism;
- The government’s refusal to entertain the demand to reconstitute the nature of the initial implicit union led to further demands for the restoration of the statehood of the Southern Cameroons, which had been a longstanding demand of several groupings, particularly accentuated since the 1993 All Anglophone Conference;
- There is ample evidence to demonstrate that prior to young people taking up arms in the Southern Cameroons for self defence the government had carried out massacres in the territory particularly on 22 September and 01 October 2017 against peaceful demonstrators.
- There is equally credible evidence to show that most of the intimidations, kidnappings for ransom, banditry, is perpetrated by elements of the Cameroun military and vigilante groups set up (to discredit the Amba Boys) by Anglophone government functionaries – Patrick Ekema, the Mayor of Buea and Atanga Nji Paul, the notorious Minister of Territorial Administration, it has been repeatedly alleged, are said to be behind many of such fake Amba fighters and incidents, such as, the Menka-Pinyin massacre of May 2018, the kidnapping of a number of Chiefs around Fako in August 2018, or the recent (around the 4th and 5th of November 2018) abduction of about 90 students from a Presbyterian secondary school, PSS Nkwen, in the city of Bamenda. Recently, the leader of the once formidable opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, claimed to have evidence of government Ministers who are sponsoring fake “Amba Boys” as reported by the Guardian Post. It is the government that as the current US Ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Henry Barlerin once indicated, employ targeted killings, kidnappings, etc in the territory. It is the President of Cameroon who in November 2017 declared war against a section of the country and a people he claims to be ruling. It is the armée Camerounaise that is applying a scorched earth policy in the prosecution of the war against the so-called ‘Amba terrorists’ with at the last count over 140 villages razed; with old grannies and the infirmed being burnt alive in their homes, hospitals and schools being set ablaze, just as it was done in the Bamileke region in the 1960s.
- Again, it is a lie that the Anglophone leadership of the uprising has advocated for the attack of Francophones. On the contrary what I am aware of, is the repeated emphasis that the quarrel is with the Francophone led regime in Yaounde and not with the ordinary Francophone who generally are mired in the same poverty and misery as prevalent in Anglophone Cameroon. On the contrary, there is well documented evidence of senior government officials, such as the Governor of the South West Region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, referring to Anglophones as rats that should be exterminated; whilst a number of Francophone radio and TV stations such as Vision 4 in Yaounde have gained notoriety with their anti-anglophone propaganda. Through such inflammatory utter nonsense, it would appear it is the author and his likes who are attempting to fan the flames of hatred of Anglophones by Francophones and vice versa. What needs to be pointed out here as well, is that very few Francophones (such as Patrice Nganang) have realised that the shortest course to true independence for French Cameroun is by supporting and teaming up with the Southern Cameroons restoration quest.
- What are the exaggerated stories of marginalisation, that have been told to Ms Adichie, Messrs Rawlings and Lumumba by their Anglophone friends since reunification 59 years (sic) ago? How, by the author’s own admission, does the brutalisation and murder of students, teachers and lawyers, or the shutdown of the internet and many other atrocities being committed by the paramilitary gendarmes, the army and other agents of the vampire state become an exaggeration? As you did read English Literature in the University of Yaounde, you should have been taught by Prof Bernard Fonlon who is considered not only as a leading Anglophone of his time but also an intellectual of international renown – largely perceived in certain quarters as a system legitimiser because of his close collaboration with the despotic Ahidjo regime, are you unaware that he is one of the principal authors of the New Social Order published in 1985 and hence one of the intellectual godfathers of the Ambazonian uprising along with the likes of Fon Gorgi Dinka and Albert Mukong? Did you ever read his Shall we Make or Mar which as the scribe of the KNDP he penned to Ahidjo and his UC acolytes in 1964 and which shows that by then there was already clear signs of the collapse of the union? If you cared to, you would have discovered that there is a body of academic literature generated largely by Anglophone scholars and their foreign counterparts beginning with the Canadian Jacques Benjamin’s Les Camerounais Occidentaux… in 1972 being the first book length publication on how federalism had been practised and collapsed in the Cameroons? Did you read the article published by a Francophone, the former Governor of the then Anglophone provinces of the North West and South West and subsequently Secretary General at the Presidency of Cameroun, Abouem à Tchoyi in January 2017? What of the memorandum published by the Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Province of Bamenda in December 2016 as well, to mention but these few?
- Even if independence had been declared on 01 October 2017, symbolic or otherwise, did those who had made the declaration use force? Was the wholesale slaughter of unarmed civilians by the so-called security forces the most appropriate response by the government? Was that the first time such a declaration had been made or the population coming out to celebrate? I may not have agreed with the actions of those who had made such a declaration at the time – however, given the many illegal acts of the regime from 1961 signposted by the subterfuge of a referendum in 1972, reverting to the name La Republique du Cameroun through an ultra vires presidential decree in 1984, and being the name with which French Cameroun was known prior to the purported union with the Sothern Cameroons, the various presidential decrees over the years that eroded the autonomy of the Anglophone region, amongst many other illicit acts, making such a declaration by the restorationists was quite understandable and it is not treasonous as you posit. That’s why as earlier referenced the letter published by the Catholic Bishops of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference (BAPEC) in December 2016 recommended addressing the root cause of the uprising just as the American Ambassador, Henry Peter Barlerin, amongst many others, have stated. In this instance, just as throughout your article your stance reflects the regime’s position and often using its exact phrasing.
- Again, comparing the Anglophone territory and peoples to other regions in Cameroun is another false comparison as those regions never held a UN organised plebiscite (whose legitimacy is now being questioned by some in the International Community) in 1961 to gain independence by joining the Federal Republic of Nigeria or La Republique du Cameroon; nor did they enter into an informal union with Cameroun through a clearly defined federal constitutional framework (although with its own shortcomings) which outlined minimum safeguards to guarantee and preserve the identity and autonomy of the region. It is not the Southern Cameroons that breached the informal agreement at every turn and there is no point returning to the status quo ante as the experience of the past 57 years has been one long nightmare. Obviously to you, the complete wiping out of more than 140 towns and villages, the deliberate indiscriminate slaughter of the peoples of these towns and villages with over 4000 dead so far, the more than 50 thousand refuges to be found in Nigeria, the more than 500 thousand internally displaced persons (many living under extremely precarious conditions in the forests) in the territory, do not constitute acts of genocide perpetrated by your Francophone kinsmen from across the Mungo and Matazem.
- It is unsophisticated sophism to attempt to compare the Southern Cameroons restoration quest to the Biafran experience or other civil wars that have been fought on the continent in the recent past, for reasons already advanced here and more. Besides, the Southern Cameroons quest is to a large extent a demand for the rectification of a historical injustice done to it with the complicity of the so-called international community, in particular the UN, Britain and France. Restoration is not antithetical to pan-Africanism either as you attempt to insinuate. If anything, it is the acts of genocide currently being perpetrated that will hinder good neighbourliness for a people and states condemned to live side by side, whatever the outcome of the current uprising.
- There’s nothing confusing about the status and identity of immigrant peoples and settler communities in the Southern Cameroons. Such immigrants were granted Southern Cameroons citizenship if they so choose and many of them actively participated in Southern Cameroons politics and many held senior cabinet and civil service positions in the various governments in the Southern Cameroons and subsequently in the various governments in West Cameroon. I happen to know that most of them, are quite active in the current restoration quest. If the author understood the Anglophone and had searched the soul of the Southern Cameroonian, he would have discovered deep within the burning desire for liberty that cannot be quenched by some cosmetic changes; he would have realised that this time nothing but visible irreversible progress towards the attainment of such freedom will calm the uprising that has gripped the imagination of the population. If the views expressed in your opinion piece, and which are not different from those of the authoritarian regime in Yaounde, are the same you express when you are with some of your Anglophone friends, it is not surprising then that they throw jibes at you as to your ‘Anglophoneness’.
- No less a personage than the highly respected and most eminent Christian Cardinal Tumi recently confirmed that more than 80 per cent of the Anglophone population is for restoration, if the story carried in The Guardian Post of 02 November 2018 is to be believed. Amongst the Anglophone population, only a tiny minority, less than 0.25 percent, in the main senior politicians and civil servants as well as business people, who rely heavily on the regime’s patronage and contracts for survival are not in favour of restoration. Even amongst these most will settle for a loose form of federation with La Republique du Cameroun. However, given the events of the past couple of years this is no longer a tenable proposition.
- Your condemnation of some amongst the Anglophone leadership for holding British or American citizenship is not dissimilar from the hypocrisy of the Yaounde regime that has systematically, and since the beginning of the current crisis intensified the prevention or expulsion from Cameroon of its critics who travel on foreign passports such as the writer and academic, Patrice Nganang (perhaps it is worth pointing out that Patrice, a Francophone, and redoubtable critic of the regime actively supports and campaigns for the Anglophone cause) in January 2018, or refusing to grant a visa to the iconic musician, Richard Bona to attend the funeral of his mother in mid-2017 – both of them having acquired US citizenship. These would have been understandable if the regime applied such measures even-handedly; but it is not the case, as most of Biya’s Ministers and senior civil servants openly carry foreign passports. Perhaps the issue then is not foreign passports per se and the only rational explanation is that these regime functionaries who also hold French nationality are not considered by the regime to have dual nationality since Cameroun remains a French colony in everything but name, and one could as such see why the current policy that does not allow for dual nationality does not apply to them. During the last French presidential elections, Roger Milla, the soccer legend and Adolf Moudiki, the Director General of the National Hydrocarbons Corporation (SNH), were shown on the national television, CRTV, casting their votes at the French Embassy in Yaounde.
- It is extreme mischief, if not outright cruelty, at a time when the peoples of the Southern Cameroons are confronting an existential threat, for the author to make light of the struggles of the long-suffering and besieged Anglophones in the Cameroons. He is the one indulging in irredentism with a very strong dose of revisionism. A lot of blood has already been spilt and remains ongoing, on both sides, simply because the moribund but arrogant regime in Yaounde lacks any redeeming leadership features. It should be clear to all including the regime by now that this is a war it is not going to win in the battlefield. Initially, it thought that it will be a matter of weeks before it crushes the uprising; exactly a year since the formal declaration of war by Mr Biya, yet the ragtag and poorly equipped Amba Boys are only growing in strength with each day that fighting continues. In spite of several false flag activities carried out by the agents of the government and the military such as the Menka-Pinyin massacre, aimed at discrediting the Amba Boys with the international community by portraying them as mere bandits and terrorists; and alienating them from the population who by and large they rely on for support. It remains incumbent upon the regime to open negotiations with the Anglophone leadership.
- Disagreeing with the legitimate aspirations and quest of a people, doesn’t mean the truth should become the first casualty as your writeup attests. If anything, a veritable revolution has taken place during the past couple of years – the people have awoken to the magnitude of historical injustices carried out against them. At no time in the history of the people of the Southern Cameroons have they learned as much of their long-suppressed history as now. As such, no amount of hacked writing and distortion will ever sway the people from this consciousness and their burning desire for freedom. As it is often the case, nobody is currently in control of the violence that has been unleashed on an unsuspecting people by the rogue regime in Yaounde. Ultimately both parties will end up at the negotiating table and a responsive and responsible government could have spared all us from this unnecessary senseless war.
 For a quick but comprehensive introduction to understanding what is happening in Cameroon today, see amongst others, M. Atanga, (2011) The Anglophone Cameroon Predicament, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon; Piet Konings and Francis Nyamnjoh (2003) Negotiating An Anglophone Identity: A Study of the Politics of Recognition and Representation in Cameroon, Brill, Leiden and Boston; and Carlson Anyangwe (2008) Imperialistic Politics in Cameroun: Resistance & the Inception of the Restoration of the Statehood of Southern Cameroons, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon.
 “Memorandum presented to the head of state, His Excellency President Paul Biya, by the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda on the current situation of unrest in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon”, BAPEC, 22 December 2016.