Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18
By Effiom Mbong*
A nuanced reading of the events leading to the formation of the IG lends credence to the view held by many that while the four reasons advanced by Anyangwe in his ‘Reflections,’ could well have been a consideration. However, a more compelling reason in the minds of those who championed its birth was the opportunity it provided for them to control and manage post-liberation politics and Government in the Southern Cameroons. Those who hold this view advance the argument why the Governing Council, which preceded the IG’s formation, was not dimmed as an adequate vehicle to achieve the objectives he outlines? His interview with Bernard Ngalim, in which he fails to explain how the IG’s formation advances the cause of the liberation of the Southern Cameroons, reinforces this view.
On the side of Ambazonia, the activities of a then little-known Washington-based organisation seem to have exerted overwhelming influence on those who came to play prominent roles in managing the poor handling of what was considered at the time the Anglophone crisis by the Yaounde authorities. This organisation, founded and led by Boh Herbert around 2015 – 2016, the Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons (MoRISC), had as objective to give impetus and champion the cause of the Southern Cameroons liberation. It had drawn up an elaborate but largely unrealistic programme for attaining the Southern Cameroons independence that included the election of a prime minister through ‘electronic voting’ and forming a government. In correspondence with a senior official of MoRISC, on 22 November 2017, I had pointed out that:
Discerning minds, knowing the impossibility of arriving at a democratic leadership for the Southern Cameroons at this juncture, perceive your insistence on elections as grandstanding since you can’t have free and fair elections under the current dispensation. At best, only a tiny minority will participate. One of MORISC’s tactical mistakes is to think that only elections (which they are not quite interested in, by the way) confers legitimacy – this, added with the MORISC leadership’s penchant for openly attacking other groups and their leaderships, making others perceive MORISC, rightly or wrongly, as posturing in its power grab. Many of its valid points and legitimate criticism of other groups and leadership are lost in the process.
SCACUF, the Governing Council, and the so-called Interim Government, have made grievous strategic mistakes. Besides being a very divisive move, the IG is putting the cart before the horse, as it were. However, they boxed themselves into this corner partly because they bought into MORISC’s deadline for declaring independence. As such, there’s a lot of unnecessary politicking and posturing by both sides.… I have limited myself here to MORISC and the IG. The message is that we need more of liberation fighters and revolutionaries and the leadership that goes with it at this juncture than politicians.
Several genuine Southern Cameroons movements that had been in existence before the outbreak of the crisis in 2016, like the SCYL, AGovC, and MoRISC, had left Zaria in February 2017 dissatisfied with how those who had championed the formation of the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) Governing Council had gone about setting it up, to the exclusion of other groups. MoRISC had indicated that it would proceed with its well-publicised plans of organising elections and forming a government. Hence, to pre-empt Boh Herbert and his partisans, Anyangwe and a coalition of other individuals and groupings in the Southern Cameroons Governing Council (Governing Council) created the IG, with the Chairman of the self-styled Governing Council, Mr Ayuk Tabe, as Interim President of the Southern Cameroons.
So how did the Interim Government come into being? It may be well worth letting the protagonists articulate it themselves, as in a 13-page document dated 09 March 2017, and titled ‘Structure of the Movement,’ we are introduced to the Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), its raison d’etre, membership, organs, organisational structure, financing and mode of operation. Its introductory reads thus:
From 23 to 26 February 2017, leaders of Frontline Movements for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia met to craft a strategy for the Consolidation of the Catapult Revolution. Represented were the leaders of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), The Southern Cameroons People’s Organisations (SCAPO), Republic of Ambazonia (RoA) and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (Consortium). Also attending were delegates from the Southern Cameroonians in Nigeria Association (SCINGA). The meeting was facilitated by the Southern Cameroons South Africa Forum.
It is worth recalling that the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) had been banned in January 2017 by the Yaounde regime, and a number of its leaders had been arrested following the abortive attempt at negotiations. SCACUF was created as an off-shoot of CACSC by those of its leaders who had escaped the regime’s dragnet with the support of Southern Cameroons activists residing mainly in Nigeria and South Africa. In essence, the birth of SCACUF was in reaction to a popular uprising against the Yaounde regime that was already underway in the Southern Cameroons, rather than a proactive attempt at seeking the liberation of the Southern Cameroons.
Also, note their use of ‘Catapult Revolution’ rather than ‘Coffin Revolution’ in the proclamation, signalling some of the undercurrents and strands within the Southern Cameroons uprising. It is essential to note that historical groups like the Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL) and the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC) are missing from the declaration. Both organisations are known to be uncompromising in their quest for Ambazonia’s independence, given their history of radical activism – this is all the more important, considering that both entities had actively participated in the initial conclave from 23 – 26 February 2017. The ‘Conclaves’ were a series of four meetings with the first organised in February 2017, and the last holding from 28 – 31 October 2017, in which many historical and recently created organisations ascribing to themselves the role of ‘frontline movements’:
With the main objective of the Restoration of the Statehood of the Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia, SCACUF is a broad-based movement that recognises the role and contribution of all actors and organisations. There is a recognition that only a multi-pronged strategy will lead to achieving its objective. Therefore, SCACUF is a broad assembly that unites all these actors and seeks to facilitate their work towards the realisation of the goal.
This hastily cobbled coalition with six organisations at its core created the Southern Cameroons Governing Council and subsequently transformed itself into the Interim Government. It is significant to note the organisations that the communiqué failed to mention, such as the Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), MoRISC and the Ambazonian Governing Council (AGovC). Interestingly, as with other coups, the Southern Cameroons Governing Council proclamation of the Interim Government also dissolved SCACUF.
It would seem the most logical conclusion to be arrived at is that the goal of ‘prosecuting the national liberation struggle,’ as posited by Anyangwe, vied off course once these private movements that were championing it transformed themselves into the IG. From private formations at the forefront of the cause of the liberation of the Southern Cameroons and the Governing Council, to an Interim Government that purports to derive legitimacy from the generality of the population of the Southern Cameroons, as Anyangwe claims, to the exclusion of other movements pursuing the exact cause, is a giant leap that could not be rationally justified – a poor attempt at the illusion of manufacturing consensus and consent.
It defies logic that private organisations, irrespective of the degree of their popularity within specific segments of the population they aspire to represent, and most importantly, the genuineness of the cause they seek to champion, could transform themselves into an IG and expect to gain automatic legitimacy irrespective of the urgency of the circumstances. Carlson Anyangwe, Ayuk Tabe, and their allies effectively organised a coup against the cause and the people they claim to represent and fight on their behalf. To fully appreciate this, one needs to examine these events more closely.
In the interview with Bernard Ngalim, Anyangwe argues that the formation of the Interim Government is inextricably linked to the proclamation of independence. In this regard, many people have asked what preparations were in place before the declaration of independence? Their objection is not so much with the proclamation of sovereignty per se but with its timing. What were the material and human resource preparations, including militarily, to ensure the defence of territorial integrity and independence proclamation – particularly given that it was obvious Yaounde will use its military muscle that was already well entrenched in the region to intensify its genocidal onslaught on the people? This is all the more significant as following the proclamation of independence by the Interim Government on 01 October 2017 – and the massacres perpetrated prior, during and after the declaration, it was the AGovC, one of the movements that had distanced itself from the Governing Council of the Southern Cameroons, and subsequently, the Interim Government, that was the first to take up arms. As AGovC puts it, it took up arms ‘to defend the citizens and liberate the territory from Yaounde’s onslaught.’
The most significant aspects of the proclamation of independence begin from ‘We the Freedom movements united in a common Front” on page 13. The first paragraph claims “representing the overwhelming majority of the people of the Southern Cameroons in the present circumstances…” One needs to ask what methods were used to ascertain that these movements represented the overwhelming majority of Ambazonians? And having ‘held mutual consultations,’ with who? The people of the Southern Cameroons or amongst themselves, the ‘freedom movements?’ If with the people of the Southern Cameroons, what form did these consultations take? This segment proceeds to ‘…further affirm the legitimacy of earlier declarations of independence as unmistakable pointers to the aspiration of our people…’
In essence, any three or five persons could have met previously and publicly declared the independence, making such a declaration legitimate and a reflection of the people’s will. The central issue in this Section is captured towards the end when it is declared: ‘vindicate the inalienable right of the people of the Southern Cameroons to self-determination.’ It is not the right to self-determination, that is, in dispute, and once established, everything else becomes secondary. It is not querying the sanctity of the right to self-determination, but how those who claimed such a mandate went about its execution.
The ‘Provisional Government’ Section makes the ‘Interim President’ an absolute dictator since it gives him unfettered authority to ‘Exercise all executive and, in the absence of a legislature, legislative powers of the Republic of Amabazonia.’ In essence, all powers, without any limitation whatsoever, and ordinarily defined in a country’s constitution as to how to decide on and conduct state affairs. These are the overwhelming and sweeping powers, just as has been the experience in African countries when coups are carried out, until such ‘…time as effective control is established all over the Republic of Ambazonia or any part thereof and a first presidential election held under a national constitution framed by a constituent assembly…’
The assumption here is that the Constituent Assembly, which the Interim President ‘have the power to summon…’, will opt to enshrine s presidential system of governance. Since the proclamation grants the Interim President the authority ‘to summon the future Constituent Assembly,’ what stops him from filling it with his allies that will draft a constitution that eternalises his reign? In the exercise of ‘these powers consult and act on the advice of the Cabinet.’ But the proclamation does not make provision as to how these cabinet members are appointed, disciplined or sanctioned. Even if it had made such a provision, it is doubtful how this could have been effective with an extra-territorial government where cabinet members are stationed and operating from different corners of the globe.
The proclamation contains a fascinating phrase:‘or any citizen of Ambazonia refusing to yield obedience to the Proclamation and Resolutions herein shall be deemed a collaborationist, a traitor, an enemy of Ambazonia and shall be prosecuted or otherwise dealt with…’ It is laughable that the Interim Government, with at best dubious authority, no legitimacy and no ability to enforce its authority, confers on itself the powers to coerce anyone and everybody to acquiesce to it, even from those who have legitimate grounds to object to its jurisdiction.
The IG loudly proclaims that it had not made any arrangements to defend or enforce its proclamation as it proceeds to ‘…invite and welcome the presence of the African Union (AU) and friendly nations to help Ambazonia in the establishment of its defence force and in rebuilding its destroyed police and correctional services…’ If the consequences of the actions and pronouncements of Ayuk Tabe and those who were intimately involved in a precipitate proclamation of independence were not as damaging and far-reaching as they have been proven to be, one could easily have dismissed their utterings as some banality. They were most ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the tasks they had set for themselves, and not surprisingly, things quickly took a wrong turn, and not only because a significant crop of its leadership was arrested at NERA Hotel on 05 January 2018 by the Nigerian authorities.
Given Yaounde’s backlash from 22 September and 01 October 2017, it was not the Interim Government that had come out to organise for the peoples’ defence, following Yaounde’s onslaught, but Ayaba Cho’s Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF), that was not part of the Interim Government. Could these folks make available the authorisation that Nigeria granted for its territory to be used for such a proclamation, including its acceptance of hosting the Interim Government of the Southern Cameroons? The Nigerian authorities could probably have turned a blind eye or tacitly allow the Governing Council to be based in and carry out activities from within its territory that could be interpreted by Yaounde as being hostile to its interests, particularly given the influx of refugees from the Southern Cameroons. But once the Governing Council proclaimed the Independence of the Southern Cameroons and transformed itself into an Interim Government, Abuja could no longer afford to turn a blind eye as it could have been interpreted correctly in Yaounde as a declaration of war by Nigeria. That said, the Abuja court is correct in demanding that the NERA 10 be returned to Abuja from where they were abducted and through an act of extraordinary rendition, they found themselves in Yaounde’s dungeons.
In any case, how does Anyangwe reconcile his pronouncement as contained in his Reflections of 05 May 2019, that:
It is often forgotten that the original idea of an Ambazonian IG was not to ensure the governance of Ambazonia from abroad. That is infeasible…
… We may have erred in designating the instrument for action as a government. The answer to that mistake is to fix things…
And subsequently contradicting himself during his interview with Bernard Ngalim, a year later, on 31 May 2020, that:
yes, assuming for the purposes of argument, but without conceding the point that the formation of a government was wrong. So what?
It is not that the Yaounde regime would not have found other ways of infiltrating the liberation movements. But why make things easy for Yaounde and its agents? Many well-meaning Ambazonians who have the wherewithal and can contribute more forcefully to advance the cause of the liberation wonder if leading actors can display the ‘so what’ arrogance at this phase of the liberation quest – what will happen post-liberation, particularly given the sorry experience with post-independence governance in Africa this far? For this category of persons, it may be worth reminding them that all the happenings that make the anti-colonial struggle off-putting for them are precisely the very reasons why they should get involved. These are the same reasons why it is often said that revolutions are a messy affair, and they may need to keep in mind that the conflict in the Southern Cameroons is also regularly characterised as a revolution. What is intriguing is that those who hold such views are also too quick to forget that the revolution invariably ends and some accountability will have to be rendered. Or perhaps they are too cocksure that they will be on the winning side – and in this regard, will it be a justice of the brave or that of the victorious?
Again, this speaks to the point made earlier that it appears there was an ulterior motive for forming the Interim Government besides the reasons advanced by Anyangwe, hence the contradictory rationalisation of its formation. One can appreciate the desperation that could have informed the urgency with which leading actors took specific actions that seem correct at face value. But these do not confer legitimacy of action to a particular group or groupings, even if they ascribe to themselves the nomenclature of a government to exclude other groups who demonstrably are acting in furtherance of the same legitimate quest for the liberation of the Southern Cameroons.
Even at that, the Interim Government did not respect (the letter nor the spirit of) its proclamation, for after it ran into serious trouble with the abduction of many of its leaders at the NERA Hotel, it was not its Secretary of State, at the time, Mr Milan Atam that took over temporarily – but its Attorney General at the time, Mr Bobga Mbuton. The Proclamation captures it thus:
‘…the Secretary of State shall have and exercise all the powers, duties and responsibilities herein conferred on the President, and that in the event the Secretary of State being unable to enter upon his office or being unable to exercise his power (or the powers of the President and Vice president ad interim in the circumstances aforesaid) due to any reason whatsoever, any fit and proper citizen of Ambazonia duly designated by Cabinet shall exercise all the powers, duties and responsibilities herein conferred on the President ad interim’.
Going by the above-cited paragraph, in the absence of all the three officials designated by the Provisional Government’s Proclamation, only a cabinet designee could serve as Interim President. As such, it is possible that the last ‘legitimate’ acting Interim President, following the abduction of a significant crop of Ayuk Tabe’s Cabinet at NERA Hotel, is Bobga Mbuton, since all other structures are not recognised in the Proclamation. In essence, Samuel Sako is not only an infiltrator, but the way and manner of his appointment did not follow the Interim Government’s prescription as per the Independence Proclamation.
A reasonable argument can be made that in the confusion following the abduction of the IG’s leadership core and with no knowledge of the whereabouts of Atam, it was important not to have a vacuum. While both Atam and Mbuton are still to fully clarify their activities in managing the interregnum, from all pronouncements this far, it appears Mbuton was most unhappy with the role of a number of his comrades in Ayuk Tabe’s IG in managing the transition. Mbuton’s acting arrangement did not last long, as those within the Interim Government working for the Yaounde regime orchestrated another takeover within the contraption to ensure that those in Yaounde’s payroll took complete control of the Interim Government as Interim President through the organisation of sham elections not provided for in the 1 October 2017 Proclamation by Ayuk Tabe. This sham election saw the emergence of Mr Samuel Sako as the ‘Acting Interim President.’ Again, it is precisely one of the reasons why the formation of the IG was not just a poorly thought initiative that did not advance the cause but proved to be devastating in holding back the said liberation quest since it facilitated Yaounde’s implosion of what could otherwise have been the overarching liberation movement from within.
That’s why those who contend that Yaounde’s decapitation of the initial leadership of the IG, as excruciating as it is, could well have been an unwitting service rendered to Ambazonia may have a point. They hold this view in part because those who urged for the IG to be given the benefit of doubt, as Charles Taku enjoined, should have seen by now the folly of such a cause of action as the dismal performance of the PIGs reveals. The majority of Ambazonians are nominally Christians with an obsessive penchant for giving illogical biblical twists to human follies – that is why they regularly interpret their travails as akin to the tribulations of the Israelites under the leadership of Moses and Joshua on their journey from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. It should not come as a surprise that many see the intrigues and bunglings that led to the formation of the Interim Government and the subsequent capture of its leadership as ‘God saying something,’ in this ‘our God-ordained struggle.’
Every revolution or liberation struggle has its fair share of unsavoury characters. What is peculiar with the Southern Cameroons liberation struggle is the ease with which these motley crew of pimps, conmen and women, armed robbers, LRC agents and never-do-wells manoeuvred themselves into positions of influence and authority within what should have been the overarching liberation movement for the Southern Cameroons. It is in part because this group had, against superior logic and advice, opportunistically constituted itself into a self-styled Interim Government. Yaounde having placed its agents in strategic positions within the Interim Government, these unsavoury characters could claim some, albeit unfounded, veneer of legitimacy in the eyes of the more gullible within the masses of the people of the Southern Cameroons.
As such, for varying reasons, otherwise influential personalities who may think they are genuinely working towards the liberation of the Southern Cameroons still unwittingly perceive these characters as working towards the Independence of the Southern Cameroons despite mounting evidence that they are only interested in lining their pockets and in undermining the march towards the liberation of the territory. Reminiscent of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, where collaborators of the apartheid regime had perpetrated the so-called ‘black-on-black violence’ found themselves on the negotiating table during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) Talks. So too, it may well be the case that such collaborators with the Yaounde regime will equally be at the negotiating table in the unlikely event that the criminal Regime in Yaounde acquiesces to an internationally mediated end to the Southern Cameroons armed conflict. In any event, it is doubtful that any such negotiations hold before there is clarity on the transition currently underway in Yaounde. In any case, as has been pointed out elsewhere, while negotiating Yaounde’s exit is the most ideal of scenarios, its presence in the Southern Cameroons could be terminated forcefully, and a political settlement imposed on the regime.
To Be Continued
* The analysis are those of the author and reactions may be sent directly to him at Effiom.Mbong@gmail.com or through this publication. This is the second of a three path series on the Southern Cameroons Case. The first part can be viewed here