What started as a joke some eighteen months ago has finally become a hot potato on the government’s hands. For many decades, Southern Cameroonians have been complaining about marginalization with a view to seeking a peaceful resolution of the issues facing them. But the Yaounde government has been ignoring them, holding that the country’s minority could be easily brought under control.
Despite numerous letters to the country’s president, Paul Biya, for more than three decades, the situation has never been the subject of any discussion in Yaounde. Mr. Biya and his government have never considered the Southern Cameroons question as an issue that can threaten national security and integration.
Mr. Biya and his bunch of ministers are used to looking down on their citizens and they hold that paying attention to all the memos on Southern Cameroonians issues will be dignifying a bunch of people who are just second-class citizens.
They simply did not get it right. They failed to understand that those who make peaceful change impossible, only make violent change inevitable and this is what is happening today in Cameroon. The refusal to listen to the plea of the people of Southern Cameroons has finally exposed the government and made the country ungovernable.
The issue that started way back in the late 70s finally got to a head in October 2016 when Southern Cameroonian lawyers and teachers who had thought that they had explored all peaceful means to address the issues raised decide to call for strikes across the region. They thought it was time to use strikes as weapons to bring the government to the negotiating table.
But the Yaounde government was not in the mood to talk peace. Despite the peaceful means used by lawyers and teachers, the Yaounde government resorted to its legendary brutality as a way of striking fear into the minds of a people who were already sick and tired of their situation. Things were compounded by reckless statements by irresponsible government officials such Laurent Esso, Issa Tchiroma and Fame Ndongo.
Statements by these officials only served as fuel for an already burning house. The anger of the people of Southern Cameroons had flared up and it reached its apex when videos of Buea University students being tortured by soldiers and dragged through raw sewage went viral on social media.
Since the conflict started, the Yaounde government has made one mistake after another. In January 2017, it arrested and jailed Southern Cameroonian leaders who had called for a federal system that would guarantee that the people take ownership of their own development projects.
Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mr. Mancho Bibixy were captured and hastily taken to Yaounde in the belief that the population’s anger would be doused. This only inflamed Southern Cameroonians, and things actually took a turn for the worse.
To ensure that its atrocities in the region were not captured on video, the government cut off Internet and other communication systems. In the process, many businesses were killed and the unemployment rate in the region reached alarming rates. Silicon Mountain, a hub for many start-ups in the South West regional headquarters of Buea, was put out of business. The disconnection of the Internet created many Internet refugees and ever since, Silicon Mountain has become a thing of the past.
Rather than seek to appease a people who have been hurting for decades, the Yaounde government proceeded to employing tricks in the hope that it will come out of the conflict victorious. After more than six months in jail for no crime committed, Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and others were released, while Mr. Mancho Bibixy was left in jail. He was later convicted of many flimsy crimes, including terrorism.
Once the leaders were released in 2017, the ruling party’s propaganda immediately kicked in. It portrayed the releases as an act of magnanimity on the president’s part. But the tricks of the past could no longer work the miracles they had produced in the past. The people were sick and tired of the government’s manipulation and trickery. Southern Cameroonians no longer want to have anything to do with their unfortunate past. The calls for federalism had developed into independence and secession.
On September 22, 2017, Southern Cameroonians surprised the entire world by staging a show of force. Thousands of Southern Cameroonians took to the streets with peace plants, calling for the total liberation of their land. The world was taken aback and the Southern Cameroonian crisis finally made its way into the global arena.
On October 1, 2017, Southern Cameroonians came out en masse to declare their independence and this met stiff resistance from the Yaounde government. Many innocent Southern Cameroonians were sent to an early grave and this changed the dynamics. Southern Cameroonians were full of rage and revenge was in the air. That was how the killing of soldiers started. Arms were purchased and shipped to Southern Cameroons without the Yaounde government noticing anything, as its ministers were busy embezzling whatever little money was still in the state’s coffers.
Instead of seeking to address the issues, the government hastily brought out its 1996 constitution and brandished it to the international community, advising that the decentralization policy would be rushed so as to address many of the issues raised by Southern Cameroonians.
But for many, the government was once more trying to close the barn when the horse had already bolted. The country’s decentralization policy was supposed to have been operational since 1996, but the government decided to shelve it for decades. To many people, the 1996 constitution clearly belongs to the past.
Southern Cameroonians have moved on. To them, an independent Southern Cameroons wherein the people must play a critical role in the management of state affairs is their focus. But the Yaounde government felt such a scheme would not work out in its territory.
In January 2018, Mr. Biya declared war on Southern Cameroonians, calling them terrorists. He followed this up by arresting Southern Cameroonian leaders in Nigeria and shipping them to Yaounde where they have been held incommunicado for months in total defiance of international law.
With the Southern Cameroonian president, Julius Ayuk Tabe, in jail, the government felt it had cut the “snake’s head.” But it was mistaken. The Southern Cameroons crisis is a hydra. It develops a new head each time the old one is cut off. With this new mentality, the floodgates for the killings on both sides had been thrown wide open.
From January 2018 to June 2018, more than one thousand civilians have been killed, 75 villages burnt, and more than four hundred soldiers killed by Southern Cameroonian fighters who claim they are defending themselves against a government that is incapable of protecting its own people.
The fighting is currently going on and the killing is still ongoing. Cameroon, once an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos, has finally become a massive killing field. The two English-speaking regions are awash with arms. The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is living up to its word. It had promised to destabilize Cameroon and the country has been caught up in a downward spiral.
The Diaspora is still pouring weapons into the country and this is giving the pool of willing fighters on the ground, a reason to fight to a bitter end. The Diaspora has the capacity to reduce Cameroon to a small unstable nation. Many Southern Cameroonians are living abroad because of the marginalization that the government had orchestrated against them and, today, the government is being hoist in its own petards. The pouring of weapons in the region has reduced the country’s army into a boys scout team. The pressure of the fighters is being felt even in Yaounde. The Diaspora is finally punishing the Yaounde government.
Their decision to ridicule the Yaounde government is a sort of punishment to the irresponsible Yaounde government for having put Southern Cameroonians through tough emotional, economic and financial times. And the punishment is actually producing the desired results. The Yaounde regime is losing sleep. Its language is gradually changing.
The once banned federalism is now being considered by government insiders such as Fame Ndongo as a way out of the crisis that has put Cameroon in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Fame Ndongo has discovered that the “two cubes of sugar” will not be melting anytime soon. He is already eating his own words. But he seems to be talking to a wall. Southern Cameroonians are not listening. Their minds are somewhere else.
Southern Cameroonians are no longer looking at federalism. They have already crossed the threshold of independence and they will not be staging any possible return to their former demands. A lot of blood has flowed. Beti soldiers have killed innocent Southern Cameroonians. Since they are a no-match for the tough and determined Southern Cameroonian fighters, they always vent their frustration on a population that is already facing tough economic times.
Lot of homes have been destroyed and there is revenge in the air. This is going to make any dialogue challenging. Southern Cameroonians want dialogue too. But they want dialogue that will only enable them to discuss divorce issues.
To step up the pressure on the government, the kidnappings have been stepped up. Many Yaounde government collaborators are being kidnapped on a daily basis by Southern Cameroonian fighters and this is spreading fear among the country’s French-speaking population. Southern Cameroonians have invented green jails. Senior police and administrative officers have been taken to these jails.
The police commissioner of Muea, a small town located some three kilometers from Buea, is currently trying out the effectiveness of the new green jails. He has been critical of the freedom fighters and this will surely complicate matters for him. The government is permanently on edge.
Gun fire is a constant presence in many towns in the English-speaking regions and many residents of the area have migrated to the bushes to avoid government brutality that comes each time a soldier is killed. Despite government actions, the population is with the fighters and it is not yet tired of running.
The people of Southern Cameroons have become real athletes. Running now comes very easily to many Southern Cameroonians. Even the old and sick have learned how to run and live in the tough conditions that the forests are offering.
But despite the protection the forests do offer, many vulnerable people have lost their lives in the bushes due to illnesses and lack of proper medication. This is only fuelling the anger in the region and this will work against any efforts to bring peace to the region. Federalism is an idea whose time has passed. Southern Cameroonians are no longer looking in the same direction like their East Cameroonian counterparts.
But the rebellion is also consuming its own people. There have been some summary executions by the Southern Cameroonian fighters which are gradually becoming a cause for concern. Last week, Ayuk Marshall, a Mamfe Council Worker, was gunned down point blank in front of his home in Ndekwai, a small village located some two kilometers from the city of Ossing.
It was alleged that he was collaborating with Yaounde government agents. But many people at home and abroad are questioning the wisdom behind the killing of fellow Southern Cameroonians when East Cameroonians are being kidnapped and released on a daily basis.
Many argue that the fighters may start losing support if they do not exercise restraint in their punishment of perceived traitors. Many Southern Cameroonians in the Diaspora are calling on the fighters to provide evidence that makes some of those killed guilty as charged. Southern Cameroons is not and will never be a territory where the power of the gun will prevail.
Some of those killed could have simply been taken to the green jails where they should be given a fair trial. That is how justice should work. Killing fellow Southern Cameroonians may ruin the unity of purpose that has kept Southern Cameroonians together ever since the revolution started.
In the city of Ossing, a few citizens were promptly rounded up and given a public flogging for helping the Yaounde government. Ossing has been quiet ever since the struggle started and this has been thanks to the city’s chief, General James Tataw Tabe-Orock, who is a retired military general.
The flogging of Ossing citizens is creating a lot of controversy and even city officials disapprove of such acts. They have decided to take this up with the interim government and they are calling on Dr. Samuel Sako and his cabinet to provide a formal explanation for such acts which might ruin the people’s collective effort.
The victims of the public flogging are already making up their bags to quit the city as they consider the flogging a foretaste of what might soon happen to them if care is not taken. Their family members are already accusing the fighters of running an Islamic state where public floggings are an essential part of such a state.
The southern Cameroons crisis is gradually taking a turn for the worst. The Yaounde government needs to come out boldly to acknowledge its mistakes in this drama that has already consumed thousands of people. No trick will solve the crisis. An apology to Southern Cameroonians and amnesty to all Southern Cameroonians living abroad might de-escalate the situation and create the right climate for any inclusive dialogue.
Without dialogue, there will never be elections in that part of the country. Southern Cameroonians have clearly manifested their anger. No bullying or trickery will distract them from their objective. They know what they want and they will stop at nothing when it comes to achieving that goal.
Today, Southern Cameroons is ruled by the Interim Government from the United States and not the incompetent Yaounde government that has proven that brutality is the only language it understands. It is never too late. The government must step up to the plate to provide the right leadership that this situation requires. Its confusing responses will never address the matter.
Cameroon will never be the same again. That is a message the Yaounde government is yet to understand, but it must understand it if it wants peace to return to that region of the continent. Southern Cameroonians have crossed the Rubicon and they are not ready to make any giant steps backwards. The government must shake off its confusion and accept the reality on the ground. It will never win this war. The Diaspora is a huge factor and it will continue to play its role until the Yaounde government collapses.
By Kingsley Betek in Manyu
This item is still developing and Kingsley Betek is en route to Ossing and Ndekwai to investigate