The Southern Cameroons crisis that has put the country in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons has continued to bring desperation to the people of Southern Cameroons, while giving the government a very bad name. For more than six months, the two English-speaking regions of the country have become the theatre of a gruesome war game that is consuming lives and rendering many in the region homeless.
The killing of ordinary civilians has radicalized an entire people and many Southern Cameroonians who were federalists have simply converted themselves into secessionists. The killing of loved ones and friends has traumatized many Southern Cameroonians, making many to hold that the government must pay for its crimes.
To many Southern Cameroonians, it is impossible to live with a government that is decimating its own population. They hold that the killing and roasting of civilians alive clearly points to the government’s decision to pursue military action to a conclusive end. To them, the government understands only one language – an iron fist – and it will stop at nothing to achieve its goal even though it knows that in this case, the odds are stacked up against it.
The government’s plan to address the Southern Cameroons crisis is spreading death and suffering among the population. Reports of what is playing out in many towns in the region are mind-boggling. The destruction and roasting of the vulnerable is really stranger than fiction. The Biya government is inflicting red terror on the people of Southern Cameroons; a people who simply wants the government to listen to them and to address the issues that have blighted their lives.
Government atrocities have included killing innocent civilians through reckless soldiers who are trigger-happy. The government has also resorted to burning homes in many towns and villages as a means of bringing the tough-hearted Southern Cameroonians to their knees, as they are suspected of sympathizing with Southern Cameroonian freedom fighters who have been avenging the deaths of those civilians killed by the alcohol-inflamed and sex-starved soldiers.
But none of these strategies is breaking down the people of Southern Cameroons who are determined to walk away from a union that has brought them more degradation and pain than happiness. The people of Southern Cameroons have become the victims of Foncha’s greed. His determination to reunite the two Cameroons has left many crying.
Similarly, the government has also been arresting thousands of Southern Cameroonians, many of whom are innocent and have nothing to do with the eerie drama that is playing out in the country’s English-speaking regions. Those arrested have been shipped to different parts of the country and no word has been heard from them. The government is clearly violating its commitments under international law.
According to the country’s laws, it is illegal to hold anybody incommunicado for months without granting them access to a lawyer or family members. But the country’s government has been violating its own laws and it is not paying attention to calls by the international community for it to comply with its international commitments.
According to the country’s authorities, Cameroon is an advanced democracy wherein fundamental human rights are respected, but the reality on the ground is contrary to even the basic rules of democracy as defined and recognized by the international community.
Even Southern Cameroonian leaders who had been arrested in Nigeria in early January 2018 and hastily repatriated to Yaounde in late January, are still sitting in the country’s Gendarmerie headquarters in Yaounde and neither their lawyers nor their families have been allowed to see them. This is really unsettling for many human rights groups which have always alleged that the government is committing human rights violations in Southern Cameroons.
Although the country’s communications minister, Issa Tchiroma, has once acknowledged that those in government custody are in good health, many Cameroonians, especially Southern Cameroonians, have continued to question the veracity of the minister’s statement, as he has been caught many times lying. Mr. Tchiroma is a pathological liar whose words are not worth their weight in gold.
The drama playing out in Southern Cameroons is déjà vu. Southern Cameroonians had already prepared their minds for such extreme measures. The measures have been taken straight from the government’s torture book that had been drafted for it by the French in the late fifties when East Cameroonian freedom fighters were asking for genuine independence from France.
As the French delayed to grant independence, East Cameroonians organized themselves with the little resources they had to fight a more equipped French army. In a bid to put up a good show, East Cameroonians founded the “Marquisard Movement” that gave the French a good run for their money.
To chop off the movement’s head, the French organized undercover activities which led to the elimination of East Cameroonians leaders who were living abroad. Felix Moumie, the poster boy of the revolution, was killed by a fake journalist in Switzerland with thallium that was dropped in his tea.
The French followed up by killing and maiming the Bassas and Bamilekes who were supporting the rebellion. Whole villages in East Cameroon were simply wiped off of the country’s map. This was intended to strike fear into the minds of East Cameroonians who had the intention of supporting the rebellion against the Ahidjo regime that was never considered as being legitimate by the freedom fighters.
Their trick worked in the fifties and sixties. Francophone Cameroonians have been cowered forever and many will never dare criticize the government for its atrocities in the English-speaking regions of the country and this is already creating tensions between Southern Cameroonians and their francophone counterparts who have been sitting on the fence ever since the crisis started in October 2016.
Today, the French-supported government of Mr. Biya is rehashing those tricks in the pious belief that they would bring peace to the two restive English-speaking regions which had happily joined East Cameroon in a referendum that was doomed to failure right from the beginning.
But Mr. Biya and his government seem to have chosen the wrong people for a fight. Their strategies are not yielding the right results. Despite the burning and killing, Southern Cameroonians are standing their ground. They fully understand that if they yield, the government will resort to harsher methods. Instead of bowing to the government, Southern Cameroonians have decided to pick up arms against a government that has never seen dialogue as a means of resolving issues.
The government’s brutality has simply bred hatred and murder. It has produced many armed groups that are today making it hard for anybody in the region to have a contrary view. Federalists who thought they could help bring about peace are today an endangered species.
The Southern Cameroons crisis that has been playing out for almost two years has finally entered a critical phase. Violence has become normal in that part of the country. The government’s military violence has triggered a wave of violence that will be hard to root out. Many army soldiers are being brought down by the bullets of armed masked men and anybody suspected of collaborating with government officials is considered an enemy and death is the penalty for such an act. Many have already been killed by these unknown armed men and the government seems to be helpless.
On Friday May 11, 2018, a list of new targets was sent to the Cameroon Concord New Group’s global headquarters in England. Former Prime Minister Peter Mafany Musonge, Minister Paul Atanga Nji, Senator Tabetando, Governor Okala Bilai, Divisional Officer Joseph Oum II, Member of Parliament Susan Okpu, former minister Elvis Ngolle Ngolle, former Minister Ogork Ntui Ebot, former minister Benjamin Itoe, minister Victor Mengot Arrey, Prof Echu George, Senator Achidi Achu and Prime Minister Yang Philemon are some of the names on the list that was sent unanimously.
The list also includes all CPDM senators and parliamentarians in the English-speaking regions. Things seems to be spiralling out of control. These men and women are in the cross hairs of Southern Cameroonian fighters. The government seems to be out of resources. Its security apparatus seems to be failing the people. Even senior government officials are no longer safe. The battle lines have been drawn and any Southern Cameroonian collaborating with the government has become a target. Blood will continue to flow until the entire region becomes a river of blood.
Southern Cameroonian fighters seem to be making significant progress. They are making a mockery of the government’s military action. The Yaounde government is now scrambling for a peaceful resolution as it has noticed that it is dealing with a very dicey situation. The government is under enormous pressure as the killing of army soldiers becomes a daily ritual in Southern Cameroons.
It is clear to the government that there will never be a convincing military victory in this battle that will surely last for decades. The government is gradually coming to terms with the fact that it was a huge mistake to declare war on Southern Cameroonians who were simply complaining about a system that has reduced them to second-class citizens.
The dynamics are changing. The government’s arrogance is gradually being eroded by the determined Southern Cameroonian fighters whose actions have struck fear in the minds of many army soldiers. The government is today staring down the barrel of defeat, as its treasury continues to lose money and its soldiers feeling really despondent as they face the prospect of dying in the rocky and dense jungles of Southern Cameroons.
Many government officials know that defeat is staring the government in the face. Many want to sue for peace, but they don’t know how to proceed as their arrogance has muddied the waters and made reconciliation challenging. Even the governor of the South West region is also contemplating smoking the pipe of peace after having called Southern Cameroonians dogs. He now knows that state authority comes from the people and not the other way round.
The nightmare the government manufactured for itself is not going away anytime soon. The “two cubes of sugar” that Mr. Fame Ndongo, the country’s higher education minister, referred to at the beginning of the crisis have simply refused to melt. Those cubes of sugar are putting up a good show. It is obvious that there are many more scenes in this struggle that will surely play out in a manner that will be far from being pleasant.
Meanwhile, the Southern Cameroons Interim government is continuing to step up pressure on the crumbling Yaounde government. The government’s Communications Secretary, Chris Anu, has delivered very bad news to the Biya government and the Francophone majority. Southern Cameroonian fighters will continue to step up operations in the coming days. Mr. Biya’s army soldiers who thought they would simply sweep through the region and kill the rebellion are now in for real trouble. There will surely be no respite until the Yaounde government withdraws its troops.
Mr. Anu has also announced that all French-speaking Cameroonians must leave the Federal Republic of Ambazonia by the end of this month. He added that all Southern Cameroonians lodging French-speaking Cameroonians must kick out their tenants by the end of the month. Those Southern Cameroonians who do not comply with the Interim Government’s decision will be dealt with by the brave defense forces of the land.
He added that Southern Cameroonians should stop paying taxes to the French Cameroonian government in Yaounde, stressing that all the taxes should be directed towards the prosecution of the war of liberation. This is very likely to affect the country’s economy; an economy that is already in the throes of an economic and financial crisis.
As the tension increases, the Yaounde government is gradually coming to terms with the fact that Mr. Biya’s declaration of war on the people of Southern Cameroons at the Nsimalen International Airport upon his return from a Francophonie conference in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, was a pure error of judgement.
Indeed, Mr. Biya and his government had completely misinterpreted things. It appeared they were reading an old script; a script that was designed for another problem that had nothing to do with the determined Southern Cameroonian fighters. He had clearly underestimated the determination and will of a few to bring about change in a country. Indeed, he had failed to understand that those who make peaceful change impossible only make violent change inevitable.
The government has been anything but humble during this crisis. Its relentless pursuit of peace through military violence has divided the country for ever. The government’s arrogance and inefficiency are costing the country huge amounts of money and the loss of human life is really disturbing. Both soldiers and civilians are being killed in a conflict that could have been avoided. This is a mistake that will remain in many minds for decades. The country’s history has been tainted with the blood of many innocent lives.
But there is no mistake that cannot be fixed. Many mistakes have already been made and it will be preposterous to continue making more of such mistakes. Cameroon needs peace and that peace cannot come if the killings continue. The government has a huge responsibility in this. It must change its strategy. If it thinks it can make Cameroon one and indivisible by seeking to impose peace on Southern Cameroonians, then it is not yet ready to smoke that pipe of peace that the international community is calling on it to smoke.
There is no ideal way to secure peace than through negotiations. The government must come down its Ivory Tower to meet Southern Cameroonians halfway. The country’s English-speaking minority has proven that a few people can bring change in a country that has been rejecting change for decades.
Cameroon will never be the same again. The government’s ill-advised decision to declare war on a section of its population will always come back to bite it. Times have changed, and mentalities must keep pace. Negotiations should be the government’s administrative tool of choice. The government has to embrace new ways. It should understand that intimidation will not cut it. Even long jail terms will not address the issue. Southern Cameroonians are resolute. They are not going to give in just because they are being intimidated and killed.
They have been living a life of marginalization for years and they think they must put an end to such dictatorship. Cameroon belongs to all and every citizen must be made to feel at home wherever he finds himself. But with so many lives cut short by this senseless war, it will be hard for real negotiations to take place.
Southern Cameroonians want to live in their own country. For 56 years, they have been victims of government discrimination. The Yaounde government has never respected its commitments towards the indigenous people of Southern Cameroons. The government’s mistakes have really made it hard for Southern Cameroonians to live with their French-speaking counterparts.
The rift is there. It will be hard for these wounds to heal. Many people have lost their lives, and the pain will linger for a long time. The government has a lot on its plate. It has to take a long and hard look at its script. Its current script is simply making Southern Cameroons independence possible. The government will have to bend over backwards if it really wants to hold the country together.
For now, it is obvious that most Southern Cameroonians will never like to look at any other option. Their quest for federalism has been quashed by the government and their leaders have been thrown in jail where it is believed they are being tortured.
If the government wants real negotiations to take place, it must release all Southern Cameroonians who are being held by the Yaounde government. Amnesty must be granted to all Southern Cameroonians living abroad. And a new governance structure must also be proposed. The country belongs to everybody and it is wrong for a few to think that they are more Cameroonian than others. The ball is in the government’s court. If it does not act fast, the situation will further deteriorate and things will spiral out of control. There is still time to make the right decisions. Better late than never!
Similarly, handing down long jail sentences to Southern Cameroonian fighters in Yaounde will never dampen the determination of those who are still fighting. The crisis can only be addressed at the negotiating table and this will only be possible if President Julius Ayuk Tabe and those in jail are released. The Diaspora is still very active and it is time for the government to build a long reliable bridge for the Diaspora to come to the negotiating table.
The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is rich. It has more than three million members and thanks to these hardworking Southern Cameroonians, those on ground zero have been able to make the government feel the pinch of its stupidity and dishonesty. After more than five decades in exile, the Diaspora also wants to play a key role in the management of the country’s socio-political landscape.
The government must disabuse its mind. Military violence will not secure the peace. It must stop sending young Beti soldiers to the region. All they have done is to provoke the people and increase hatred for the Betis who have been responsible for the burning of homes. Many people are already shouting revenge and this will come once Mr. Biya leaves power. The government still has time to change such thinking.
By Kingsley Betek