When the Southern Cameroons crisis started in October 2016,few people thought it would last for a week. Very few even thought it would have an impact on the government. The two English-speaking regions were considered insignificant, especially as they only constitute 20% of the country’s population.
Senior government officials such as Laurent Esso and Jacques Fame Ndongo felt it was not even necessary to pay attention to the English-speaking minority. To the government, it had everything under control and if the population insisted on carrying through with its demands, then the government would stop at nothing to crush the English-speaking minority.
Mr. Fame Ndongo, who is the country’s higher education minister, is alleged to have compared the two regions to “two cubes of sugar” which could be easily melted in an ocean; with the ocean being the 80% Francophone majority. Little did he know that those “cubes of sugar” had stood the test of time and after 56 years of marginalization, the people of the North West and South West regions had had enough and were prepared to make their grievances known to the international community.
The fighting is ongoing, and it is getting nastier by the day, as government soldiers erase whole villages from the country’s map, a tactic it used to intimidate French-speaking freedom fighters popularly known as “Marquisards” in the 60s. These acts of violence do not seem to be producing the desired impact. Far from dissuading the determined Southern Cameroonian fighters, they are instead breeding revenge which is feeding the circle of violence that the government has triggered in the country.
Today, Cameroon government officials are gradually coming to terms with the fact that the two “cubes of sugar” will not easily melt. Instead of intimidating the fighters, the violence has now become a reason why the people of Southern Cameroons have to fight to the finish. They know the government is not willing to solve the problem and yielding to government pressure will only imply that they will have to go back to the status quo ante where they were regarded as second-class citizens.
The human cost of the conflict is staggering. Soldiers and civilians have been killed in a conflict that could have been avoided. The government has simply stopped announcing the killing of army soldiers, as this may have a huge impact on those who are being sent to the restive English-speaking regions.
The government has continued to put a brave face on a terribly bad situation. But behind the scenes, there is a gnashing of teeth. The government knows that fighting a war on multiple fronts is a dangerous thing to do. A source close to the Unity Palace has indicated that the government is slowly admitting that it had underestimated so many things, especially the role the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora that holds that it is time for it to play a key role in the country’s economic and political life.
After more than five decades of unnecessary marginalization, the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora believes that it can right the wrongs of the past by financing the various armed groups that are wreaking havoc in Southern Cameroons. Today, the region has become a no-go area for many people. The country’s administrative officers have become targets for the armed groups. Some government officials have been kidnapped, though none has been killed. But this act by the fighters is sending a very strong message to the government that has been giving the impression that it is in control of its entire territory.
But the reality on the ground is different. The armed groups are calling the shots and places like Menji in Lebialem Division have become lawless with police officers and soldiers living in constant fear, as the dangerous Lebialem Red Dragons are capable of striking right at the heart of Manji, the Division’s main town. This has been proven with the kidnapping of Professor Leke whose video went viral a few weeks ago.
The learned professor was undressed after having been charged with bringing illegal criminal aliens into the country with the intention of destabilizing the fatherland (Ambazonia). Professor Leke Tambo who has been freed, has left the country and he is currently in the United States where he is having a rest after his ordeal with Southern Cameroonian separatists. He was advised never to grant any interview by the Red Dragons. He knows what may befall him if he disobeys the instructions of the “Ambazonian military.”
A former judge, Mbeng Martin, was also recently picked up by Manyu Tigers, an armed group that is a nightmare to army soldiers in that part of Southern Cameroons. The retired and cash-strapped judge had been criticizing the Ambazonian President, Julius Ayuk Tabe, because he had been misinformed that his junior brother, a diplomat in Brazil, could be appointed as Cameroon’s Prime Minister. He got it all wrong and had to learn the hard way.
The spirit of the fighters is known to pick up its victims after mid-night and that was when the retired judge was picked up in his native Ewelle in Manyu Division. Wont to taking and giving bribe, the retired judge who had only CFAF 90,000 in his pocket was prompt at giving the money to the fighters who were infuriated by this act of corruption; an act deplored by Southern Cameroonians. This earned him a little beating. The fighters called him to order by hitting his head with a machete. The retired judge cried like a child as he knew he might never see his family again. But the fighters who have remained steadfast to their principle, released the retired judge at Eyumojock, many miles from where he had been arrested with a clear message. “Tell former Minister Ogork Ntui and Member of Parliament Susan Okpu that they have been excommunicated from Eyumojock Sub-division. If they make the mistake of coming to that part of the country, they will not have the time to regret their mistake.” Former Minister Ogork is taking this message seriously and ever since he got the message, he has been regular to the bathroom. He understands what could befall him if he made the mistake of going to his village.
Close to two years after Southern Cameroonians took to the streets, Cameroon has become one chaotic nation on its way to becoming a failed state. Today, many Western embassies have advised their citizens to avoid parts of the country due to the violence that is playing out there. The American embassy, in particular, has advised Cameroonians, most of whom are Southern Cameroonians bearing American passports, to travel to Cameroon using their American passports. This follows a decision by the Yaounde government to arrest many Southern Cameroonians in the Diaspora for their role in the Southern Cameroons crisis that has given the country a very bad name. The Central African country that was being touted as an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos has become as chaotic as its neighbors.
The government’s inability to address the core issues that brought a revolt to its doorstep and its decision to pursue a military rather than a political action to resolve this crisis has instead made matters worse. Today, armed groups are cropping up all over Southern Cameroons like ragweed and these young fighters are giving government troops a good run for their money. Young, inexperienced soldiers are permanently in fear as they are not combat-tested. They know any mistake on their part will surely lead them to their graves. Ambazonian fighters are unpardonable.
Today, it now normal for junior officers to bribe their seniors so that they do not get sent to Southern Cameroons which in the minds of many army soldiers is synonymous with death. The military generals who are running the show are feathering their nests from the resources earmarked by the government for the prosecution of this unnecessary fratricidal war.
All across the country, it is also rumored that the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, is making a huge fortune out of the military chaos that is playing out in Southern Cameroons. A source close to the presidency has indicated that even the president is gradually questioning the rationale behind the war. His fear of a drawn-out war is gradually pushing him into suspecting those who had advised him against dialogue.
The Cameroon Concord News Group source at the country’s presidency has intimated that Mr. Biya is contemplating a troop draw-down in the two English-speaking regions, as the country’s finances dry up and the light at the end of the tunnel which his collaborators had shown him a few weeks ago is turning out to be a fire in a nearby burning house.
Though the power dynamics are in the government’s favor, many political analysts argue that Southern Cameroon crisis has simply overwhelmed the government. The country’s poorly trained military has been spread thin. With many armed groups popping up every day in different parts of the former West Cameroons, the government seems to be fighting a bloody war on many fronts.
What is more challenging is the fact that the war is not conventional, and the separatists’ hit-and-run tactics are hitting the frustrated and demotivated soldiers where it hurts the most. Since the armed conflict erupted in January 2018 following a declaration of war against Southern Cameroonians by the country’s old and ailing president, Paul Biya, more than 300 army soldiers have been hacked to death by Southern Cameroonian fighters who are thought to be using supernatural powers.
But the greatest victim is the country’s treasury. The conflict has messed up the government’s financial plans. It has hit the country’s economy like a ton of brick. Recently, the government had to review its grow figures. It has clearly acknowledged that Southern Cameroonian fighters have the potential to send the country’s economy into a tailspin.
The crisis that started as a joke has connived with other factors such declining oil production and falling oil prices to manufacture the perfect nightmare for the country’s leaders who had overestimated their financial ability to prosecute such a costly war.
The country’s leaky treasury is spelling hard times for the country’s burgeoning civil service. The country’s financial indicators are trending very low. Government coffers are empty, and many ministries do not have the resources to carry out some of the main projects that had been included in this year’s budget.
Mr. Biya is gradually losing sleep. The country’s empty coffers are gradually becoming a huge challenge. Over the last few months, Mr. Biya has been working overtime to find out where he can have money to pay the country’s military and civil servants. His Western backers are gradually back-pedaling, and this is pushing him into the hands of unconventional friends like China and Russians.
A recent trip to China only transformed him into a mobile buffoon. Mr. Biya’s trip to China was designed for him to sweet-talk the Chinese into giving him huge chunks of money for him to meet his mounting domestic financial commitments. But the Chinese, known for their craft and intelligence, carefully steered everything towards business and bilateral cooperation. To them, Mr. Biya and his huge delegation were simply circus animals which have come to China to entertain the moody Chinese population.
They understand that the Biya government is full of many thieves. They are aware that the country’s maximum-security prison is full of former cabinet ministers who have robbed their country blind.In their eyes, Mr. Biya himself is not a saint. A recent international report has clearly indicted the 85-year-old Biya for wasting his country’s resources on unnecessary trips abroad. The report also indicts his wife, noted for her flaming red hair, of being a “shopaholic” whose constant trips abroad have made a hole in the nation’s coffer.
The Chinese are simply not interested in pouring their money in a country wherein the president and his ministers have transformed the state treasury into their personal Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). Mr. Biya might have been promised lots of things, but he knows that it will be an uphill task for him to get free money from the Chinese who themselves are facing some financial headwinds, especially as the global economy has taken a nosedive.
Even the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo has indicated that help from friends to help address the crisis could be welcomed. Mr. Assomo expressed that wish while on a recent trip to Russia where he spoke to the country’s press. Asked whether Cameroon was seeking foreign support to help curb the crisis, Mr. Assomo sounded ambiguous in his response. He said“we are not close to such prospects, but when you have a friend who is in trouble and if you are a real friend, you have to go to his rescue; you don’t wait for him to call for help. We are not asking anybody to come to our rescue, but if a friend, a real friend, comes and proposes to help us, we will examine his offer. We are not crying to the world to come and help us, we are open to all the opportunities that our partners and our foreign friends can present to us, but for now we are managing within Cameroon because to us, it’s a Cameroonian problem,” he said.
The Yaounde government is clearly staring down the barrel of bankruptcy. The government has a hot potato on its hands. The per diem paid to soldiers deployed to the South West and North West regions is gradually becoming a huge financial problem to the government. Besides, it is also causing huge cracks on the military’s wall as some soldiers hold that they are not paid their fair share of money for the risk they are taking.
But it won’t be long for these soldiers to figure out that the country cannot even pay their salaries. Like civil servants, they may be in for long, scary nights. The government’s recklessness is coming back to bite soldiers and civil servants and this may herald the beginning of the end of a government that has been conducting itself more as a crime syndicate than an institution that is supposed to be working in the intertest of its citizens. It is just a matter of time and the government will see the writing on the wall.
The government wants the Southern Cameroons crisis to end very fast. Its finances are in a total mess. Cleaning up the mess will take a long time. The shit will soon hit the fan if the government does not find alternative sources of funding. The noose is tightening and even the Prime Minister has been prompt at calling on government officials to cut down on cost. But a government wont to wasting taxpayers’ money will find it hard to mend its ways.
The wasteful government has been counting on the French, but the French alone will not be able to provide the much-needed resources to roll back the various armed groups in the English-speaking regions.
The French have their own problems and will not be able to help the Yaounde government to pay its shell-shocked soldiers. Mr. Biya has to come up with billions of dollars over the next months if he wants to continue to rule the beleaguered country. Elections are fast approaching and without money, the ruling party will surely not win the upcoming elections. It needs money to bribe voters, especially in the French-speaking regions of the country. If those resources are not forthcoming, then the government is in real trouble and it must know its days are numbered.
By Kingsley Betek, Cameroon Concord News Group West Africa Bureau Chief