The Taliban has a saying: “you have the watch; we have the time. We were born here. We will die here. We are not going anywhere.” As the Taliban has demonstrated, if a fighting force, weak on paper, is willing and able to wait its enemy out, it can defeat a much superior force. If the guerrilla can withstand suffering and live to fight another day, many battles can be lost while still achieving ultimate victory. The Vietnam conflict was no different, and the Taliban outlasted the might of US and Western forces for 20 years.
In Afghanistan, the West fought an enemy that will not die. America fought a nemesis that had nowhere else to go. In the Southern Cameroons, French Cameroun army soldiers are also fighting an enemy they cannot see and won’t go away. What are the similarities in both wars? Corruption and Determination! Corruption within the Afghan government and French Cameroun establishment, and Determination from the Taliban and Ambazonia Self-defence forces.
The Taliban’s lightning advance was based on dysfunction in the government and armed forces. The same can be said of the successes of Ambazonia self-defence forces in their pursuit of independence. Corruption at the top of the Cameroon government military is doing as much damage to its adventure in Southern Cameroons. A former Afghan diplomat recently said, “From your birth certificate to your death certificate and whatever comes in between, somehow you have to bribe.” Anyone with some knowledge of Cameroon under Biya would think the diplomat was talking about the CPDM crime syndicate.
As the Taliban seized territory after territory, government soldiers dropped their uniforms, firearms and ran. On paper, the Afghan army had hundreds of thousands of US-trained fighters. But the fact is that soldiers in Afghanistan went unpaid as senior military and government officials simply siphoned military finances. Afghanistan fell easily than many expected to the Taliban because corruption was endemic in the government and military. The disease of corruption is so badly embedded in the Francophone dominated political and military establishments and this evil is a blessing to the Southern Cameroons quest for independence.
Just as the Taliban exploited the weaknesses in the Afghan army, Ambazonian self-defence forces have exploited a fragile, fraudulent, and hopeless army that has no belly for the fight. The parading of captured weapons by the Taliban on international media is evocative of the videos on social media posted by Ambazonian self-defence forces.
Procurement fraud was rife in the Afghan government, and the same crime is at a more sophisticated stage in Yaoundé. By the time of the Taliban’s final onslaught, Aghan state officials were so corrupt that most of them cut deals with the Taliban. The Afghan army was in a miserable shape to fight as its numbers were inflated by ghost soldiers. The presence of ghost soldiers deep within the Cameroon government military is very well established as the senior commanders pocket the salaries of these ghost army soldiers. The similarities between Afghanistan and Cameroon are striking, and the results, however long it takes, will be parallel.
After the Taliban was toppled in 2001, it maintained a strong presence in parts of Afghanistan and played the long game of prolonged combat. When the Southern Cameroons leadership was abducted in Abuja, Nigeria, in January 2018, it appeared as if the Southern Cameroons liberation struggle was a pipedream that would never be realized, but the Southern Cameroons Diaspora community and self-defence forces have reorganised themselves and are deadlier now than before.
For twenty years, the Taliban maintained its structure and survived the deaths of senior leadership figures. It maintained a base in Pakistan and at home in many provinces. They also received considerable moral and financial support from states in the Middle East. Similarly, despite the leadership of the Southern Cameroons movement being incarcerated in Yaoundé, the Interim Government of Ambazonia has continued to function satisfactorily in exile.
The Taliban did not accept the legitimacy of the US-supported government, and the people of Southern Cameroons do not accept the legitimacy of French Cameroon’s rule over the territory of Southern Cameroons. Since Mr Biya and his regime have ruled out genuine negotiation with the Southern Cameroons leadership in their detention centres, the jungles of Southern Cameroons will be their unending nightmare over the next decades as the mountains, hills and valleys of Afghanistan was to the Americans.
Just as many US right-wing policymakers believed for twenty years that the US would win militarily in Afghanistan, the hawks in Yaoundé are defiantly lying to themselves and anyone who would listen that they will emerge from the jungles of Southern Cameroons victorious and politically stronger. France will soon realise the folly of sustaining a corrupt army in a war that they will not win. Whether the political elite in Yaoundé accepts it or not, the Southern Cameroons struggle would still linger long after Mr Biya exits the scene, and the solution like the one in Afghanistan is not on the battlefield.
Paul Biya will not be the only Francophone Cameroonian president to fight the war in Ambazonia. Like Afghanistan, there is an exit strategy. The Americans talked to the Taliban and exited. Are the French Cameroun elite humble enough to do the sensible thing?
The speed and success of the Taliban shocked both Afghans and the US that had backed the Afghan government with money and military support. The US spent over $88bn on training and equipping Afghan security forces over the years. Conservative estimates say France has spent over $11 billion in equipping the Francophone dominated Cameroon army over the last four years, and the figure is growing as the enemy in the jungles in Southern Cameroons is just not going away.
La Republique du Cameroun has not a fighting chance against a liberating force that has time and nowhere to go. If the success of the Taliban is anything to go by, Southern Cameroonians are unlikely to let this great opportunity to attain freedom pass them by. Having a watch and money doesn’t guarantee that one has time. La Republique du Cameroun and France have the watch and money; Southern Cameroonians must know that, like the Taliban, they have the time.
London Bureau Chief
Cameroon Concord News Group