The Southern Cameroons crisis that has put Cameroon in the spotlight for some thirteen months has also left the country in tough and challenging circumstances. Since October 1, 2017, when the government unleashed the full spectrum of its anger on unarmed citizens, there appear to be some calm, but many experts hold that this is the type of calm that spells doom for both the government and those who thought they could declare their independence just by sending unarmed citizens to take control of government buildings in major cities across Southern Cameroons. The tactical failure led to many being killed and thousands transformed into refugees, while hundreds are still missing. The government, for its part, is still not repentant for killing the people it is supposed to protect. The Biya government imported “red terror” from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia into Southern Cameroons on October 1. But it is its indifference that is troubling to the international community. The government’s indifference to these deaths has left many to wonder if the country’s unity and indivisibility can really be enhanced through mass killings.
The government has an obligation towards its citizens. It has signed treaties to protect minorities. Its obligations under international law are known. Taking up arms against its own citizens is one act that may never cause the psychological wounds to heal properly even after the holding of sincere and genuine dialogue. By this act, the government has declared the people of Southern Cameroons its enemy. This should not be the case.Political differences must always be addressed at thenegotiating table. Nobody, regardless of their age or intellect, should be too big to despise those who have put him in office. The president, Paul Biya, seems to have lost his voice like the ant that lost its voice after having drunk the “strong cough mixture” designed for adults only. If you had attended primary school in West Cameroon in the 60s and 70s, then you should easily understand something about this strong cough mixture.
Mr. Biya’s silence has been criticized both at home and abroad, with many tagging him as arrogant even at his age. Cameroon needs a frank and fruitful dialogue that should be moderated by a third neutral party to ensure deliberations do not degenerate into a slanging match. The anger is too much. The frustrations are incredible. The people’s silence is deafening. But Mr. Biya seems to be tone deaf and blind to the sorry plight of his fellow citizens.He seems to be more concerned about his failing health than with the human disaster that is unfolding in a country he has led for thirty-five years. While the country bleeds, Mr. Biya’s party, commonly known as a crime syndicate, made out of the same mold as the Sicilian Mafia, is more concerned about celebrating the time he has been in office and his supporters are already heading to the various regions to celebrate on Monday, October 6, 2017. A great provocation to the suffering masses who have been reduced to sorry spectators of events in their own country.
However, the responsibility for the October 1 disaster must also be shared. It takes two to tango. No government in the world will yield to any pressure to lose part of its territory. While violence – the type that was unleashed on innocent people on October 1 – should be condemned, those who ordered the declaration should also accept full responsibility for their actions. Independence is never granted on a platter of gold, except it is tainted like what the French had given to most of their former territories. No government ever comes to the negotiating table to discuss secession with its adversaries, except it has been defeated like what happened in Sudan, resulting in the creation of South Sudan.
Taking a look into the mirror of history, we will find out that for more than fifty years, only two secessions have successfully taken place in Africa. South Sudan pulled it off after more than twenty-five years of a bloody struggle. It should, however, be underscored that it was thanks to American support and thanks,in particular,to the Obama administration that actually facilitated things. After more than thirty years of fratricidal killings, South Sudan and Sudan still have to work together for both countries to survive. While the oil deposits are in South Sudan, the oil refineries are in Sudan. The cooperation that both countries could not establish when they were one has today become a grim necessity. The only other country is Eritrea that beat Ethiopia to the game. Despite long years of fighting, the two countries now work together after a negotiated agreement to grant Ethiopia access to the sea; something that underscores that everything always ends up at the negotiating table, regardless of the outcome.
It should, at this juncture, be pointed out that independence is seized. It is never given. Those who called for young men to take to the streets on October 1, simply pushed them to an early grave. Secession implies having the arms to defend ones territory. The Governing Council just like SCNC had no weapons. They do not have a standing army although they are rich in thousands of Internet generals who have never been combat-tested. They never armed their people and this young men and women could simply not stand the fury of the machine guns and helicopters that sprayed tear gas and bullets on them. Even those who had purported that they would be in Buea on that day, simply did not show up. They were simply a no-show. How can independence be celebrated without the architects and founders of modern-day Southern Cameroons?
Ever since the incident happened, there has not been a proper and proportionate response from the Internet generals to convince the people that they have the means to strike awe in the minds of Cameroon government officials. The country has been engulfed in total calm while the wounded are still licking their wounds. The best has so far been the creation of a government after a long conclave that almost shattered the integrity of the Governing Council. While many people hail the creation of this government as a major step forward in the struggle against marginalization in Cameroon, some have already expressed fear that the setting up of a government could spell danger to the Governing Council, as there might be infighting that could cause old demons to rear their ugly heads. Many advise that the President, Ayuk Julius Tabe, has to tread carefully, stressing that he is indeed skating on thin ice. They fear that if not well-managed, the creation of a government could become another whirlwind that could destroy the unity of purpose that has marked the struggle just like the Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla saga that is threatening to split Southern Cameroonians who have all through displayed exceptional unity.
Balla who has played a key role in the Southern Cameroons struggle has in recent times become a lightning rod for controversy. He has been accused of all the crimes and sins that make up the political world for holding views that are different from what the majority thinks. Of course, he has also made obvious mistakes that need to be condemned. His lack of sound public relations knowledge and youthful exuberance are hurting his credibility, big time. He must make amends. He is not a man who is scared of apologizing in public. He has done it before and will do so to save whatever little credibility he still has. As a leader, he has to be careful how he speaks and conducts himself. Criticizing other leaders in public does not bode well for a struggle that is on life support. It should, however, be pointed out that there are so many hardliners in the struggle, which highlights the fact that the Southern Cameroons struggle is gradually walking down the path designed by architects of the soviet system that only made provisions for monolithic thinking. Dictatorship seems to be rearing its ugly head among Southern Cameroonians. In any struggle, there are always several, if not many shades of opinions, but the key is always knowing how to establish alliances and work with everybody.
The South African example may be a shiny classroom for many young Southern Cameroonians who do not seem to have a serious grinding in pluralistic democracy. In the days of apartheid many black South Africans thought fighting the racist government meant rolling the white minority into the ocean. Some thought the objective could only be attained through an armed struggle. The ANC, led by Oliver Tambo, had global support and the right resources to engage in such a war, but wisdom was also necessary, and only Mandela had to come up with the right steps that could actually result in the rainbow nation that we all admire today. Mandela knew that it would all end at the negotiating table, but waited for the racist government to make the first step. And when that came, he made the most of it, though he was accused of all the crimes and sins in the world. Of course, time has proven him right. While situations of oppression require military responses too, it is always necessary to leave room for possible negotiations. After all, you can only make peace with your enemy and at the end of the fighting, you must still sit down and talk, and talking Mandela did.
A struggle should have many fronts. There could be the military wing that will work hard to inflict pain on the enemy. We are not talking here of Internet generals who spend lots of time threatening and sending young men back home to early graves. There could also be pressure groups that must work hard to bring the plight of the suffering masses to the attention of the international community and there must be intellectuals, especially writers, political scientists, sociologists, politicians and lawyers who must properly articulate the views and sell them to the world so that the oppressor ends up with a black eye and a bad name.
It is therefore necessary for Southern Cameroonians to avoid scrambling any action that can give them the opportunity to sell their case, regardless of their differences. Disagreeing is an idea that is as old as man. All Southern Cameroonians have to do, is to ensure that when they disagree they must not be disagreeable, as that plays in favor of the enemy who is always looking for any cracks on the wall to fully exploit and render the struggle useless. Southern Cameroonians must understand that together they will achieve more and the more they focus on their goal, the better for their struggle. Let them not be distracted by side events that can diminish their morale and energy which are very much-needed to make sure their struggle stays on the front burner. Differences of opinions will always exist, but it is incumbent upon the leaders to handle them with tact and care. The plain truth is that there will never be struggles without disagreements, but good leadership requires that such disagreements be arrested in time to rob the enemy of any chance to gain an advantage.
A Cameroon Concord News Group Production