Last Sunday 7 October 2018, citizens of“République du Cameroun” went to the polls to elect their President and, by every indication, the results are already known. Statements have been made about the outcomes, exit polls, claims and counterclaims, the most notable of which is Prof. Maurice Kamto’s claim of victory in the polls. Irrespective of whether we believe this claim or not – and there is no reason not to believe – one fact stands out clearly and it is the inextricable link between what happens in the aftermath of this electoral process and the Southern Cameroons crisis. Southern Cameroonians chose to make a loud political statement by boycotting the elections, some out of fear for their security and others, a good majority, out of the immutable principle that this election did not concern them as an already “independent” country.
It is with interest that I followed the various reactions of Southern Cameroonians both online and in certain media outlets following the polling and in reaction to Prof.Kamto’s outing to claim he had received the people’s mandate. Translation: he is the President elect. Whether he broke the law by, as regime stalwarts claim, proclaiming the results in advance of the “legal” body authorized to do so, is a matter for debate by legal luminaries. And he is an outstanding legal mind, able to walk the tightrope of the arcane laws of the country, both electoral and otherwise. Be it as it may, the future is casting a scary shadow pregnant with doom and gloom as the regime that has been entrenched for 36 years is not ready to give up power without a fight. And fight they will, fairly or dirty. Blood will flow as, for once, Eastern Cameroonians face the true test of their mettle. Will they run, duck and hide at the first gunshot? Your guess is as good as mine. From the reactions observed, they are no longer ready to take it anymore from a regime that has spawned poverty, despair, hopelessness and, above all, underdevelopment. I digress…
Some Southern Cameroonians have hailed this seeming political changeover as salutary. Others, a good majority, think they are not concerned, calling it “foreign news” that does not concern them. In the process, and even prior thereto, they considered anybody willing to take part in this election a traitor worthy of the guillotine as is anyone remotely suspected of collaboration or cooperation with the government of “La République”. This reaction is justifiable considering the pogrom they have experienced in the hands of the “La République” government and its forces. At the outset was a peaceful demonstration against 57 years of marginalization, second-class citizenship and a gradual erosion of their educational, legal, developmental and administrative/management culture. All they ever asked for was a return to the federal structure that existed prior to 1972 and which, in their minds, could guarantee the protection of their rights and way of life.
The government responded with a heavy hand. The leaders of the movement were promptly thrown into jail and accused of all the heinous crimes in the book. What followed is public knowledge. On 22nd September 2017, the population of Southern Cameroons came out in droves in a region-wide mass protest that shook the government to its core. On 1st October, one week after, Southern Cameroonians took the bold step of going out to commemorate and mark their day of independence. What followed is the stuff of horror. The region was transformed into a killing field, with soldiers ordered to shoot at anything/anybody “posing a threat”. Homes have been torched and people, some of them old and defenseless, roasted to death in their homes, and even hospitals, by soldiers with no account to render to anybody. Women and girls have been raped and maimed alongside other young men. The sum total of all of this has been total radicalization, with the population taking up arms to defend themselves and their families. Nationalism took root in the process and dreams and hopes of a new nation have flourished and prospered. For most of them, nothing short of independence is their goal. They do not want to have anything to do with “La République”, which now appears to them as the colonial master that they must free themselves from. This is the backdrop against which they now view the political developments in the country.
Rage and radicalization seem to have blinded most of them to a few hard seemingly unpalatable truths. First, the international community seems to have a turned a blind eye on their plight and all but looked the other way while the bloodletting continues unabated. They had hoped that the crisis would prompt the United Nations to intervene and right the legal wrongs of history that deprived them of the right to self-determination. Unfortunately, they have been treated to a few laconic statements of condemnation of the violence “on both sides” and calls for “inclusive dialogue” the contours of which have not been fully laid out. Secondly, “La République” has never played fair. Their language has been “might is right” and they have acted true to type. Calls for dialogue and negotiations, even from the “moderate” wing of the movement have gone unheeded, at best. At worst, the same leaders were abducted and illegally transferred to Yaounde, with the complicity of the Nigerian government. That brings us to the third unfriendly truth – the support or lack thereof from our neighbour, Nigeria. This country has been so much in cahoots with the Cameroon government that they were ready to flout international law and face the wrath of the international community. The moderate leadership of the movement is now held incommunicado in the dungeons of Cameroon’s gendarmerie.
Those who think Cameroon’s political activity is of no interest or imports to them have another think coming. From the moderate to the radical, redemption will only come through dialogue or negotiation with the government of la Republique. For the moderates and federalists, the way forward will be a constitutional revision subject to consensus by both parties. For those who hold firm to the idea of separation from La Republique du Cameroun, they will have to negotiate with the latter irrespective of what form this negotiation will take. It may be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations but it will have to include La République. Fifty-seven years of collective life cannot be erased with a magic wand. Debts have been incurred and negotiations as to their sharing as well as the distribution of assets will be the subject of intense negotiation. These issues will not be decreed by the United Nations. This body can only take note, acknowledge and recognize the outcome of these negotiations.
Therefore, knowing one’s counterpart or “enemy” in this process is of paramount importance. Understanding the other camp can help one better prepare or manage one’s expectations. Social media rants and hate-filled declarations will not lead Southern Cameroonians anywhere. They have to remain level-headed with their eyes on the prize. In my humble opinion, the incumbent regime has been responsible for the radicalization that has led us to this bloody quagmire. The unwillingness to climb down from their high Jacobin horse and talk, just talk, with the people has fuelled the anger that has now engulfed Southern Cameroonians and brought the country down this path of gore. On the other hand, if the declarations of the new President elect are anything to go by, then it is safe to say the prospects of sensible negotiations are here. To be fair, arrogance, high-handedness, stone-cold indifference and cruelty, yes, cruelties have all convinced Southern Cameroonians that their place is no longer within the national triangle. Their rage is justified. Nevertheless, this rage should not blind Southern Cameroonians to hard cold truth that they are not yet free from the clutches of La Republique. If anything, their destiny is still inextricably tied to the developments in the country. It is, therefore, in their best interest to follow keenly the current political drama unfolding in “neighbouring” La République du Cameroun.
Shey Kukih Mansah