The Southern Cameroons crisis that the government of Cameroon thought would end shortly after it started has become a nightmare that will not go away anytime soon. The “two cubes of sugar” are not going to melt anytime soon and the fighting still has many more scenes which will surely play out in a manner that will be far from being pleasant.
When the country’s president, Paul Biya, declared war on the people of Southern Cameroons at the Nsimalen International Airport, in the nation’s capital, Yaounde, upon his return from a Francophonie conference in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, he thought that would frighten young Ambazonian fighters who had made up their minds to grant their territory the independence it has been hankering after for decades.
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.
Following the president’s arrogant speech, was that of the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, who said his soldiers would implement the president’s decision without batting an eyelid. Little did he know that he was dealing with a hard nut to crack. Southern Cameroonians had taken a lot of pressure for a long time and they now think their fate is worse than death. They are prepared to fight to a finish.
The government should have read the writing on the wall. If grandmothers could participate in demonstrations across the region on September 22 and October 1, 2017, the government should have known that something was really amiss. A rat does not come out of its hole running, except there is something chasing it out of the hole. When old men and women decide to behave like young men, know that they are ready to die. This is the message the government refused to read on September 22, 2017 and this mistake has come back to bite it. It’s use of brute force to intimidate and check any possible rebellion on October 1, 2017, only produced tough fighters and an unpleasant surprise for itself.
The fighters on the ground had already designed their war plan and all they needed was the right time to implement it. That was what the government offered to them on a platter of gold. Southern Cameroonians had already acquired arms and they had a pool of willing fighters who were determined to frustrate the country’s military efforts. The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora had decided to make its impact and importance felt by the Yaounde government that had ignored it for decades.
For more than five decades, the Yaounde government had not paid attention to the growing numbers of the Diaspora. Many of its members who had left the country due to the government’s marginalization policy and discrimination had made up their minds to make the government pay for its crimes.
The Diaspora, which comprises some of the country’s finest engineers, lawyers, journalists, mathematicians, economists, translators, interpreters, medical doctors, etc; was prepared to cut down Mr. Biya’s arrogant government to normal human proportions.
Following the outbreak of violence, the Diaspora promptly organized fund-raising efforts which have helped to keep the fighters busy and effective. Over the last six months, more than USD2 million has been raised to purchase arms and sustain the fighters.
Currently, there are also fund-raising efforts to rebuild all the houses that have been burnt down by the irresponsible Yaounde soldiers. These resources are also being used to help those who have been wounded to recover from their unfortunate situation. Southern Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria have also been beneficiaries of the Diaspora’s largesse.
This speaks to the unity among the Southern Cameroonian population both at home and abroad and this trend is going to continue until the Yaounde government comes to the table for negotiations that will only focus on divorce issues between Southern Cameroons and “La République du Cameroun.”
Today, the conflict has taken a turn for the worse. The Yaounde government is at its wit’s end. It is simply out of options as all its measures have fallen flat on their faces. It has killed so many young men in the belief that it will deplete the pool of willing fighters. But this pool of fighters is determined to stay the course. The fighters have been increasing on a daily basis despite the risks involved.
The government is now focusing on burning homes and in the process, it is killing the vulnerable who cannot run into the bushes and mountains of Southern Cameroons. This strategy is turning out to be counter-productive, as it is producing brand new and dangerous fighters. Revenge is on every fighter’s mind. The “Code of Hammurabi” has finally taken root in Cameroon.
But each time the government kills a fighter, it creates more than ten new ones. Its arrogance has radicalized many and even girls have decided to pick up arms to bring an end to the government’s arrogance. This has indeed surprised the government which thought that a heavy military presence in the English-speaking regions would help restore peace.
Even its new Territorial Administration Minister, Paul Atanga Nji, who had displayed the enthusiasm of a neophyte when he just came to power, is now realizing that the issues will not be addressed through threats, long speeches and peace plants. He also knows that there is a price on his head. He, in particular, has been responsible for the escalation of the crisis and this has angered many Southern Cameroonians.
He is already out of steam and his masters in Yaounde are already questioning if he can be up to the task. He had promised to bring a speedy end to the conflict and that was why he had been granted the territorial administration portfolio, but the changing nature of the conflict remains a jigsaw puzzle to Mr. Atanga Nji who always and erroneously thinks that the gold-standard to conflict management and resolution is military violence.
His gold standard is gradually crumpling. It has only added to the chaos in the region and from every indication, all the actions taken by the government over the last two years are simply working in favor of a Southern Cameroons independence. The government seems to be reading from an old script written by Indonesians when they were oppressing Timor Leste. And that script is actually working for Southern Cameroonians who have produced some of the most effective fighters.
The fighters are determined. They know they are in for a long haul. They understand that there will be a positive outcome, but that will take a long time. They are also aware that over time, the government will run out of money and its soldiers will desert the military.
For now, Southern Cameroonian fighters understand that they are winning. They believe that the government’s indiscriminate burning of homes is a clear sign that its frustration is boiling over. According to a young fighter in Muyuka who called the Cameroon Concord News Group global headquarters in the United Kingdom, the odds are on their side.
“We are winning bigly. The ill-trained soldiers are biting the dust here in our country,” he said, adding that “we have come up with new strategies to frustrate them in the battlefields. Worse of all, we are promising them hell with our few weapons. The Special Forces are all trembling in their underwear. Any of them who shows up here in our territory will surely find out what we have in store for them. Now, when we kill those low-class, ill-behaved infidels, we cut off their penises. This is to ensure that if they go to Hell or Heaven, they will not be able to bother any of the girls they will meet over there. The message is clear, as a few of them have paid the ultimate price.”
The fighter who elected anonymity also said “the government is already running out of patience. Its soldiers are deserting and its coffers are running dry. We will continue to erode its confidence until it surrenders. The Yaounde government must understand that we are not Bassas and Bamilekes who were easily crushed during their struggle for independence. We are enjoying large support from our brothers abroad and the Interim Government is doing a great job at sensitizing our people. We know President Julius Ayuk Tabe will soon be released. The government has not got many choices. We will continue to humiliate it, one battle at a time. We will make them pay for the mess they created in Muyenge last week. We have already sent a few of them to the grave following that chaos in Muyenge.”
Today, even the government’s ardent supporters are already calling for the withdrawal of troops from the two English-speaking regions. Professor Mathias Owona Nguini who, a few months ago, was beating all the war drums in town, is today holding an olive branch in the hope that Southern Cameroonians will listen to him. He has been a regular guest on many TV channels in Cameroon where he is urging the government to embrace dialogue and peace. But he seems to be flogging a dead horse as the government is still not willing to smoke the pipe of peace that many have offered to it.
Even the governor of the South West region is also contemplating calling for peace. In a discussion with Justice Mbeng who had been kidnapped by Manyu fighters a month ago, the Southwest governor gathered that it would be hard for the government to win the war. Justice Mbeng who has tasted the anger of the fighters told Mr. Okalia Bilai that the fighters were more organized than the Cameroon military. He stressed that there would be no military solution and he urged the governor to work for peace.
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 civilian are being killed in a conflict that could have been avoided. Its decision to slaughter hundreds of Southern Cameroonians on October 1, 2017, has turned out to be an unfortunate error of judgment and its cost to the nation is incalculable.
The country’s fragile economy has been badly hit. Corporations such CDC and Pamol that are located deep into Southern Cameroons’ heartland are struggling to stay afloat. Their businesses have been seriously affected, as Ambazonian fighters stage incursions in the region on a daily basis.
Falling oil production and prices have also hit the government like a ton of bricks. The Southern Cameroons crisis that the government thought would end after a few weeks is gradually robbing the country’s economy of its vitality. The country’s economic indicators are unfortunately trending very low and it is obvious that the days ahead will be bleak for the country’s civil service.
A crisis that started as simple protests by lawyers, teachers and students in Buea and Bamenda has brutally shattered the image the country had cut for itself. Over the last six months, the protests have metamorphosed into a full blown armed conflict, as the government disregards all appeals from many across the world for meaningful and inclusive dialogue.
But its failure to comprehend that times have changed and that other factors have come into play will keep it in the jungles and mountains of Southern Cameroons for a long time. The sixties and seventies were still part of the continent’s dark ages. Many people were not literate and poverty was a constant presence among the populace. The Bamilekes and Bassas who masterminded the independence struggle were still poor and had very few friends around the world.
Today, the world is a totally different place. Many people are educated. Education rates in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon stand at well over 80%. Besides, more than 50% of the region’s population lives out of the country and this makes it possible for the region to survive any government onslaught against those on the ground.
With more than 3 million English-speaking Cameroonians living out of the country, it is very possible for this large Diaspora to financially support those facing the government’s “scorched-earth” policy. The region’s Diaspora has been out of the country for more than 40 years and the majority of the region’s Diaspora lives in prosperous countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK where economic opportunities abound.
Despite the bitterness and frustration that government officials are exhibiting on a daily basis, they must understand that no conflict ends without negotiations and dialogue. Major wars have always ended with negotiations and such negotiations are locations wherein long-lasting solutions to the issues that have triggered the conflict can be found.
Cameroon will never be the same again. Years of marginalization have hurt many Southern Cameroonians. If the government wants to see an end to the fighting that has resulted in many deaths, then it must revisit its script. It must not continue to see military violence as the gold standard for conflict resolution.
The government must also start thinking of releasing all Southern Cameroonians in its custody. It must also grant amnesty to all Southern Cameroonians living abroad. It should also withdraw its forces from Southern Cameroons to minimize conflict and clashes.
Cameroon can heal. But there must be a new approach to issues in the country. The old ways have only produced a nasty conflict that could have been avoided. Cameroonian authorities must also look into the mirror of history to find out the proper solutions that have worked in other countries when it comes to minority management. Military violence will not always produce the desired results. This crisis has simply proven that.
By Kingsley Betek
A Cameroon Concord News and Cameroon Intelligence Report Production