The Southern Cameroons crisis which seemed to have slowed down a few weeks ago has entered a new phase following the government’s decision to step up its attacks. The Yaoundé government is under enormous pressure from the international community that is urging it to find a swift and peaceful resolution.
But the hawks in the Yaoundé regime still hold that an all-out military assault will bring them the results they have been hankering after for close to two years. All measures and tricks by the Yaoundé regime have fallen flat on their faces, as Southern Cameroonians pool together to prove that they can make a ridicule of a government that only understands one language – an iron fist.
The government iron-fist approach has resulted in the attack of many villages and towns in the North-West and South-West regions of the country. These attacks have resulted in the killing and maiming of many innocent Southern Cameroonians who have nothing to do with the unfortunate political and military crisis that has been playing out in Cameroon, a country once considered as an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos.
Over the last weeks, government army soldiers have been raiding many villages in Manyu Division with a view to reducing the number of violent criminal gangs that have become a nightmare to army soldiers and even to some civilians who members of the armed groups consider as traitors.
There have been reports of young men having been killed by Southern Cameroonian fighters because they are suspected of being traitors. In Ndekwai, a small town located some ten kilometers from Mamfe, Marshal Ayuk was gunned down in front of his home. He was accused of working with government troops and betraying the revolution that has put the Yaoundé government in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Last week in Ossing, Mr. Lucas Ayukobi lost his son following a visit by some violent Southern Cameroonian fighters. He was gunned down point blank and this has drawn a lot of flak from many people who accuse the fighters for misusing their weapons. This is bringing a lot of pressure on the struggling Interim Government that appears to be losing control of many things.
Southern Cameroonian fighters are clearly engaging in summary executions and this is giving the revolution a very bad name. They are also offering the beleaguered government a reason to raid many towns and villages in Southern Cameroons. The government is quick to point to such atrocities and inhuman acts as a reason for it to mop up the country that is now awash with weapons and criminals who are using the revolution to extort money from unsuspecting civilians.
For more than two months, Manyu Division has witnessed some relative peace. Most of the fighting in the South-west region has been playing out in other Divisions of the region. Muyuka, Buea, Kumba and other small towns in the Southwest region have stolen the show from Manyu Division that has been termed as the graveyard of the Cameroon military.
It should be recalled that the very first killing of army soldiers during this conflict took place in Agborkem German, a small town on the banks of the Cross River that serves as the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. The killing of four army soldiers in Agborkem German was responsible for the country’s president, Paul Biya, to declare war on Southern Cameroonian fighters in Manyu Division.
The government felt that by declaring war on its own people, it will restore state authority that has been challenged by the killing of four army soldiers. But the declaration of war has turned out to be the government’s greatest undoing.
More than one thousand Southern Cameroonians have been sent to an early grave, while some 400 army soldiers have been killed in retaliation for their criminal acts in Southern Cameroons. And the number of atrocities and deaths has continued to rise as the government keeps on dilly dallying about the creation of the right conditions for the holding of the inclusive dialogue that the international community has called for.
The Southern Cameroons crisis that started as a simple strike by teachers and lawyers in October 2016 has gradually metamorphosed into a full blown civil war, making the independence of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon a certainty, especially as there are targeted killings and huge refugees movements in and out of the country.
Ever since the crisis started, the country’s president, Paul Biya, also known as the owner of the country, has refused to listen to many respectable people across the world.
The Pope has had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Biya. Leaders of Western countries have advised him to pursue dialogue as a sure means out of the impasse. The African Union has once offered to mediate. But all their pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.
The Francophonie, for its part, is still prepared to play a great role in efforts at restoring peace to the country, but the country’s authorities are reluctant to accept all these offers of assistance and this is causing the situation to spiral out of control.
Mr. Biya and his collaborators have clearly opted to pursue a path that is causing the country to lose its youthful population. They seem to be frozen in time and their strong faith in old ways is putting the country in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Across the country, some religious authorities have also called on the government to embrace dialogue in order to spare the country the agony it is going through. But all the wise counsel does not seem to be music to the government’s ears.
Mr. Biya is intent on destroying the country before he leaves this world. His total refusal of outside help to restore peace to the country is costing Cameroon a lot. Increased military action has disrupted the people’s life and the burning and destruction of many homes, has left many Southern Cameroonians homeless and desperate.
But it is the economy that is suffering the most. State corporations located in Southern Cameroons are already feeling the heat. Pamol, a palm oil production corporation located in Lobe, a small town in Ndian Division, has finally shut its doors as the fighting between Southern Cameroonian fighters and army soldiers takes a turn for the worse.
More than three thousand Pamol workers are today unemployed and living in permanent fear, as the fighting between the warring factions rages on. Schools and courts in the region have been closed for more than two years and it is increasingly obvious that the Yaoundé government has lost control of certain parts of the two English-speaking regions.
The Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), one of the major employers in the region, is also going through a rough patch. Malende, a small town located some 6 km from Muyuka, has witnessed huge unemployment rates. The corporation’s rubber factory was set ablaze last week by some unidentified men and this has hit CDC like a ton of bricks.
In other plantations, many workers have simply deserted. The fighting is disrupting economic activities in those plantations and many workers hold that it is better to quit than to be caught up between the devil and the deep blue sea. The fighting, coupled with the derisory salaries the corporation pays to its workers, has made CDC unattractive and this is gradually eroding the government’s tax base.
Similarly, government revenue has taken a nosedive, as the national oil refinery located in the Southwest region is also facing some major challenges. The crisis is a true nightmare to this once-upon-a-time oasis of peace. It is indeed a millstone around the neck of the government which is gradually collapsing under its weight.
While the government is putting on a brave face in public, it is indeed worried that Southern Cameroonians might walk away from the union that was stitched together in 1972 between West and East Cameroon. Southern Cameroonians hold that the union has been predicated upon lies right from the beginning and that a review of the system is long overdue.
Southern Cameroonians stress that much blood has already flowed and this makes it hard for the warring factions to sit around a negotiating table to narrow their differences. The killing of many Southern Cameroonians and the burning of their homes have left Southern Cameroonians with just the option of quitting their French-speaking counterparts.
Walking away from that ‘political marriage’ implies taking with them about 60% of the country’s wealth. Southern Cameroons is blessed with many resources, including oil, gas, diamond and timber. Its rich sub-soil has brought lots of economic benefits to the country. For almost 50 years, the Rio Del Rey estuary has been the source of more than 90% and at times 100% of all the country’s hydrocarbons, specifically oil.
In 2014, Cameroon exported US$5.88 billion worth of products, of which US$2.65 billion, about CFAF 1,650 billion, was from crude oil. This is a significant amount of money and no government can afford to stay on the sidelines and watch manna vanish into thin air.
But the government’s indifference to calls for an inclusive dialogue is giving secessionists more confidence and time to spread their gospel. The government’s military action has transformed it into a monster and this has pushed the civilian population into the arms of secessionists who are making hay while the sun shines.
The secessionists have worked hard to win hearts and minds among Southern Cameroonian moderates who, right from the beginning, stood for a federal system that would give the regions greater autonomy and authority over their lives. But the delay to talk to Southern Cameroons leaders, many of whom are in jail or exile, is compounding instead of helping matters.
The radicals have taken their gospel of secession to the international community and there is a significant crowd that is listening to their gospel with rapt attention. If secession were to happen today, it would be a very costly mistake on the part of the government that is being accused around the world of being indifferent to the country’s declining political and economic situation.
Every nation’s economic progress and development depend on its political stability. Instability spells doom for a country’s prosperity and prolong periods of instability could be a death sentence on many investments and investors do not like uncertainty. Allowing the Southern Cameroons crisis to fester is tantamount to committing economic and political suicide.
The government’s military action has put the economy on a tailspin. The South-West region which has been the country’s bread basket is today a no-go area. Many small businesses have been dealt a big blow by the crisis. Businesspeople both in French-speaking and English-speaking Cameroon are feeling the pinch. The crisis has robbed them of their source of livelihood and this has created enormous fear in the country.
If Cameroon has to heal, the Yaoundé government has to change its approach. Burning houses and stepping up military action will surely not address the issues. The government is supposed to understand that at this stage dialogue is the answer. Southern Cameroonians are determined. Though they may be having some internal conflicts, they understand that they have a common enemy and this has been the glue that has held them together for close to two years.
The government of Cameroon has to look into the mirror of history to understand how other countries came out of their conflicts with their minorities. Canada and Spain hold solutions that might inspire the Cameroon government. There are many ways of addressing political conflicts. Sticking to a strategy that has only made things worse will surely not help the Yaoundé government to lay to rest this crisis that has given it a very bad name.
Today, many Southern Cameroonians are living in the jungles. The bitterness stemming from living a dangerous life might push many of those innocent civilians to join the fighters and this will only cause the conflict to drag on for many years.
Cameroon is really facing a bleak future. Its economy is going south. It has been caught in a downward political spiral and it is finally going the way of other countries in the region. The government has failed to understand that it is also possible to catch flies with honey. Its military action has really threatened national unity and it will take a lot of effort to get all the warring factions to the negotiating table.
However, where there is a will, there will always be a way. Instead of taking unpopular measures, it will be necessary to make some meaningful concessions so as to appease Southern Cameroonians who are determined to walk away. The pain will linger for a very long time, but great political and social measures may help to heal the wounds. It is time to change strategies and tactics. Cameroon is bleeding. Further military action may simply break the country into two. The ball is in the government’s court. And the world is watching.
By Kingsley Betek on assignment in North America with contributions from Irene Nanyongo