For close to two years, Cameroon has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Cameroon, once touted as an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos, has finally joined the chaos that has characterized life in countries bordering the sub-region’s economic power.
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.
The government is frozen in time and this gives it the impression that only an all-out military victory can bring peace to this once prosperous nation. It still believes that actions taken in the early years of the country’s independence to put an end to a bloody “Marquisard movement” could also work in the 21st Century.
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.
It is this Diaspora that is helping the pool of willing fighters back in Southern Cameroons to give the government a run for its money. Across the globe, there are monthly fund-raising efforts to ensure that those on the ground have access to the weapons they need to protect themselves against a government that has declared war against its own people.
Besides fund-raising efforts for arms, there are also fund-raising efforts to ensure that all those whose houses have been razed get rebuilt once the region secures its independence. Southern Cameroonians want to prove to the government that its brute force will only help them gain their independence sooner, rather than later.
Many people across the globe are already pointing out that the government’s reckless and irresponsible reaction to the crisis is already granting Southern Cameroons its independence, one day at a time. Some point to what happened to East Timor, also known as Timor Leste.
The Asian Island was also a victim of oppression from Indonesians for decades, but when the courageous people of Timor Leste decided it was time to walk away from the union, they challenged their oppressor and despite the intimidation and killings by Indonesians, East Timorese stood their ground. They knew that some people had to die for them to have a free and prosperous nation.
After many years of bloodshed, on August 30, 1999, a UN-sponsored referendum led to an overwhelming majority of East Timorese voting for independence from Indonesia. Immediately following the referendum, anti-independence Timorese militias — organized and supported by the Indonesian military — commenced a punitive scorched-earth campaign. The militias killed approximately 1,400 Timorese and forcibly pushed 300,000 people into West Timor as refugees. The majority of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed during this punitive attack.
On September 20, 1999, the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) was deployed to the country and it brought the violence to an end. Following a United Nations-administered transition period, East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent nation on May 20, 2002.
This is exactly what might happen to Southern Cameroons as the government relentlessly pursues its diabolic campaign to destroy Southern Cameroons and to kill its people. The government of Cameroon has to take a hard and long look at its actions if it does not want to clone Indonesia’s mistakes.
But from every indication, the Cameroon government seems to be happily cloning the Indonesian example. It seems to be reading from a script produced by the Indonesian government. A script that has caused Indonesia to lose some of its best Islands that were noted for their tourism potential.
If the Cameroon government does not put an end to its military campaign, it will soon be losing Southern Cameroons. The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is also willing to make this happen. “La République du Cameroun” has failed Southern Cameroonians and the brave and hardworking people of these English-speaking regions are willing to walk away from this hastily stitched marriage that was arranged by Foncha and Muna who only thought about their own interest.
Many people across the globe are still marveled at the Cameroon government’s ignorance of world politics and arrogance. The government has demonstrated a lot of arrogance ever since this crisis started with some ministers such as Fame Ndongo and Joseph Beti Assomo making statements that have only made matters worse. Mr. Assomo, in particular, has sent young Beti soldiers to the region to wreak havoc and Southern Cameroonians are aware of this.
There are even rumors that before long Southern Cameroonian fighters will soon be chasing Francophones out of Southern Cameroons in an attempt to bring the international community into the conflict. The world still has time to step in to prevent the chaos that is still being prepared in the jungles of Southern Cameroons.
The government’s arrogance and inefficiency are today 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 is unnecessary. The government’s 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.
Even the country’s military is already dealing with some challenges. The Southern Cameroons crisis has eroded its financial resources. The payment of per diems is gradually becoming a tough challenge despite the signing of a presidential decree by the country’s reclusive leader, indicating that each soldier fighting in the two English-speaking regions will be earning CFAF 30,000 a day as per diem. The money has not been flowing the way of the soldiers and many young army soldiers are deserting the military for fear of being killed by the tough Ambazonian fighters who are giving the government a run for its money.
Today, nobody in the region is safe. Government killings are totally to blame for the escalation of violence. Many young lives have been destroyed and businesses have shut their doors as a result of the government’s arrogance and military violence. Silicon Mountain that was noted for its large number of start-ups has been completely wiped off the country’s business landscape.
Similarly, many homes have been burnt to the ground by soldiers and the most disheartening thing is the roasting of vulnerable people by army soldiers who are considered by the population as alcohol-inflamed and sex-starved.
Today, the Internet is awash with videos of government atrocities in the two English-speaking regions of the country. The old and vulnerable, including children, have been killed by government troops. The government’s collective punishment campaign is fanning embers of enmity and hatred. The bitterness resulting from the government’s ill-advised decision will fuel violence in the region for many decades.
The government’s reaction to Southern Cameroonian demands has been anything but effective. This reaction has gone a long way in creating a bloody conflict that is not necessary. Many people have been radicalized, including young girls who now hold that it is their duty to help bring independence to their people. The radicalization has, unfortunately, led to the creation of many armed groups in the two English-speaking regions of the country.
As a response to the creation of these armed groups, the government has stepped up its killing spree to prove that it is in control of the territory. It is strange to see a duly constituted government come down to the level of a ragtag army. It is even stranger to see the government engage in the killing of its own citizens just because they have expressed their minds.
This conflict has really disrupted life in many parts of the country. In the English-speaking parts of the country, schools and courts have remained closed and a generation of children is being traumatized by the images and pictures they are seeing on the ground. Besides the trauma, these kids will wind up illiterate as there are no prospects of school resuming anytime soon, especially in rural areas where there is no government authority. The government itself has simply surrendered and does not consider the education of these kids as a priority.
Many people around the world who have been watching Cameroon descend into chaos think the country’s government should actually embrace peace, but the country’s ailing leaders want to take the country to the grave with them. Many of these observers have been waiting for the government to lay the ground work for the much-touted inclusive dialogue that the country’s president has been talking about.
But Mr. Biya and his government are not in the mood to smoke the pipe of peace. Though Mr. Biya had declared in New York during a session of the UN General Assembly meeting in late 2017 that “we all are hankering after peace”, he seems to be more interested in war than peace. Mr. Biya is being accused today across the globe as someone who is paying lip-service to the notion of inclusive and sincere dialogue.
Many observers hold that he is more interested in keeping power than in making Cameroon the beacon of peace many want. He and his government see governance as a do-or-die affair and any dialogue that could diminish their power will never be something they will contemplate. They know their time is almost up, but they hold that they must go down with the entire country. Their attitude is shocking many around the world. The fighting in Cameroon is not only taking away innocent lives, it is also robbing the country of its scarce development resources.
To government officials, the atrocities being committed by government troops in Southern Cameroons are simply war games worthy of their admiration. They seem to be deflecting public opinion from the fact that Southern Cameroonians, who have been victims of the government’s marginalization, simply want to be heard. They want years of injustice and disrespect to be addressed. But wont to violence and dictatorial ways of doing business, the government is unrelentingly pursuing its legendary policy of violence which has transformed an entire region into a massive killing field.
The government must look into the mirror of history to learn the lessons of cohabitation and minority management. Its mistakes are gradually granting Southern Cameroons the independence it needs. History is replete with many examples of how to handle demands by minorities. If the government has opted for the Indonesian script, it should be rest assured that Southern Cameroons will be independent sooner, rather than later. There is time for it to review this script if it wants to keep Cameroon one and indivisible.
But if it continues to kill and maim innocent civilians, then it should be ready to bid farewell to Southern Cameroonians who are only too happy to kiss goodbye to a country they once thought was also theirs. The ball is in the government’s court. Intimidation and killings will not deter Southern Cameroonians from fighting. They are sick and tired of a government that only understands one language – an iron fist.
They want to walk away from the Francophone majority that has made their lives a living hell. In many Southern Cameroonian minds, they are already independent. It is just a matter of time for their independence to be recognized by the international community just as it did recognize Timor Leste.
Mr. Biya and his government have to learn the lessons of history. No two times will ever be the same. Using strategies of the past to repress Southern Cameroonians will only make it possible for the English-speaking minority to hold on to its claim of independence.
The government has to come up with new strategies, strategies that should seek to win hearts and minds and not those that seek to break them. It is up to the government to make the right decisions. Southern Cameroonian claims are legitimate. That is no longer in doubt.
You never address legitimate claims with guns and bullets. You discuss them and see how to appease the people. Mr. Biya and his government are getting it all wrong. They are indirectly granting Southern Cameroons the independence they are seeking to prevent.
By Kingsley Betek and Ebot Etchi with contributions from Soter Agbaw-Ebai at the Cameroon Concord News Group Global Headquarters