The Southern Cameroons crisis that has been playing out for almost two years has finally entered a critical phase. While Southern Cameroonian fighters are making huge advances, which are making a mockery of the government’s military action, the Yaounde government is now scrambling for a peaceful resolution as it has noticed that it is dealing with a very dicey situation. The government is under enormous pressure as the killing of army soldiers becomes a daily ritual.
It is becoming clear to the government that there will never be a convincing military victory in this battle that will surely last for decades. The government is gradually coming to terms with the fact that it was a huge mistake to declare war on Southern Cameroonians who were simply complaining about a system that has reduced them to second-class citizens.
Currently, the dynamics are changing. The government’s arrogance is gradually being eroded by the determined Southern Cameroonian fighters whose actions have struck fear in the minds of many army soldiers. The government is today staring down the barrel of defeat, as its treasury continues to lose money and its soldiers feeling really despondent as they face the prospect of dying in the rocky mountains and dense jungles of Southern Cameroons.
Many government officials know that defeat is staring the government in the face. Many want to sue for peace, but they don’t know how to proceed as their arrogance has muddied the waters and made reconciliation challenging.
Even the governor of the South West region is also contemplating smoking the pipe of peace after having called Southern Cameroonians dogs. He now knows that state authority comes from the people and not the other way round. In a discussion with retired Justice Mbeng who had been kidnapped by Manyu fighters a month ago, the Southwest governor, Okalia Bilai, gathered that it would be hard for the government to win the war, as the Southern Cameroonian fighters are determined to bring the government to its knees.
Retired Justice Mbeng who has tasted the anger of the fighters has advised Mr. Okalia Bilai that the fighters were more organized than the Cameroon military. He stressed that there would be no military solution to the problem. He added that Southern Cameroonian fighters were very disciplined, and corruption was not their potion. He urged the governor to work for peace if he felt Cameroon should be one and indivisible.
In recognition of these facts, the country’s president, Paul Biya, has dismissed General Melingui Nouma, a war monger, who was until May 6, 2018, in charge of military operations in the Southwest region of the country. He is being replaced by Colonel Djotsa who is very little known and will have little or no impact on the ground.
The nightmare the government manufactured for itself is not going away anytime soon. The “two cubes of sugar” that Mr. Fame Ndongo, the country’s higher education minister, referred to at the beginning of the crisis have simply refused to melt. Those cubes of sugar are putting up a good show and this is ensuring that the fighting continues. It is obvious that there are many more scenes in this struggle that will surely play out in a manner that will be far from being pleasant.
Meanwhile, the Southern Cameroons Interim government is continuing to step up pressure on the crumbling Yaounde government. The government’s Communications Secretary, Chris Anu, has very bad news for Mr. Biya and the Francophone majority. The Ambazonian fighters will continue to step up operations in the coming days. Mr. Biya’s army soldiers who thought they would simply sweep through the region and kill the rebellion are now in for real trouble. There will surely be no respite until the Yaounde government withdraws its troops.
Mr. Anu has also announced that all French-speaking Cameroonians must leave the Federal Republic of Ambazonia by the end of this month. He added that all Southern Cameroonians lodging French-speaking Cameroonians must kick out their tenants by the end of the month. Those Southern Cameroonians who do not comply with the Interim Government’s decision will be dealt with by the brave defense forces of the land.
He added that Southern Cameroonians should stop paying taxes to the French Cameroonian government in Yaounde, stressing that all the taxes should be directed towards the prosecution of the war of liberation. This is very likely to affect the country’s economy; an economy that has already taken a nosedive due to many economic and financial issues.
As the tension increases, the Yaounde government is gradually coming to terms with the fact that Mr. Biya’s declaration of war on the people of Southern Cameroons at the Nsimalen International Airport upon his return from a Francophonie conference in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, was a pure error of judgement.
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 Southern Cameroonian 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 has over the last weeks focused 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 had 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. If Hell cannot accept people without a penis, Heaven will surely not accept these infidels who have come to pollute our lives. The message is clear, as a few of them have already paid the ultimate price.”
The fighter who elected anonymity also said “the government is already running out of patience. Its soldiers are deserting the military 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.”
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 civilians 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 a huge mistake.
But there is no mistake that cannot be fixed. Many mistakes have already been made and it will be preposterous to continue making more of such mistakes. Cameroon needs peace and that peace cannot come if the killings continue. The government has a huge responsibility in this. It must change its strategy. If it thinks it can make Cameroon one and indivisible by seeking to impose peace on Southern Cameroonians, then it is not yet ready to smoke that pipe of peace that the international community is calling on it to smoke.
There is no ideal way to secure peace than through negotiations. The government must come down its Ivory Tower to meet Southern Cameroonians halfway. The country’s English-speaking minority has proven that a few people can bring change in a country that has been rejecting change for decades.
Cameroon will never be the same again. The government’s ill-advised decision to declare war on a section of its population will always come back to bite it. Times have changed and mentalities must keep pace. Negotiations should be the government’s administrative tool of choice. The government has to embrace new ways. It should understand that intimidation will not cut it. Even long jail terms will not address the issue. Southern Cameroonians are resolute. They are not going to give in just because they are being intimidated and killed.
They have been living a life of marginalization for years and they think they must put an end to such dictatorship. Cameroon belongs to all and every citizen must be made to feel at home wherever he finds himself. But with so many lives cut short by this senseless war, it will be hard for real negotiations to take place.
Southern Cameroonians want to live in their own country. For 56 years, they have been victims of government discrimination. The Yaounde government has never respected its commitments towards the indigenous people of Southern Cameroons. The government’s mistakes have really made it hard for Southern Cameroonians to live with their French-speaking counterparts.
The rift is there. It will be hard for these wounds to heal. Many people have lost their lives, and the pain will linger for a long time. The government has a lot on its plate. It has to take a long and hard look at its script. Its current script is simply making Southern Cameroons independence possible. The government will have to bend over backwards if it really wants to hold the country together.
For now, it is obvious that most Southern Cameroonians will never like to look at any other option. Their quest for federalism has been quashed by the government and their leaders have been thrown in jail where it is believed they are being tortured.
If the government wants real negotiations to take place, it must release all Southern Cameroonians who are being held by the Yaounde government. Amnesty must granted to all Southern Cameroonians living abroad. And a new governance structure be proposed if it wants any negotiations to take place. The country belongs to everybody and it is wrong for a few to think that they are more Cameroonian than others. The ball is in the government’s court. If it does not act fast, the situation will further deteriorate and things will spiral out of control. There is still time to make the right decisions. Better late than never!
By Kingsley Betek
Cameroon Concord News Group Production