After more than three years of a war that has left half of Southern Cameroons’s population displaced, villages reduced to rubble, and over 3000 killed, the Federal Republic of Ambazonia appears to be a reality. The war is far from over and any victory may prove pyrrhic given the devastation wrought. Even so, it now seems La Republique du Cameroun and Southern Cameroons are going their separate ways. French Cameroun dictator Paul Biya has outlasted nearly all Western leaders of his generation and even beyond but there are signs the Southern Cameroons war will still be fought even after him.
How are Southern Cameroonians surviving? Some pro Yaoundé commentators grew optimistic about the impending collapse of the Ambazonian revolution immediately after the arrest of President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and his top aides in Abuja, Nigeria. The Biya regime had a massive advantage from the very inception of the Southern Cameroons struggle due to the fact that La Republique du Cameroun had no internal and external opponents to put serious pressure on Biya and his consortium of crime syndicates. Today, the regime’s anti Bamileke stance and the arrest of Prof Maurice Kamto and several other divisions are all signaling that collapse now seem possible.
To be sure, Biya’s survival after the last counterfeit presidential elections was no accident: There were clear domestic and external causes. The regime used cynical and brutal tactics to maintain key backing at home, while on the international front, it had steadfast allies such as the French and the European Union and reluctant and incompetent enemies led by the Francophone diaspora.
Recently, France’s closest allies are walking away from it as it is believed that Paris is supporting the Yaoundé government in its resolve to kill the people of Southern Cameroons. Many EU countries are insisting on Yaoundé calling for an inclusive dialogue that will help normalize things.
But Yaoundé has been indifferent to those calls. Many EU countries have already allied with the United States and Canada on how the Southern Cameroons crisis could be addressed. America’s determination and its ability to mobilize other countries, including some of Cameroons neighbors like Equatorial Guinea, have rattled the regime and its supporters.
Southern Cameroons institutions put in place by President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe is helping Ambazonians withstand the pressures of the French Cameroun war. Notably, the Ambazonia Restoration Forces have remained loyal to the Interim Government. And even the Yaounde sponsored coup by Sako Ikome and Chris Anu against the Ambazonia leader did not get the desired impact.
Without heavy equipment, the Southern Cameroons fighters have inflicted huge casualties and caused some defections deep within the Cameroon government army and the size of the French Cameroun military is shrinking day-by-day.
After the April 6th coup, Biya packed security positions and elite units with tribal loyalists, many of them are members of “essingan” a Beti -Ewondo traditionally sect that persuades top ranking military officers and senior cabinet ministers that Biya was their best route to security and privilege. With age telling on him and poor health, the Southern Cameroons crisis has exposed Biya emptiness and it is abundantly clear the Amba resistance has caused a crack within the essingan sect.
Cameroon army soldiers have also been burning homes and destroying food crops, believing that such tactics will cause the Southern Cameroons population to yield and betray the fighters. This strategy has been in effect for more than two years, but the Southern Cameroons population is very determined. Most southern Cameroonians are for independence and will not settle for anything less.
The Yaoundé government is really frustrated. Its international allies are walking away and this is creating brand new problems even in the North where Boko Haram remains a lethal threat. The withdrawal of American military support in the North has exposed Cameroon’s army soldiers to more attacks from Boko Haram and prompted a new deployment.
As soon as the Ambazonia unrest broke out three years ago, Biya falsely characterized Southern Cameroons as terrorists, rebels and government posters appeared warning of sectarian divisions. Eventually, this did not work. Government officials seem to be seeing the writing on the wall. The government is out of money and the West’s decision to turn the heat on the collapsing Yaoundé government seems to spell the end for a regime that has thrived on corruption and tribalism.
As the oil refinery has gone, the government does not have money to buy and corrupt more people. Some of its fervent supporters are already jumping ship. Many senior government officials are already sending their families abroad as they know that America’s determination to bring change to Cameroon can never be underestimated.
The “river of money” in the Ambazonia Southern Zone has gone dry. CDC, PAMOL and SONARA are all facing problems and these are corporations that have stood the Biya Francophone government in good stead over the last fifty years.
With these corporations facing tough challenges, it is clear that Biya is in real trouble. The government is at its wit’s end. The challenges are only mounting. Before long, civil servants and the military will not be receiving their salaries. The military, in particular, has stood solidly behind the government during its bad days. Will it still stand with the government now that its coffers are empty? The stress is obvious and for cause. The military might just as well jump ship.
There is genuine Southern Cameroons ideological support for President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe who has often insisted that no Southern Cameroonian citizen is bigger than the revolution. The sacrifice that the people of Southern Cameroons have made has rubbished claims by Yaoundé that the resistance is an externally orchestrated plot.
Another key Biya Francophone ploy was a campaign of intimidation. Southern Cameroonians have destroyed the Biya regime’s wall of fear something that is still a kind of wishful thinking in French Cameroun. Many Southern Cameroonians have bravely risked their lives and many more are joining the armed struggle.
French Cameroun’s attempts to divide, delegitimize, and criminalize the Ambazonia Interim Government has failed and the Ambazonia population is no longer willing to stomach unjustified violence from the Francophone army. The French Cameroun’s concocted Atanga Nji Amba Boys portraying the Ambazonia Restoration Forces as violent, criminals, sectarian has also failed woefully.
The Biya regime is struggling to make its false narrative on the Southern Cameroons situation real. Peaceful demonstrations have been specifically targeted, and thousands of Southern Cameroonians have been detained, facing torture, sexual assault, and humiliation. Over 400 have disappeared in the Kondengui and New Bell prisons, as many as 50,000 have either fled abroad precisely into neighboring Nigeria and became radicalized.
With Paul Biya still in power in French Cameroun and without an inclusive dialogue as advocated by the international community, both Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun will continue to be caught in a turbulence of epic proportions and the stress will continue.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai