Is Independence the Answer for S. Cameroons?
Author: Ajong Mbapndah Laurean
Originally published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 08/23/2006
The Southern Cameroons comprises of the English speaking provinces of North West, and South West, of the Republic of Cameroons. Formerly referred to as the State of West Cameroon in the Federal Republic of Cameroon between 1961and1972, Southern Cameroons was part of German Kamerun from 1884 until 1916. When Germany was defeated in the First World War, its territory was shared by the victorious allies, France and Britain, with Britain taking over control of Southern Cameroons. Southern Cameroons was administered as a League of Nations mandated territory from 1918 until 1945, when the United Nations came into existence. It was then governed by the British Administration as a United Nations Trust Territory from 1945 -1961. On February 11, 1961, a United Nations sponsored plebiscite with limited options, saw Southern Cameroonsians vote to attain independence by joining La Republique du Cameroun, which had attained independence from France in January 1960. Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun then founded a union known as the Federal Republic of Cameroon, which came into force on 1st October 1961, a date which is today celebrated by the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), and other groups fighting for the restoration of their statehood, as Independence Day for Southern Cameroons.
In 1972, the President of the Federation, Arnadou Ahidjo, violated Article 47 of the Federal Constitution which prohibited any action that threatened the existence of the Federation, and abrogated the federal arrangement with proclamation DF 72- 270 of February 6, 1972, abolishing all federal legislative, judicial and administrative institutions, and removing all guarantees that protected the rights of the minority Southern Cameroons in the Federation. Unlike during the plebiscite of 1961, wherein only Southern Cameroonsians voted to decide on their destiny, the referendum of May 1972 was extended to all the people of La Republique du Cameroun. However, the dissenting voices of Southern Cameroonsians rejecting the centralized United Republic of Cameroon were dwarfed by the wide majority of La Republique. Many Southern Cameroonsians regard May 20, as a day when they lost their freedom. The annexation of Southern Cameroons was completed in 1984, when Ahidjo’s hand picked successor, Paul Biya, using Decree No 84-00 of February 4, 1984 changed the name of the country from the United Republic of Cameroon, to La Republique du Cameroun: the name which French speaking Cameroon used to enter into the union with Southern Cameroons in 1961.
Southern Cameroonsian nationalists, such as Gorji Dinka and Albert Mukong, who protested the ill treatment of their people by the Yaoundé regime, were arrested and detained. Some of the grievances of the people of Southern Cameroons include the following: this part of Cameroons produces 70% of the national resources, but they are only given less than 10%. The English language, which is their official language, has been ignored by the government in favor of French. They are marginalized when it comes to appointments to public offices, and they are constantly insulted using such derogatory names as biafrans (Nigerians), and l’enemis dans la maison (enemies in the house).
The on set of multi-party politics in 1990 saw the escalation of opposition to the union with La Republique. Representatives of Southern Cameroons at the tripartite talks of 1991, proposed a return to the Federation, but the leaders of La Republique ignored them. In April 1993, under the banner of the All Anglo-phone Conference (AAC1) in Buea, and May 1994 at (AAC 2) in Bamenda, Southern Cameroonsians convened in thousands to intensify their demands for a return to the Federation. When they felt their demands were met with contempt and total disregard, they took their case back to the United Nations and protested the annexation of their territory by La Republique du Cameroon. Although there are several groups involved in the struggle for the restoration of the statehood of Southern Cameroons, the Southern Cameroons National Council, which is the governing organ of the Southern Cameroons People Conference, is the most prominent. Its motto is “the force of argument and not the argument of force.” Although there may be a tussle of leadership, with several factions claiming to be in charge, focus has been maintained on the restoration of the statehood of Southern Cameroons, and the brutal repression by the government of La Republique has proved to be a unifying factor.
Human Rights Violations
In their resolve to regain statehood, Southern Cameroonsians have been victims of horrendous human rights abuses. Where as President Biya prides himself in describing Cameroon as an oasis of peace in a turbulent sub region, the people of Southern Cameroons have been subjected to wanton intimidation, arrests without warrants, assassinations, ethnic cleansing, acute marginalization and economic deprivation. For example, on May 26, 1990 six innocent Southern Cameroonsians were shot dead in Bamenda, during the launching of a Southern Cameroonsian led opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF).
In June of 1992, Government security forces invaded Ndu in Southern Cameroons and disrupted a peaceful rally of the SDF. They caused mayhem in the market, killing three people. Around June 8, 1992, reinforcements were brought in and one woman was arrested, severely beaten and red hot pepper was inserted into her vagina. She was kept in custody until October 1992. Another woman had the head of a bottle inserted into her vagina, while a young boy was forced to have sexual intercourse with his own mother. Many more women were arrested and taken to the Ndu Comprehensive High School where they were raped.
Following the 1992 presidential elections, widely believed to have been won by John Fru Ndi, a Southern Cameroonsian, the people of Northwest and Southwest Provinces of Cameroon were severely repressed by the State. In Bamenda, capital of the Northwest Province and headquarters of the SDF, a state of emergency was declared, and over 173 senior citizens were arrested and incarcerated in the BMM military prison. One of them was Justice Nyo Wakai, a former member of the Supreme Court of Cameroon, who was arrested and humiliated before his wife and children, beaten to unconsciousness and thrown into jail. A decision of the Mezam High Court, to release the detainees, was rejected by the government. They were later released after so much suffering. Around the same time, Gendarmes beat a senior judge, Justice Forbin to death.
Other disturbances in the towns of Bali, Bafut, Kumbo, and Bamenda in 1997, led to arrests of over seventy Southern Cameroonsians who were transferred to the dreaded Kondengui prison in Yaoundé. Some of them were kept in the Mfou maximum-security prison. The most prominent of these was Akwanga Ebenezer, Chairman of the Southern Cameroons Youth League. Some of these people were arrested under very bad circumstances. For instance SCNC activist Atarnbun Geh Sama was shot in the stomach on March 29, 1997, as he was going to work. The Gendarmes picked him and dumped him on the veranda of the Bamenda General Hospital. He remained without medical attention for 24 hours, and was later taken to the Mbingo Baptist Hospital where he underwent surgery. A gendarme officer stayed by his side for 46 days, when he got better he was transferred to Yaoundé central prison. In what was considered as a mockery of justice, those detained were tried in a military tribunal in Yaoundé, with many receiving lengthy jail sentences. Some of them like Julius Ndu died due to the harsh treatment and difficult jail conditions.
Others detained included Human Rights Activists such as Verye Christopher Mbinkar and Samuel Nde, who were arrested in Bamendaon on March 31, 1997. They were severely beaten and kept in custody for two months without access to medical attention. Through out the early part of 1997, these arrests affected many people in Bamenda, Kumbo, Ngondzeng, and many other villages such as Elak, Jjkejem.Ngashie, Ichim, Shingaah, Mbancham, Nkwi, Fikeng, Jiyane, Bow, Feking, Mboh, and Manchok, in Oku sub-division.
The arrests were again repeated between late December 1999 and early January 2000. Justice Ebong Frederick Alobwede, Chief Ayamba Ette Otun, and James Sabum, all three senior citizens, and many others who took over the Southwest Provincial station of the Cameroon Radio and Television Corporation (CRTV), and used it to unilaterally proclaim the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons, were arrested and transferred to Yaoundé. They spent over a year in an underground prison at the National Gendarmerie Headquarters, SED, in Yaoundé.
Many more documented cases of arrests, torture, and killings of innocent people took place between October 2001 and October 2002. Some of the affected included former Ministers such as Martin Ngeka and veteran journalists, such as Samuel Ngiewah. Most of the arrests were repeated in places like Santa, Kurnbo, Tobin, Mfew, and Ebam. Some of the arrests and torture were supervised by very senior security officers.
Other arrests, torture, and imprisonment of innocent citizens were reported in January, April, May, August, September, and October 2005. The most prominent victim was Ambassador Henry Fossung, the Chairman of one of the SCNC factions, prominent for his diplomatic offensives for the SCNC, whose residence was attacked by more than two hundred militia, mostly from Buea. Ambassador Fossung, a retired Diplomat of international repute, had his guests arrested, residence damaged, and property worth millions of CFA stolen. The guests were released three days later without charges. Others affected during this period include university students, religious leaders, and international journalists, such as Australian Journalist Andrew Mueller, who was later deported.
The state of human rights violations in Southern Cameroons has already attracted the attention of the international community. The 2004 US State Department report agreed with a report published by the Coalition of Southern Cameroons Restoration Movements (COSLM) that it was impossible to estimate the number of Southern Cameroonsians in jails. The Coalition itself states that it has been a standard practice in the last forty years to take arrested Southern Cameroonsians to prisons and military basis in La Republique Du Cameroun. The report adds that despite being a signatory to virtually all international instruments on human rights, the Government of La Republique du Cameroun continues to practice human rights violations against the people of Southern Cameroons.
The UN represented Nations and Peoples’ Organization (UNPO) based in The Hague, The Netherlands on October 31, 2005 appealed to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan about the deteriorating human rights situation in Southern Cameroons. Expressing its concerns, the UNPO said Southern Cameroonsians and representatives of the SCNC, in particular, are under constant fear of ill treatment and unjust imprisonment. The UNPO called on Mr. Annan to urge the UN Security Council to take measures to avoid a major conflict in the region.
The case for Southern Cameroons was also presented to the 37th session of the African Commission on Peoples’ and Human Rights, which sat in Gambia from April 24 to May 12. Making the case for SCNC, Prof Carlson Anygngwe said the self-determination process of the people of the Southern Cameroons was irreversible, despite the mistaken blind faith of the respondent State in its use of force, corrupted chiefs, and other reactionary forces. He presented compelling and conclusive evidence of gross human rights violations by the state against the people of Southern Cameroons, which he said was in violation of Articles 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. He specifically referred to Article 4, which protects the right to life and physical integrity of the person, and Article 5, which out laws torture, and other cruel and degrading treatment. Article 19 of the African Charter says, “nothing shall justify the domination of one people by another,” while Article 20 says, “a people have the right to existence and to self determination…. colonized or oppressed peoples have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination.”
Although the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) has its own challenges of leadership, as is the case with most other liberation struggles, it has continued to champion the cause for restoring the independence of Southern Cameroons. Apart from cases of human rights abuses cited in local and international human rights reports, as well as the U S State Department, the international community has failed to act decisively to find a lasting solution to the problem, which may sooner or later attain genocidal proportions. Calls for dialogue by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, have been ignored by the Government of La Republique, as evidenced by a statement from a senior government official of the Presidency last year that it was not necessary for dialogue with the SCNC. From a simple request for the return to the Federation of 1961, the arrogance, insensitivity, exploitation, intransigence, oppression, suppression contempt etc, of La Republique has hardened the resolve of Southern Cameroonsians to break free with nothing short of the restoration of their statehood, considered now as the only solution. They draw confidence from such stories of Eritrea, which secured its freedom from imperial Ethiopia after a long war, East Timor which succeeded to break free from the shackles of Indonesian control, and Western Sahara which succeeded to be on its own, despite animosity from Morocco.
African Charter on Peoples’ and Human Rights
African Commission On Peoples1 and Human Rights -37th Session, Banjul The Cambia, Apnl1,26 -May 12 2005
Ambassador Henry Fossung -: Caíechism of the Southern Cameroons Question, 2003
Ambassador Henry Fossung – “Extra-Judicial Killings Is Not the Solution”: An Open Letter to Mr. Paul Biya, President! Of. The Republic Of. Camerún, April, 2003
Ambassador Henry Fossung -” Only The Annexed Do Have Such Gross Abuses Of Their Human Rights And Basic Freedoms” Third Open Letter To Mr. Paul Biya, President Of The Republic Of Cameroun, January, 2005
Coalition of Southern Cameroons Restoration Movements: “Savage Intimidation, Arrests, Torture, Assassinations and Genocide Visited On Southern Cameroons”, 2005
Nfor N. Nfor- The Southern Cameroons, the Truth of the Matter, 2002
Newspaper Reports from The Post, Herald, Guardian Post, Chronicle, and Post watch Magazine,
Prof Carlson Anyagwe- “Let My People Go” Orat Submission at the 37th Session of the African Commission on Peoples’ and Human Rights, May 2005