AmbaNews24 Editorial Response
Charles B. Lysinge

In a recent statement on the tenacity of the Ambazonian people in prosecuting their independence struggle, Dieudonne Essomba, French Camerounian intellectual referred to Ambazonians as “secessionists”.

While Essomba is correct that Ambazonians will not lay down their arms until their territory is fully liberated from oppression by Cameroun in the same way Eritrea became independent of Ethiopia, South Sudan became independent of Sudan and Somaliland has freed itself from rule by Somalia, we point out that the Ambazonian people are not secessionists. Ambazonia is not seceding from the Republic of Cameroun. Rather, Ambazonia is restoring its independence and national territorial integrity.

In fact, not even in a single place has any country, any congress or parliament (including the USA Congress and the European Union Parliament) any organization (including the United Nations and the Commonwealth) referred to Ambazonians fighting for their independence and sovereignty as “secessionists”. The term they have all used is “separatists.” We will return to this term “separatists” in future; for now, we will concentrate on whether Ambazonians are “secessionists.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines secession as “the act of becoming independent and no longer part of a country, area, organization, etc.” This is in harmony with the general position in the international system that secession involves a territory becoming independent of a country that it was once part and parcel of. Ambazonia is not and has never been an integral part of the Republic of Cameroun.

First, the plebiscite vote was about “joining” Cameroun by association, not by integration.

The plebiscite question of Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) achieving independence by “joining” Cameroun was a question of by association or by integration. Joining by association means that the two territories remain separate and distinct, and both territories continue to exist but relate with each other under agreed-upon terms and policies. Joining by integration means that one territory becomes incorporated into the other territory, and therefore the territory that is so incorporated ceases to exist.

As the International Court of Justice noted in adjudicating the right of the people of Western Sahara to external self-determination, the United Nation’s Declaration on Decolonization, namely UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 was complemented by General Assembly resolution 1541(XV), which contemplated three possibilities for the decolonization process of non-self-governing territories, namely (a) emergence as a sovereign independent State; (b) free association with an independent State; or (c) integration with an independent State.

Countries such as Ghana and Nigeria became independent from Britain immediately by the first option of emergence as a sovereign independent state.

In the case of Ambazonia, at the time of the 11 February 1961 plebiscite in which the Ambazonian people were unnecessarily subjected by the UN to a referendum on their future, the Republic of Cameroun which one of the plebiscite options proposed Ambazonia to join was already independent. In recognizing the outcome of the plebiscite vote, the United Nations General Assembly in UN Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961, Operative Paragraph 5, required the British Government, the Government of Ambazonia (Southern Cameroons) and the Republic of Cameroun “to initiate urgent discussions with a view to finalizing, before 1 October 1961, the arrangements by which they agreed and declared policies of the parties concerned will be implemented.”

Asking the parties to enter into agreement and to declare the policies of their association (to enter into a union treaty) when one of the parties, namely, the Republic of Cameroun was already independent and sovereign implies that the independence of Ambazonia from British rule and self-determination in relation to independent Cameroun was to be an act of “free association with an independent State.”

In other words, “joining” Cameroun as posited in the plebiscite questions and recognized in UNGA Resolution 1608 implied “free association with an independent [Cameroun Republic], not “integration with an independent [Cameroun Republic].”

The United Nations did not ask territories that were being integrated into independent states such as Northern Cameroons that joined Nigeria, for example, to enter into association agreements with the territories they were being incorporated or integrated into. It would have been senseless to do so because integration implies that the subservient party will simply be subjected to the laws, policies, and systems of the dominant territory. On the other hand, in the association formula, the two territories remain separate and distinct, and as such need to agree on how they will be associated or how they will relate with each other. This is commonsense!! 

Second, Ahmadou Ahidjo himself, Premier of Cameroun, Denied that Cameroun had integration intentions.

In fact, Prof. Philips Cadbury of the University of London, speaking on the said plebiscite in Ambazonia that was forthcoming, said in November 1960 that “Unification does not connote absorption or loss of identity but . . . something more like the Ghana-Guinea Union…. In the absence of a third option, the second option offered in the plebiscite [of achieving independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroun] in February will win a substantial majority. But this will not be a mandate for absorption, but for negotiation on equal terms.

Ahmadou Ahidjo, then Premier of French Cameroun, confirmed the words of Prof. Cadbury when he declared on 25 February 1959 at the 849th meeting of the Fourth Committee of the UN that “We are not annexationists….If our brothers of the British zone wish to unite with independent Cameroun, we are ready to discuss the matter with them, but we will do so on a footing of equality.”

Because Ambazonia was a UN Trust Territory of the Southern Cameroons under British administration with international boundaries that distinguished and separated it from the Republic of Cameroun that had been a UN Trust Territory of Cameroun under French rule, the Cameroun Republic would have had to annex the Ambazonia territory in order for it to become the Republic of Cameroun’s territory. Ahidjo clearly said Cameroun will not go this route, and as such will not annex Ambazonia – consequently, Ambazonia will not become French Cameroun’s territory. The two, Ambazonia and Cameroun, will rather exist side-by-side as equal distinct territories, in “free association” the same way it was with Ghana and Guinea, and Senegal and Gambia, with each reserving its right to sovereignty and territorial integrity as was and has been with these two cases.

Third, the Federal Form of State Promulgated by Cameroun itself in 1961 implied association, not integration.

When the Foumban and Yaoundé conferences of 1961 failed to reach an agreement on the terms and policies under which Ambazonia and Cameroun were going to be “joined”, the independent Republic of Cameroun mutilated its constitution, adopted its as a federal constitution in its own parliament, and imposed it in the Ambazonia territory without adoption/ratification by the Ambazonia parliament that was fully in existence at the time.

In that constitution not agreed to by Ambazonia, Cameroun itself stated that the federation shall consist of “two states, equal in status”. These two states were the Republic of Cameroun that transformed itself into the state of “East Cameroun”, and Ambazonia that the Republic of Cameroun without any authority to do so, however, said will become the state of “west Cameroun”.

In the federal system of government, all states are equal. The territory of one state is not incorporated into, is not a part of, and is not integrated into the territory of another state. Cross River State in Nigeria, for example, is not an integral part of Imo state in Nigeria; the State of New York is territorially separate and distinct from the state of Massachusetts, and the state of Bayern is territorial distinct and separate from the state of Hessen in Germany. These states exist in association with each other with their national constitutions being the terms and policies they have agreed to as their policies and laws of association, not of integration.

Therefore, by promulgating the federal constitution, the Republic of Cameroun itself acknowledged that the territory of Ambazonia, which it called the state of “West Cameroon” in that constitution remains separate and distinct from the territory of the Republic of Cameroun, which it then called the state of “East Cameroun.” By adopting a federal constitution, the Republic of Cameroun itself recognized association between its territory and that of Ambazonia, not integration of Ambazonia’s territory into Cameroun’s territory. This is common sense!

Fourth, the 1972 Referendum was an Illegal Farce that could not even Achieve Integration

When Ahidjo decided in 1972 to carry out a referendum with the goal of abolishing the federation that Cameroun had established without the consent of Ambazonia and imposed on Ambazonia by military brutality, the Republic of Cameroun violated its own federal constitution in which it had stated that the federal form of the state shall never be tempered with. Furthermore, such referendum was not a product of negotiations and agreed upon terms by the equal, separate and distinct parties of Ambazonia and Cameroun as had been required in UN General Assembly Resolution 1608; rather, it was a political gimmick in which the Republic of Cameroun sought to use its majority population to usurp and overshadow the will of the Ambazonian people to their independence, distinctiveness, and national territorial integrity.

The West Cameroun parliament that was in Buea at the time never signed or ratified any agreement consenting to the holding of such a referendum or approving its terms, and as such never ceded the territorial integrity of Ambazonia to the territory of Cameroun.

Ali Triki, UN 64th General Assembly President hands separate maps of Cameroon and Ambazonia to Paul Biya, 2010

Despite the 1972 gimmicks, international law and principles have it clearly that Ambazonia’s territory is not Cameroun’s territory. This is why in 2010, when the United Nations sent envoys to meet with Mr Paul Biya, Present of Cameroun, the UN presented two separate maps to Mr Biya: one is the map of Ambazonia (Southern Cameroons under British administration) and the other being the map of the Republic of Cameroun (Cameroun under French administration). Two maps had to be presented because the Ambazonia territory has never been integrated into the Cameroun territory neither by the 11 February 1961 plebiscite nor the Ahidjo’s imposed 1961 Federal Constitution; neither by the 1972 referendum political gimmick nor by Paul Biya reverting the name of his country from the “United Republic of Cameroun” that the 1972 referendum created to “Republic of Cameroun.”

History is stubborn and facts do not lie!

In consideration of the above history of Ambazonia’s decolonization process, UN Resolutions, ICJ ruling, examples of “free association with independent state” and opposed to “integration with an independent state” as it were in the decolonization process, and intentions of the parties (Ambazonia and Cameroun), it is conclusive that the Ambazonia territorial is not an integral part of Cameroun’s territory.

Consequently, Ambazonians are not secessionists. Their liberation struggle is not a secession struggle. Rather, it is a struggle to restore their independence and territorial integrity, which have been usurped by the Republic of Cameroun that defied the UN requirement for a union treaty with declared agreed-upon terms and policies between Cameroun and Ambazonia. Without both parties ratifying such agreement, the Cameroun government simply moved its military and occupied Ambazonia in annexationist style, then moved forward to solidify such illegality by claiming that Ambazonia is its territory.