Prof. Carlson Anyangwe

Ambazonia, which is the erstwhile Southern Cameroons has frontiers that are well described and delimited by boundary treaties. During the period of international administration (mandate and later trusteeship) it had international status and a degree of international personality.

By 1958 it was firmly on the path of sovereign statehood. It achieved self-government status in 1954 and became a state in status nascendi in 1958. Preparatory to independence, it was provided in 1960 with a Westminster-modelled independence Constitution, The Southern Cameroons Constitution Order in Council. The national sovereignty of the country was in abeyance waiting to revive and rest on the new state at the moment of its independence.

Background

Decolonisation of the Third World occupied a major part of the activities of the UN during the first three decades of its existence. The UN decolonisation agenda derived from two sources: Chapters XI, XII, and XIII of the UN Charter devoted to the interests of dependent peoples, and two distinct but interrelated rights under international law, namely, the equal rights of peoples, and the right of self-determination of peoples. Since 1960 the UN has also been guided in its decolonisation efforts by the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. In that binding instrument UN Member States proclaim the necessity of bringing to a speedy end colonialism in all its form.

Some colonial territories achieved independence consensually, others through armed struggle. In cases of consensual decolonisation sovereignty was simply transferred to the new state. The departing colonial power concluded devolution agreements with the new state providing for inheritance of certain treaties. In rare instances the plebiscite procedure was used to ascertain the wishes of the dependent people on the question of independence. Sometimes the UN also uses that procedure to ascertain the freely expressed wishes of a given population when satisfied that the population in question constitute a people within the meaning of the legal right to self-determination. It appears therefore that the plebiscite was considered a legitimate method of decolonisation, provided of course that all the political status options are put on the table for the people concerned to choose from.

In terms of UNGA Resolutions 648, 742, 1541 (XV) of 1960, and 2625 (XXV) of 1970, termination of colonial status may result in any of the following political status options: independence, internal autonomy within a freely formed association, integration in an independent state, or emergence into any other political status freely determined by the people concerned. To be meaningful and legitimate, therefore, a self-determination plebiscite must make available all the political status options to choose from. A free and informed choice from all the various options would amount to the full exercise of the right of self-determination and would result in complete decolonisation. Dependent political status (annexation, occupation, absorption, re-colonisation etc.) cannot possibly be a permissible outcome of implementation of the right to self-determination. If a colonial territory is transferred to another state the territory in question cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to have been decolonised. The termination of colonial status, even where it results in integration with an independent state, must at the very minimum result in autonomy or internal self-government for the territory in question.

The excuse for the incomplete decolonisation of the British Southern Cameroons was the self-serving ‘reason’ given by Britain that the territory would not be economically viable to stand on its own as a sovereign state. This clearly had no merit. It was a red herring. If indeed it was a real issue, the UN would have been requested to despatch an expert mission to the Southern Cameroons to ascertain the issue of economic viability, in cooperation with the Government of the Southern Cameroons and the Administering Authority, with a view to determining its implications for the independence of the Southern Cameroons, and to recommend corrective measures. The real reason for the incomplete decolonisation of the Southern Cameroons was the UK’s long-standing policy of sinking the territory into Nigeria. Britain considered the Southern Cameroons as mere material for infilling on Nigeria’s south-eastern border. It is clear decolonisation principle that economic self-sufficiency is irrelevant to that matter. Economic viability can be used to support a claim to independence. But it can never be used to deny entitlement to independence. The Declaration on the Granting of Independence puts the matter beyond any shadow of doubt when it emphatically states that “Inadequacy of political, economic, social or education preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.”

The UN stampeded the Southern Cameroons into a plebiscite for which the people were not mentally ready. The political leadership of the Southern Cameroons requested deferment of the plebiscite to 1962 and termination of the trusteeship agreement in accordance with Art 76 b of the UN Charter on 26 October 1962. But the UN denied this simple and sensible request. It went ahead to impose a plebiscite to be concluded “not later than March 1961.” This diktat deprived the people of the Southern Cameroons of much-needed breathing space and time for cogitation on a very serious matter affecting their future. The Southern Cameroons was not drowning. The plebiscite was not a God-ordained life jacket for rescuing the territory from a UK-perceived perdition. The UN could have taken direct administration of the territory for a year or so pending a well informed and mature decision on its future. Had the plebiscite been deferred just to 1962, as the political leaders of the territory had requested, there would certainly have been the third option of separate independence, consistent with the 1960 Declaration on Decolonisation. The vote would undoubtedly have gone in favour of that third option. The refusal to defer the plebiscite was compounded by other acts of misfeasance by the UN: refusal to give the fundamental political status option of independence and use of woolly and deceptive language (‘independence’, ‘joining’) in framing the plebiscite questions. The whole procedure was one big charade. The Southern Cameroons had advisedly left Nigeria in 1953 and separated from that country in 1960. How could going back to Nigeria to be permanently federated to that country be politically correct? Cameroun Republic was not only a foreign country but also a terra incognita in relation to the Southern Cameroons. It was in the throes of a bitter civil war, awash with blood and literally in flames. How could anyone who meant well for the Southern Cameroons have made ‘joining’ that country a well-meaning alternative? 

The purported decolonisation of the Southern Cameroons was deeply flawed procedurally and substantively. It resulted in the re-colonisation of the territory, this time by the adjacent foreign state of Cameroun Republic. The so-called ‘two alternatives’ were not alternative political status options. They were two alternative countries to choose from in the exercise of one political status option, the option of continuing dependent status. The people of the Southern Cameroons were required to choose between becoming a dependency of Nigeria or a dependency of Cameroun Republic. The imposition of that Hobson choice willy-nilly meant that the people of the Southern Cameroons were in fact never allowed to decide freely what their wishes were as to their future. The whole plebiscite was a cynical public relations exercise, designed to make the world at large believe that the people of the Southern Cameroons were being given freedom of choice, whereas in fact the only choice they really wanted was denied to them. The plebiscite was in fact unnecessary and thus redundant. The UN should simply have decolonised the territory in consultation with the administering authority as happened, for example, in the case of Tanganyika, Ruanda-Urundi and French Cameroun. There was therefore no credible issue for the UN to resolve by imposing a Hobson choice that was demonstrably not in the interest of the people and territory of the Southern Cameroons.

To Be Continued.