By Denis Atemnkeng
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
If the international community is to resolve the Ambazonia Conflict on a lasting and sustainable basis, it is critical that we go back to the root causes and find out how the foundation of the current conflict was laid so that a solution can be proposed which does not lay a new foundation for future conflicts but extinguishes them completely.
When we talk of lasting solutions, we are always talking of basing such solutions on truth and justice, because only truth and justice can lay lasting foundations. In looking for lasting solutions, the resistance and fierceness of the parties are only part of the game; it is not a sign that both sides are fighting because they both believe in justice or truth. Systems that are based on violence and suppression of truth, justice, freedom and the human being will always fight fiercely to preserve themselves, as is the experience of the world with colonialism, slavery, apartheid and other evils that have plagued mankind or continue to plague it. Falling for the intimidation and violence shown by such systems only prepares more conflicts for the future. Furthermore, resolving conflicts permanently is not without economic and other losses to one of the parties. But such losses are almost nothing compared to gross human rights violations and the atrocities that the preservation of such economic interests impose on its victims, and without an end in sight if truth and justice do not intervene and prevail. Truth and justice have the power to cure the world, if only we have enough confidence in truth and justice to take care of the future for us.
The Agenda of the West for Africa & the Rest of the World: To Promote Conflict or Peace?
Only western countries have shown enough interest in this crisis to want to resolve it. They must be praised for that. How they resolve the conflict depends ultimately on their aspirations for the world or perhaps for Africa. If they desire peace for Africa; if they are happy to see Africans fulfil the purpose of their existence; if they want truth, justice and the rule of law to prevail in Africa and the world, they will definitely be guided by those rules which have been laid down by humankind through the UN Charter and international law to govern the relations between states and peoples. If on the other hand, they do not believe in truth, justice and the rule of law for Africans or simply want to find a solution that preserves their current interests; if they do not believe in the rules of peaceful co-existence, their approach will be governed by calculations of domination, economic exploitation and a rejection of truth and justice. The world is torn between these two approaches: people who believe in human fulfilment and those who believe in self-interest at the expense of Africa and world peace. This is the choice that those who are called to resolve the Southern Cameroons crisis must face. Interestingly, Western nations are also Christian nations. Will their Christianity prevail?
The Root Causes of the Conflict: The Calculations that Plunged the Two Cameroons into the Current War
Let us begin by reminding the reader that the British Southern Cameroons (BSC) was a trust territory of the United Nations with the United Kingdom as Administering Authority; that the BSC gained self-government in 1954; that it had and has its own territory with international boundaries; that it had an elected Premier, House of Assembly, multiparty political system, judiciary and all state structures and had no common history with French Cameroon, except a short period of 31 years when the Germans were still trying to establish German Kamerun; finally, that French Cameroon achieved its independence on 1 January 1960 without the BSC being a part of it.
At the time of BSC’s independence, the Administering Authority persuaded the UN to deprive the BSC the option of sovereign independence and to impose on it only the option to achieve independence in confederation either with Nigeria or French Cameroon. When the people voted to achieve independence in confederation with French Cameroon on the basis
of two states equal in status, the UK once more failed to convene the Tripartite Committee that was called for in para 5 of UNGA Res. 1608(XV) to work out the terms of the joining. Instead, the UK illegally transferred the territory to French Cameroon, even after the UN had voted overwhelmingly to grant the BSC independence and set the date of independence to be 1 October 1961.
The result of all these irregularities was that the BSC was never decolonized; UNGA Res. 1514(XV) of 14 Dec. 1960 on the granting of unconditional independence to trust and non-self-governing territories, left the trust and colonial authorities no other option but to transfer power, for the purpose of decolonization, to the indigenous people. At that time, the BSC had an elected government led by Dr. John Ngu Foncha and a National Assembly. Britain bypassed both the elected government of the BSC and its National Assembly and illegally transferred the territory to French Cameroon. Cameroon therefore holds the territory only as an Executor de son tort, someone holding trust property unlawfully.
The current conflict in Cameroon is therefore a direct result of the failure of the international community to uphold the principles of the United Nations and international law, which led to the botched decolonization process in the BSC! This conflict provides a golden opportunity to the international community to correct the mistakes that laid the foundation for this crisis. And it is important to remember that stopping the war is not a lasting solution; the lasting solution is to stop the causes that gave rise to the war and the ongoing terrible human rights abuses.
It is simply impossible to believe that the British government with its long experience in international affairs and its protective attitude towards its small island, would impose on the people of the BSC, with a territory of their own demarcated by international treaties, an elected government, a Premier, a House of Assembly, their own state structures, and running a full government of their own to join another state! The people were deprived the option of sovereign independence! That was not all; after the people voted to achieve independence in confederation with the Republic of Cameroon, Britain still failed to implement the result and illegally transferred the territory to Cameroon. The conflict begins with this imposition. It is impossible not to see that it was only a matter of time before conflicts would arise. A territory is to a people what a house is to an individual. To imagine a people with a territory and government of their own being forced to join another people is something that goes completely against human experience, because no two neighbours, no matter how they love themselves, ever propose to join their two houses! Animals are territorial beings. Unless the powers of the time thought the people of the Southern Cameroons to be less than animals, they ought to know that they too would one day fight for their territory!
The UN and British leaders at the time decided to determine the fate of the people of the BSC on the basis of their own calculations, ignoring the fundamental incompatibilities between the two peoples and their inherited systems and ignoring that the children of the BSC would one day question the injustices. Perhaps, as it might be feared today again, Western leaders did not think that truth, justice and the rule of law should be applied to Africans! They counted only on their might of the moment. Every time justice and the rule of law are sabotaged or ignored, a foundation is laid for future conflicts and human suffering. The people who engineered this at the time were simply carried away by some short-sighted and myopic interests which ignored fundamental human aspirations and the human need for justice and freedom. UN Res. 1514 of 14 Dec. 1960 clearly prohibited the refusal of independence to a colonised people on the basis of economic reasons. The Administering Authority over the Southern Cameroons ignored this and said the BSC was poor and therefore it would not be given sovereign independence; UNGA Res. 1608(XV) of 21 April 1961 established a Tripartite Committee made of the Government of the Southern Cameroons, the Administering Authority and the Republic of Cameroon to work out the terms of the proposed joining between the BSC and the Republic of Cameroon. Once again, the Administering Authority ignored the Resolution. The fundamental incompatibility between English and French inherited systems of law and education and in all matters of state affairs clearly prohibited any idea to join the two peoples. But the Administering Authority and the United Nations ignored this and went ahead and imposed the joining. Even then, when the people made their choice, the UN once again failed to implement it. Britain left the Southern Cameroons without working out any terms of the proposed joining. It did not also allow the government of the BSC the opportunity to work out the terms itself, since it illegally transferred the territory to French Cameroon before the date of Southern Cameroons independence. Cameroon took possession of the territory as a free gift of the UN and the Administering Authority. The people of the BSC who had their own government and were running their own affairs suddenly found themselves demoted from the status of an autonomous territory to an appendage of a foreign and alien people with whom they did not speak the same language; did not have the same state culture; did not have the same educational or legal system and with whom they disagreed on every single aspect of running the state! Since the territory was illegally transferred to Cameroon, Cameroon has been deceiving the world that it has title to the territory, but the UK and UN were mere custodians and could not purport to transfer sovereignty over the territory which they did not have. Possession and title are two separate things. Once more, the need for Cameroon to prove its claimed title to the BSC cannot be avoided.
Why Federalism, Decentralization and “Good Governance” cannot Work
Since this conflict exploded into war in 2017, three solutions have been repeatedly suggested: decentralization; a return to federation and good governance. No major international actor, if at all, has asked the question what those who are fighting really want! The danger in all these proposals is that gradually, the voice of the victims will be silenced and not given room to express itself. In 1961, this is exactly what happened. International actors simply suppressed the aspirations of the people of the Southern Cameroons and imposed their own which have led to the current war. Western countries ought to know better how valuable it is to seek the wishes of the people, since this is the central pillar of their democracy. Yet, each time a matter concerns Africans, they rush to suppress the people’s voice and to impose their own!
Return to federation:
Federation would be an imposition, not only on the Cameroon government which unilaterally created the federation in 1961; abolished it in 1972 and banned all mention of federation since then and when the crisis erupted, but also an imposition on the people of the BSC who reject it completely because there is no guarantee that Cameroon would not subsequently abolish it again. None of the parties genuinely wants or believes in a federation. Moreover, the people of the BSC question the rationale of two neighbours with their own houses deciding to join houses only to live in permanent conflict. It has never been heard that two neighbours decided to join their houses, no matter how much they love themselves. These are political inventions which produce nothing but conflict. Further, despite the scores that have been tried, no federations of different territories have succeeded in Africa, apart from Tanganyika and Zanzibar (Tanzania), whose future we cannot predict. In Europe too, they have never succeeded. Federation will achieve absolutely no purpose, because it will be another indirect attempt to deprive the people of the BSC the full and inalienable rights over their territory and place them under the mercy of a crude and lawless Cameroon. The people of the BSC are too different from Cameroon to accept to join a common space of existence with them and still achieve happiness and fulfilment of the purpose of existence.
Decentralisation is no option for the people of the Southern Cameroons, precisely because Cameroon should not be asked to decentralize a territory over which it has no jurisdiction or over which its jurisdiction is contested. To mention decentralization as a solution is to assume that Cameroon has title to the territory of the Southern Cameroons, which is complete falsehood. The territory of the BSC belongs in its entirety to the people of the Southern Cameroons and they have never transferred their rights to Cameroon. Those who keep insisting to find a solution which leaves the Southern Cameroons in the control of the Republic of Cameroon cannot account to themselves why the people of the BSC, who have ruled themselves before and have their own territory, are fit only to obey foreign orders from Cameroon or why Cameroon should rule its territory and cross its borders to impose its will on the people of the Southern Cameroons. This is the promotion of the crime of colonisation and illegal territorial occupation. It can only bring Africa more wars, but never peace! The international community must establish to its own satisfaction whether Cameroon has jurisdiction over the Southern Cameroons before it can propose such a solution. The Southern Cameroons has international boundary treaties with the Republic of Cameroon, which have never been adjusted under Article 102(1) of the UN Charter and therefore are still perfectly valid. The whole idea of decentralization is still an attempt to honour Cameroon’s fraudulent “one and indivisible Cameroon”. Even worse is the kind of precedent that would be established to say that powerful states have a right simply to illegally occupy their weaker neighbours and get away with it in the 21st Century! The world in the 21st Century must not allow Cameroon to take it back to the dark ages where only might was right! Europe has fought several wars trying to resist such aggression; they should not be the ones to promote them in Africa.
It has been repeatedly stated with proofs that Cameroon’s occupation of the Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia is illegal and that it is pure annexation. Annexation and colonialism are systems that survive only on violence, intimidation, bribing of consciences, falsehood and pure armed robbery. This war is a concrete proof of this statement; it has no purpose other than Cameroon’s attempt to impose an alien will on the people of the Southern Cameroons.
Cameroon has maintained its grip on the Southern Cameroons only by banning the people of the Southern Cameroons from peaceful assembly in their own territory; banning the formation of political parties to educate and mobilize the people of the Southern Cameroons on their rights as a people; preventing the people of the Southern Cameroons from speaking as a people; suppressing their educational and legal systems; preventing English from being the official language in the Southern Cameroons and imposing French in its place; militarizing the Southern Cameroons; suppressing all attempts to question its claims over the territory of the Southern Cameroons, and controlling its economy. These are human rights violations which the international community is hardly able to see.
Good governance is completely incompatible with Cameroon. The foundation of good governance is truth, justice and the rule of law. Truth would oblige Cameroon to renounce its fraudulent claims on the territory of the Southern Cameroons; to admit its violation of its own federal constitution; to admit that it was complete fraud to get its population, which was four times the population of the Southern Cameroons, to participate in a vote to abolish the federation, which was the only thing that protected the identity and way of life of the people of the Southern Cameroons. Justice would oblige Cameroon to pay compensation to the people of the Southern Cameroons for years of abuse, economic exploitation and enslavement. Freedom of thought and association would allow the people of the Southern Cameroons to assemble freely within their territory; to question Cameroons claims over their territory; to teach the true history of their nation to their children; to mobilise their people against Cameroon’s injustices, and so on.
Cameroon is simply incapable of facing the truth and surviving! Can Cameroon allow the people of the Southern Cameroons to challenge its fraudulent claims on the territory of the Southern Cameroons? Can it accept that its “one and indivisible Cameroon” was an act of fraud on the people of the Southern Cameroons? Can it accept that it was wrong to get its population to abolish the unilateral federation of 1961? Can it accept that English should be the only official language in the Southern Cameroons? Can it accept that the people of the Southern Cameroons should assemble peacefully within their own territory without being banned? Can it accept that Southern Cameroons political parties should be formed to educate and mobilize its population on their rights as a people? Can it accept that the true history of the Cameroons should be taught? Cameroon is incapable of accepting these proposals and therefore those who suggest good governance have no idea of the Cameroon they are talking about. Cameroon lives in the permanent suspicion and fear that at the first opportunity its enslaved Southern Cameroonians would set themselves free, and therefore it has put in a place a heinous system of assimilation in the hope of completely erasing from the memory of the people of the Southern Cameroons any remembrance of their history as a separate nation and people. This heinous system is what keeps the one Cameroon going, for now. But why would the people of the Southern Cameroons, with a territory of their own, accept to live a life of foreign domination and subjugation forever? What purpose would such a life serve?
It is therefore obvious that neither federation, decentralization nor good governance can work. Anyone suggesting these ideas simply wants to promote the war and the permanent struggles between the two peoples.
Granting Independence and the Obstacles to It
From what has been said so far, it is clear that the only lasting solution is sovereign independence for the people of the Southern Cameroons. Cameroon has no title over the territory of the Southern Cameroons; it belongs to the people of the Southern Cameroons. The Southern Cameroons has never been decolonized; it needs to be decolonized on the basis of UNGA Res. 1514 of Dec. 14, 1960. The UN and UK had no competence to transfer a territory over which they were mere custodians to a third party, and thus depriving the beneficiaries of their trust property. All of this is true. But the question arises: how do we get the territory out of the hands of colonial Cameroon, understanding the nature of colonialism as living only on violence, falsehood and armed robbery? There is no court of law to order Cameroun out of the Southern Cameroons; there is no international police force to keep world order and force Cameroon to respect its recognized borders under international law. We are forced by the current nature of the world to depend on the support of civilized and law-abiding states, who themselves have no way of picking that independence and putting it in the hands of the people of the Southern Cameroons. But the greatest obstacle is that even within the Southern Cameroons there is no unanimity on independence. If we are to take the wishes of the people into account, we must use a mechanism which allows the voices to be heard. That mechanism is a UN-organised referendum.
UN 0rganised Referendum: Best Solution
The option of a UN-organised referendum is founded on three ideas: first, that this is a problem caused by the UN and the UN should take the responsibility to resolve it; secondly, that the people of the Southern Cameroons should be given a chance to speak for themselves and thirdly, that there is no other mechanism by which to get Cameroon to respect its recognized international boundaries under international law. Understanding the nature of colonialism and that it lives only on violence and intimidation, the past colonial wars teach us that these systems can only be defeated; they do not reason nor know truth or justice. Therefore it would need a military force to compel Cameroon to respect its borders under international law and without such a force the option left is a referendum.
The international community has been calling for dialogue without pre-conditions. But such dialogue holds no prospects for a solution. The main reason is that dialogue is a political game at which the fate of the eight (8) million Southern Cameroonians bearing the brunt of the war on the ground would be entrusted to a few politicians; moreover to a few politicians who do not agree among themselves. Is this issue of life and death not sufficiently important to be put to the people themselves? Countries organize referenda on issues of much less importance than this. It cannot be conceived how a matter of this scale can be decided without asking the wishes of the people themselves, and not those of the politicians. Dialogue is not an expression of the will of the people; it is a political game which can end against the wishes of the people.
All the solutions proffered above, namely, decentralization, federation and good governance, are either from Cameroon or the international community, an exact repetition of the mistake that happened in 1961. No solution imposed either by the international community or by Cameroon will work. Even if the international community were to help Cameroon win the war, it would not be a lasting solution; the war will sooner or later re-ignite. Southern Cameroonians, both at home and in the diaspora, are unanimous and determined to have justice done on this matter. When people accept certain solutions out of weakness, those who impose those solutions often fail to remember that the weak will grow in economic power; they will learn to mobilise their people; they will grow in wealth and intelligence and with time, question the false foundations on which they stand. Cameroon had believed that its fraud on the people of the Southern Cameroons had succeeded when this war broke out, against all its expectations! It is not therefore surprising that it takes time for injustices to be attacked and resisted; but that they will be attacked and resisted is the only thing we are sure of. Thus, it is guaranteed that a temporary solution will only prepare for more future wars.
On the Ambazonian side you have federalists, unionists and pro-independence groups. No matter how small or large each of these groups may be, they want their voices to be heard. Cameroon is also claiming that only the diaspora is behind the independence push, and that there are many different Ambazonian groups without agreement among them. The fact that since 2017, the people of the Southern Cameroons in the territory have boycotted all Cameroon National Days to show their overwhelming support for independence is ignored both by the international community and by Cameroon. Cameroon continues to insist that it is fighting on behalf of the people it is killing!
No matter the claims on either side, no matter the controversies, no matter the root cause, a UN-organised referendum in which the influence of Cameroon is completely removed would be the best solution which settles all parties. For such a referendum to be valid, the UN should handle all issues from voter identification, to registration, voting and proclamation of results. Even if the international community fails to hold Cameroon to prove its false claims on the territory of the Southern Cameroons and no matter the divisions on the Ambazonian side, a referendum on whether the people of the Southern Cameroons want to rule themselves on their own territory or enter into some formal relation with Cameroon would definitely be the most practical and amicable solution to the crisis. It must be remembered that no territory is being divided if the Southern Cameroons were to achieve its independence; they are achieving independence within their internationally defined territory, with Cameroon losing not even an inch of territory.
This solution is a compromise even for Cameroon, because Cameroon is unable to prove its claimed title to the territory. If its claim is that it is fighting for the people, why can it not let the people speak for themselves? If it rejects a referendum, it must be held to prove its title to the Southern Cameroons’ territory or be isolated and sanctioned by the international community. Cameroon has continued in its obduracy only because the international community has comforted it by failing to demand proof of its claims over the Southern Cameroons. They continue to flatter Cameroon by calling the Southern Cameroons the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. This is without the slightest evidence. They are continuing the assumptions of the United Nations which listed the Southern Cameroons as having been decolonized merely on the basis that it established a committee in April of 1961 to work out the terms of the union. Unfortunately, it did not establish any mechanism to verify whether the committee ever met at all; it just kept living on the assumptions that everything was done as stated in Res. 1608(XV).
The international community in 2019 should not continue with that terrible mistake. The very fact that Cameroon did not achieve independence with the territory of the Southern Cameroons being a part of it and that the UN-1961 Plebiscite was never about the integration of the Southern Cameroons into Cameroon but confederation with it, means that Cameroon has a prima facie case to answer on how it came to lay claim on the Southern Cameroons’ territory.
Given these facts, a referendum would be a big compromise for Cameroon and even an injustice to the people of the Southern Cameroons. But given the reluctance of the international community even to demand that Cameroon publish the instruments of international law on the basis of which it lays claim to the Southern Cameroons, it is even harder to see it confronting Cameroon militarily to force it out of Ambazonia. The referendum option is therefore only a result of the fact that there is no one to compel Cameroon to respect its recognized boundaries under international law. Since the wishes of the people overrule all norms of international law, adopting a mechanism to allow the people to freely express themselves appears to be the best option. Cameroon would save its honour by not being defeated otherwise than by the voice of the people. If the vote goes in favour of Cameroon, it would disprove those Ambazonians who claim that the majority of the people are in favour of independence. Only the voice of the people can tell the world where the truth lies.