A tale of two Cameroons – should we be calling for two elections?
On Sunday 9 October, Cameroonians will cast their vote in a presidential election few believe to be free or fair. Many have already commented on the tactics used to undermine the opposition’s campaigns or the fact that with only days until the election, the incumbent, President Paul Biya is yet to be spotted on the campaign trail. But precious little has been said of an open wound at the heart of this failed democracy. That is of course, until reports emerged over the weekend of the alleged arrest of 200 people who gathered to celebrate more than 50 years of independence in Southern Cameroons.
According to a Facebook post, shared on the blog ZoFem, Mola Njoh Litumbe, an activist campaigning for the restoration of Southern Cameroons, was on October 1, placed under house arrest, though it is unclear from the post if he was involved in the independence day celebrations. The unnamed writer, a journalist, said: “I write to confirm that Mola Njoh is under house arrest. It is in front of his residence that police men have just beaten me [and] seized my identification (ID) card.”
The tensions (at best) between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroons go back to the infamous Scramble for Africa and have been well documented. Books such as Imperialistic Politics in Cameroun, written by my father and professor of laws, Carlson Anyangwe and Mola Njoh’s bilingual summary of what he calls the Case of the annexation of Southern Cameroons, outline how a territory administered by Great Britain and entitled to independence ended up as part of what later became La Republique du Cameroun.
But surely this is ancient history? A nation formed of two previously autonomous groups, through what can best be described as a series of unfortunate events, is still a nation, right?
Surely, Africa should be doing away with borders not creating new ones? And most importantly, what does this have to do with party politics in modern Cameroon and the October 9 elections?
I put the first two questions to Mola Njoh when I met him in London for the first time this September. To Mola (a term of respect for an elder in the Bakweri tribe) – who is in his 80s and has the mannerism of an old English gentleman but speech littered with the proverbs of an African elder – this is the pursuit of justice. A miscarriage of justice no matter how old cannot be ignored, he explains. It would be like telling an inmate, falsely convicted of a crime, that a reprieve was impossible because the crime was ancient history, though both the evidence and judicial system to acquit him had been established.
In the case of Southern Cameroons, that evidence is the UN General Assembly resolution, 1541(XV) of 1961, outlining how Administering Authorities (the colonial masters) were to grant independence to their Administered Territories. British Cameroons had three options: to become a sovereign state, to enter into ‘free association’ with an independent state or to integrate with an independent state. The resolution went on to say that if an independent territory was to join another, the following must be observed:
Respect for the individuality and cultural characteristics of the territory and its people. The associated territory should have the right to determine its internal constitution without outside interference…[and] integration with an independent State should be on the basis of complete equality between the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territory and those of the independent State.
To Mola Njoh and those who are campaigning for independent Southern Cameroons, it is not simply being part of Francophone Cameroon they contest but rather, the failure of La Republique to abide by these rules of integration. Southern Cameroons has no internal constitution, nor many would argue, do they share “complete equality” with citizens from La Republique. Mola Njoh writes: “For there to be a divorce, the parties concerned have first got to be married. Over the years inhabitants of Southern Cameroons have been arrested, imprisoned and brutalised by the forces of La Republic du Cameroun on the grounds of promoting secession. However, a claim of secession cannot be sustained in the absence of a Treaty and a signed Certificate of Joining.”
And what about the latter questions: does any of this matter to people outside of Southern Cameroons’ intellectual elite? Will it have any bearing on the election results?
If the number of groups of online groups or fora are anything to go by, then yes, it matters very much. But none of the challengers are taking up these deep-seated divisions in their campaigns. Perhaps it’s because those who are most able to campaign for an independent Southern Cameroons, free from persecution, are in the diaspora. Perhaps, the challengers feel the election rests on more pressing, existential concerns: the cost of living or the provision of jobs. Or perhaps ousting Biya, the media-shy dictator of the last 29 years, is the primary objective of the opposition, so much so that what happens after he’s gone has yet to be determined – a case of ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it’.
Blogger, Neba-Fuh, commented on the implications for the elections, but focused instead at the bias against the Anglophone challengers: “All five Southern Cameroonians running for president are not newcomers to the plight of Southern Cameroonians. Paul Ayah, John Fru Ndi, kah Walla, Ben Muna and George Nyamndi are not unaware of the herculean task they are into, as they run for president, just because of their origin, even if the majority votes for them. I am sure they are relying on some international intervention similar to the ‘Ivorian saga’ at the end.”
It is hard for this union to be seen as credible when until recent history, the English-speaking regions had no universities, all resources are administered centrally out of the Francophone capital Yaounde and Biya, a self-proclaimed ‘man of the people’ hardly knows Anglophone Cameroon, visiting Bamenda – the heartland of the Anglophone opposition – last December for the first time in 20 years. Even for a reclusive leader, that’s some hiatus. A good analysis ahead of Biya’s visit was written by another blogger, Tikum Mbah Azonga.
Still this forced marriage continues. The main reason highlighted in Stuart Notholt’s book, Fields of Fire: an atlas of ethnic conflict: “70% of Cameroon’s natural resources are located in Southern Cameroons.”
So knowing the history and the hangover from a partnership never fully, consciously entered, what next for Cameroon?
Neither of the books I’ve read put forward any specific course of action. Professor Anyangwe’s book is clear that this is not its aim, while Mola Njoh calls for “peaceful resolution through the machinery of international law and preventative democracy.”
The recommendations of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, in response to a complaints filed by activists, were that: “La Republic enters into constructive dialogue with complainants…to resolve constitutional issues,” and reform the higher judicial council by “ensuring that it is composed of personalities other than the President, the Minster of Justice and other members of the executive branch.” The deadline set for the government was January 2010.
So, the days roll on and the election draws nearer. In the absence of any robust campaigning or indeed any sign that the winds of change are blowing, many watch and wait, resigned to Biya’s return. As for the state of Southern Cameroons, we are left with the words of warning written by Dr Bernard Fonlon, an academic and intellectual, in a letter to Ahmadou Ahijo, first president of Cameroon: “Let us not lose sight of the fact that seeds of discontent exist in our Federation. There is also frustration in the Federation.”
Those words, quoted from Imperialistic Politics in Cameroun, were written in 1964, three short years after Southern Cameroons joined la Republic du Cameroon. It seems not much changes.