Amid claims and counter-claims over the whereabouts of the Ambazonia leaders, kidnapped in Nigeria and reportedly renditioned to Cameroon, the government, either out of political naiveté or deliberate mischief, has been confusing itself and Cameroonians, with obfuscating and triumphalist gesticulations over an issue where there are no winners. It is of course trite that, arresting leaders of any liberation movement will never annihilate the struggle. Nelson Mandela was jailed but the ANC continued the struggle until apartheid was defeated. Osama bin Laden was killed but that neither stopped Al Qaeda nor global terrorism; rather the world is contending with the more deadly ISIS. The fact of the matter is that Ambazonia cannot die because it is a spirit which animates our yearning for freedom. Even if Biya kills all eight million Anglophones and raze our villages, our ghosts shall rise from our graves to seek freedom and demand justice. The inconvenient truth is that Cameroon is living a lie that it is one, united and indivisible. The unity of Cameroon, for want of a better metaphor, is only held at gunpoint. The question is: for how long? If Biya is truly interested in keeping Cameroon united, he must realize that the Anglophone crisis has transcended political gamesmanship. If Biya sincerely believes, as he claims that a majority of Anglophones want to remain in bondage and servitude in a united Cameroon, let him call a referendum as was the case in 1961, for Anglophones to decide their future. This is the only viable option now to peacefully resolve the present crisis.
After over 50 years of failed unification, Anglophones, who now wear their second-class citizenship status as a badge of honor, are well aware that this struggle is about their future. Ambazonia was raped into being by the war of economic and political marginalization of Anglophones by Francophones. It is this marginalization in a nation where Anglophones are the bread basket that gave birth to Ambazonia. To kill Ambazonia without addressing Anglophone marginalization is an exercise in futility. Ask any good mother and she will tell you that there is never a time to kill a child, even an evil one. Therefore, to expect Anglophones to stand idle by, while the fathers of Ambazonia attempt to kill it, is to downplay the powerful tender feelings of a mother towards the child she bore. To kill Ambazonia is an option which Francophones, as co-parents of Ambazonia, do not have the moral authority to do. It is better to let Ambazonia die, and for Anglophones, letting Ambazonia die is the moral equivalence of delivering a twin birth to an evil forest, back in the days when twin births were a taboo, and a mother sorrowed her way to the forest and back, bitter at a society that disavowed her children's right to exist.
Like it or not, Ambazonia is the child of a Francophone father and Anglophone mother. To deny this reality is to deny the fact that Francophones created Ambazonia; which cannot be killed. Cameroon can only allow Ambazonia to die by taking away the raison d’etre for its existence. Time is when time was, well-meaning Anglophones still believed in the one Cameroon project, and were prepared to give it another try with a return to federalism. Anglophones turned the proverbial other cheek, even as Francophones abused the instruments of state power to unleash terror on our people. In the face of the provocation, Anglophones bore their dehumanization with stride, befuddling their Francophone aggressors, who reveled under the mistaken assumption that we are a conquered and captured people, whose resources can be pillaged with impunity. But September 22, 2017, changed the dynamics of our compulsory concatenation as a united country.
On that day, in an unprecedented show of defiance, mass peaceful demonstrations for independence erupted all over the Anglophone regions, and rattled Yaoundé authorities with a clear and unmistakable message: Anglophones have lost faith in the one Cameroon project. Despite the urgent imperative to address the crisis, the president got it wrong when he cast the first stone of disintegration with his declaration of war against Anglophone “terrorists.” Blinded by arrogance, and an obsessive sense of entitlement to our natural resources, the regime failed to realize that the Anglophone crisis was a clear and present danger to national unity. Biya still doesn’t understand that trying to kill Ambazonia with force only exacerbates that danger and risks a chain reaction that will ultimately unravel Cameroon.
The ongoing harvest of carnage and destruction unleashed on Anglophones by soldiers has only hardened the population’s resolve as the soldiers all but lose the battle for Anglophone hearts and minds. The worst is already happening; hundreds of Anglophones have been killed and thousands have fled to Nigeria as refugees. Several soldiers have been killed in sporadic hit-and-run attacks, which is the strategy of choice of the Anglophone resistance and many more will die. The regime can continue to treat the unending bloodbath flippantly, but this is the simplest understanding of an insurgency in the making and one which the government cannot win with military force. So, Issa Tchiroma, the talkative Communications Minister, should not be deluded that Cameroon is grappling with a mop-up operation; because the country is sliding into chaos and civil war.
If you understand the economic basis of the Anglophone insurgency, you’ll know the war has not even started. Ambazonia is impelled by deep frustrations, revulsion and anger, inflamed by the belligerence of Francophones, who see Anglophones as treasonable felons. Despite all appeals for dialogue and a return to federalism, the regime is stuck under the erroneous assumption that political empowerment of Anglophones in a federation will signal the balkanization of Cameroon. Yet by refusing dialogue and resorting to a military force, the regime is inadvertently precipitating national disintegration. Before its leaders were arrested and jailed, the outlawed Anglophone Consortium appealed to the regime to show an understanding beyond the dubious position of those who equate federalism with secession. Indeed, many Anglophones found it strange that anyone with even a remote knowledge of Cameroon history, before and since independence and unification, would reject the need to return to a federation.
It is a settled opinion that change is the only permanent feature of life and anyone who resists change will ossify and, in time, die. Closure and tunnel vision are dangerous characteristics of man. Therefore, re-structuring is a continuous, inevitable process in the lives of people and nations. It is clear, other nations that have come to terms with this fact of life, have left Cameroon behind. Within the context of perennial internal and global changes, Cameroon cannot but continuously self-assess and adapt if it is to survive and thrive. The opponents of restructuring therefore need to restructure their mentality and it must be said that the problem is more with the vampire elite who benefit from the status quo than with the citizens who suffer its debilitating effects.
Biya had every chance to prevent the Anglophone problem from transmuting into a serious political crisis. But he chose the argument of force, over the force of the argument! The arrest of the Consortium leaders marked a turning point as it radicalized Anglophone public opinion, creating a groundswell of agitation for self-determination that crystallized with the birth of Ambazonia, after a formal restoration of Anglophone independence last October 1. The new nation has a flag, an interim government in exile and activists who are poised to make the Anglophone regions ungovernable. Nothing can be more suggestive of disintegration. And Biya should make no pretence about it.
Let’s not mumble or whisper, because there’s an ongoing low-intensity uprising in the Anglophone regions which will degenerate into a full-blown insurgency. Unable to preempt the sporadic flashpoints of ambush attacks across Ambazonia, the soldiers have responded with a scorched-earth strategy of collective punishment by indiscriminately killing innocent civilians and razing whole villages. This pig-headed strategy is self-defeating because it is impossible not to be offended by the crimes against humanity in Kembong, Kwa-Kwa and other Anglophone villages. Cameroon is bleeding profusely and Anglophones have reached saturation point over the mindless killings and terror unleashed by soldiers and will continue the asymmetrical resistance with the rules of engagement on their own terms. It will of course take time; and the cost might be high in terms of blood and treasure, but Ambazonia will overcome in the end.
Biya cannot continue paying lip service to peace and dialogue, while waging war. The alleged rendition of Ambazonia leaders from Nigeria, where they were abducted, has put Cameroon on the international spotlight. Amid speculations that the leaders have been murdered in cold blood, the government must provide evidence that they are alive; in custody because it is not in their interest to allow speculations over what has now become an international naming and shaming campaign, as the world is watching.
Biya must therefore free himself from the fantasy of presidential prestige and decide whether to embrace dialogue or continue down the perilous path of trying to kill Ambazonia, and destroy Cameroon in the process. Although the President is hemmed by the fawning adulations of sycophantic advisers and tribesmen, it is incumbent on Biya to bend over backwards and negotiate with Anglophone “terrorists” because he cannot kill Ambazonia with force. Therefore, if Biya intends to keep Cameroon united and peaceful, he must take a risky political gamble. He can hedge his bets by reverting the country to federalism and then organize a referendum for Anglophones to decide their future. That may well be wishful thinking, but it is the essence of statesmanship and the ultimate test of presidential leadership.