Anglophones never voted to become the footstool of French Cameroun exploitation and plunder.
Despite repeatedly shouting at rooftops that Cameroon is one, united and indivisible, French Cameroun never wanted any union with Southern Cameroons. In the countdown to the 1961 plebiscite, the standing view was that Southern Cameroons was not economically viable and would be a drainpipe on Her Majesty’s government who was passing the buck to French Cameroun taxpayers. But if Britain had consulted the geological survey maps left by the Germans after their defeat in WWI, they would have granted Southern Cameroons full independence because the Germans had documented huge potential oil reserves in the Rio del Rey basin. Thanks to British indolence, the 3rd option of independence agreed by the 43 delegates at the August 1959 all party conference in Mamfe, chaired by Sir Sidney Phillipson, Acting Southern Cameroons Commissioner, was rejected by Andrew Cohen, Britain’s representative to the UN Trusteeship Council; and not presented as an option during the 1961 UN plebiscite.
Even after the plebiscite, in which Southern Cameroons voted for independence by joining French Cameroun, French Cameroun acted in bad faith by challenging the plebiscite results and proceeded to vote against UNGA Resolution 1608 (XV) of April 21, 1961 to prevent unification with Southern Cameroons. There were 64 votes for; 23 against and 10 abstentions. Amongst the countries that joined French Cameroun to vote against unification with Southern Cameroons were France, Ivory Coast, Congo-Brazzaville, Zaire, Senegal, Dahome (Benin), Niger, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Chad, Central Africa Republic and Gabon (the last three being former German Kamerun territories). President Ahidjo even went ahead to declare Feb 11 a day of national mourning for British Northern Cameroon, which had voted to join Nigeria. This begs the question: if Cameroon was one, united and indivisible as Francophones are now claiming, why did French Cameroun vote against unification at the UN?
This act of bad faith remains a sore point in Cameroon’s history and speaks directly to the hypocrisy and contradiction of French Cameroun’s assertion that Cameroon is one, united and indivisible. By rejecting political association with Southern Cameroons, French Cameroun maintained its international borders duly recorded when it was admitted to membership of the UN after it obtained independence from France on January 1, 1960. Southern Cameroons was then a self-governing British UN-mandated territory with all the trappings of a nation-state, including its own internationally recognized borders. French Cameroun started asserting territorial claims over Southern Cameroons only after Yves Bie’ville; the French lawyer who drafted the French Cameroun constitution learned about the existence of huge oil deposits in Southern Cameroons from a German intelligence source and informed officials at the Quai d'Orsay, who then ordered Ahidjo to drop his opposition to unification.
The French then dispatched a team of advisers to help Ahidjo navigate the Foumban conference of July 17-21, 1961. The Foumban conference was to be followed by a four party conference to work out modalities of the federation ahead of the planned October 1st unification date. But the conference never held. Rather, on August 6, 1961, Ahidjo announced an amendment of the French Cameroun constitution to “accommodate Southern Cameroons as the western part of German Kamerun.” On October 1, 1961 shortly after the Union Jack was lowered, Ahidjo sent French Cameroun troops into Southern Cameroons; where they have remained till this day. The hidden agenda of the deconstruction of Southern Cameroons had begun in earnest. In 1962, the pound sterling was abolished and the East Cameroun CFA franc imposed on the whole country. In 1964, the measurement system of feet, pounds and miles was abandoned in favor of the metric system of kilometers and kilograms.
In 1966, an unsuccessful attempt was made to harmonize the legal systems of the federated states, but this precipitated a crisis and was shelved. In the same year, all the political parties were dissolved to form the Cameroon National Union (CNU). Three years later, all trade unions in the country merged into a federation attached to the CNU, forswearing its allegiance to the international labor movement. Everything Ahdijo did, including abolition of the federation in 1972, was geared towards assimilation of Southern Cameroons and gaining unfettered access to its vast natural resources. Less than a year after the so-called May 20, 1972 referendum, in which Southern Cameroonians were asked to vote either “Yes” or “Oui”, the national oil refining company (SONARA) was created on March 23, 1973.
Thereafter, it became a race to the bottom to dismantle Southern Cameroons and all its institutions. One by one, they fell like dominos – Marketing Board, Cameroon Bank, PWD, POWERCAM, Mobile Wing, Tiko, Mamfe and Bali airports; Victoria Wharf, amongst others. In effect, nothing has been spared; whether it is our Anglo-Saxon educational system; or our football. Fifty-six years after independence and unification, the story of Southern Cameroons has been a mixed bag of missed opportunities, frittered wealth and marginal growth in her economic potentials. All indices of development in education, health, agriculture, political and social engineering, infrastructure development, power generation and supply, the manufacturing sector, short and long term strategic planning, and capacity to fully exploit and utilize her natural resources – show a dismal performance by Francophone bureaucrats and their Anglophone compradors who have conspired to steal Southern Cameroonians blind.
From all indications, Ahidjo’s masterplan of annexing and subjugating Southern Cameroons has neither changed, nor can Biya or any Francophone afford to change it. French Cameroun’s sickening interest in Southern Cameroons is driven only by the desire to continue exploiting Southern Cameroon’s natural resources to finance their corrupt system of abusive patronage and ethnic-inspired clientelism, while Southern Cameroonians wallow in abject poverty and misery in the midst of plenty. Proof: in the 2017 Public Investment Budget, the South region (the President’s region of origin) with a population of 800,000 was allocated FCFA 126.2 billion; while the two English speaking regions (which account for over 60% of national GDP) with an estimated population of eight million people was allocated FCFA 85.7 billion. This is insulting and unacceptable!
Before Francophones continue peddling the hoax of a one, united and indivisible Cameroon, they need to answer these questions. When they reaffirm their commitment to a united Cameroon, are they referring to the territory or the people? When government spokespersons cite former German Kamerun to justify why Cameroon must remain one, united and indivisible; why then did French Cameroun oppose unification and voted against UN Resolution 1608 in April 1961? Can anyone not blinded by prejudice and self-interest justify this act of bad faith? From 1961-1972 when the country was a federal republic, was Cameroon one, united and indivisible? Even as Francophones continue to remonstrate about one, united and indivisible Cameroon, they must apologize for the 1961 vote against unification and stop pussyfooting and paying lip service over addressing the needs of the exploited Anglophone region which produces the bulk of the nation’s wealth. Anglophones are no longer fooled.
While French Cameroun argues that Southern Cameroons is an integral part of its territory because they have been administered jointly for 56 years, it is worth noting that Ukraine and Russia parted ways despite sharing over 1,000 years of common history. Southern Cameroons broke away from Nigeria in 1953 despite sharing 44 years of common history as well. Even if French Cameroun claims Southern Cameroons is only two of its ten regions, it cannot forget that Eritrea used to be the only former Red Sea Province of Ethiopia. That did not stop Eritrea from gaining independence. The decentralization offer for regional autonomy sold as tangible reform under the 1996 Constitution is unacceptable notably because it makes the assumption that Southern Cameroons is part of French Cameroun, and not an illegally occupied and recolonized territory.
Besides, the past 56 years are littered with evidence that French Cameroun violated the terms of unification. It has broken every promise beginning with the promise to the UN to create a federation of two equal states. In addition, autocratic regimes do not honor such pledges. It was the case when in 1961, the emperor of Ethiopia revoked the autonomous status granted Eritrea by Britain in 1952, annexing it as Ethiopia’s 14th province; leading to the 30-year war of independence. In 1989, Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, revoked the autonomous status of Kosovo leading to a decade of repression, culminating in the NATO war against Yugoslavia in 1999.
With Anglophones expressing disgust about the union, many are seeking a redefinition of the association in such a way that the imbalance and injustice in the system could be addressed for the emergence of a stronger and virile union. Within the circumstance, no amount of threat or intimidation will make Cameroon united. The government should stop reveling in self-delusion; we are no longer in the 1970s. The government can say what it wants, but nobody is fooled anymore. This generation of Anglophones are well-educated and know that the issue at stake here is their natural resources. And they have demonstrated their resolve to fight and die for their future and that of posterity!
The ostrich evasion of the President who pretended to dismiss the escalating crisis as the handiwork of terrorists masking as secessionists is a self-defeating strategy, which only aggravates the self-inflicted tragedy of a nation not prepared to engage in hard thinking; unwilling to introspect dispassionately and speak hard truths to itself; to muster courage to re-direct itself and do what is germane to peaceful co-existence. The only thing that will bring unity in Cameroon is for the government to eschew this conquest mentality and dialogue with Anglophones in a sovereign national conference where both sides will renegotiate the unity and the future of Cameroon as equal partners. This will enable French Cameroun to reconcile with the truth about unification - the subject of the next article in this series.
By Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai*