There is a prevailing narrative about the role of Western interests in trouble spots around the world, which is often premised on the need to watch out for and protect these interests when conflicts break out. These interests are generally related to resources to fuel industries (including minerals, oil, and gas), raw agricultural materials (coffee, cocoa, tea, rubber, and timber), and access to markets for finished goods (international waters, air space, and enabling governments). Western governments, especially the (former) colonial powers, are ever on the alert for any sign of trouble, so they can jump in and quash any terrorist threats that might surface.
This narrative stands in stark contrast to the crises which have prevailed in most sub-Sahara African nations since independence in the early 1960s—political transitions, ethnic conflicts, tribalism, wars, famine, and coup d’états.
Where does the current Southern Cameroons conflict fit within this prevailing narrative? The two former Anglophone regions (Northwest and Southwest) account for over 60% of the gross domestic product of what was called the Republic of Cameroon prior to the establishment of the new interim government on October 1, 2017. Cameroon’s oil is, therefore, located in the newly established Federal Republic of Ambazonia. A separation of the country would threaten Western interests in various ways: an end to French control of the resources, an attempt by other francophone African countries to replicate Ambazonia’s example, an impoverishment of the Republic of Cameroun (saddled with a public debt of $10.34 billion), an end to the Republic of Cameroun’s membership in the English Commonwealth, Ambazonia’s departure from the franc zone, a likely collapse of the franc zone in Central Africa (where Cameroon has the strongest economy), and more.
We may broaden the scope by also asking, “Where do Nigeria, the Republic of Cameroun, Chad, Niger, and Central African Republic fit within this narrative?” The northern Nigeria-Central African region have been a hotbed of terrorism à la Boko Haram for several years now—beginning in northeastern Nigeria and stretching into northern Cameroun and the other central African states. There’s oil in Chad, which is piped to the Atlantic Ocean through the Republic of Cameroun, so there’s western interest in ensuring its safe passage. Nigeria is an oil giant on the world stage and a member of OPEC (Organization of Oil-Producing Countries), producing 1.484 million barrels per day according to OPEC’s May 2017 Monthly Oil Market Report.
What about the other neighbors? The Central African Republic has been unstable since the overthrow of Jean-Bédel Bokassa in 1996, resulting in over 100,000 refugees fleeing rebel groups and armed gangs to Cameroon. By September 2017, a similar number of refugees had flocked into northern Cameroun from northeastern Nigeria, fleeing Boko Haram insurgents, who are also operating in Chad, Niger, and Mali. Paradoxically, over 70,000 southern Cameroonians have streamed into eastern Nigeria since October 2017 seeking refuge from Cameroun’s military onslaught.
Given these crises and scenarios, what are chances that Western nations would align with Ambazonia, an unknown, untested entity? Would the government be trusted to do the colonialist’s bidding? Would Ambazonia seek reparations from the West for economic dislocation since 1961? Would Ambazonia seek repayment from France of oil and agricultural revenues which have been stowed away in the French treasury as part of a pre-independence treaty with the Republic of Cameroun? Would Ambazonia seek repayment from other Western nations, including Switzerland, where Ahmadou Ahidjo (Cameroun’s first president) deposited money he squirreled away during his twenty-one-year dictatorship (1961-82)? Would Ambazonia go after Western countries for the assets of President Paul Biya and his family?
It has been convenient for the Republic of Cameroun to qualify its departing Southern Cameroons brothers and sisters as secessionists—convenient because the term is a misnomer. The Free Dictionary defines “secede” as follows: “to withdraw formally from membership in a state, union, or other political entity.” Since there was no legal basis for membership in the Republic of Cameroun (or an act of union), Southern Cameroons has merely reasserted its right of self-determination as a people by restoring its independence; it is not seceding. Catalonia, on the other hand, is trying to secede from Spain, as is Kurdistan from Iraq.
Without an act of union, Southern Cameroons is a victim, an orphan of the United Nations, which mismanaged its transition to independence. Following World War II, the United Nations asked Britain and France to guide Southern Cameroons and the Republic of Cameroun, respectively, towards self-government (Article 76, b). While France supposedly “let go” of its territory, Britain claimed Southern Cameroons was too weak to survive as a country. The United Nations, therefore, has an unfinished job of steering Southern Cameroons towards statehood. It is not comparable to Catalonia or Iraqi Kurdistan because SC has had an international personality from WWI through the Trusteeship Agreement and a strong UN independence vote in keeping with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples.
The consideration of Western interests adversely affected by these conflicts has played a key role in perpetrating the situation in the sub-region and, particularly, in Southern Cameroons. This may be explained by the deafening silence from President Paul Biya of the Republic of Cameroun to incessant calls worldwide to initiate dialogue with the Southern Cameroonians. He does not want to rock the boat or appear to concede sixty percent of Cameroun’s GDP to so-called secessionists who are the rightful owners of the natural resources.