(This is the final report on the interview on “The War in the Cameroons” on July 18, 2021. With the number of views now over 40,000 on seven platforms, it is clear that this issue is of great interest to many people. For its entire recording, see https://fb.watch/v/1Xu7uYhue/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzK81pf3F0A)
FROM IDENTITY CRISIS TO SECESSIONIST MOVEMENT: AMBAZONIANS SPEAK OF INJUSTICE
By Toyin Falola
Even though the Ambazonia crisis escalated entirely sometime in November 2017 when the Cameroonian government declared war on the secessionists and sent troops to the Anglophone regions, the actual cause of the crisis, according to Professor Carlson Anyangwe, predates the 1884-1885 Berlin conference of Africa. Today’s Cameroon combines a plural society, who by all standards, share different cultures, languages, and even colonial masters. Undoubtedly, the difficulty of co-existence between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon informed the war in Cameroon today. Also, President Paul Biya, after the Peace Summit in France in 2019, said:
My country is a complex space. Some were colonized by the British after WWI, while others were colonized by the French. As a result, there is a clash of cultures and civilizations that makes things tough. We’ve done everything we can to equate the two languages, English and French, but the attitudes, as well as the legal systems, are very different. (Beyond Words Solution, 2019).
There is a close similarity in the statement made by Professor Carlson Anyangwe and President Paul Biya, which is essential to the ongoing crisis in Cameroon brought about by the plural society where various groups of people were merged to become one. From all the intricacies of understanding the prevalent crisis and war in Cameroon, the Toyin Falola Interview invited Professor Carlson Anyangwe and three other Ambazonians–Yaah Maggie Kilo, Dennis Atemyang, and Judith Nwanna–to share their insights on the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. These three Ambazonians, with their knowledge of the crisis, engaged Professor Anyangwe on the relevant and compelling matters about the war in Cameroon.
Professor Carlson Anyangwe had his first degree in Law and a postgraduate diploma in Comparative Law from the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon and the University of Strasbourg in France. His LLM and Ph.D. degrees were obtained at the University of London in England. As a Professor of Law and Research, he teaches international law, criminal law and process, and human rights law. He played a significant role in the organization of the All Anglophone Conferences in Buea and Bamenda (AAC I and II). He is an Ambazonian and one of the key players in the country’s fight for independence from the Republic of Cameroon.
The identity crisis continues to dictate a waterloo in African politics. Nations in Africa, starting from the partition of Africa in 1884-1885, have continued to move into the dimension of war and crisis, all in the name of mixed identity and the difficulty of people of different groups and cultures to coexist in a geographically defined society. At the beginning of the interview, references were made to the possibility of balancing in a plural society like Nigeria, Cameroon, and other multi-ethnic African societies. Also, another reference was made to the dual society of Rwanda, where we have the Hutu and Tutsi, and the case of Somalia. In the context of African politics, all these countries have something in common—identity crisis.
However, Ambazonia remains at the focal of this discussion due to the various conflicting identities it has been tagged with for more than a century now. In the words of Professor Carlson Anyangwe during the Toyin Falola Interview, “the identity question has always tormented us right from where it starts.” According to him, the Ambazonians, from 1914-1960, were considered to be Nigerians and the people of the Republic of Cameroon sometimes referred to them as Nigerians. Ambazonia was said to share more similarities with the Biafra nation of Nigeria, and they were referred to then as southern Cameroon.
October 1961 bought about the merger of split nationalities, including the newly created Federal Republic of Cameroon. Southern Cameroon became the State of West Cameroon, and the Republic of Cameroon became the State of East Cameroon. Cameroon’s federal constitution conferred Cameroonian citizenship on the people. On the international stage, citizens of the new nation were referred to as “Cameroonians.” However, inside the two states of the country, a plethora of identities with different strengths and tendencies began to emerge.
Southern Cameroons’ subdued identity found sanctuary in a newly developed West Cameroonian identity. The identity of West Cameroon grew so strong that it was printed on birth certificates and mailing addresses. To Anyangwe, even Cameroon’s constitution recognized Western Cameroon as an independent nation. This was also evident as President Ahidjo would refer to the people of the two republics as “English-speaking Cameroonians” or “French-speaking Cameroonians” in the early days of the federation.
However, there was another change in the identity of the West Cameroonian. After President Ahidjo destroyed the federation in 1972, English-speaking Cameroonians were compelled to forfeit their Western Cameroonian identity. They needed to adopt or accept the change because refusing to do so may have been construed as a rejection of the country’s joint determination to “unify.” From 1972, Cameroon was once again split to conform to the idea of the North-West/South-West region. The Ambazonians identity was altered even more, and according to Professor Anyangwe, “Ambazonia was named like a child or slave subjected to their masters. And like a child or slave, they have no power over their name.”
With the implied suppression of West Cameroonian identity in 1972, the term “Anglophone” became more popular as a means to designate people from these two regions who speak English. The Anglophone identity grew in popularity and acceptance among the citizens of these two regions to the point that “Anglophone” was informally chosen as the moniker for alternative identity in Cameroon. English-speaking Cameroonians became so enamored of the term “Anglophone” that they seemed to forget or choose to disregard the true meaning of the term: anyone who speaks English. During the Interview, Temitope Fagunwa questioned this identity against the concept of Kwame Nkrumah’s view on African Identity. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the Ambazonians would prefer to support the Western identity than to tag under Paul Biya’s Cameroon. Currently, the Ambazonia Cameroon is referred to as the NOSO, meaning North-West and South-West English-speaking Province. The identity crisis has become fundamental to the secessionist movement of present-day Cameroon.
Getting a new name became critical to the new Ambazonia’s development. During the UNESCO conference of 1973, African countries were encouraged and given the boldness to change their name. For instance, the Gold Coast became Ghana, and Upper Volta became Burkina Faso. This development carved out the name Ambazonia, which we have today. According to Professor Anyangwe, Ambazonia became referred to as the territory, and the people are called Ambazonians. Fon Gorji coined this name in 1984 as an umbrella term for Anglophone regions of Cameroon, a collective name for Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions, Ambazonians seeking independence, or a group of people at the Amba region of Cameroon.
Moving directly to October 11, 2016, when lawyers and teachers of Anglophone Cameroon commenced a sit-down strike, Anglophones were outraged when at least two ministers said that “no Anglophone problem exists” in Cameroon. This strike began as a result of the lawyers petitioning the government to see to their grievances. Before this time, Cameroonians inherited two judicial systems when areas governed by France and Britain merged to establish a single state.
Civil law was used in the French-speaking zone during colonization, while common law was used in the English-speaking area. Under President Ahidjo, there was a change in the federal system. This was why the striking Anglophone attorneys demanded, among other things, that the government convene an emergency meeting of the High Judicial Council and reassign all civil law justices from the two English-speaking areas. They also advocated for the restoration of a two-state system, citing it as the ideal framework for ensuring the co-existence of the two legal systems.
After their requests were not met, teachers from English-speaking regions joined the attorneys on November 21, 2016. These Anglophone teachers were upset with the administration for continuing to assign Francophone teachers to Anglophone schools. According to them, the French lecturers spoke in bad English, which caused many pupils to struggle in their final exams. Additionally, they claimed that in the Anglophone institutions of Buea and Bamenda, Francophones outnumbered Anglophones by a large margin. Other individuals eventually joined the protests, expressing their dissatisfaction with the deterioration of the infrastructure and the difficulties in obtaining basic supplies.
Thus, Anglophone attorneys and teachers’ associations slammed the appointment of French-speaking instructors, judges, and prosecutors to Anglophone Cameroon’s schools and courts in late 2016. These protests lasted more than a year and were ignited by social media. However, in October 2017, the protestors were harshly repressed, with marchers being labelled “terrorists” and the use of fatal force against unarmed individuals being authorized. This was a critical factor in developing the Anglophone unrest into a full-fledged uprising and civil war. Anglophone secessionists began the campaign for a sovereign “Republic of Ambazonia” in 2017. This led to the peaceful protests sparked by long-standing concerns of marginalization in the North-West and South-West regions. Two of the most prominent complaints among Anglophones are inadequate resources allocation and a lack of effective political representation. They claim that the state is being “Francophonized” as a result of a concerted cultural effort.
Professor Anyangwe, in his response to Yaah Maggie Kilo’s question, noted the eradication of the federal system as one of the tools toward the marginalization of the Ambazonians. In 2018, the conflict became more violent. Separatists intensified their attacks on the military, causing Cameroonian soldiers to retaliate and trapping people in the crossfire. Villages were burnt, leading to the massive displacement of Cameroonians. Hence, it can be said that this approach was the pinnacle of Paul Biya’s aggressive strategy to dissuade the Ambazonians from pursuing their independence cause.
The Outcome of the Ambazonian War
After the Rwanda genocide, the Anglophone secessionist movement for independence from the Republic of Cameroon has witnessed one of the most horrible and dehumanizing atrocities in Africa. The Ambazonians continue to speak of the injustice being shown to them by the various administration of Cameroon governments. Due to this injustice, since 2016, there have been campaigns about the marginalization and injustice witnessed by the English-speaking Cameroonians. From 2017 till date, the agitations have been more violent and bloody. President Paul Biya prefers using force rather than negotiating with the Ambazonia leaders from seceding the Republic of Cameroon.
During the second session of the Toyin Falola Interview, the outcome of the Ambazonian war was examined. Providing a great discussion on this, Judith Nwanna of the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations engaged Professor Carlson Anyangwe on topics revolving around Humanitarian, Human Rights, Tolerance, Responsible Leadership, International Recognition. The humanitarian impact of the civil war on Cameroonians was discussed during the interview. According to Judith Nwanna, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) reported grim numbers of war casualties. Quoting the UN OCHA, Judith Nwanna noted that:
As of May 2021, 2.2 million people are affected by the war, 712,000 internally displaced, 67,000 refugees in Nigeria. Bear in mind this number only reflect the documented causality as there are much more undocumented some even afraid to come out of the bush. This is a dire situation with villages burnt, houses raised to the ground, and healthcare facilities shut down making it unavailable for the common man on the street. This is not sustainable and I don’t believe the population was prepared for this.
This excerpt, read by Judith Nwanna, provided a glimpse into the outcome and effect of the war on the Cameroons. It came as a question to Professor Carlson Anyangwe for clarification about how the leaders of Ambazonia prepared for war. In response, Professor Anyangwe said that “the unleashing of war made matters worse. We were not prepared for war, we have no single soldiers, and we were completely taken unaware in all of this.” Being unprepared for war makes its effects more devastating. Nevertheless, the leaders have been trying to provide for the refugee, Professor Carlson Anyangwe further clarified.
Another devastating outcome is the closure of schools. With regards to this, reference was made to the Kumba school massacre. On October 24, 2020, at about noon, men dressed in civilian clothes stormed the school. Seven children were killed, and thirteen others injured. Some students were also harmed when they attempted to flee by jumping from windows. The children who died were all between the ages of twelve and fourteen, which was a violation of the fundamental human rights of children as they were either not allowed to go to school or were too scared to go to school.
This is once again the fate of Cameroon today. Shedding more light on this, Professor Carlson Anyangwe disclosed that parents are afraid to send their children to school. Thus, they enroll them in a nearby location where access to them is easy in case of violence. Also, school closure has increased human rights abuses such as rape and molestations. These atrocities are degrading and continue to affect women and children in Cameroon.