By Owei Lakemfa
Five million fellow Africans in Western Cameroon are between the hard hitting hammer of the Cameroonian military and security forces, and the anvil of an armed opposition that has risen to defend the victims. With unending military operations, life for these people has become a vicious circle of harassment, arrests, torture, mass murders, disappearances and mass displacement. Although Cameroon has six neigbouring countries – Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Equitorial Guinea, Republic of Congo and Nigeria, for historical, linguistic, social and cultural reasons, it is to Nigeria these Cameroonian refugees flee. But even when some of them manage to take refuge in Big Brother Nigeria, they are abandoned and sometimes, even delivered into the hands of the intolerant Cameroonian government. For instance, on January 17, 2018, 47 Cameroonian opposition leaders, including Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, leader of the Southern Cameroun opposition, who are political refugees in Nigeria, were holding a meeting in a hotel in Abuja when agents of the Department of State Services (DSS) swooped on them. In total disregard of all conventions on refugees, including the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, which makes it obligatory for signatory countries like Nigeria to protect refugees, and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum from prosecution in other countries, the Buhari administration delivered the helpless captives to the stone age Paul Biya government in Cameroon.
Despite this illegality and the fact that the lives of these political refugees are in danger, no known international agency, including the UN and the African Union, has actively intervened to protect the lives of these men or guarantee them fair trial. The Nigerian government might have engaged in such illegality because it has a military alliance with Cameroon against the terrorist Boko Haram, is not known itself to be friendly with legality including court orders, and has a similar self-determination movement in the eastern part of the country.
As it stands, these men and those they lead in Cameroon, are orphans. But in reality, Cameroonians, in general, have been orphaned by a continent and world that tolerates the dictatorship, exploitation and gross misrule that have been their lot since the 1884-85 Berlin Conference that carved out Africa for European colonisation. Yes. The current repression in Cameroon has colonial origins.
At the Berlin Conference of Western predators, France and Britain agreed to cede Cameroon to Germany. After the latter lost the First World War, France and Britain seized and shared the German colonies as war booty. Togo and Cameroon were in-between French and British colonies, and the two European nations, insensitive to the fact that the peoples of these colonies were one, simply sliced them up. One third of Togo was given to Britain, which annexed it to its Gold Coast colony (now Ghana). Britain was also given Western Cameroon, which became British Cameroon, and was annexed to its Nigerian colony. In 1922, the League of Nations, successor to the UN, recognised Togo and Cameroon as Trustee Territories.
The Cameroonians who had fought wars against German colonialism, decided to fight for freedom. On April 10, 1947, some trade unionists and nationalists founded the anti-colonial party, the Union des Populations du Cameroon (Union of the Peoples of Cameroun) UPC. The UPC was established primarily, to separate Cameroon from France. Secondly, to establish a socialist economy and use the country’s resources for the general wellbeing of Cameroonians, and not, for France and the neo-colonial Cameroon elite it had established. Thirdly, to reunite British Cameroon with the rest of the country. Making little progress in the anti-colonial struggle, the UPC in December 1952, dragged France before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), demanding it repossess Cameroon, a UN Trusteeship, from the French, and, allow the people, unfettered independence. The UPC returned to the UNGA again in 1953 and 1954, making the same demands for independence.
Losing confidence in the UN’s commitment to the independence of colonised peoples, the party in April 1955, launched a “Proclamation Commune”, in which it declared Cameroon’s independence from France. On May 22, pro-independence protests broke out in the country and France not only resorted to brutal force to suppress the liberation fighters, but also banned the UPC on July 13, 1955.
France followed this up with the severe repression of Cameroonians. The year before, France had begun a similar suppression of the independence movement in Algeria; it was a criminal war in which the French slaughtered some two million Algerians. Simultaneously, it was engaged in a similar war in Vietnam, a colony it had split in two. But in the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Vietnamese on May 7, 1954, militarily defeated the French.
Fearing a similar humiliation, France deployed Lieutenant Colonel Jean Lamberton from Indo-China to stamp out the Cameroonian resistance to its continued colonisation. In a similar strategy its British brothers were adopting at that time in Kenya, the French burnt down villages and towns, built and herded the populace into camps called the Cameroun Pacification Zone (ZoPac), where they were tortured, starved, and sometimes executed. On September 13, 1958, the French military killed the UPC secretary general, Reuben Um Nyobe. In order to neutralise the UPC and hand over the country to pliant people, that same year France assisted Pro-French Cameroonian elites led by Alhaji Ahmadu Ahidjo, to establish the Union Camerounaise Party to which it handed over the country on January 1, 1960 in a symbolic gesture of independence. The UPC fought on for true independence. Ten months later, on November 3, 1960 agents of the French secret service, the Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE) poisoned the UPC president, Felix-Roland Moumie, in Geneva, Switzerland, in one of the most infamous murders in history.
On February 11, 1961, two referenda were held in British Cameroon, in which Northern Cameroon by 60 per cent voted to join Nigeria, while Southern Cameroon by 70.5 per cent, decided to join Cameroon. The understanding was that it would be a bilingual federation in which Southern Cameroon would have the status of a Special Area. The replacement of that federation with a unitary system, is what has led to today’s virtual civil war between Southern Cameroon and the rest of the country. The Southern Cameroon demand has transformed from federalism, to self-determination and now, secession. On August 31, 2006 the South Cameroon Peoples Organisation (SCAPO) declared Southern Cameroon, the Republic of Ambazonia.
In the rest of Cameroon itself, the repression, dictatorship and poor governance, has continued. President Ahidjo dictated for 22 years before handing over to President Paul Biya, who has remained in power for 36 years now. So, it is not just the South, but the entire Cameroon that is orphaned and needs salvation.
Owei Lakemfa, former secretary general of African workers is a human rights activist, journalist and author.