Cameroonian Separatists Demand Freedom not Unification

Cameroonian separatists have sworn to keep fighting until they are “free”, despite a “National Dialogue” hosted last week to propose measures to reunite the country.

Under new proposals, the country would be renamed the “United Republic of Cameroon”, reunifying Anglophone and Francophone areas, after decades of postcolonial tensions.

Following the dialogue, President Paul Biya ordered the release of prominent opposition leader, Maurice Kamto, from detention. Members and supporters of Kamto’s party, the Cameroonian Renaissance Movement (CRM) were also released.

Kamto, and 200 of his CRM members and supporters were arrested in January during peaceful nationwide protests against the Francophone-majority Cameroonian government. The Anglophone regions in the Northwest and Southwest regions have alleged discrimination from the Francophone government, to the detriment of their region. In June, vice president of the CRM, Mamadou Mota, along with another 350 party members and support members were also arrested during countrywide demonstrations.

“The release of Kamto and other opponents is excellent news,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But Kamto, his allies, and supporters should never have been arrested and prosecuted in the first place for simply organizing peaceful protests.”

Kamto was charged with crimes that could carry the death penalty, including, insurrection, inciting insurrection, hostility against the homeland, criminal association, threats to public order, and rebellion. He was released on the last day of the “National Dialogue”, and all charges were dropped.

The three-year ongoing conflict in the nation has brought the country to a standstill. 3,000 people have been killed, and 500,000 have lost their homes. In 2006, teachers, layers and students in the Anglophone region began protests again the prevalent use of French in Cameroonian schools and courts. Large scale protests symbolised the proclamation of a new independent state, “Ambazonia”, against what they termed the discrimination of Francophone-Cameroon against Anglophone-Cameroonians.

Protesters were met with lethal force.

Samira Daoud, Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns at Amnesty International West and Central Africa said: “People in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions are in the grip of a deadly cycle of violence. Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians.”

In 2018, Amnesty International published a report that declared: “Armed separatists in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have stabbed to death and shot military personnel, burned down schools and attacked teachers [who did not enforce the teaching boycott], while security forces have tortured people, fired on crowds and destroyed villages, in a spiral of violence that keeps getting more deadly.”

Unlawful detention of people thought to be pro-Ambazonian were carried out under charges related to “terrorism” and “national security”

One man, tortured by security forces, recounted that: “They tied our hands behind our backs, gagged us and tied our faces with our towels and shorts, which they tore. They, then made us lie in the water, face down for about 45 minutes,” stating that “during three days, they beat us with shovels, hammers, planks, and cables, kicked us with their boots and poured hot water on us… when I tried to move and shouted, one of them used the cigarette he was smoking to burn me.”

Despite Kamto’s release, thousands of detainees have not been released following the National Dialogue. The new proposals have also not reached an acceptable resolution for Anglophone-separatists.

“Ambazonians” want to return to a post-independence federal system that gave Anglophone regions more self-governing autonomy. Under new proposals, the Republic of Cameroon will become “the United Republic of Cameroon”, under leadership of a President and local governors.

Jean Emmanuel Pondi, a professor of political science who championed the new proposals, said: “for Anglophones, it is a return to normalcy.

“It used to be an administration of proximity where things are done by the people, for the people, and in the right moment.

“The problem with the centralisation of power is precisely that things are done miles and miles away, by people who have no idea of the consequences of the decisions they are taking.”

Opinions to these proposals, however, were divided. Akere Muna, a political leader and former Cameroon representative of Transparency International, said: “Speakers were pre-arranged. You couldn’t even ask a question. It was stage-managed. So they were actually looking for spectators, not participants.”

Separatists have vowed to keep fighting until “Ambazonia is freed”. Ivo Tapang, a spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia announced: “We will not accept an olive branch from someone whose troops are still in our territory.”

“We will intensify our struggle with guns and bullets.”

The Ambazonian fight for freedom mirrors Biafra’s fight for independence in neighbouring Nigeria. Deep colonial wounds left behind by Europeans, ignorant of the customs of African civilisations, cannot be simplified into a war-cry for freedom.

Biafra’s failure would be repeated in South Sudan in 2011. Where South Sudan gained its freedom, Biafra did not.

Today, cooperation between all three regions of this amalgamated nation promoted Nigeria to Africa’s giant. Tribal violence and tension is a global story. Freedom is an easy fix in deference to the long, arduous labour of unification and cooperation.

Freedom will only begin a new cycle of violence for Anglophone-separatists.