For the past two years, heartbreaking stories, photos and videos from Cameroon have been shared in different forms of media. About 120 villages in Southern Cameroons (English Region of Cameroon) have been burnt down by the Cameroonian military. As a result, many international organizations like Amnesty International, Human Right Watch, US State Department etc… have reported cases of women being raped, tortured, abducted and countless occasion of extra judicial killings by the same Cameroon army and police.
As a result, children in the English region have not been able to attend school for two academic years. This past week, violence escalated but this time in a different part of Africa. Riots and protests hit different cities and towns in Uganda following the arrest and torture of a young musician turned Member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as “Bobby Wine”. These two different situations in Cameroon and Uganda share certain commonalities but I will discuss Uganda in my next article.
Cameroon, the country of great footballers like Roger Milla, who still holds the record of the oldest player to score in a FIFA World cup, and also Cameroon becoming the first African country to reach quarter finals on the FIFA World cup, has very interesting statistics and history.
Cameroon is a big country. Southern Cameroon alone, is a region with about 8 million people, is larger than 17 countries around the world in size and population. The region is rich in oil, gold, rare minerals and cash crops. During the great depression of 1930s, Cameroon was one of the countries that sent aid to New York City to feed the people of America, who were facing starvation?
Cameroon in general has more than 1700 different linguistic groups which makes it culturally very rich and diverse. It is also one of the few countries with unusual gender demographics where there are more men than women.
Despite this great heritage, Cameroon has lately been in the news for some very wrong reasons. Apart from jailing the two men who were accused of “looking gay”, it has the longest running dictatorship on earth.
The 85-year-old President Paul Biya has been at the helm since 1975, first as a prime minister and then as president from 1982 till present. In his 43 years in power, he has used his office to commit some of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen.
Dating back to colonial times, The Republic of Cameroon, a country that embraced diversity when it gained independence in 1st January 1960, adopted two official languages and belonged to both the Commonwealth of Nations (former British colonies) and Francophonie (former French colonies), is now no longer at peace with its diversity.
The Former British Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons, commonly known today as Ambazonia, was granted independence according to United Nations Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961 by deceitfully joining the Republic of Cameroon. They were 64 Nations including the United States, Great Britain and Northern Ireland voted yes to Southern Cameroons independence.
The question many Africans keep asking is how the European colonialists with impunity, traded their countries without due regard to the interest of local communities. Most of these conflicts would have been avoided in Africa especially Cameroon where the United Nations granted an independent British Trust Territory (Southern Cameroons) independence by joining another already independent country (French Cameroon)!
The agreement to form a Federal Republic of Cameroon after the UN sanctioned plebiscite, did not hold for long as the more dominant Francophone region, with the help of France, changed the constitution to form a Unitary State in 1972, thus succeeding from the original agreement. The original two star symbol on the flag was changed to one star, and many Cameroonian scholars in the US that I spoke with like Daniel Tekoh, Amy Lorraine Dalton, Valentine Eben and Mr. Njiban, identified this as the beginning of the current situation. Discrimination, marginalization, and disenfranchisement of the Anglophone region of Cameroon escalated. President Paul Biya has used his connection to France and the interest of the western nations in oil and gas in Anglophone region to remain in power for more than four decades.
For many years there have been waves of protest over this “stepchild” status. Most of these protests have been led by students, lawyers and teachers, who bear the brunt of this inequality in the classroom, courtroom and the civil society. These protests arise in response to efforts by the Cameroonian regime to dismantle Ambazonia’s effective and popular network of Parent-Teacher Associations, (PTA), who laid basic complaint that forceful teaching of their children by French teacher who do not understand English makes their studies harder. The lawyers added that introducing French Magistrate and Judges in English courts with no translator is unfair and keeps English Magistrate and Judges with same trainings, jobless
The most recent wave of protests, which began in October 2016, was led by lawyers, who were responding to an attempt to dismantle the Ambazonian common law–based judicial system and replace it with the French colonial civil law system, as well as to force trials to be conducted in French. The Cameroon military responded to these peaceful protests with lethal force, killing over 400 defenseless civilians, according to activists on the ground.
The following year, on the anniversary of the lawyer-led uprising, under the leadership of Sissiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, Anglophone Cameroonians declared the region of Ambazonia as an independent state. An interim government was formed who laid claim to a territory whose borders are the same as the UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons under British rule (1922-1961).
As usual, President Paul Biya’s government response was swift and furious. The military was deployed in the region with brutal force, discriminately killing innocent citizens, wanton destruction of property were carried out, blowing up bridges, burning homes and raping women. Over 160 000 refugees who crossed the border into Nigeria were pursued in the camps and many of them are unaccounted for up to now. More 200,000 Internally Displaced People, about 5000 arrested and locked up in French Cameroon prisons, about 5000 dead or missing. The 47 leaders, lawyers, teachers and activists’ refugees from that region were rounded up Nigeria and falsely returned to Cameroon breaking thus international treaties. Some of them died in solitary confinement or are missing.
According to a witness interviewed by Human Rights Watch (2018), who narrated the brutality meted on the people, “four elderly women left behind during government operations in Kwakwa, Bole, and Mongo Ndor and were reported burnt alive in their homes. Security forces allegedly shot dead several others in Kwakwa, Wone, Bole, and Belo, including seven people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing.”
The people of Southern Cameroons, have fought back, organized campaigns and protests across the globe with little success due to the complicated international natural resources-based diplomacy. President Paul Biya, a great violator of human rights, is a darling of the west, and the Chair of 73rd Session of United Nations Budget Committee, who spends most of his time in Switzerland and France. He has so much clout and confidence, that he recently announced his bid for the office of president slatted for 7 October 2018, which will be his 7th run. If he follows through with his intention of running, then he will be 92 years old by the end of that term!! This can only mean more misery to the affected region and escalation of violence. The people of Anglophone region are not enthusiastic about the elections.
The people of Southern Cameroons need your help, and United States citizens have the power to help. Each year, Cameroon gets $131,932,848 in bilateral aid from US taxes payers, and the planned amount for 2019 is over $45 million. This is in addition to millions of dollars from US-funded IMF and World Bank multilateral aid. We have a right and responsibility to help!
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both published reports on the human rights violations committed by the long serving dictator, President Paul Biya. Yet despite repeated requests by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate credible assertions of human rights violations, Mr. Biya’s regime has, incredibly, denied access to this office! Pending legislation HR 6385 and S.3108 would solve this problem by demanding US action against this sort of impudence.
Talk to your local congressman/woman to support and push for House Resolution 6385 to be amended to include the Cameroon specific language for the accompanying Senate Bill S. 3108. Join any local group in your area that condemns the violations of human rights in Cameroon. If you live in New York, you can join Amnesty International Bronx Chapter, which has partnered with other Cameroon diaspora groups in lobbying Congress and organizing campaigns and actions in support of peace in that region. The next event will be a public protest rally at the United Nations in New York City on September 21th from12 noon to 5pm. All of you are welcome to participate.
As a disclaimer, Amnesty International does support not any political opinion in Cameroon. The main goal for AI is to research on human rights violations, publish reports, create awareness, put pressure on the leaders by writing letters, organizing campaigns and protest rallies. This article benefitted from the reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN, US State department and Cameroonian diaspora groups.
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Nick Ogutu is the President of Amnesty International Bronx New York Chapter