October 1: Cameroon anglophones ‘Independence Day’ of Mourning
Independence days are often one of great jubilation across many nations. Today, countries like Nigeria are arguable, having a celebration of their independence. The same cannot, however, be said of English-speaking Cameroonians, who can only live in fear of what might happen should anything go wrong during this day. It has become a day for many, characterised by fear, mourning, and lamentations, rather than one of celebration.
Today factions of Anglophone Cameroonians across the North West and the South West Regions of Cameroon have been timidly commemorating the supposed restoration of their independent state, now known as Ambazonia. The perceived restoration was declared by the self-proclaimed president, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe on October 1, 2017, igniting a secessionist war that has dragged on in Cameroon for close to four years. Julius Ayuk Tabe and 9 other separatist leaders are now serving a life sentence in Yaoundé central prison.
Ahead of today’s commemoration of Independence Day across Anglophone Cameroon, separatist fighters battling to legitimize their statehood of Ambazonia had released video clips of heightened preparations in Mamfe in the South West region and Batibo in the North West region.
October 1 since 2017, has been celebrated heavily in the various Sub Divisions with locals joining separate fighters in hoisting the Ambazonia flags at ceremonial grounds followed by a civilian and military match past.
The close to four years the secessionist conflict has seen villages burnt down, infrastructure destroyed and over three thousand people killed including children and women. Despite efforts by the Cameroon military to thwart the celebrations of October 1 each year, the event is always celebrated in most villages.
Ambazonia Diaspora that leads the secessionist war in Anglophone Cameroon has been making financial pledges and promises, holding fundraising events, and vowing that their journey of reaching Buea, the to be capital of the Ambazonia republic must be attained at all costs.
History of October 1
The Republic of Cameroon and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, former UN trusteeship territories administered by France and Britain respectively after the second world war each gained their independence in 1960.
Given that Northern Cameroons and Southern Cameroons were both administered by Britain autonomously as parts of Nigeria, they were asked to choose to gain independence by either joining Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroun. The Southern Cameroons voted to join the Republic of Cameroon while Northern Cameroons voted to join Nigeria.
Following that plebiscite that took place on February 11th, 1961, and the confirmation of the votes in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961, Southern Cameroons officially joined the Republic of Cameroon on October 1, 1961, to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
Frequent Lockdowns, a Burden to Many
Since the unilateral declaration of independence on October 1, 2017, the two Anglophone regions have been through untold misery from both ends. Separatist leaders and fighters on the ground have called for a boycott of schools, imposed ghost towns as ways of economic sabotage, and a claim to legitimacy. These moves however have only heaped more misery on the already suffering population as it has seen Anglophones in the regions go through incessant hardship.
According to Stephen Kiven, the frequent lockdowns have succeeded in separating his family and making him financially helpless “I have been forced to close my bar in Bamenda .my wife and children are with my sister in Yaoundé while I have been forced to relocate to Bafoussam. I have tried to re-establish my business in Bafoussam and yet it is not profitable. I am now trying to collect my few things and join my family in Yaoundé. I pray the war ends soon” he said.
For some, it is not only businesses that are shattered, their entire future lies in ruins because of decisions imposed on them by the hardship created by the conflict. “I’m now a teenage mother because of the conflict. I ran away from Belo to Bamenda with my family. In Bamenda, I shared one room with my parents. Imagine, an 18yeras old girl staying in one room with your mother, father, and four siblings. Things got so bad that I ran away to stay with my boyfriend, and it ended in pregnancy. I can’t afford for my baby and the father of my 7months bay has also run away leaving me with a baby and meaning I can’t continue with my education” lamented Tracy Samoh.
2020 October 1 in Context
Today’s October 1 commemoration across Anglophone Cameroon was feared might result in gun battles as there has been heavy military deployment across the two regions particularly to areas where separatist fighters are active. Few weeks to today’s event, five youths were summarily executed by the military in Bamenda and Buea respectively. It is therefore feared such scenes will be rife across the two regions today.
From SCNC to Anglophone Revolution
Traditionally celebrated by the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) as Independence Day, it used to be characterized by timidity, tribal, and even segmented with Bui and Ndonga –Mantung Divisions championing such celebrations. Nobody could muster the courage to hoist the blue and white stripes flag and stand talk less of tuning and even singing the national anthem. Stories of how such flags were fund in the morning on treetops in bushes appeared to be fairy tales. It used to be the affair of the retired men and women who many said were begging for death. On the day itself, police vans would ship in about a hundred to Bamenda from Kumbo and other areas, just to be released days after. Despite these intimidations characterising the day, there was no bloodshed. Since 2017, however, the situation has changed, with October 1st increasingly becoming a day of mourning rather than a celebration of freedom.
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