Understanding October 1, 1961: Southern Cameroons Independence Day
To understand the Anglophone crisis, there is a need to have a mastery of the pre and post-independence era. That history cannot be told without October 1.
In February 1961, Southern Cameroons became independent. This followed the UN-organised plebiscite which had asked Southern Cameroonians, in essence: Do you wish to have INDEPENDENCE (our emphasis) by joining Nigeria or La Republique du Cameroun.
Southern Cameroonians, overwhelmingly, voted to join La Republique du Cameroun, “their brothers”.
The Fon Achirimbi of Bafut had dismissed the Two Alternatives by referring to the fact the Hobson choice Southern Cameroons had was to either join the ravaging “fire” in La Republique or the turbulent “water” in Nigeria. Both countries, to him, were disasters. He opted for self-determination. His words were ignored. And, so, following that post-plebiscite independence, Southern Cameroons officially joined La Republique du Cameroun on October 1, 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
From that date, Southern Cameroons, which, hitherto, became known as West Cameroon, has witnessed nothing but marginalisation and domination and subjugation, and colonisation and discrimination and cultural genocide. For instance, institutions that blossomed and gave a sense of pride to the people were either transferred to La Republique or simply neutralised or crippled.
Cameroon Bank, a flourishing bank before reunification, had its headquarters transferred to Yaounde. It was mismanaged, pillaged with impunity, and liquidated.
Another vibrant institution, the Produce Marketing Organisation, PMO, which protected the interests of toiling farmers, was transferred from Victoria to Douala, and, then in Douala, it was milked dry and eventually collapsed. In 1993, the Cameroon Anglophone Movement, CAM, issued a blistering release reeling a chilling catalogue of woes visited on Southern Cameroons by La Republique du Cameroun. “They,” the release said, “gave us the status of slaves and beggars, they killed our brothers, beat us up, maimed, raped, looted, suffocated us with teargas, jailed us unjustly, and bleak the future of our children’s education.”
Francophone functionaries posted to Anglophone Cameroon are considered consuls and referred to as forces of occupation. Because of the litany of grievances, Southern Cameroonians have, of late, become radicalised and strident about the restoration of the status of the territory ante-1961.
This option is eloquently articulated by the Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, whose motto is “the force of argument not the argument of force.” They advocate for a return to federalism.
The SCNC argue that Southern Cameroonians play second fiddle in the affairs of Cameroon.
That is why they say, no native of Southern Cameroon has ever been appointed to the prestigious and powerful position of Secretary General at the Presidency.
The same is true of the key Ministries of Territorial Administration or Finance or Defence or Education.
Besides, they contend while the union has lasted, “Our union accord has been violated. We have been disenfranchised, marginalised, and treated with suspicion. Our interests have been disregarded. Our participation in national life has been limited to non-essential functions. Our natural resources have been ruthlessly exploited without any benefit accruing to our territory or to its people. Through maneuvers and manipulations, we have been reduced from partners of equal status in the Union to the status of a subjugated people. You would imagine that the above indignities are awesome enough. No. The Anglophone jeremiad has only started” echoed Anglophone leaders decades ago…a worry which lingers on.
Anglophones in the Buea Declaration further fulminate against the Francophone colonial masters for the “exploitation and rape of our economy, destroying the inherited road infrastructure, mounting ubiquitous checkpoints that restrict free movement, entrenching the policy of divide and rule, marginalisation, egregious human rights abuses, discrimination in education and training, domination and the international isolation of Anglophone Cameroon.”
One is compelled to agree with V.T. Le Vine when he posits: “The wisdom of hindsight now permits us to conclude that the federation was probably doomed from the start and that it was a necessary transition to the unitary state Ahidjo and his colleagues had wanted all along.”
Although there was clearly collusion by Francophone ‘hegemonists’ to annihilate Anglophone Cameroon, Anglophone leaders, themselves, went a long way to facilitate the dismantling of their State. Politics in West Cameroon was characterised by internecine bickering, fruitless squabbles, and backstabbing. Ahidjo, ever the astute politician, exploited the cleavages: coercing here, cajoling there, and threatening elsewhere.
In fact, as an aftermath of the aborted Foumban talks, Anglophone leaders proceeded, to a man, to carving their personal political fortunes.
By the way, the Southern Cameroons delegation to Foumban, where they were expected to engineer the Federal Constitution, was composed, mainly, of Headmasters with scant knowledge of Constitutional Law while their counterparts from La Republique du Cameroun were assisted by a battery of French legal luminaries.
The Francophones and their French mentors dictated the terms of the accord. In the end, the Anglophone team merely danced away the State of Southern Cameroons with the giraffe-necked Foumbam belles put on display for that effect.
From all indications, the marriage consummated on October 1, 1961, seems to have hit the rocks. While one partner is clamouring for that tumultuous wedlock to be dissolved, the other partner is gleefully and eloquently silent on the matter.
In the meantime, the situation deteriorates. It is a time bomb, someone has said, that is ticking silently, but ticking nonetheless.
Paradoxically, October 1, 1961, which was supposed to liberate the colonised people of Southern instead signaled the debut of an agonizing nightmare.
After the darkness of 1961, Southern Cameroons died on May 20, 1972, with the putative ‘Peaceful Revolution’ that transformed the Federal Republic into the United Republic of Cameroon.
In spite of the outcry that they had been given a raw deal, President Biya, with the stroke of the presidential pen, in 1984, decreed that the country be renamed the Republic of Cameroon! The political evolution had come full circle. Southern Cameroon was, for all intents and purposes, buried.
The legitimate question at this point should be: and, now, the way forward? Only one: dialogue. Kofi Annan, the late erstwhile UN Secretary-General, said so.
Recently, the Banjul Verdict said so. It will be recalled that, after failing to get a hearing from the Cameroon authorities, SCNC activists took the matter to the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights in Banjul.
The complaint, according to SCNC and SCAPO “was illustrated by a detailed and photographic catalogue of the arrests, detentions, imprisonment without trial, torture, rape, extrajudicial killings, in short, the campaign of state-sponsored terrorism which the people of the Southern Cameroons have been subjected to since October 1, 1961, in flagrant violation of the provisions of the African Charter.”
In delivering its verdict, the Commission called on both parties “to enter into a constructive dialogue to resolve the constitutional issues, as well as grievances which could threaten national unity.
The African Commission, in that same ruling, went further and placed its good offices at the disposal of the parties to mediate an amicable solution and to ensure the effective implementation of the above recommendations.
There has been no response from the brothers-enemies.
Another October 1 is here, this time is suppressed by curfew amid deepening dissenting voices in the English Speaking regions of Cameroon.
The unanswered questions: For how long and when will genuine, inclusive dialogue finally begin?
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