A group known as the Coalition for Referendum has seen the light of day in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons. The said coalition has as Spokesperson, Dr. Denis Atemnkeng, a seasoned scholar, and international civil servant has shown interest in the freedom of Southern Cameroons for several years. In the following interview granted to Benjamin Ngah of Timescape Magazine, Dr. Atemnkeng argues that while some leaders have been stressing on dialogue, some other Southern Cameroonians believe that a referendum is a better and shorter route to permanently and peacefully ending the bitter war between Ambazonia and Paul Biya’s République du Cameroun.
In this sizzling conversation, Dr. Atemnkeng begins by explaining his position, highlighting the reasons that made him want to be the spokesperson for such a coalition.
Let me begin by saying that I am a strong advocate of the referendum solution. That is why I was chosen as the spokesperson for the Coalition for Referendum. This is not the moment for me to tell you about the coalition because the content of its beliefs is more important than who they are. Let me say only that it comprises all those who support the idea of a referendum, whether such supporters are federalists, independentists, or unionists. This is to tell you that there are many individuals and groups in Ambazonia working quietly for our people.
How can people with conflicting perspectives, such as independentists, federalists, and unionists form a coalition?
They can form a coalition because they all agree on the supremacy of the will of the people. They all agree that the future of the Southern Cameroons can only be decided by the people of the Southern Cameroons. Those are the shared values that brought believers in a referendum together. Each of these groups understands that its opinions are only its opinions, not those of most of the people of the Southern Cameroons. Supporters of a referendum believe that in as much as they each wish to stick to their respective views, the only people to make the final decision are the people of the Southern Cameroons themselves. And the best way of doing that is through a referendum. That is why it is a coalition restricted on the advocacy for a referendum only.
From what you are saying, the coalition for referendum appears a melting pot for all those who believe that the people must be given the opportunity to decide what they want for themselves.
The fact that I am not a member of either of these groups and yet have been chosen as the spokesperson for their common aim goes further to show you that if you are a strong believer in the referendum solution, you are very welcome. Any organization can therefore be a member on conditions. Membership of the coalition is restricted to all those individuals or organizations that believe the future of the people of Southern Cameroons can only be decided by the people of the Southern Cameroons. Secondly, potential members of the coalition must believe that a referendum is one of the shortest pathways to peace and justice. These are the only criteria for membership.
So, how are you going about this?
We shall jointly push to convince our people, the international community, and La République du Cameroun to agree to an UN-organized referendum for the people of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons as the shortest, best, and dignified way of ending this barbaric war. We shall in the nearest future set up a campaign for this purpose. We count on the support of our people who believe that a referendum is the best option for the peaceful resolution of this genocidal war. With their support, we shall do everything to get the referendum.
If a referendum is accepted, your coalition would have to campaign for either federalism or for independence. How are you going to manage this?
If a UN referendum is accepted by all sides, it would be considered as a victory for the coalition and the people of the Southern Cameroons. Each of the groups shall go out and campaign for what they believe in federalists for a federation and independentists for independence. It is obvious that federalists will be encouraging potential voters to vote for federalism, while independentists would be campaigning for independence.
Would that not be a contradiction?
Not at all. It would be a great sense of understanding of how coalitions work. It is a sign of maturity, mutual respect for other people’s views. The purpose of the coalition is to push for an UN-organized referendum, while each group remains with its belief. Note that, none of these organizations would be interfering in the activities and or management of each other.
Back to the basics, so what really is a referendum?
A referendum is a direct vote by the people on any issue of paramount importance requiring that all who have attained voting age should freely express their wishes. All who have attained voting age have a right to vote because there is no attempt to deny anyone their voice. A referendum is so far the only genuine way to hear directly from the people themselves. Basically, a referendum is a direct expression of a People on certain issues through voting.
Some people regard a referendum as “tyranny of the majority”. Others think people are prone to deceit, propaganda, intimidation, and ignorance. This cannot be an excuse to deny people the right to make their own decisions.
Why does your coalition think a referendum is an answer to the ongoing genocidal war in Southern Cameroons?
We know there are different opinions on this matter. However, this coalition believes the best decision must come from the people themselves. Individual opinions or the opinion of the oppressor and their sponsors cannot become the law to be imposed on the rest of the people of the Southern Cameroons. With a referendum, we can know what the majority opinion among the people of Southern Cameroons is. The imposition of any solution on our people is dictatorial and unacceptable. A referendum is a democratic process that is right and universally acceptable. With the referendum process, we are all constrained to bow to the opinion of the majority. A referendum is the best way to prevent unionists, federalists and, or independentists from imposing themselves or their ideas on our people.
A referendum provides a level playing field for all parties in this conflict (unionists, federalists, and independentists). A referendum stands as an equal opportunity for all stakeholders to make their opinions prevail. Believers in a referendum are those who know that their personal opinions should not be the law binding on the people. If you are a respectful unionist, and you understand your views might not reflect the views of others, and you are ready and willing to accept and respect the decision of the majority of Southern Cameroonians, then the referendum is what you should be seeking. If you are a federalist who respects the opinions of others, and you believe in the rule of the majority, then the referendum is for you. If you are an independentist, unwilling to impose your sovereign state of Ambazonia on others, then you must be tolerant enough to allow others to express themselves freely through a referendum. If any of these groups do not want a referendum, then they are like imperialists seeking to subdue and impose their form of state on the people of the Southern Cameroons. People who refuse to respect the wishes of their people are believers in their own dictatorship and think that their opinion must be the law. We do believe the people’s voice must count and their decision must be heard and respected. If we all accept that we are all citizens of the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, then the future of our people must be decided by the people, through a referendum. The decision must not come from Yaounde, Paris, London, or Washington, DC.
Are there precedents; or should I say your coalition is trying to introduce something new?
The good news is that there have been precedents. We have carefully studied past and similar cases. Our people do not seem to understand that other conflicts like ours all ended up being decided in a referendum. I am referring to cases like Eritrea, East Timor, South Sudan, Algeria, Bougainville, etc.
Do you think it is a mistake that all of them were resolved only through referenda? Governance is about the people. The voice of the people of the Southern Cameroons should matter. The reason is that both French Cameroun and Ambazonian nationalist movements claim to be fighting for the people of Southern Cameroons. The international community must respect the voice and wishes of the people since the people are the ones bearing the brunt of the massacre on the ground. We are telling the international community and other key players on our side that the victims of this war have a right to speak for themselves. Look, sir, the voice of the people is sovereign and above all laws; whether domestic or international. There is no way this conflict can end peacefully without the voice of the people of the Southern Cameroons being heard. They can only be heard through a referendum.
The imposition of a system on us by outsiders will not work; it has not worked and all current attempts to force us into subjugation are not working. We are fighting a war of self-determination like the Algerian war of independence, Kosovo, South Sudan, Eritrea, East Timor, and Bougainville. Only the voice of the people can give legitimacy to any government and any claim.
The CDN Survey showed that over 70% of Southern Cameroonians believe an UN-organized referendum is the best solution to end this armed conflict. Apparently, the people of Southern Cameroons have read the history.
Ambazonians are very educated. We sometimes undermine the intelligence of Southern Cameroonians. We sometimes try to impose our ideas on Ambazonians instead of pushing forward the will of the people. It is disappointing to see that we ignore the wishes of our people, probably for some personal satisfaction.
Southern Cameroonians might not have read the history. However, they have a good sense of judgment. Our people understand that a referendum is the best, most transparent, most democratic, and universally accepted approach to resolving all contentious matters relating to self-determination or matters of great importance to the people.
Ambazonians are aware that an UN-organized referendum is a platform from which the people of the Southern Cameroons can be heard in this conflict. The Southern Cameroons Coalition for a Referendum strongly believes that we all have a voice and that our voices should be heard. This coalition strongly believes that this armed conflict cannot be resolved by ignoring the people of the Southern Cameroons. We are the principal victims in this war and that is why we applaud the intelligence of those Southern Cameroonians who suggest that our people must be consulted through a referendum.
NB: Part two of this interview will be up soon!