The President of the putative state known as the Federal Republic of Ambazonia has in a rare interview with Timescape Magazine stated that his continued incarceration will not deter the fight for the independence of the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons.
Sisiku Julius AyukTabe and nine members of cabinet were sentenced for life by the Yaounde Military Court on August 20, 2019, on a range of charges, including “terrorism and secession” and “hostility against the state.”
They were also asked to pay a joint fine of CFA F 250 billion ($422 million, €381 million) to the state.
Sisiku AyukTabe now says their continued incarceration is a testament to the resolve of Southern Cameroonians aka Ambazonians to break away, restore the independence of the former UN Trust territory and rename it Ambazonia.
“Ambazonia,” covers the predominately English-speaking regions of the agglomeration that emerged from a federal arrangement between the Frenc-speaking Republic of Cameroon and the British Southern Cameroons, at the behest of the United Nations in 1961. Southern Cameroonians represent representing 20% of the country’s nearly 30 million inhabitants.
“I speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters who all are arbitrarily and unjustly detained or imprisoned like me by La République du Cameroun (LRC),” AyukTabe said.
“I salute the courage and strength of our self-defense forces and all those actively engaged in our struggle for a free homeland, Ambazonia. I exhort all our people to keep doing the right things and to be rest assured that every effort in this resistance will culminate in a free and independent Ambazonia.”
The putative state of Ambazonia was declared by Southern Cameroons pro-independence movements in October 2017, prompting a swift military crackdown from the government.
It all started in 2016 when teachers and lawyers in the mainly English-speaking regions took to the streets to protest what they claimed was the ‘Francophonization’ of the Common Law and Education systems in operation in the regions.
The government took a hardline, and what was initially a peaceful strike mutated into a political crisis. A pro-independence wing ensued, demanding outright self-determination for the former UN Trust Territory, and making clear their intention to rename it Ambazonia. A violent and arguably brutish response by the Cameroon government resulted in some of the movements picking up arms to promote their cause.
By 2022, the conflict had claimed the lives of at least 6,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, according to the International Crisis Group. More than 70,000 others have sought refuge in Nigeria.
But what happened in 2016 was the culmination of decades of what the people of the former UN Trust Territory have always said were attempts by the majority Francophones to marginalize and assimilate them.
Once a German colony, Cameroon was split between the victorious powers when Germany was defeated in the First World War. France got 80% of the territory and Britain got 20%. The two sides were thus administered separately under UN mandates until 1961 when the British Southern Cameroons voted in an UN-organized Plebiscite to achieve independence by joining the Republic of Cameroon that had already gotten its independence from France.
The two parties agreed on a federation of two states equal in status. But a controversial referendum in 1972 dismantled the federal structure, and English speakers have complained that the centralization of power was meant to foster an agenda of their assimilation.
Sisiku AyukTabe says each day spent in prison is a testament to the resolve of citizens of the former UN Trust Territory to be free.
“We are here because of our unquenchable quest for the restoration of the Statehood of the Southern Cameroons which the La République du Cameroun system does not imagine or accept can be realized,” he said.
“We are here because of the La République du Cameroun’s system’s continuous attempt to shield the truth that La République du Cameroun and the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons (which pro-independence movements call Ambazonia) are two different nations. We are here because Cameroun wrongfully thinks that the unquenchable spirit of self-determination and self-realization of the People of Ambazonia can be silenced by violence.”
The ten men were picked up at the Nera Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria on January 5th, 2018, and held incommunicado for 20 days, before they were transferred to Cameroon. A speedy trial at the Yaounde Military Court ended with life sentences being handed down to them.
“We are still here because LRC and Nigeria do not respect the rule of Law,” Sisiku AyukTabe said, recalling that there are two standing judgments from the Abuja High Court in 2019 “…for our release. Also remember that the UN Working Group in October 2022 upheld our kidnap and detention as arbitrary and ordered for our immediate release. Yet we are still here today.”
“However, we are certain that in the end justice will prevail; we will leave this place and Ambazonia will take its rightful place in the Comity of Nations,” he said.
Sisiku AyukTabe also addressed the infighting that has characterized the Ambazonia struggle following his incarceration. He downplayed such internal discord, noting that the only enemy Southern Cameroonians have are those “standing on our way to a free and independent Ambazonia.”
“Differences and disagreements are not new and limited to us. Within families, they are bound to arise, but eventually only the truth prevails. Our collective desire for the freedom of our people overrides all the differences or disagreements in question.”
Sisiku AyukTabe also revealed that several meetings have been held between the government and the ten prisoners with the aim of examining pathways to exiting the crisis. He, however, blasted the government for maintaining a deafening silence after such meetings.
“That there has been long silence after all such meetings can be attributed to the unwillingness of the government of Cameroun to engage in constructive negotiations,” he said.
Sisiku AyukTabe emphasized that he is ready to negotiate with the government, but that such negotiations would be predicated on one thing only-the independence of Ambazonia.
In 2019, the Cameroon government organized what it called ‘a major national dialogue’ to try and bring the crisis to an end. The dialogue came up with a broad range of proposals, including the adoption of a special status for the region representing the territory of Southern Cameroons, the restoration of the House of Traditional Chiefs, the immediate re-launch of certain airport and seaport projects in the region, the rapid integration of ex-combatants into society, a commission to promote bilingualism and multi-culturalism, etc…
Cameroon’s professor of Political Science and a known sympathizer of the Ambazonia struggle, Immanuel Tatah Mentan has dismissed these proposals as detracting from the real issues.
“Do you need a Bilingual Commission to go around preaching to people to live together? If you do, there is something seriously wrong with the social nexus. It means you need to revise your political engineering of society”, he told Timescape Magazine.
“The danger is that of a Frankenstein Monster offering the possibility of citizens of La République du Cameroun either being intentionally or unintentionally coded as Southern Cameroonians in a so-called vacuous Special Status,” he said.
Noting that in all circumstances “peace is always wiser than war,” Mentan, however, noted that peace should never be graveyard peace.
“This raging war has demonstrated that Southern Cameroonians are totally distinct and to La République du Cameroun society. It has blown the balloon of the nagging paranoia. This paranoia spans out in that, one group has difficulty in empathizing with the other group; is less sensitive and does not think twice before expressing opinions which might hurt them; does not respect other people’s opinions; does not respect other’s boundaries; are self-obsessed and do not take interest in knowing other people well so they do not connect well with them to form strong bonds; and, are constantly pessimistic and negative and others do not find their company enjoyable. These are the characteristics of the incompatibility index I am talking about, and such groups can never live peacefully together. Each will always be at the neck of the other, even as slave and master. This divide is simply too great, and people on both sides are dug in, unwilling to see anything from the other side’s point of view.”
He said the divides are so deep that he doesn’t see any healing happening anytime soon, “even if people have very short memories of hate.”
But the Cameroon government isn’t buying into this narrative of Southern Cameroonians being removed from the centers of power.
“The supposed feeling of marginalization by the people of the North-West and South-West Regions has often been advanced to justify this crisis. On this score, I wish to remind our compatriots in these regions, but also to those in the other eight regions of Cameroon, that marginalization, exclusion, or stigmatization have never guided the work of the various governments I have formed since I became president of our country,” Biya said in an address to the nation on September 10, 2019.
The President insisted that “the corporate demands” by Anglophone lawyers and teachers have been exploited and distorted by “radical movements, mainly inspired from abroad.”
“They have thus hatched a secessionist plan to partition our country. In this regard, they have formed and financed armed groups that have caused untold harm to the population of the North-West and South-West Regions.”
The President has continued to call on the pro-independence movements to drop their arms and join the national Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration centers, but has insisted that Cameroon will remain a “one and indivisible country.”
Mentan says such calls are deceitful, because “Satan can never show you the way to heaven for salvation.”