Independence or Federalism: The Unnecessary Fight
I have watched with a lot of interest the feud between proponents of independence and the supporters of federalism in the ongoing bloody and violent conflict in Southern Cameroons, especially attempts by the supporters of independence to snuff out, by all means possible, the voices of federalists.This unnecessary fight, I believe, is borne of ignorance on how the process of self-determination and the attainment of independence and international sovereignty works.
The history of the decolonization process teaches us that colonized/occupied/annexed territories hardly ever go from a state of colonization/occupation/annexation straight into independence. Between colonization/occupation/annexation and independence, there is always, almost obligatorily, an interim period of a self-governing autonomous status meant to prepare the territory for eventual independence.
As part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end the Sudan Civil War, South Sudan was granted a self-governing autonomous status for an interim period of six years (2005 to 2011). It was after those six years that South Sudanese voted in a referendum to either continue with their autonomous status within a united Sudan or become an independent state.
Similarly, under the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, Kurdistan gained a self-governing status with its own autonomous and regional government. In 2007 all the political parties in Kurdistan met and resolved to hold a referendum for full independence after 10 years (i.e. in 2017). Even though more than 90% of the population voted for independence, the bid failed. But Kurdistan retained its self-governing status.
Before its own failed bid for independence in 2017, Catalonia has enjoyed regional autonomy status since 1932.
The Palestinian Authority was set up in 1994 as the sole, recognized self-governing entity for the Palestinian people following the 1993 Oslo Accords. Its initial tenure was to be for an interim period of five years after which its definite status was to be determined within the purview of the “two-states solution” as the only viable pathway to the independence of Palestine.
These examples seek to prove one point: namely, that, any eventual independence for Southern Cameroons shall start with some form of a self-governing autonomous status within either a federation, a confederation, or a decentralized unitary state structure.
What is imperative for now is for all Southern Cameroons to come together, define and agree on an end-state for the ‘struggle’ that all parties (including the Cameroon Government) can live with. Tagging and labelling each other as federalists or “independencists” – and God alone knows what – is counter-productive and serves no useful purpose.
Given the way South Sudan turned out, the international community has developed a visceral and intestinal aversion to the break-up of States, especially fragile states with a complex ethno-linguistic, socio-cultural structure like Cameroon.
It, therefore, seems to me that some form of self-governance for Southern Cameroons is more feasible in the short and medium term and could be more amenable to the Cameroon Government and the international community.
So if Cardinal Tumi and his group can negotiate and obtain a self-governing autonomous status for SC, take it, consolidate it, and pass on the baton to the pro-independence group to continue the fight.
The complexity of this ‘struggle’ demands that federalists and “independencists” should be working with and supporting each other, not fighting and calling each other atrocious names. For the outcome of one shall determine the success of the other.
And to end, there shall never be a military solution to the conflict in Anglophone Cameroon. I am again urging all parties concerned to stop beating the drums of war; to genuinely seek a political settlement and to take steps to end the senseless slaughter of our youth (on both sides) and the suffering of the population.