Crisis in the Republic of Cameroon Written Statement by Felix Agbor Nkongho Founder and Chairman, Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
June 27, 2018
Good afternoon, Chairman Christopher Smith, Ranking Member Karen Bass and Esteemed Members of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organisations. Thank you for this opportunity to make a statement before you. Thank you as well for highlighting the crisis in Cameroon. The people of Southern Cameroons and all Cameroonians will highly appreciate this hearing on the prolonged crisis.
I am Felix Agbor Nkongho, a human rights lawyer, non violent activist and founder of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA).The views I express in this testimony are my own and will represent shared sentiments from Southern Cameroonians and Cameroonians.
Over the last 20 months, Cameroon has been the focus of a nation sliding into civil war in Africa, from what started in November 2016 as legitimate grievances by English-speaking lawyers, teachers, students and civil society over the prolonged marginalisation of Southern Cameroonians but peaceful protests turned deadly when the government military shot at peaceful protesters, wounding many and killing several. In my capacity as leader of the lawyers,teachers and civil society organisations who presented the government with grievances, we equally made ourselves available to dialogue for a quick solution. Unfortunately, during the dialogue process, the government rejected talks over a return to federalism which existed from 1961-1972 which guaranteed bilingualism, biculturalism, bijuralism, equal opportunity for all, and provided constitutional provisions for power sharing, economic independence and freedoms.
To the dismay of the national, regional and international community, the Cameroon government began arresting activists and leaders including myself. Internet was shut down for 3 months and all forms of dissent were stifled, forcing hundreds into exile.I was charged before the military court with several counts including terrorism, which carried the death penalty. This sparked radicalization of the population and reignited the quest for complete independence of the territory, Southern Cameroons. After several months of protests and calls for the release of all detainees, François Lonseny Fall, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa(UNOCA) visited the maximum security prison where we had a meeting, after which he called on the government to release leaders and other detainees.
In August 2017, President Paul Biya ordered the release of several detainees including myself but avoided dialogue prompting mass protest in September2017with estimated 500,000 people. The government’s response was a brutal crackdown which led to a declaration of independence on October 1, 2017. While approximately 900,000 unarmed protesters were celebrating this declaration, government troops shot at thousands with automatic rifles and helicopters, this marked the start of military attacks upon villages, orders for villages to be evacuated, mass exodus of villagers into Nigeria creating 50,000 refugees and 200,000 internally displaced persons today.All of these prompted an armed campaign by civilians to defend their villages and homes, leading to full-blown armed insurgency.
Cameroon has many features of crisis ridden countries, including its hyper centralized government, weak institutions, endemic corruption, regional tensions, political manipulations, rigged elections and a personalized leadership. While Boko Haram remains a threat to stability and security, the Southern Cameroons crisis represents a more deadly and serious armed conflict which could last longer if not solved. Boko Haram has killed 200 soldiers, gendarmes and policemen including 1900 civilians in 4 years but the Southern Cameroons crisis has killed 90 soldiers, gendarmes and policemen including 3000 civilians in 8 months of armed conflict.
A solution to the Southern Cameroons crisis does not represent a solution to the Cameroon problem, likewise a solution to the Cameroon problem does not address and solve the Southern Cameroons crisis.
Background of the Southern Cameroons crisis
The birth of the Federal Republic of Cameroon on 1st October 1961 marked the reunification of two territories that had undergone different colonial experiences since World War I. The erstwhile German Kamerun was partitioned between the French who practiced assimilation and the British with indirect rule. Cameroon is a country in Central Africa often described as Africa in miniature but has come to the spotlight lately due to crisis of identity and cultural assimilation of the minority English-speaking people. The Southern Cameroons problem popularly known as the Anglophone Crisis is as old as the country Cameroon. It is the expression of a poorly managed decolonisation process, that saw two distinct (British Southern Cameroons and French Cameroon) people come together to form a country void of any real foundations that could guarantee coexistence. A country that has only had two presidents since independence in 1961 with the present Head of State spending close to 4 decades in office.
Cameroon holds a strategic position in the gulf of guinea (rich in crude oil and critical for the stability of West and Central Africa) and is also the main link between these two regions of Africa. Marred with extensive corruption, authoritarian rule, absence of any form of civil rights, poor governance and innate nepotism, the call for greater autonomy by Southern Cameroonians (Anglophones) has never been this resounding as it is today. The Southern Cameroonians otherwise called by the central government as Anglophones, have come to realise that, their place in the failed union with the majority French Cameroon has been nothing less than recolonization characterised with systematic marginalisation, discrimination and subhuman treatment.
History of Southern Cameroons
The Southern Cameroons has a surface area of 43,000 sq. km and a current population of about 8 million people. It is thus demographically bigger than at least 60 UN and 18 AU Member States, and spatially bigger than at least 30 UN and 12 AU Member States. The territory was originally British from 1858-1887. It was ceded to Germany and subsequently incorporated into the contiguous German protectorate of Kamerun, which had been acquired earlier in 1884.
Relation with the British
The Southern Cameroons was thus under British rule from 1858 to 1887, and then from 1915 to 1961, a total period of nearly 80 years. That long British connection left an indelible mark on the territory, bequeathing to it an Anglo-Saxon heritage. The territory’s official language is English. Its educational, legal, administrative, political, governance and institutional culture and value systems are all English-derived.
Up to 1960, the Southern Cameroons though under international tutelage was administered by Britain as part of her contiguous colonial territory of Nigeria. But its distinct identity and personality, separate from Nigeria, remained unassailable. UN Resolution 224 (III) of 18 November 1948 protected the Trust Territory from annexation by any colonial-minded neighbour. While acknowledging that the Trusteeship Agreement makes allowance for ‘administrative union’, the Resolution provides that “Such a union must remain strictly administrative in its nature and scope, and its operation must not have the effect of creating any conditions which will obstruct the separate development of the Trust Territory, in the fields of political, economic, social and educational advancement, as a distinct entity.”
In 1954 the Southern Cameroons became a self-governing region within Nigeria and gradually asserted its distinct identity and its aspiration to statehood through increased political and institutional autonomy.
In 1958 the British Government stated at the UN that the Southern Cameroons was expected to achieve in 1960 the objectives set forth in Article 76 b of the UN Charter. Since the Southern Cameroons had already attained self-government status four years earlier in 1954, the objective to be attained in 1960 could only have been full independence. General Assembly Resolution 1282 (XIII) of 5 December 1958 took note of the British statement. The people of the Southern Cameroons therefore legitimately expected to be granted full independence in 1960 given that their country had been self-governing since 1954.
Basic self-government institutions were in place: a Government headed by the Premier as Leader of Government business; a bicameral parliament consisting of a House of Assembly and a House of Chiefs; an Official Opposition in parliament; a Judiciary headed by a Chief Justice; a Civil Service; and police force. The system in place was a democratic and accountable dispensation. In 1959 when the term of office of the incumbent Premier came to an end, peaceful free fair and transparent elections were organised. The opposition won and there was an orderly transfer of power to the in-coming Premier. Consistent with the parliamentary system of government the outgoing Premier became Leader of the Opposition in parliament.
On 1st October 1960 the Southern Cameroons was separated from Nigeria. The Southern Cameroons Constitution Order in Council came into force. By 1960 the Southern Cameroons had attained a full measure of self-government. Indeed, from 1 October 1960 up to 30 September 1961 it was a full self-governing territory fully responsible for all its internal affairs, except for defense over which matter, along with foreign affairs, Britain continued to exercise jurisdiction.
To be continued