Southern Cameroons Crisis: Long jail terms will not cut it! 0

The Southern Cameroons crisis has entered a new phase. After the failure of intimidation and attrition, the Yaounde government has decided to roll out a new strategy – making an example of Southern Cameroonians who are in the government’s jails in Yaounde.

Ever since the crisis started more than a thousand Southern Cameroonians have been arrested and taken to jails in Yaounde where they are being tortured and threatened with death if they do not rescind their plan to split the country.

For more than one year, there have been many trials, but only few Southern Cameroonians have actually been convicted and sometimes on trumped up charges. Today, terrorism seems to be the most fashionable allegation and it seems to be the government’s tool of choice when it comes to threatening Southern Cameroonian freedom fighters, although none of the fighters is bulging.

Recently, Mr. Mancho Bibixy, a broadcaster and activist, accused of threatening the country’s sovereignty has been found guilty of terrorism due to his role in the protests that triggered the Southern Cameroons crisis.

Mr. Bibixy had appeared in a coffin at a protest in the north-west city of Bamenda in November 2016 which he said symbolized Southern Cameroonians who had died before their real death. He urged his fellow citizens not to be scared of speaking truth to power, as their fate was already worse than death.

He was convicted of eight counts, including rebellion and hostility against the state. Six other Southern Cameroonians – Tsi Conrad, The Emile Agwe, Tangwa Maloin Tangwa, Azelecha Martin, Guingah Valentine, Junior Awahro Thomas – were also found guilty of the same counts by the Yaounde Kangaroo court on the same day as Mr. Bibixy.

Apart from the long jail terms awaiting them on their sentencing day, all seven have already been ordered to pay CFAF 579 million, the equivalent of more than USD 1 million, in damages. This is more of a joke to many observers. While working, those convicted were simply scraping a living in a country wherein the government does not care about its citizens. How will they ever raise USD 1 million while in jail?

Working in Cameroon hardly brings financial happiness. Many people have been trapped financially and many senior government officials are permanently in fear of an arrest, as most of them are corrupt. Over the last ten years, the country’s president, Paul Biya, has thrown hundreds of his former collaborators in jail for embezzling state funds.

Some of those collaborators have opted to return their loot in exchange for freedom, but Mr. Biya does not seem to be listening. He himself is being accused of playing a significant role in the billions of dollars that have been missing from state coffers. His constant trips abroad have cost the poor taxpayers millions and many Cameroonians are very bitter with a leader who only thinks about himself and his family.

The political uncertainty in the country is causing many Cameroonian civil servants to rob the country blind as a means of securing their children’s future. Most Cameroonian workers want to send their children abroad as a means of sparing them the pain of unemployment that is blighting millions of lives in the impoverished Central African country.

Unemployment rates in the central African country are unfortunately high and even those working are permanently seeing stars before the month ends. Poverty seems to have thrown a blow to the heads of Cameroonian workers and many will never recover from this government-imposed dehumanizing poverty.

It will be a miracle if those convicted will ever pay such an amount while in jail. The government and its judges appear to be making a mockery of the country’s legal system. While the judiciary is independent on paper, in reality, it is under the executive branch’s baneful influence.

Bribery and corruption have spread into the judiciary like a malignant cancer and the judges and magistrates have all been compromised. This is causing many people to make a mockery of the judicial system. Every Cameroonian knows that with money, everything is possible. Many people have walked away with murder even when there is incontrovertible evidence against them.

Before leaving the court on the day of his hearing, Mr. Bibixy made an emotional appeal to the judge, urging him to make the most of the opportunity available to him, with a view to seeking solutions to the grievances of the country’s English-speaking minority.

“You have an opportunity to begin solving the Anglophone crisis or add more fuel to the fire. History will be the final judge,” he said, adding that he was a man of dialogue and not a man of violence. He urged the government to pursue peaceful means to reach solutions that will rid the country of the specter of war that is handing over its head.

For almost two years, the country’s government has been playing tricks with a situation that is very likely to cause a lot of pain and suffering to an already impoverished people. Despite calls by the international community for an inclusive dialogue that could spare the country the type of bloodbath that its neighbors have experienced, the government has continued to pursue its policy of collective punishment in the two English-speaking regions where many people have lost their homes and hundreds of young fighters killed in cold blood.

In many parts of the English-speaking regions, young men, many of whom are innocent and have nothing to do with the ugly fighting that is playing out over there, have been arrested and taken to unknown destinations. Many have been buried alive, while others have been used by the country’s sex-starved and alcohol-inflamed soldiers as shooting targets.

The rule of law that is supposed to be upheld by the government is gradually becoming the rule of weapons where those with weapons dictate the rule and the country’s government is doing its best to encourage this form of lawlessness that is breeding hatred and feeding the circle of violence that is claiming many lives in Southern Cameroons.

A crisis that started as simple protests by lawyers, teachers and students in Buea and Bamenda has been allowed to metamorphose into a full blown armed conflict due to the government’s arrogance and inefficiency. The government’s decision to slaughter hundreds of Southern Cameroonians on October 1, 2017, is today viewed by many across the globe as an unfortunate error of judgment.

Many people around the world who have been watching Cameroon descend into chaos think the country’s government should actually embrace peace, but the country’s ailing and old leader wants to take the country to the grave with him. Many of these observers have been waiting for the government to lay the ground work for the much-touted inclusive dialogue that the country’s president has been talking about.

Mr. Biya and his government are not in the mood to smoke the pipe of peace. Though Mr. Biya had declared in New York during a session of the UN General Assembly meeting in late 2017 that “we all are hankering after peace”, he seems to be more interested in war than peace. Mr. Biya is being accused today across the globe as someone who is paying lip-service to the notion of inclusive and sincere dialogue.

Many observers hold that he is more interested in keeping power than in making Cameroon the beacon of peace. He and his government see governance as a do-or-die affair and any dialogue that could diminish their power will never be something they will contemplate.  They know their time is almost up, but they hold that they must go down with the entire country. Their attitude is shocking many around the world. The fighting in Cameroon is not only taking away innocent lives, it is also robbing the country of its scarce development resources.

To them, the atrocities being committed by government troops are simply war games worthy of their admiration.  They seem to be deflecting public opinion from the fact that Southern Cameroonians, who have been victims of the government’s marginalization, simply want to be heard. They want years of injustice and disrespect to be addressed. But wont to violence and dictatorial ways of doing business, the government is unrelentingly pursuing its legendary policy of violence which has transformed an entire region into a massive killing field.

The government’s reaction to Southern Cameroonian demands has been anything but effective. This reaction has gone a long way in creating a bloody conflict that is not necessary. Government actions have only gone a long way in radicalizing many Southern Cameroonians. The radicalization has unfortunately given birth to many armed groups in the two English-speaking regions of the country.

As a response to the creation of these armed groups, the government has stepped up its killing spree to prove that it is in control of the territory. It is strange to see a duly constituted government come down to the level of a ragtag army. It is even stranger to see the government engage in the killing of its own citizens just because they have expressed their minds.

This conflict has really disrupted life in many parts of the English-speaking regions. Schools and courts have remained closed and a generation of children is being traumatized by the images and pictures they are seeing on the ground. Besides the trauma, these kids will wind up illiterate as there are no prospects of school resuming anytime soon, especially in rural areas where there is no government authority. The government itself has simply surrendered and does not consider the education of these kids as a priority.

Though ghost town operations organized by angry English-speaking Cameroonians with the objective of bringing the government to the negotiating table are gradually fizzling out, the country’s economy seems to have been seriously hurt. The government is running out of resources and its allies abroad are reluctant to give it more money. Even the Chinese are playing games with the Yaounde desperate government that is losing sleep because its treasury is losing money at an unexpected rate.

Falling oil production and prices have hit the government like a ton of bricks. The Southern Cameroons crisis that the government thought would end after a few weeks is gradually robbing the country’s economy of its vitality. The country’s economic indicators are unfortunately trending very low and it is obvious that the days ahead are bleak for the country’s civil service.

Even the country’s military is already dealing with some challenges. The Southern Cameroons crisis has eroded its financial resources. The payment of per diems is gradually becoming a tough challenge despite the signing of presidential decree by the country’s reclusive leader, indicating that each soldier fighting in the two English-speaking regions will be earning CFAF 30,000 a day as per diem. The money has not been flowing the way of the soldiers and many young army soldiers are deserting the military for fear of being killed by the tough Ambazonian fighters who are giving the government a run for its money.

Initially, the sticking point was the government’s refusal to discuss the form of the state. Southern Cameroonian had argued that the current centralized system was too inefficient and corrupt. They wanted a system that would grant them the freedom to run their own schools and courts. They argued that the presence of Francophone judges in their courts had resulted in a miscarriage of justice in many parts of the region.

They also argued that the presence of Francophone teachers in Southern Cameroonian schools did not guarantee their children the educational quality that would enable their children to be competitive at the international level. But the government was not willing to listen. It was still insisting on implementing its decentralization policy that had been put on hold for more than two decades. These issues and the refusal to discuss the form of the state have caused the conflict to drag on. And it has today taken forms that are too complicated even for the Yaounde government to handle. The killings have become a daily affair and they have resulted in moderate English-speaking Cameroonians to see secession as the ultimate solution.

The country is, today, in a fix. The government that is used to shutting up its opponents is unable to find reliable partners to dialogue with. It has already tried different forms of dialogue that have been rejected by the people. Truly, what it had organized was more of a monologue than a dialogue. The ruling party has been discussing within itself and it thinks its conclusions will be binding on all Cameroonians.

The Yaounde trick has not borne any fruits. It has lost its charm. Time has worn out its charm. Cameroonians, especially Southern Cameroonians, are too smart for the government. Using so-called elites who have been rejected by the people of the two English-speaking regions to go and talk to the rebelling population has been the biggest comedy the world has ever watched. The efforts of these people actually came to naught and many of them were simply relieved when they left the region, as the threat of death was hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles.

Using people like Peter Mafany Musonge, Chief Mukete, Chief Tabetando and others was truly an error of casting. These people have no credibility and the people no longer listen to them. Many of these people clearly belong to the past, if not to the grave.  Solving the Southern Cameroons crisis will require different measures and different actors. Using old people is a strategy whose time has passed. Even appointing half-baked people like Atanga Nji in top positions will never solve the problem.

Mr. Atanga Nji is already running out of steam. The energy he came with following his appointment as the minister of territorial administration is already dying down. If anybody had trusted that Mr. Atanga Nji would address the Southern Cameroons crisis, it is time for that person to start disabusing his mind. A few helmets to motor cycle riders will not address an issue that has been ruining lives for more than five decades.

Similarly, handing down long jail sentences to Southern Cameroonian fighters in Yaounde will never dampen the determination of those who are still fighting. The crisis can only be addressed at the negotiating table and this will only be possible if President Julius Ayuk Tabe and those in jail are released. The Diaspora is still very active and it is time for the government to build a long reliable bridge for the Diaspora to come to the negotiating table.

The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is rich. It has more than three million members and thanks to these hardworking Southern Cameroonians, those on ground zero have been able to make the government feel the pinch of its stupidity and dishonesty. After more than five decades in exile, the Diaspora also wants to play a key role in the management of the country’s socio-political landscape. If the government is thinking of building any such bridge, it must understand that it will be a long one, as it must reach the beautiful shores of North America where the brain of the rebellion is found.

By Kingsley Betek and Ebot Etchi with contributions from Soter Agbaw-Ebai at the Cameroon Concord News Group Global Headquarters