Friday 20 January 2017 was a very chilly day in London, with temperatures just about 2 degrees or less. Even more chilling were the images and messages carried by Cameroonians and their sympathisers from across the United Kingdom. The messages were similar to those carried in previous demonstrations, decrying and denouncing the marginalisation of English-speaking Cameroonians. There was also a petition that was signed by all present and handed to a representative of the French government.
One noticeable difference, however, were the images and messages demanding the release of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium leaders – Barrister Agbor Balla and Dr Fontem Neba.
Their first destination was the Embassy of France in Knightsbridge, London. Among the many songs chanted, most notable, was one asking the question ‘how many people will Paul Biya Kill?’ – the appropriateness of the question is reflected in the silence of the international community to the violent crackdown going on in Cameroon. One cannot there help but wonder with the protesters – how many people does a dictator have to kill before there is an international outcry?
Another notable song was a dirge from the slavery days:
Oh, my home! Oh, my home!
When shall I see my home
When shall I see my native land
I will never forget my home!
By this song, the demonstrators were implying they were slaves in their own country. Another interpretation could be the barbaric conditions that had made some of the demonstrators to flee their Cameroon.
Why Embassy of France?
Many people might wonder why the protesters went to the French Embassy and Commonwealth Secretariat instead of going to the Cameroon High Commission. The reason is simple – they understand that the problems in Cameroon are directly linked to France’s continuous domination in Africa. In 1916, the French and British, after taking Cameroon from the Germans, arbitrarily divided the country between them. France had 80% of the Country, while the UK had 20%. These two regions, therefore, evolved with two distinct colonial structures and cultures.
Upon independence in 1960, the French staged a false independence after a war that had killed about 120,000 Cameroonian Nationalists. The UK however, in 1961, quickly left Southern Cameroons, following a sham plebiscite that amalgamated the two regions in a manner that created the conditions for a political osmosis. Given the French control of the Cameroon economy, and her inglorious history of intervening in the affairs of many African countries, it was only natural for the protesters to stop at France’s doors to demand that their country be left alone.
What seemed to be a simple demonstration almost spiralled out of control when the French Embassy refused to receive the signed petition from the demonstrators. The anger of the crowd was only assuaged when a contingent of British police officers, explained to the French Embassy that they could not refuse the petition. Audience was finally granted to the representatives of the West Cameroon Movement For Change (WCMC), UK. The petition was handed, with a promise that protesters will return if it was not acted upon.
Return to the Commonwealth Secretariat
On Friday, 09 December 2016, Cameroonians handed a petition to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, in which they demanded the suspension of Cameroon from the intergovernmental organisation. As no noticeable action has been seen from the organisation, protesters, therefore turned up at the Secretariat to demand a response to their petition.
Despite being a very peaceful protest, the large police presence was an indication that the demonstrators’ reaction to the French hesitation to collect their petition, had sent a clear message to the Met Police. The message was simple: this was not a joke!!!
After an agonising wait, the WCMC chairperson and another representative emerged from the Secretariat with a letter which was read to the crowd. The letter had been hastily put together and did not respond directly to the petition. The crowd expressed their disappointment, but promised a return unless some decisive action was taken soon – at least beginning with an official statement from the Commonwealth, denouncing the killings, rape, torture and arbitrary arrests taking place in Southern Cameroons.