The Biya Regime and Ambazonians apparently want completely different things. Their end-games are antithetical to each other, and as such, one would be right to assume that the two camps will rarely find any common ground. Ambazonians have been clear that it is ‘All or Nothing’ in their quest for independence and the Biya regime has been categorical that it is ‘all or nothing’ in their dogmas on ‘one and indivisible’ Cameroon.
Over the two years that I have followed and participated in seeking solutions to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, I have been surprised on many occasions to find that the two camps, despite being polar opposites, tend to have a lot of similarities in their approaches.
An instance would be the ‘No Circulation’ or ‘No Movement’ Strategy that was instituted by the Ambazonian leadership, with the objective to stop all but essential movement within the two English-Speaking Regions. This strategy was further supported by the Biya Regime administrators in both regions, who also issued communiques, banning all but essential circulation. While the objectives of both camps might have been different, one thing they could have agreed on was that they were imposing a burden on the people of the regions and making an already difficult existence, unbearable.
The second instance was the ban on elections within the two English-Speaking regions. The Ambazonians made their position very clear, issued clear warnings and even went on to attack some persons who dared to disobey the orders. What they might not have known, or refused to acknowledge, was the fact that Biya’s declaration of war within the two regions and his refusal to resolve the crisis was aimed at also preventing people from voting. The two regions have historically been the areas Biya and his CPDM party have always struggled in elections. Given the wide discontent of the population and considering the fact that turnout in elections are always very low in other parts of the country, there was the possibility that a decision by the two regions to go out in full support of any candidate would have made the job of Biya’s rigging machinery a million times harder. That is a chance Biya and his team did not want to take. Hence, allowing the conflict to fester and causing widespread dispersal of persons, they ensured that many people, even if they wanted to, would be unable to vote. It would have been sheer glee within the Biya ranks, therefore, when Ambazonians started echoing the same sentiments. The results of the already widely contested elections is one evidence to show that both camps succeeded in one thing – keep the opposition at bay, while giving Biya and the CPDM victory in regions in which they are most hated.
The above cases are simply about strategy and outcomes, but the one thing that both camps have shown a great fear of over the years is the concept of FEDERALISM. The notion of Federalism as a solution to the Anglophone crisis seems to send cold shivers down the spines of both the Biya regime and the Ambazonians. Historically, the Two-State Federation which existed between 1961 and 1972 have on record the most developmental milestones of the English-Speaking regions. Little wonder, that scared of the fast pace at which West Cameroon was progressing economically, the Ahidjo Regime, in collusion with France, abrogated the Federal Constitution of 1961 and ended the Federal structure.
In 2016, with the resurgence of the Anglophone crisis led by Lawyers and Teachers, the concept of a return to the Two-State Federation gained prominence. Led by Barrister Agbor Felix Nkongho, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium made it clear that only a return to Federation will guarantee a long-lasting solution to the crisis. Their message was clear, it was simple, it was appealing. It won the hearts of the masses, to the dismay and chagrin of the Biya regime, whose message of a ‘one and indivisible’ Cameroon could only be imposed on the people with the use of brute force. Efforts to bribe and cajole the pro-federalist movement failed woefully, leaving the Biya regime one option, force. The Consortium was banned, the internet was cut and the leaders were arrested and carted off to Yaounde to stand trial for treasonable offences.
The then Secretary-General of the Consortium, Wilfred Tassang, fled to Nigeria where to the surprise of many, changed the narrative to a pro-independence quest. This was surprising for many reasons, he had chosen Interim leaders in the diaspora, one of whom at the time was a known and avowed federalist. Secondly, taking such a stance seemed to provide fodder for the cannon of the Biya regime to crucify the incarcerated consortium leaders. Their lawyers promptly acted, by distancing them from the new movement. Nigeria, therefore, became the renaissance country for the Ambazonia ideology, which hitherto, had been on the fringes of Cameroon Anglophone society. Ambazonia was rebranded and sold to the English-speaking Cameroonians as the most logical progression in the freedom struggle. Statements such as ‘the train has moved’ ‘we have gone past the stage of Federation’ ‘we cannot federate with monsters’ etc.. gained prominence.
The absence of the internet within the Anglophone regions in Cameroon also helped as the people were unaware of the developments taking place in the diaspora. The formation of a body known as SCACUF, brought dinosaurs of the Anglophone struggle into the heart of leadership of the new movement. As there was no vetting process, it was impossible to ascertain who had over the years, been bought over by the Biya regime. The quest to present a united front in the face of continuous disunity meant that questions were left unasked about some of the most important things.
However, as the newly branded pro-independence train grunted and stuttered along, sometimes bereft of passengers, sometimes in the completely wrong direction, the urgent need for a captain arose. Sisiku Ayuk Tabe Julius was chosen as the Messiah. There were a number of reasons for this; he was relatively unknown, meaning there was bound to be little or no skeletons in his cupboard; Ayuk Tabe had a good job within a university and he was soft-spoken, articulate and appeared overall to be unifying figure. This worked and the people rallied behind Ayuk Tabe and his newly-formed Ambazonia Interim Government (IG). Three reasons made this possible: there was no other viable alternative as the consortium leaders were still in jail; he was closely aligned with Tassang Wilfred, which meant people still saw in them the relics of the Consortium they had come to love and finally, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, in stark contrast to other pro-independence leaders, preached a message that was about hope rather than the doom and gloom that characterised the constant allusion to historical catastrophes that had landed the Anglophone in the current mess.
Realising the power at his disposal, Ayuk Tabe, started steering the train towards what might have led to a resolution of the crisis. Without outrightly echoing the ‘all or nothing’ independence dogma, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe appeared more to be a Federalist than a pro-independence leader. It is, therefore, no surprise that the reason circulating for the ill-fated meeting at Nera Hotel in Nigeria, which led to his and his cabinet’s abduction, has been mainly around the fact that they went there to negotiate on a Federation-outcome which would end the crisis and spare the people further suffering.
What Sisiku and his team failed to realise was that the Biya regime would have left him alone had he been fully pro-independence. Outright independence was a dog with a loud bark, but no bite, with a high potential of biting the wrong people, should it choose to do so. Federalism, however, was something the Biya regime was totally scared of and would do anything to stop it in its tracks. Before the abduction of Sisiku, the Biya regime had done a number of things to ensure that the federalism project would not resurface.
Prior to releasing Agbor Felix and Fontem Neba from jail, they circulated rumours discrediting them in the eyes of the people. When this did not work and upon his release, Barrister Nkongho hit the ground running, they fomented a torrential attack on the concept of federalism, pitching it against independence. This soon gained traction on social media and all attention soon focused on Separatists constantly attacking federalists, despite the fact the latter were practically their closest allies. With this fully in place, when Barrister Nkongho visited London, it was shocking, but not surprising to see the same people who had once chanted his ‘hosannas’, shouting ‘crucify him’. The protest against Nkongho at Chatham House, London, signifies a very low moment for the Anglophone crisis, but one that the Biya regime would forever cherish. The separatists were clearly going to do anything to stop the federalists.
Over the months that followed, many write-ups, Facebook lives and YouTube videos were made, with one focus, attack Federalism. The Biya regime relaxed. As soon as Federalist voices seemed to have been tamed for a while, the regime prodded and taunted the separatists towards the one direction they could easily go – violence. This worked and the whole Anglophone region was thrown into conflict. This, to the regime, was a win-win situation. It gave them legitimacy to wipe out any dissenting voices, while at the same time, ensuring that they (the regime) could easily mask as separatists and attack anything remotely resembling a call for federalism.
Their attack for the Anglophone General Conference initiative of Cardinal Tume and Dr. Simon Munzu amongst others, has been just one of the many ways to ensure the Federalist agenda does not resurface. The attack on Federalists instigated by Boh Herbert’s write-up and subsequent attack at their private meeting in the USA by Eric Tataw, another separatist, who clearly expressed his hatred for the federalists by stating he will not write his name on the same paper as them, even if it meant he will then be able to make his points, further accentuate the level at which they are willing to go to stop the federalists.
As one casts an eye for a sense of progress on the Anglophone, all one can see is the constant attack on Federalists, mainly by Ambazonians and this has been extended to the Francophones, who are easily working with Federalists to heap more pressure on the Biya regime. The hatred for Federalists and by extension, the francophones, has been such that many Ambazonians are openly declaring their support for Biya to stay in power, if only by so doing, they could thwart the efforts of the federalist.
If anything, this is by every indication, a very unusual alliance between the Biya regime and the Ambazonians, whose only point of convergence is their disdain for the Federalist. This, however, is understandable, given that the Federalist stands as the voice of reason within the carnage. The federalist presents the meeting point between two extremes and most importantly, the federalist approach presents the most likely prospect of success in giving autonomy to the Anglophone and bringing a close to the crisis. Why would this be a problem for the Biya regime and the Ambazonian, one may ask? This is simply, the two extremes thrive on power and control, the Biya regime loses its control of the English-speaking regions, unleashing the potential for accountability and growth. The Ambazonian leaders lose their only opportunity of attaining leadership by ascription rather than merit. The Federalist position is one in which the actors have no personal benefits other than a change in the form of the state which will usher in the devolution of power, accountability and a system of fairness where the best and brightest will lead. This, unfortunately, is something that both the Biya regime and most of the current Ambazonia leadership, do not clearly want as it will render them obsolete