The Minister of State in charge of Justice and Keeper of the Seals
The Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation
The persistent arrests and detention of Anglophones
SCNC Detainees in Buea in 2011 (photo by Patrick Sianne)
You have certainly been informed by your Regional Administrative Collaborators of the arrest and detention of 15 Anglophones whom various media organs refer to as Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) activists on July 16 2016 in a RESTAURANT in Molyko Buea. No reasons for the arrest were advanced by the Superintendent of Police Roger Nana Ngongang of the Molyko Police station. The activists were arraigned in Buea Magistrate Court on July 27th 2016, refused bail and hearing further adjourned to August 12 2016.
Sirs, you must also be aware that another Anglophone, Maxwell Oben, was arrested in 2014 while he was boarding an URBAN BUS from Buea to Yaounde and has been in detention in the Buea Central Prison.
A brief and recent chronology of events that have fuelled Cameroonian discourse around what has come to be known as the Anglophone problem needs mentioning here. In 1993 and 1994, Anglophone groups after two All Anglophone Conferences submitted constitutional proposals to accommodate Anglophone grievances within a democracy in Cameroon. The proposals were ignored by the Constitutional Committee. This forced some Anglophones to conduct a signature referendum of Anglophones in 1995 which endorsed separation. On 30th December 1999, some Anglophone pressure groups led by a man of law (Justice Fred Ebong) seized a radio station and declared Independence. In 2001 sabotage and kidnappings in the North West of Cameroon were linked to activities by Anglophone pressure groups. Since 2015 there has been a resurgence of Anglophone pressure groups and socio-professional bodies clamouring for the redress of Anglophone marginalisation in Cameroon.
After exploring both peaceful and radical domestic remedies to the Anglophone problem, some 14 individuals under the banner of SCNC and Southern Cameroon Peoples’ Organisation (SCAPO) took a watershed diplomatic offensive by submitting a communication with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights simply called the African Commission in Banjul, The Gambia on 9th January 2003. After examining and cross-examining the Complainant (SCNC and SCAPO) and the Respondent State (Republic of Cameroon), during the 45th ordinary session of the African Commission 13-27 May 2009, The African Commission came out with the following Recommendations contained in what is called the Banjul Declaration:
- that “the Respondent State (Cameroon government) enters into constructive dialogue with the Complainants (Anglophone pressure groups) and in particular, SCNC and SCAPO to resolve the Constitutional issues, as well as grievances which could threaten national unity” (Article 215(1.6)
- that “the Complainants, and SCNC and SCAPO in particular abandons secessionism and engages with the Respondent State on the Constitutional issues and grievances” (Article 215 (2.2).
The fact that SCNC and SCAPO are mentioned as Parties to the dialogue, even with their discordant leadership platforms, dispersed ideological focus and divergent historical trajectories, gives them a moral recognition as outer valves of discussion born of inner voices of dissent, of course with the Banjul Declaration proviso, that they abandon their secessionist agenda. Let me say here that a group of individuals cannot impose a secessionist agenda on the people they represent. It is only the people themselves who through a referendum can make a choice on ‘leave’ or ‘remain’.
More so, at least in terms of mere logic or numerical architecture and not historical legality, what impact have 15 Anglophones with a secessionist agenda when in April1993 and May 1994 more than 5000 Anglophones gathered in Buea and Bamenda respectively to clamour for a confederation (two-tier federation), when on May 9 2015 more than 500 Anglophone Lawyers met in Bamenda and requested for a return to the pre-1972 two-state Federalism, when in several forums Anglophones of South West Elite Association stock keep asking for a ten-state Federation or when in party meetings Anglophones of the ruling party CPDM agitate for a “one and indivisible country” (Unitarianism)?
Seven years after this Banjul Declaration, there has been no rapprochement or overtures especially from the Respondent state which is a Duty bearer for a constructive dialogue. Yet the African Commission further advised in its Concluding Statement:
- that “The African Commission places its good offices at the disposal of the parties to mediate an amicable solution and to ensure the effective implementation of the recommendations” (article 215 (3).
- that “The African Commission requests the Parties to report on the implementation of the aforesaid recommendations within 180 days of the adoption of this decision by the African Union Assembly” (Article 215 (4)
Repression and Resilience
History is replete with examples of how organised activism can easily transform to irredentist radicalization when avenues of dialogue are gagged by antagonistic group hostilities, hegemonic structural violence, demonizing propaganda, ideological triumphalism and blatant Don Quixotism by one or both “conflicting” Parties. I will therefore not be surprised if the forthcoming October 1st is marked by more unauthorized meetings, more arrests and more detention .As a student of conflict management I know that one addresses the causes of conflict from the root and latent motivations. As author of the book “Settling Disputes in Africa” I have stressed the need to construct a bridge between Security and Liberty in every African country for as Benjamin Franklin once said “he who puts security before liberty deserves neither”
Sirs, as a Peace Fellow and Minority Rights Fellow I believe the Anglophone Problem is becoming a cancerous gangrene that spreads wide and deep in our body-politic each time the gangrene is maliciously incised. The Anglophone problem is more than 55 years old and if arrests and detention were magic wands to wishing the problem away, I would not on July 27th 2016 be writing this open letter to you.
While studying minority right issues at the Minority Rights Group International London in February 2016, I witnessed the picketing of Anglophone activists in front of the Westminster Houses of Parliament. A month later I was told the Southern Cameroon Youth League Leader Ebenezer Akwanga had set up a pro-SCNC radio station somewhere in the UK. It was then that on 29th April 2016 I sought and was granted audience by the then Foreign Commonwealth Officer in charge of West Africa to comment on possible peaceful international instruments that could be used to stem the tide of repression and resilience in the Anglophone problem. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “the more you sweat in peace time, the less you bleed in war time.”
Our country is no stranger to Preventive Diplomacy as our President Paul Biya used the common sense of constructive dialogue with Olesugun Obasanjo of Nigeria and the good offices of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to sign the Green Tree Accord that transferred the Bakassi peninsula back to Cameroon on 14th August 2008. Why is it difficult to implement the recommendations of another Preventive diplomacy body (The African Commission) to address the Anglophone problem? At a time when our country is confronted with a vile insurgency, at a time when we are under the radar of international human rights watch dogs and whistle blowers, at a time when we are looking forward to hitch-free African games, it is incumbent on us to build a robust national synergy by reconstructing our fractured Mungo bridges through a frank, fair and fruitful constructive engagement.
Sirs, the African palaver theory is always informed by restorative rather than retributive justice. The former encourages reconciliation while the latter triggers retaliation. The choice of the former has in most African countries given rise to the setting up of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (South Africa and Liberia), “gacaca” (Rwanda), National Dialogue (being requested in Morocco, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo by the UN this year), and Constitutional Conferences that reformed Benin into a sane democratic development paradigm as far back as in 1990. These redemption songs and benign strategies of restorative justice do not have to be modeled as reactionary mechanisms to armed conflict as much as they should be fashioned as stimuli to early warning signals.
An old Somali proverb says “what has been lost in the fire can still be retrieved in the ashes”. This, Dear Ministers, is the defining moment to use your influential offices to release these 15 citizens as well as Maxwell Oben so as to engender a climate of creative peace as opposed to the present liberal peace, necessary for the effective implementation of the African Commission’s recommendation for a constructive dialogue. It is within such a constructive dialogue that any form of self-determination (greater autonomy, self-government, federalism, confederalism, unitarism, Independence, referendum or any form of relations that accords with the wishes of the Parties after consultations with the people they speak for) can be adopted.
Mwalimu George Ngwane is Chevening conflict management Fellow, University of York, UK (2010), Rotary Peace Fellow, University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok, Thailand (2015), Commonwealth Professional Fellow, Minority Rights Group International, London, UK (2015), Minority Fellow, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights , Geneva, Switzerland (2016) writer and Author of a forthcoming book “Diary of a Dismissed Delegate”.www.gngwane.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.