Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov might have died in 2013, but his creation the AK-47 first rolled out in 1947 still remains the weapon of choice for rebel groups and governments fighting each other around the world. No truer is that than in the restive Anglophone regions of Cameroon where separatists have taken up arms to fight Mr. Biya’s forces whom they prefer to call colonialists.
Mr. Biya, unable to convince Cameroonians that after 36 years of corruption, swindling public funds and crushing dissent that he is the one man to bring change, has resorted to scorched earth tactics to quell the rebellion.
He faces a determined, resilient and adaptive separatist movement bent on giving him a run for his money. This ragtag rebel group that may appear to be more in need of shoes than guns, rules the Anglophone regions with impunity. They have resigned themselves to the fact that the rest of the world is too busy promoting its own interests and their struggle is no priority.
Instead of addressing the underlying issues that have given rise to the struggle, the Biya regime has been more interested in spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists in trying to discredit the authors, something it has done with far little success and nothing to show for it.
Firms like Squire Patton Boggs receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from Cameroon on a monthly basis for its public relations front even as hundreds of thousands of displaced Cameroonians go without food and shelter. Some die from bullet wounds as they try to run away while others die in the bushes from starvation. Others are run over and abandoned in the streets.
Squire Patton Boggs then comes in to massage the storyline for the regime. Squire Patton Boggs touts itself as the only public policy firm to have a former House Speaker, John Boehner. What an irony to see that one of Boehner’s first clients after leaving congress is the second longest dictatorship in Africa, so much for American democracy. It is hard to see where conscience and humanity really lie.
Separatists say it can no longer be business as usual when democratic voices are silenced, when they get imprisoned and corporations make millions of dollars a month for it. It can no longer be business as usual. They say maybe Cameroonians are illiterates, poor, but they want to be governed by the rule of law and they do not want the Biya regime.
The concept of Ambazonia state is far stronger today than at any time in the history of Cameroon. A sign that the Ambazonia uprising is more widespread than most assume, throngs of grassroot supporters now contribute from as little as $2 all around the world to support the struggle. This has never happened before. This represents a significantly different phase in the struggle.
Many are drawn to it by the dire situation on the ground, the abuse by state security and the years of Anglophone marginalization. They also strongly hold that their fight is just, almost a divine calling. The regime in power seems to be more interested in staying the course even if it means rampaging and decimating ramshackled villages into submission.
The fighting is unlikely to stop even as foreign investors cut back investment in Cameroon, even as youth unemployment grows and key economic levers become grounded. The regime may not last much longer as its finances dwindle.
The government can hardly guarantee security for anyone including its governors in the Anglophone regions. Governors need body armor and are driven around in armored cars escorted by heavily armed soldiers. That does not instill much hope.
With Mr. Biya’s continued stay in power and his either you are with me or be destroyed approach, there is not much hope for a united Cameroon. At this juncture, a united Cameroon is only in name. Many forces now tear down mercilessly at the core of what was once Cameroon. No quick resolution is in sight. It is only a matter of time for the country to crumble under the weight of years of mismanagement.
The current fighting pits one generation against another. The old against the rising young. Those who have benefited from the corrupt regime against those who feel the urgency of change. The traditional southerners who hold key places in the government versus the rest of the country. The momentum steadily grows in the direction of change, powered by youths who are adept at using social media to advance their cause. The regime finds itself wanting, unable to bribe its way through the struggle, it now destroys anything standing in its way, desperately clinging on any lifeline it can grab.
The separatists are not without their own shortcomings. Multiple groups jockey for control of their government currently run from home and on social media. Some even position themselves as future warlords and have developed personality cults. Separatists often disorderly argue their views on their different platforms on social media, undermining their overall struggle instead of having candid live debates on the direction of their struggle. That disorder is perhaps a symptom of the divide and rule they struggle to untangle themselves from.
Having created a 5-10 person government, they realize government accountability is not as easy as it seems. They are yet to get their 5 person government account for money it has received, raising doubts they can handle a sprawling bureaucracy.
Apparently, the Ambazonian government had declared revenue and expenditure as a classified entity adding a new meaning to classified material. They caution their troops not to worry about such matters, but to focus on the fight to reach Buea, their designated capital for the outlawed Ambazonia state. Once they get there, all issues will be sorted out. They are 3 years in and it may take a decade.
Cries about fund misappropriation have gone unheeded. One would have imagined that transparency and accountability would be top priorities given that Cameroon’s woes are largely a result of corruption and lack of accountability. They may inadvertently be setting themselves up for a much longer struggle.
Discouraging crimes against civilians has not always been a key championing issue for Ambazonian leaders. Separatist fighters mete out justice in the form of a burnt home or school, sawn off fingers, a chopped off head, a severed limb or machete cuts. These are serious crimes, crimes only decades under a dictatorship can bring out of people.
These have severely affected their ability to rally any meaningful international support. Their adversaries only need point at the alternative of what awaits the region. This makes it hard to say if Ambazonians prefer mobocracy to a dictatorship or are just too preoccupied with the notion of change. They are often drawn to the same desires for vengeance like the military.
Crimes committed either by the government or separatists are often difficult to attribute to either party. That only shows how much misinformation both sides have advanced and in the process diminished their own credibility. Fearing international backlash, separatists regularly seek to conceal crimes committed by their fighters. The undesired effect of false propaganda is that, sooner, everyone gets entangled in their own web of misinformation.
Separatists and the regime often use civilians as pawns, they are either harassed and humiliated by the military for obeying separatist or are harassed by separatists seeking to stamp their authority if they follow the military.
There are now documented instances of the military targeting medical personnel and facilities for treating wounded civilians and fighters. These are clearly crimes against humanity that the military and regime perpetrate.
It is yet to be seen if the separatists are driven primarily by democratic aspirations given the fact that their main weapon of control is the threat of a violent response for those who happen to disagree. Their control may not always be validated by willful consent, but faced with the lure for crumbs as bribe from the Biya regime and its violent repression, many locals often see separatist threats and jungle justice as a way to keep others in check.
Mr. Biya’s plan for reform so far advanced as a solution to the crisis is very sketchy. There has not been any serious initiative for dialogue. Perhaps, Mr. Biya is betting he can somehow lobe these disenchanted voices into his state machine and subdue them. He seems scared of losing control, something he in fact has already lost although that is yet to dawn on him.
The Ambazonian Interim government (IG) imposed a 10-day lockdown, which meant no economic activity in the Anglophone regions. It is hard to tell what that achieved. It did show they have a significant control over the region, but maybe only under the threat of violence. It is also a realization that they have wrestled complete control of the regions out of the hands of the government if the comparison is violent threat for violent threat.
For Ambazonians, their goal of federation and autonomy may be achieved faster by actively engaging with France, the monster they say they detest. It would be near impossible to achieve the kind of autonomy they seek or their separation without the collaboration of France that has a significant web of interests in the region. France will likely seek commitments for more bilingualism in the regions which is in fact beneficial. These are really just languages.
The opposition candidate Maurice Kamto had been the voice of reason lately. He had implored Cameroonians from every sector to respect the rule of law and to shun tribalism. He was arrested, sent to jail and so was democracy. The former justice minister is now a victim for championing a worthy cause. His sole crime, championing democracy in Cameroon.
The biggest threat to Cameroon and the region is no longer Boko Haram, but the Anglophone crisis. That is in fact where foreign resources need be put in to help resolve the situation. There may not be much of a country left to fight Boko Haram. That is perhaps something not lost on Boko Haram either.
Mr. Biya is no longer the future. His regime is no longer the future. We see that in the ferocious gun battles his military engages in with Anglophone youths. We see that in the timid protests around the world from Francophone youths. Mr. Biya used to be the future, but that future now resides in the past.