By Tikum Mbah Azonga
Does the SCNC, the popular appellation given to the `Southern Cameroons National Council`, exist? If it exists, is it feasting or is it grieving? Is it balanced or is it reeling? Is it futuristic or is it moribund and a spent force. In other words, has it become an organ that has outlived its usefulness and is today only a shadow of its old self? In short, has the SCNC become a thing of the past?
If after reading the above questions you feel they are too many, then that is just what this is all about because many questions need to be asked about the organization so that it can step forward and say exactly who it is and what precisely is its mission. On the surface, the SCNC professes to be a force aimed at righting a wrong done to the imaginary territory it calls its own. The organization states that “La République du Cameroun” which is the French-speaking part of today’s Cameroon, came into an unholy union with the English-speaking Southern Cameroons with the result that today, the Southern Cameroons are downtrodden and reduced to second-class citizens.
The bone of contention here is that in the plebiscite that was organized by the UN ostensibly to determine the fate of the Southern Cameroons which had been made a British Trust Territory, there was a serious omission in the sense that the option of the Southern Cameroon’s standing on its and being self-governing was not allowed. .
We call the territory “imaginary” because once the results of the plebiscite were universally recognized, the new dispensation came into effect with the two “Cameroons” officially recognized as being united. Subsequently, the French speaking State of Cameroon was set up alongside the English-speaking State of West Cameroon. The two structures were superimposed by the Federal State of Cameroon. Ever since the new structures were put in place, the international community has recognized Cameroon and treated it as a single country. That is why the country offices of United Nations bodies are located in Yaoundé, the national capital and nowhere else. These include the national bases of bodies such as UNESCO, the UNFPF, WHO, IMF, World Bank, UNIDO, ILO and the FAO. International NGOs are also located in Yaounde. These include the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Habitat, Sight Savers, Plan International, and the WWF.
In addition, it is in Yaounde that diplomatic missions are based. These include the major ones such as those of the USA, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, China, Spain, Portugal the Republic of South Africa and Israel. Letters of Credence of foreign Ambassadors accredited to Yaounde are duly received by Paul Biya in his capacity as President of the Republic. When foreign dignitaries visit the country from any of the above institutions or countries, they are again, received by Paul Biya in his capacity as President of the Republic and the guests treat him as such. At no time are any of these activities associated with a territory called “The Southern Cameroons”. So the proponents of the Southern Cameroons really must look themselves in the eye and tell themselves the truth.
It is true, as some say, that “fates were sealed” when leaders of the Southern Cameroons met with the then President of French-speaking Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo, in the cultural town of Foumban in 1961, and were “fooled” into compromising the destiny of the Southern Cameroons. But strictly speaking, that was then and this is now. A lot of water has flown under the bridge and so while advocates of the Southern Cameroons remain entrenched in their position, the rest of the world is moving on. Stakes are changed and the scenario is no longer the same. So if they do not wake themselves from slumber they may find that the train has taken off without them and they are left behind with the grass growing under their feet.
Supporters of the Southern Cameroons thesis say they want the Southern Cameroons territory to be restored to its “rightful owners”. Fine and good. But who will restore it to them? There is a saying that power is grabbed, not given. Besides, the United Nations is not in the business of breaking up countries. However, history is replete with cases of the United Nations having to recognize those who have forcefully taken up arms and fought their way to autonomy. But that is not the case with the Southern Cameroons leaders. They have proved to be solid on three points: one, talk; two, talk; and three, talk. So there is much talk and no action. In that case, they are like toothless dogs that bark but move no one.
Even so, if the Southern Cameroons were to start a war, it is very unlikely that they would win it. Their claim, that it is they who are neighbours to the South with Nigeria and not “La République” is flawed because if they think Nigeria would support them in a war against “La République”, then that confidence is questionable for two reasons. The first is that Nigeria has learned first hand what the ravages of a civil war can be, after fighting and surviving the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War of some four decades ago. The country made colossal losses in human and material terms to the extent that today, Nigerians look back at the war as a terrible nightmare they would want to forget. The other reason for Nigeria’s reluctance to enter a war against Yaounde is that just like Yaounde, Abuja has very strong ties with Paris which they are not prepared to sacrifice. Today, French is the de facto second official language in Nigeria, after English. Besides, French investment in Nigeria is very significant. The volume of trade between Nigeria and France is so heavy that it surpasses that with some traditional Francophone African countries.
For those who do not know it, France will not relent on its efforts to “capture” Nigeria and bring it into its fold. For one thing, Nigeria is an indisputable giant in Africa South of the Sahara. As such, the country can be a very strategic partner for France. Furthermore, straddled between Francophone countries to the east, west and north, France would very much want to use Nigeria as a stepping stone and a buffer state when it comes to its former territories with which it already enjoys good relations. It must be understood that as a nation, France is a sensitive country to which friendship is paramount. That is why today, Africa’s lone Spanish-speaking country, Equatorial Guinea, is virtually a Francophone country. It has joined the CFA franc zone and embraced the French language to the extent that the language is gaining more and more ground in that country. As a matter of fact, when this writer while in Malabo some years ago asked the Equato-Guinean Minister of State in Charge of External Relations whether Madrid was not offended by the growing ties with Paris, the minister was categorical. He replied: “To be honest with you, what we have gained from France in ten years, we never gained from Spain since independence. So if we had to choose between France and Spain, we would choose France.”
The SCNC will be making a monumental error if it thinks the British will support its separatist ambitions. British colonial policy was such that once they left a territory, they left with the little they had and never came back. It was as if on leaving they shook the dust off their feet and said: “God riddance”. That is why in Britain, when someone introduces himself as coming from Cameroon, the first reaction of the British person is: “So, you speak French?” That is because many of them are ignorant or simply do not care that their country once had ties with Cameroon. Also, unlike the French, the British are not good at wooing and keeping friends. That is why higher education is very expensive for foreign students in Britain. Yet many foreign students are from the so-called (poor) Third World countries which are known for their high rate of poverty. Britain charges the foreign student at least six times what the same student is charged in France. Some observers have even asserted that Britain is blatantly and callously milking foreign students dry in order to remain fat.
The problem is that the approach and strategy chosen by the SCNC are porous. Firstly, the SCNC has always been imbued with a confidence which although praiseworthy, is unfortunately not backed by any solid courage. The pressure group wants autonomy but is not prepared to stand the heat that comes with it. In fact, its approach reminds one of the legendary mice who agreed it was necessary to bell the cat so that whenever it was nearby, they would be warned by the ringing bell and then escape. The plan was hailed by all the mice present but when the key question was asked as to who exactly would bell the cat, no one was willing to do it. As a result the plan flopped for want of implementation. As such, the SCNC appears to be knowingly or unknowingly practising the counterproductive strategy of the ostrich which when confronted by an adversary, buries its head in the sand and thinks it has hidden itself.
The SCNC seems to be suffering from political inexperience. Some years ago, it despatched some of its members to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. On their way back to Cameroon, they stopped over in London to brief their brethren in the United Kingdom. They triumphantly toasted victory. When asked concretely what they had achieved at the United Nations, they had nothing to show. Their only victory was the fact that they had been received and listened to by someone. But the United National headquarters is a public office where anyone can be received. A couple of years back, the SCNC boasted that it had taken its case to an international Dakar-based arbitration body. But then, apart from the fact that the body in question does not have the powers to enforce a decision on any country, it contented itself with advising the SCNC to create a political party and work from within it. Surely that was not what the SCNC had expected. Today, the pressure group (because that is what it really is) is more divided than ever before. It is in factions, splintered and maimed
Leaders of the SCNC missed a golden opportunity about a decade ago when they failed to support Ni John Fru Ndi in his bid to become President of the Republic of Cameroon. If the grievances of the SCNC really and truly hinge on the fact of Anglophone marginalization, then one wonders why they did not threw in their weight behind the Anglophone Fru Ndi when he came into prominence and nearly beat incumbent Paul Biya to become President of Cameroon. That was some ten years ago, yet since Fru Ndi’s party, the SDF, came into prominence over a decade ago, it has remained the country’s unchallenged leading opposition party. So is it too late for the SCNC to come clean, swallow its pride and support the SDF Chairman, especially now that the SDF is still the only opposition party likely to topple Paul Biya? Well, it’s up to the SCNC.
There is another point on which the SCNC has faltered, or at least not lived up to expectations. It is that of showing that although it is not yet in power, it cares for the people it claims to lead. When the Lake Nyos exploded in 1986 claiming human lives and property to a disturbing extent, the SCNC was mute. At least it did not step forward; it did not come centre-stage to offer relief. When the Mount Cameroon exploded, the SCNC was not seen leaping into action. Apart from loving the sound of its own voice, the SCNC has not spearheaded any help schemes for any segment of society. It has not offered any poverty relief schemes for the people such as housing, health care, education, rural development or poverty reduction. Although it claims that Bakassi is its own, it stepped aside and let Paul Biya do all the hard work that was involved in the territory being declared Cameroon’s by the International Court at The Hague. The SCNC must realize that in order to succeed it needs to match words with action, rhetoric with deeds.
I have personally always been puzzled by the historical cut off point they SCNC has chosen. Why specifically the period of the Southern Cameroons? Why not the period when the French and English territories were one, under the Germans? Why not even the period when Anglophone Cameroon was governed as the semi-autonomous State of West Cameroon? The latter period is the one I personally knew and can remember today because it coincides with the time of my being born and growing up. So, I would not cast my vote for a distant Southern Cameroons which I know little about. I leave that to my parents and grand parents. That was their era, not mine.
Having said that, I believe there is an Anglophone problem in the country. But I also believe it can be solved through inclusion, not exclusion. The present era in Cameroon is ours; that is, that of my generation. Unlike our parents who schooled in Nigeria and to a lesser extent, Britain, we are the generation that aimed at entering the Federal Bilingual College and later on studied at the University of Yaounde. We studied alongside our francophone brothers and sisters. Today we work alongside them in the same offices and sit on the same committees at the National Assembly. We are increasingly speaking or at least understanding the other official language. Our children have taken the struggle even further. To understand the point, we only have to look at the number of French-speaking children who are flooding into the typically Anglo-Saxon schools throughout the national territory. They are quickly improving their English while their French remains in tact.
Honestly, when a team is not performing well, the coach has to reconsider his line-up. He may have to change his strategy. Whether the changes he makes are drastic and far-reaching or they are cosmetic and therefore mere window dressing, it is up to him. But At the end of the day, he will be held responsible for the result. At the end of the day, what we want is the greatest good of the greatest number.