SOUTHERN CAMEROON CRISIS: The Working People Must Give the Lead By Dimeji Macaulay
Photo: Southern Cameroon protest in London
The media have recently beamed light on the rising secessionist movement in the Southern Cameroon and the rottenness of Paul Biya’s regime. The crisis in South Cameroon is one of the examples of rising developments of self-determination movements in Africa and many parts of the world. But while in certain circumstances Socialists can support the struggle for self-determination, we are also quick to point out that, on its own, secession will not lead to the end of suffering and inequality so long capitalism and landlordism remain undefeated. At all times, socialists have always warned that nothing can be securely achieved on the basis of capitalism.
To start with, the Southern Cameroon crisis is a product of the brutal legacy of Colonialism. The imperialists that ruled, while leaving Africa after sustained pressure, did not depart without putting down structures that will still serve their interests and also bring profitable return to them. In the aftermath of the First World War, Cameroon as part of defeated Germany’s colonial possessions, was split between Britain and France as so-called mandate territories. The area of Southern Cameroon was part of the British mandate and as a result English-speaking compared to other parts of Cameroon that are today French-speaking. Shortly after Nigerian and Cameroonian independence in 1960 a referendum was held in British Cameroon which resulted in the largely Muslim northern part joining Nigeria while mainly Christian Southern Cameroon voted to become the “Western State” of the new Federal Republic of Cameroon. This federal structure remained until 1972.
Though, Cameroon has never had a successful military coup, it has a ruthless dictator in the person of Paul Biya who has retained his position through brutal repression as well as dubious and controversial elections. “In 1982 President Ahmadou Ahidjo, who had ruled for 22 years, stepped down on health grounds. He handed over to his prime minister Paul Biya who promptly turned around, passed a death sentence on Ahidjo and has been ruling Cameroon ever since. Biya’s 34 years in power could be Africa’s longest after Muammar Gaddafi’s 42 years” (Exile, jail, death or concession, Premium Times, 5 December 2016).
Successive elections have always been manipulated to keep him in power with the support of French governments. The Republic of Cameroon constitution have been amended many times to pave way for Paul Biya’s to continue to be in power for 35 years amidst corruption and endless poverty.
RISING SECESSIONIST MOVEMENT
In a country riven with unresolved national question, the manipulations and despotism of the regime has succeeded in reinforcing separatist sentiments and agitations. The secessionist Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) has garnered support among the youths and working class who have been suffering and humiliated by widespread election manipulation and corruption of Paul Diya’s regime.
The SCNC has been in the leadership of the struggle for self-determination for Anglophone area, though it has been outlawed by the Paul Biya’s government. But the organization draws membership from lawyers, teachers and students from Southern Cameroon. According to news reports on November 15, 2016, 15 Social Democratic Front (SDF) Members of Parliament at the National Assembly who are from Southern Cameroon are also calling for a separation of the region from the Republic of Cameroon because the suffering of their people and continued attacks on peaceful protesters. Many lawyers, teachers and activists have been arrested and detained.
Like Nigeria where people from both the North and the South mix with one another by living together and trading, there is a similar situation also in Cameroon between both the French-speaking and English-speaking people. But the desire of South Cameroon to leave the Republic of Cameroon is, at least in part, because of rising language discrimination and attempts to force French language on the English speaking people. For instance in one of the protests late last year and early this year, one of the reasons that triggered the protest and strike was the use of French language in courts and schools in English-speaking parts of Cameroon including Bamenda, capital of the North-West region in Southern Cameroon.
The Paul Biya’s government has responded to the growing wave of movements against his regime in the Southern Cameroon by sending troops to the region and initially blocking the internet in the region for about four months. It was efforts by working people and youth through political actions and international solidarity that compelled the government to lift the internet ban to Southern Cameroon.
SOCIALIST MESSAGE TO THE CAMEROONIAN WORKING CLASS
Capitalism and its legacy of colonialism are the chief obstacles to lasting unity of diverse ethnic groups and people. Once this is removed, it is possible for relationship based on genuine human solidarity, rather than competition and exploitation as we presently have, to emerge.
Socialists recognize the right to self-determination but we also call for united struggle to bring about an end to capitalism. The capitalist system and the neo-liberal agenda of Paul Biya’s regime have subjected many Cameroonians even in the Francophone area to poverty and unemployment. The Francophone area was also affected by the anti-poor policies of the capitalist system as well as the attacks on democratic rights by the dictatorial regime of Paul Biya.
Therefore, there is still a basis for united struggle of the working class and youth of both regions around a programme to resist anti-poor policies, demand increase in workers’ wages and funding of public education and social services, an end to language discrimination and marginalization, respect of minority rights and a Sovereign National Conference populated by genuine representatives of the working and oppressed people of both regions to negotiate the unity of the country. To succeed, such a mass movement must equally demand an end to Paul Biya’s dictatorship, a genuine multiparty democracy with free elections and a mass workers political party as a platform for the working class to fight for political power. These are the urgent tasks facing the trade unions, civil societies, progressive professional groups, communities’ and youth groups in Cameroon today.
As the recent example of South Sudan demonstrates, separation is never an automatic solution. While some forms of national oppression can end, there is the danger that basically a new group of exploiters are the main beneficiaries. Therefore for Socialists, as we see the root of oppression and exploitation as the capitalist system, only its replacement by a workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist programme of nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under public democratic control and management can lay the basis for an end to inequality.
However in a given situation where a people are openly demanding separation, Socialists would offer sympathetic support to this aspiration while equally pointing out its limitation without a programme to end capitalism. This is why we support the call for a referendum to allow the people of Southern Cameroon to decide. But while fighting for separation, we must stress that the Southern Cameroonian working and oppressed people can only rely on their own strength and not on that of the Southern Cameroonian capitalist class who support the struggle for separation for their own self-serving agenda.
There is an urgent need for the working and oppressed people in the separatist region through their trade unions and mass organizations to have their own independent programme with clear slogans containing the following among many others:
(1) opposition to all neo-liberal policies like privatization, underfunding of social services and deregulation,
(2) free education and healthcare
(3) jobs for all
(4) respect of democratic and minority rights
(5) a genuine multi-party democracy, independent candidacy and free elections,
(6) Nationalization of key sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management
(7) A mass workers party that fights for this programme and (
8) a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist programmes. This is vital to ensuring that an independent Southern Cameroon does not fall under the rulership of the same kind of corrupt capitalist elements as Paul Biya.
We in Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Nigeria demand an end to the arrest of protesters, lawyers, journalists and activists as well as an end to occupation of South Cameroon. We also call for solidarity among the working class in both the Francophone and Anglophone regions of Cameroon, supporting each other’s struggles and democratic rights. In Cameroon a key objective is to put an end to the Paul Biya’s dictatorial regime and end the capitalist system that creates suffering amidst abundance.
Dimeji Macaulay is a member of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Podcaster in Conscience Radio. Twitter @Dimejimacaulay, email:firstname.lastname@example.org .