Letter to the Congressional Black Caucus
The protracted crisis in Cameroon and the role of the United States in possible resolution
Dear brothers and sisters,
There is a crisis in Cameroon which risks degenerating into a civil war or long term regional animosity if it is not properly resolved. The United States is implicated in the crisis and must be prudent in its further involvement. I am writing on behalf of English-speaking Cameroonians who are committed to the vision of a united Cameroon, a Cameroon in peace and abiding by the rule of law. It is our assessment that the US seems to support the destabilizing actions of some of our brothers and sisters who now live in the US and who have been at the center of the separatist attempt responsible for the escalation.
The US also claims to be working toward a solution, but it has not taken time to properly characterize the excesses by the Cameroonian forces in the two English-speaking regions. Further, in seeking a solution, it has failed to see the futility of unstructured dialogue with self-appointed separatist leaders who have conflicting demands. An unstructured dialogue would only be a prelude to further escalation and a false psychological boost to separatist sympathies in the regions, since no consensus can be obtained given the conflicting demands.
I am therefore writing to you in the hope that you will choose to support the people in the two regions who are caught between the separatists and the government. Further, my hope is that our common yearning for the brotherhood of all African people will lead you to condemn the hatred toward French-speaking Cameroonians and a kind of bigotry that has been developed by some English-speaking Cameroonians, especially the expats living in the US, some of whom are naturalized US citizens.
Against separation in Cameroon and against English-speaking Cameroonian bigots in USA
Let me first state that separation or federalism is not a practical solution to the crisis. Most federations in Africa (only four) are not very peaceful because of tribal and regional strives. Separation is predicated on the idea that the English-speaking regions would be more prosperous and better governed as a separate country.
There is no evidence to this claim, given that French Cameroon was more industrially developed than the English-speaking Cameroon at re-unification. Further, other English-speaking countries in Africa have fared much worse than Cameroon, including countries with good historical leaders such as Tanzania whose former President Nyerere is generally admired.
Separation is also to be rejected from the point of view of Afro Jamaicans and African Americans who labored to bring education and religion to Cameroon. Their achievements in Cameroon are unfortunately not given the significance they deserve but they brought uniting ideals at a time when tribalism and inter-tribal wars could not yield a nation.
I would like to call your attention to your brother, the Rev. Thomas Lewis Johnson, born into slavery in Virginia. He became a Christian and longed to take the gospel and education to Africa once he gained his freedom. Together with his wife, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, he came to Cameroon as a Baptist missionary in 1878. He came into an expanding missionary project headed by the Afro Jamaican, the Rev. Joseph Jackson Fuller.
The first native-born Cameroonian pastor, the Rev. George Nkwe, was a Cameroonian from the hinterlands, kidnapped and enslaved by a coastal Cameroonian chief. Anyone seeking a vision of a modern Cameroonian state looks to these brothers and sisters from Jamaica and USA, whose message of brotherhood and promotion of education outweighs the tribal and regional divisions promoted by the separatists. The separatists are going back to the kind of Africa that produced tribal wars and slaves.
If former slaves from the Americas brought a message of love and progress to Cameroon through their churches and schools, we cannot allow the Cameroonian diaspora in America today to export bigotry, division, tribalism and an empty utopian view of an independent separate nation in Cameroon called Ambazonia. Their flag has no connection to the pan-African colors around which people unite.
It is not just the divisive views of some English-speaking Cameroonians in the US that we object to. These people raise money for arms, openly advocate for an armed separatist struggle against the government forces and against those who support unity. They also encourage kidnappings, and call for expulsion of French-speaking Cameroonians from the English-speaking regions. The last act is alarming because many more English-speaking Cameroonians live and work in the French-speaking part of the country. By calling for such internal displacement of people, the leaders have calculated that this will be the most effective way to transition into a civil war and invite international media sympathy.
The use of force and threats to advance political goals clearly fall under the concept of terrorism, which your nation combats in all its forms. It is therefore a curious oversight or an open attempt to use the Cameroonian expats in the US to destabilize Cameroon for opaque foreign policy reasons. A review of the activities of many Ambazonian leaders in the US will reveal that they cross the line set by US law on terrorism and violence.
Theirs cannot be deemed free speech since many more people have been arrested for posting milder threats on social media. I have written to the former US Secretary of State on this tacit support and the US ambassador in Cameroon. My assessment is that they are willfully protecting these violent separatist leaders who promote the armed separatist struggle in the hope of recording alarming casualties. The separatist view is that the predictable excessive use of force by government forces will lead to many deaths and these many deaths will open up discussion about separation, which is frankly a remote possibility from all perspectives considered.
Against the confused US position on the Cameroon government.
The opposition in Cameroon is weak, the ruling party is under the strong grip of the president, and the president's forced departure would be the start of a prolonged state of chaos in the country. You would agree with me that the track record of "liberating" foreign nations from the grip of presumed dictators by the US and other western countries is not the least positive. It is therefore ill-advised for the US to actively consider meddling in the toxic political climate in Cameroon.
The most pragmatic and peaceful way forward in Cameroon is behind-the scene-advice to the president on the need for strong institutions and the rule of law. Any open display of a desire for regime change hardens the president's heart and wins him sympathy among the population, some of whom were fond of Gadaffi as a pan-Africanist.
My assessment is that the corrupt government network in Cameroon needs the continuous presidency of Mr. Paul Biya than he needs the office. He can therefore be brought to see this, opting to work toward a decentralized unitary state abiding by the rule of law and structured with strong institutions. This is as much as regime change and peaceful transition in Cameroon are concerned. Regarding the crisis, atrocities have been committed and the US should not back down in putting pressure on the government for investigation.
A connection to regime change must be avoided. The crucial thing is that justice must be seen to be done to those victimized by the unprofessional behavior of security forces and administrators in the regions. Also, the US cannot be taken seriously if it does not also recognize the other side of the equation - the provocative radicalization with money and speeches from US soil. The US government must help to arrest the clearly violent separatist leaders calling for attacks on military and civilians in Cameroon. This act will help to reduce the number of under-age children taking up arms against the government without training.
On behalf of the English-speaking Cameroonians caught between violent separatists, sponsored from abroad (mainly USA), and an indifferent government that is not doing enough to end the misery in the two regions, I implore you to help us. Please, reject the hateful and divisive politics of English-speaking Cameroonian separatists in USA. These people are enemies of black people everywhere. They subscribe to the kind of bigotry that USA is increasingly being accused of. I also plead with you to oppose the reflexive foreign policy attitude of your country which eagerly seeks regime change around the world, even when the regional problems are manifestly more complicated than painted in the media. The right approach in Cameroon is investigation of crimes, justice for victims, and reconciliation of the English-speaking people of the two regions, noting the irrationality of seeking dialogue with self-imposed and ill-informed leaders of the separatist movement. An independent Ambazonia in the gulf of guinea is a second South Sudan that must be prevented from actualizing.
The prosperity and peace of Cameroon lies in the rule of law and strong institutions. Given the state of decay of the nation, these changes cannot be effected without the willing participation of the sitting president whose strong grip on the country has made it impossible for knowledgeable and competent alternative political voices to emerge in Cameroon. The opposition needs to grow but it is far from capable to hold the nation together in case of a precipitated exit of the sitting president. Most opposition parties today are regional parties and clearly suffer from the stifling grip of tribalism or regionalism.
My dear brothers and sisters, the people of Cameroon need your leadership and help, just like it needed the visionary work of the freed slaves who came to us as missionaries and teachers or the visionary work of the great scholar our people have produced, W.E.B. DuBois. The path to a prosperous Africa is through strong institutions, rule of law, an end to tribalism and forceful rejection of poorly conceived revolutions such as the separatists are trying to do in Cameroon. There is a lot more information on this crisis at our FB page "English-Cameroon for a united Cameroon."
We are a third voice that is committed to objectivity and dedicated to the vision of a united Cameroon. We have equally been very critical toward the government of Cameroon, even as we offer suggestions and analysis to help with the resolution of the crisis. In full disclosure, I am a Cameroonian-born Canadian living in the US. I work as an engineering educator but became involved in this crisis to avert what I perceived more than a year ago as a slow march to a civil war in Cameroon. This assessment appeared recently in the Washington Post. Africans and African Americans can work together to prevent this stereotypical picture of African as a nursery of civil wars and misery.
The people of Cameroon thank you in advance for your careful engagement with the complex crisis which will increasingly be debated in Cameroon. It is not black and white; I hope to have given you some context to the complex problem.
Your brother, Benjamin Akih
On behalf of English-Cameroon for a United Cameroon.