Falconry is an old well-established sport in which the falconer releases the trained falcon or some other bird of prey to go after game. He does so with the knowledge that upon his summons, the falcon would return to him. Meanwhile, for the hapless prey, the unleashed bird, is a source of fear and worry.
There was plenty of worry on Friday 22nd September, when the images and videos of protesters marching from early in the morning, with leaves, and blue rags, plastic bags and diverse placards, left anxious butterflies as to what the state security service would do. The situation did not require a trained observer to see that it was a tinder box and one spark could set off a chain of events which would be difficult to contain. There is no way to return fireworks into their innocuous packages once the show has been lit.
A potential flashpoint captured in one video on Social Media showed youths, in a stand-off with armed security personnel. “How many people you want to kill?” they chanted. But something was wrong. The officers were exercising an unusual amount of patience and calm leading one commentator to suggest they were “impotent”, with indications of disappointment that there had been no confrontation. It is unclear why the security forces chose to “stand down” but Social Media is rife about orders from Yaoundé.
If there was order within ranks of the security, little can be said about the order exhibited by protesters be it those who stormed the Fon of Nkwen’s palace, those at Station Hill in Bamenda, others joy riding police vehicles in Kumba or the mob which sacked the Mayor of Buea’s residence. Granted the videos were not shot by professionals and a minute and a half worth of footage really gives perhaps just headlines. However, the wanton destruction of the Buea Mayor’s residence, the destruction at Molyko and harassment of Lycee students (some of whom it is reported, where stripped of their uniforms and forced to go naked) point to a mob out of all control.
Beyond the leaves and blue material, they totted, were placards with various demands. Of noteworthy was one protester carrying a placard invoking the assistance of the United Nations. But the point is, the current troubles simply adds Cameroon to a list of other countries with territories harbouring minorities dissatisfied with their current situation and agitating to go their own way.
Fresh from the lessons of South Sudan, the UN would be very reluctant to do anything which would be precedent to some notable struggles for independence exemplified by the Kurds who want to form a state from their tribes-folk in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria; Catalonia – who want to secede from Spain; Others, including Kashmir, where separatists have been fighting for decades, to more recent like Doyetsk in Ukraine. And of course, not forgetting Palestine inter alia. The general opinion is that, the UN would be reluctant to do anything which could quite simply unravel the international order should the floodgates be opened to minorities with or without current secessionist ambitions all demanding a hearing and action from the United Nations.
So, if the UN is not coming to the aid of the protesters’ cause then perhaps Britain, as mentioned on another placard? The Foreign Office gave short shrift an audience with the Queen as demanded by representatives of “Ambazonia” so there will be no help forth coming from UK (which lest it’s forgotten is contending with secessionist demands of its own from Scotland) or indeed the Commonwealth.
The African Union recognises borders as they were from decolonisation a principle known as “uti possidetis” and the likes of Casamance, Cabinda, Katanga and indeed many other African territories seeking to secede from their respective existing African states have found this principle a stumbling block. Nevertheless, after a heavy price of three decades of war and a million deaths, South Sudan skipped over that hurdle only to find itself mired in another intense internecine conflict. A lesson both the UN and the AU would be reluctant to repeat.
Therefore, if the UN, the AU, the United Kingdom, would be disinclined to support this the cause, then perhaps the neighbourly Nigeria? Possibly, the neo-Biafrans would sympathise, simply because they would identify with the troubles. Birds of a feather since the Biafran resurgent calls for a split from the Nigerian federal state seems to be gaining some attention. But on the strength of that, it is certain that the Federal Government of Nigeria would be hostile to any secession of Anglophone Cameroon.
At the level of the Cameroonian State, it is difficult to see how this current Government would accede to or tolerate any unilateral declaration of independence. Nations like atoms do not do fission quietly. There usually is quite a bang, plenty of heat and sadly a lot of loss of life. History shows nations do not amicably wave goodbye to parts of their territory especially in this case where the regions concerned hold so much of its export potential Crude Oil, Palm Oil, Rubber, Banana, Cocoa, Coffee, Tea, Timber etc … It just does not happen – well not without a fight. But the country need not go down that route. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, Libya to name but a few conflicts from recent African history should serve as lighthouses in the current storm.
Those disseminating the secessionist propaganda are aware of all of this yet they continue ratchetting the tensions in the country. One of their reasons perhaps is to push the security forces until the point at which they lose their patience and hand them a cause (not unlike Easter Rising in 1916 or Bloody Sunday 1972) to flaunt in the international arena and get the attention of an otherwise distracted and uninterested UN. The death of unarmed protesters always raises hackles in the international community and it is, pardon the pun, red meat to the 24-hour media hounds and Social Media.
Given the pace at which the UN works and given the intricacies of the situation it is disingenuous, to say the least, for secessionists to peddle the hope that by marching out on the streets, they will have their “freedom” and a new state by the end of the month – 1st October 2017 precisely, as widely signalled in their communiques. Another truth which has been contorted, is with the numbers of people who turned out on the 22nd September because the estimates are highly subjective and depend on the inclinations of the reporter. However, whether it was 1% of the population or 5% it is important to note that it is still a lot of people whose expectations are being set up for an eventual disappointment because a declaration does not an independent state make.
That said, the government has on its shoulders this problem which like a light scratch has been allowed to fester into a reeking sore. It has had ample opportunities to resolve this but has prevaricated from one half measure to another and now despite the adage, “A stitch in time saves nine”, it is fast running out of time to save the multi-layered quilt that is Cameroon. Political parties have been brushed aside, and their leaders have been left impotent by the wayside, their appeals for calm derided and unheeded. So, at this point with some Anglophone members of parliament allegedly resigning their seats, what can be done?
Dialogue. Although those spoiling for a fight would list a litany of reasons why the time for dialogue has passed, dialogue remains the only way. Most if not all conflicts recorded in history have been resolved on a table. So, dialogue now or dialogue after hundreds, thousands or millions might have been killed, injured, lost their homes and livelihoods. That is the question.
A frank and credible dialogue channel must be opened, with independent negotiators between the government and those who are trusted by the youth and the community at large. Also, even in the most intractable situations re: the current war of words between North Korea and the United States it is known that there are back channels, as negotiators and interlocutors working behind the scenes can sometimes make more progress than those working in the harsh glare of the media. Still something else is required, a shunt that would derail this runaway train, but something far softer than the troops being bussed into the troubled regions.
It is time to pull a rabbit out of the hat, time to do something pleasantly unexpected. It’s time perhaps to invite the nation to that elusive “National Conference” or decreeing into reality the immediate implementation of regional assemblies across the country and unveiling ambitious development and investment plans for the aggrieved regions etc. Such initiatives would show the youth and moderates that there is hope after all. But the firebrand secessionists can be expected to call out, “too little, too late”.
In effect there should still be plenty of carrot and less stick because with the current troop build-up and the noises from the government, for example the warning by the South West Region Governor, the next flash point may turn out to be a point of no return. Given that the secessionists seek to make a declaration and march on Buea on 1st Oct. 2017, there little time, but time nevertheless, to pull from this cliff edge.
That said, if the instigators of the troubles were to do a volte-face and signalled an abandonment of their impending declaration as well as called for an end to the protests and ghost towns, it is not entirely certain, given the tone of the chatter on Social Media, the vehemence and chaos meted across the Anglophone regions last Friday, that such appeal would be respected.
So, the question that indeed needs answering is, has the falconer lost control of his falcon?
By Lloney Monono, UK