The Anglophone crisis which began as an industrial strike action with demands for reforms by teachers and lawyers, rapidly degenerated into an armed conflict and will soon be four years old.
Over 4,000 people have been killed in the conflict with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons dispersed across the country and thousands of others seeking refuge in neighbouring Nigeria.
A national dialogue was organized by the Cameroon government from September 30 to October 4, 2019. It was presented as a magic wand to end the crisis but however failed to end the ongoing violence which has only intensified.
A quest for an independent state called Ambazonia continues in the central African nation’s English-speaking regions.
A December 2014 law on the suppression of acts of terrorism in Cameron has made reporting on the conflict difficult – hindering discussions on the true picture of what happens on the ground.
Talking to separatist fighters in Cameroon is as good as toying with an indefinite jail sentence for the reporter. For the fighters, it is often difficult as they are not sure who they can trust. But some separatist fighters braved the potential repercussions to grant an exclusive interview to Mimi Mefo Info (MMI). This report gives a first-hand account of what obtains on the ground.
Why we picked up arms against the government
According to *James, (not his real name) a separatist fighter in location X in the restive North West Region of Cameroon, he joined the fight because of how he and his family were maltreated by the Cameroon government.
James, an Ambazonian fighter tells Mimi Mefo Info
“I’m 28 years old and I joined the separatist squad in 2017. It was not my initial intention to join the fighters but when they caused me to liquidate my life savings in paying bail bonds for no offence, I decided to pick up arms,”
James narrates further that: “When the crisis started, I had just graduated as a welder. I travelled to Mbanga and worked in the plantations, made some money and bought my filing machine. I immediately returned to location X. I set up my workshop and had 3 apprentices. I was arrested three times. First, they accused me of being an accomplice to the fighters. I was beaten and detained for days. I had to pay one hundred and fifty thousand francs CFA to regain my freedom. The second time, I was accused of manufacturing guns for the separatists. I was arrested, beaten, and I paid a hundred thousand francs CFA. After my release the third time, I decided to join the fighters even against the wish of my family. I am intent on revenging the maltreatment on me”.
“My home land is the best country in West Africa. My brothers and sisters have been killed by the military and I strongly believe that our freedom is coming soon. I’m not afraid of anything at all. Only the independence of our country will stop me from fighting even death,” he told MMI.
Even former fighters still nurse hopes for a new nation-Ambazonia
According to Martin, a former fighter from the conflict-hit South West Region, even though he no longer fights, he still believes in the new nation baptized as Ambazonia in 2017.
“I do not regret being a fighter because I knew why I was fighting though I left along the way. I just believe God had a reason for the decision I took. Deep in me, I know and believe. I haven’t given up. I live to fight another day, not that I am a coward. I have no regret in me for defending my mothers, fathers, sisters… from the colonial forces,” Martin said.
In an exclusive chat with one of the fighters on the ground, a renowned Ambazonian General who leads separatist groups in Anglophone Cameroon, ‘Field Marshall’ RK of the British Southern Cameroons Resistant Forces, tells MMI that the struggle is far from ending any time soon.
Atrocities Committed By Separatist Fighters
Recently, there have been images of horrific atrocities like the beheading of civilians by the fighters. RK says such acts are not committed by his true fighters seeking the liberation of the Anglophone people.
“We know that the government of Cameroon has created fake Amba groups here and their mission is to commit all kinds of atrocities and abominable acts that will discourage the Ambazonian peoples from supporting the real fighters. Ambazonian fighters are against all forms of civilian killings. It’s against our code to turn our backs on the very people that are supporting us, the very people that are doing the little they can to make sure that we liberate our homeland. We do not kill our own people. This is war and at times things happen accidentally. We respect the Geneva Convention. If an Ambazonian is caught red-handed working with an agent of the Cameroon government in order to take civilian life, take sides with their soldiers or even participate in the process, we arrest you and not kill. It’s the military of Cameroon that kill without discrimination. Once they talk to you in French and you can’t respond well in French, you are killed,” the self-decorated Field Marshall said.
This position has sadly been countered on several occasions by the outings of some Ambazonian leaders who sought to justify the killings or even encourage the killing of anyone who was considered a ‘blackleg’.
Will You One Day Stop Fighting?
The conflict will soon be four years old, and RK says there is no end in sight. He adds that until he achieves independence for his country Ambazonia, there will be no hope of him stopping the fight.
“The only thing that will stop us from fighting is the independence of Ambazonia when our nation is recognized as a state, a nation with its sovereignty when we must have liberated Ambazonia when the government of Cameroon must have pulled out its troops from our land when we must have celebrated in Buea. Now that we are still under the forceful occupation of the Cameroon government, we shall continue to resist and we do not care how long it takes,”RK tells MMI in an exclusive interview.
RK’s optimism is not shared by some Ambazonian fighters such as Martin, who says he had to stop fighting because to him, the independence struggle had lost focus and he could no longer cope with what it takes to be a separatist fighter.
“I am no longer fighting because I noticed there was a lot of division and in-fighting amongst fighters mostly caused by ‘some gullible diaspora’, self-interest, power tussle, backstabbing, sabotage, insufficient materials, high level of propaganda…,” he said.
Martin continued: “One of the main reasons that made me have second thoughts and pull out was in-fighting. I couldn’t just stand to see a fighter killing his fellow fighter no matter what. I said to myself, than to be killed by my fellow brother instead of the enemy, it’s better I take a back seat for now.
He talked about how fighters use traditional amulets or charms called ‘Odeshi’ to protect themselves against bullets.
“Life wasn’t easy. You have to make sure you are always being fortified frequently by “Odeshi” which has so many complicated rules. You don’t have to take a bath, you need not have anything in common with a woman especially those on their period, you don’t have to visit the family because you might fail the rules, you don’t eat what you want but what “Odeshi” wants. You have to stay only in the camps deep in the forest which is not easy. This is why some who couldn’t uphold the rules always go to town and end up being pointed out by blacklegs or informants working with the military. In fact, you have to live like a prisoner. You don’t have human feelings and don’t regret any action being carried out,” Martin narrated to MMI.
How long is the revolution?
Most Anglophones today, who have had some form of education, believe that the Anglophone crisis stemmed from a bad union of two independent states that came together on the proviso of having equal status, yet one has been wallowing under the occupation of another since 1961.
The Ambazonian RK says the revolution is as old as he can remember.
“I have been in the revolution from birth. Our forefathers started the revolution way back in the 1960s. It did not start with me and will not end with me”.
Efforts of the international community
The UN and international organizations have so far been commenting on the crisis in Cameroon with some establishing themselves on the ground to give humanitarian assistance.
According to RK, the ground zero separatist leader, the efforts of the international community is too slow and not enough. “They are too slow because each day in Ambazonia, the Cameroon military keeps slaughtering women, children, babies, raping and killing both the young and the old. They have refused to recognize that a genocide is going on in Ambazonia.
RK invited the international community to come to the Anglophone regions to see the destruction for themselves and investigate it.
“If they doubt our leaders and us the fighters, let them send in the international press to come do independent reports. They should comment on the fact that the Cameroon government has barred the international press from coming to do reports on the ground. If the international community steps foot on the Ambazonia territory, they will be surprised we are losing lives daily. Information is not reaching the international community.
“We welcome their efforts but they are too slow to save the lives of millions perishing by the day. Nothing can demoralize me as a fighter and citizen of Ambazonian land. I know at the political level we might have differences but nothing can demoralize me,” added RK.
Better life and education
For some time, the Cameroonian government has asked separatist fighters to drop their weapons, leave the bushes and go to the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Centres to get reformed and reintegrated into the society. According to RK still fighting in the bushes, he can only accept such an offer from the Ambazonian government.
“I will accept a better life from the Ambazonian government tomorrow. Nothing from the Cameroon government is good for me and my people. After the liberation of our country, I will accept any offer of a better life. After the war, I will gladly burn all my certificates. Go back to school and acquire pure Anglo-Saxon education,” he said, rubbishing the government-created DDR.
According to ex fighter Martin, he will never convince anyone to drop their weapons because any fighter has his own personal reason why he or she joined the conflict.
“If I am given an opportunity I won’t convince any fighter still in the bush. It should be noted that each and everyone has the right to his or her opinion. They didn’t just get up one morning or evening and decide to rebel against the government. It’s due to the brutality meted by the forces of law and order on the population that caused us to pick up arms. As we all know, the government declared war on Ambazonia and even before the declaration made by Mr Paul Biya in late 2017, they were already killing and arbitrary arresting harmless civilians who protested against bad governance which met with a high level of brutality”.
Martin is adamant that the government is the main instigator of the fighting in the Anglophone Regions and have done little to resolve the problem.
Martin, a separatist fighter tells MMI.
“As we speak, it’s still ongoing, thus causing more anger and hatred towards the regime. The government pushed the population to pick up arms and now they only believe in a free Ambazonia. The reasons that prompted the resort to arms have not been addressed. So, any journey to convince anyone who is still in the bush is futile. Besides, the government has shown a lot of bad faith, which makes it very difficult to embark on such a fruitless mission,”
Encouragement to fight
For close to four years, ‘Filed Marshall’ RK has been in gun battles with the Cameroon military on several fronts across the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon. He says what gives him encouragement is that; he looks at his efforts as a call from God.
“I have answered a call from God to save my people. Whom God has chosen, He empowers. He chose Joshua and Moses and empowered them. When He chose Joseph, He gave him wisdom. When He chose David, He gave him the strength to overcome Goliath.
“What prompted me to pick up stones against the government of Cameroon was because their military pushed me to defend my people. I can’t sit and fold my arms and see mothers, sisters slaughtered because they asked for reforms to better their misery in the union with the Cameroon government,” he explained.
Do separatist fighters still have civilian support?
The fighting has caused untold suffering, misery, hunger and pain within the ranks of the civilian population. Public opinion now holds that many civilians have now turned their back against the fight for independence.
There are also reports that the traditional ghost town observed every Monday, instituted since January 2017, is now being respected by civilians for fear of reprisals from the separatists.
But RK, who has been a fighter from day one, says his troops still have the full support of the people.
“I know my people are caught on both sides of the smoking guns. If not for the support of the people, we would not have existed beyond a day. If we are still resisting till today, they gave us the orders to do so. The people know who is burning their villages, their homes. They know who is killing their mothers and sisters, killing babies, raping their daughters. They pray for our safety daily and we keep gaining grounds. The administrative mechanism of the Cameroon government in the Ambazonian territory has crumbled, and we have the full support of the people,” RK told MMI.
What prospects for government reconstruction plan?
The government has on several occasions defended its troops on the ground, describing them as professional – though international organisations like Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International have accused them of serious human rights abuses and killings.
In the meantime, the Cameroon government with the support of the United Nations and other organizations have launched the reconstruction of the two Anglophone regions, torn by the conflict. This, the government plans to achieve without any hope of an end to the current crisis. RK says it is a failed mission that will never see the light of day.
“What reconstruction? You burn down villages, loot, kill people, and turn around to talk about reconstruction? It will not work. As we speak, the Cameroon government through its killer military is still killing people here, burning and raping my people. We are at war and that’s a fool’s plan. Will they reconstruct the lives of the thousands who died? It is an impossibility given that genocide is going on,” revealed the Ambazonian General.
Can mediation efforts silence the guns?
There has been much talk about the Swiss talks and recently, jailed Anglophone leaders in Yaoundé announced they had started pre-talks with the Cameroon government, though the government later denied this. According to RK, everyone loves peace but the peace should not come in pieces”.
“We do not trust the Cameroon government and their partners in crime. We reject mediation from France. They keep giving the Cameroon government arms to come and kill my people. Yes, I support mediation out of Cameroon. All Amazonians detained illegally must be released, and those missing should be accounted for. Such mediation would take place in the presence of the African Union and United Nations intervention forces. The Cameroon troops pulled out of our territory. We are the ones that have been wronged. The little ammunition we used, we seized from the Cameroon military. We started our resistance with stones and clubs just to stay alive,” says RK.
Even though Martin no longer fights, he says the terms of mediation should be favourable. “The only way out is to free all arrested, withdraw all military currently causing havoc in Ambazonia, then engage in a sincere and transparent negotiations in a neutral ground. All the leaders of Ambazonia can tell you everyone will like to leave the bush but depending on the conditions met. If this isn’t done then anyone thinking of convincing the fighters to leave the bush is merely wasting time,” concluded Martin.
Thoughts about Diaspora Leaders
The leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement in the diaspora have been accused of division, backbiting and igniting disunity within the ranks of fighters on the ground.
Some have formed multiple leadership commands in the diaspora, this to the anguish of many Anglophones. RK says he regrets such moves but wishes for a united front that could fast-track the independence they now seek.
“They are doing their best. I’m not a politician but I know the differences existing among the various groups are not good. I can’t condemn anybody or what they are doing to make Ambazonia liberated. I will have loved a united approach to speed up the liberation of Ambazonia. All the groups and factions have the same goal, total and unconditional independence of Ambazonia; they should not betray the people,” emphasised RK.
Dream for Ambazonia as a State
Field Marshall RK says he wants a nation with equity and justice.
“I want a nation where everyone is treated equally with no form of corruption and discrimination. A nation where people are judged by their character, not tribal affiliations or who relates with who. A nation where the law is precise to all, a nation where there is religious freedom, respect of gender equality, no class stratification and a nation where success is determined by the zeal or power of hard work.”
Martin, the ex-Ambazonian fighter says he still stands in support of the fight even though not at the battlefield.
“Though I have taken a step backwards, it doesn’t mean I am against the revolution. I am still in full support of a free Ambazonia. The facts still remain unchangeable; we were colonized by French Cameroun.”
Why the Urgent Need For Independence
Quizzed on why there is the urgent need for a new nation after the union with Cameroon for decades, RK says the resistance from captivity did not just start in 2017 but way back in 1961 after independence.
“We want recognition. We had our independence in 1961 and were forcefully occupied. We shall continue to resist until Ambazonia is recognized as an independent nation as in 1961. Some call us separatists and rebels. We’re simply resisting occupation and we have been resisting peacefully and diplomatically until the Cameroon government declared war on us.”
Not Afraid To Die
The close to four years fighting has spilled much blood, yet RK and his troops say they are still determined to fight and are not afraid of death.
“I’m not afraid to die for they destroy the flesh and not the soul. It’s an honour that many have longed to have. Our brothers and sisters in arms are not afraid. You can’t kill an ideology that is almost a part of genetic structures. I know we can’t match the Cameroon military directly but I’m determined to liberate my people, free Ambazonia from this demonic grip by the Cameroon government. We shall fight till liberation.”
With the separatist fighters and the Cameroon government still engaging in frequent gun battles with no signs of an end soon, it is feared happiness might be just a single and momentary episode in a long drama of pain to come.
Mimi Mefo Info Exclusive