By Ngala Hansel
On July 12, 2022, news emerged that Ambazonia commander, Lekeaka Olivier Fongunueh, better known as Field Marshall, had been killed by Cameroonian soldiers. The news was confirmed when videos showed the Cameroonian army gloating over Field Marshall’s death by displaying his body in a public square in the Southwestern city of Kumba – a clear indication of “victory” and a move meant to instill fear in other separatist leaders across the region.
The move by Cameroon’s military brings to mind the prophetic words of the Hon. Joseph Wirba in 2016. This was just a few months into the current phase of the Anglophone Crisis. Wirba said then that:
“…The people of West Cameroon cannot be your slaves. The people of West Cameroon are not, you did not conquer them in war…
…Ten years ago, and I took my time drove from Kumbo to Yaounde to tell him ‘Something is brewing out there. This thing that you people are sending gendarmes to beat people up and say all of these things, there is pain in West Cameroon and as Minister of Justice, be very careful and he turned around, looked at me and told me ‘Mr. Wirba , it your people who chose to come here. He is alive, he told me.
Last week I went to see the Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Fame Ndongo and I told him ‘The problems we have in West Cameroon is the problem that will bring down Cameroon. If you do not handle it well you will not know Cameroon as it is in a few months or in a few years…”.
In December 2017, Crisis Group International warned then that the preceding events of December 2016 in which hundreds were killed in Bamenda and several others arrested, were symptomatic of an armed conflict that could escalate:
“This sharp deterioration in the situation requires an urgent response from Cameroonian President Paul Biya…
Due to such murderous repression, secessionist ranks are growing by the day, and some are more firmly evoking the idea of an armed struggle or “self-defense”. If he hopes to avoid an armed uprising in Anglophone regions, which would, without doubt, have an impact in the Francophone zone, the Cameroonian president must go beyond superficial measures and take responsibility in order to find political solutions to the crisis…”.
It seems as though Cameroonian authorities have not realized that they are dealing with an ideological crisis and you do not silence an ideology by shooting people or arresting them. This would explain why the arrest of Nelson Mandela by the apartheid government in South Africa did not make opponents of the struggle waver. Mandela was just one facet of the many fighters who opposed racist apartheid laws that forbade blacks and whites from mingling in South Africa.
This would also explain why the United States has been unable to win the war against terror in the Middle East. Americans are increasingly atheists while Taliban supporters have strong religious convictions that spur them to keep fighting even when several Taliban leaders have been killed by American soldiers. It is a war of ideology and not necessarily one of arms. The US would need to have a better alternative to offer to Taliban supporters other than bombing them to smithereens.
Cameroonian authorities by now ought to have realized that they are not winning the war in Anglophone zones by killing a handful of separatist fighters. Yes, the fighters may be killed but the ideology that convinced them to pick up arms in the first place will still remain after they are gone. The frustrations that pushed them into the bushes will still be there after their deaths but that quest for justice will still be there. Cameroon needs to admit that there is a problem and learn from other African countries where civil wars did not end because of the killing of warlords.
Riek Machar, a former warlord in South Sudan redeemed himself and later became a leading politician in his country after fighting against the government of the day as had John Garang before him.
There is the glaring case of Charles Taylor in Liberia, probably one of Africa’s best-known warlords. Taylor would topple the government of Samuel Doe and later become president of the country in 1997.
The list is very long and an article like this cannot do it justice but the point is that Anglophones do not condone violence. It is easy for the powers that be to simply point at the current armed conflict (which they partly caused by not listening to organizations like the Crisis Group) on Anglophones. However, Anglophones started by complaining that they needed the judicial and educational systems to be reformed to give them more leverage to manage affairs in these domains. At the time, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) petitioned the government and said the best way for peace was for a return to (not something new) the two-state federation which existed from 1961 to 1971.
Field Marshal is not the totality of the Anglophone Crisis. In fact, Field Marshal only rose and became known as a result of the Anglophone Crisis. Six years down the line, one would expect that our leaders would have understood that a military offensive is not working. Countless warlords or militia fighters have been killed, but more and more keep cropping up.
This should be an indication to government that the military solution is NOT working and that dialogue is the way out. Boasting about killing one warlord is not going to end the Anglophone Crisis. It does not take a magician to understand that Field Marshal’s demise will likely not change the status quo.
Several generations of English-speaking Cameroonians have taken up this struggle at different times and in different ways. This may likely be the case unless the authorities take steps to hold an inclusive dialogue and take time to listen (not lecture) the people about what they want and feel is best to address the concerns they have raised for the past several years.
Failure to do so will only help the words of Pakistan’s Malala to ring true:
“They can only shoot a body. They cannot shoot my dreams, they cannot kill my beliefs”.
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First published on CNA