Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today deeply concerned about the future of this country. Our duty here is no secret. We are here to dialogue and provide a credible, acceptable and timebound response to a conflict. We are here, regrettably without the non-state armed groups who are a party to the conflict we seek to resolve through this process.
Our country is composed of peoples who gained their independence on two separate days, in two separate months, in two different years. One, the Republic of Cameroun, on January 1, 1960, the other, Southern Cameroons, on October 1, 1961. The Anglophones in the former Southern Cameroons are not just inhabitants of two regions in Cameroon but recognized as a people by international law. As the African Commission on Human Rights ruled in 2009 the people of Southern Cameroon can legitimately claim to be a ‘people’ because “they manifest numerous characteristics and affinities, which include a common history, linguistic tradition, territorial connection, and political outlook. More importantly they identify themselves as a people with a separate and distinct identity. Identity is an innate characteristic within a people. It is up to other external people to recognise such existence, but not to deny it.”
The Anglophones are a people who before choosing to gain their independence by reunification with La Republique du Cameroun already had and managed all the arms of modern government. The territory had a government, an executive, a judiciary and a parliament. We had a state—one state, not two regions. It would be a travesty to claim otherwise.
Our people, those whose aspirations we seek to meet here today, have never really experienced the joy of celebrating the anniversary of their independence without fear.
As I speak to you today, history is already being written. But which history? And what history?
Unarmed civilians are dying in the NW and SW regions. Babies and women are being killed. Hunger and suffering are on an upward trajectory. Thousands suffer major injuries. Millions struggle with the mental and psychological scars of an avoidable war. Hundreds of thousands of students cannot go to school. Several thousands do not even have a school to go to. Thousands live in the bushes, are stuck in refugee camps, or have becoming Internally Displaced People in their own country!
Ladies and gentlemen. Like our forefathers before us, we will go someday. Nobody in this hall will live forever. There will be a different Cameroon tomorrow and the day after. The question is, what will be our role in putting this country back on the path our forefathers chose for us in 1961?
That path was not supposed to be one of covert assimilation, subjugation and domination. It was not supposed to lead to the destruction of the socio-economic and political fabric of the former Southern Cameroons. And it was definitely not supposed to lead to the oppression and humiliation of the people of Southern Cameroons! It was supposed to give birth to a new nation consisting of “brothers and fellow countrymen” from both sides of the River Mungo building a new nation based on the best that each side had to offer. Alas!
When we led lawyers and teachers in peaceful protests in 2016, what was really at stake was the preservation of our identity and our human rights as full-fledged citizens of the bilingual Cameroon republic, and of our way of life. The law school, for example, is still an unfulfilled dream. In fact, a young and brilliant law student from the University of Buea recently died in a boat accident on his way back from law school in Nigeria. The Anglophone minority still struggles in a system where even the most basic norms of regional balance have never been balanced.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this crucial moment in the history of our country, we should bear in mind and have the humility to admit that might is not always right. The most powerful do not have a monopoly of the truth. Our history is staring at us in the face and waiting to see what we do next. Are we going to Make or Mar as a great patriot once asked half a century ago? The people of the former Southern Cameroons are looking at us for a long-lasting and permanent solution to their problems. How we act is a choice. The choices we make will have consequences on the lives of millions of Anglophone Cameroonians.
The choice we have today is whether we respect history or trample on it. The choice we have today is whether we respect justice or perpetuate injustice. The choice we have today is whether we listen to our consciences or continue down the path of callous indifference.
Most of the people we represent here today have no faith in this process. Shall we make it a sham activity and confirm their fears? Shall we make it “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?
Cameroon is more than one man, more than one party and more than one ethnic or linguistic group. Cameroon is more than President Biya and more than our personal whims and caprices. The aspirations of Anglophones are not and cannot be subject to the wishes of selfish and self-serving internal or external actors. Rich or poor, powerful or weak, we will leave the stage of life someday. Let our actions here reflect the legacy we intend to leave for our children. Let us finally and resolutely make the people of the former Southern Cameroons full-fledged citizens of this fledging Republic, with equal rights, dreams and aspirations. Or deal with the consequences of our inaction.