A secessionist revolt is gaining ground in the English-speaking west of Cameroon, but for lack of charismatic local leaders, the impetus is coming from the diaspora, analysts say.
Secessionist militants on October 1 proclaimed the independence of Ambazonia, the name they give to the two Anglophone regions, provoking a crackdown by President Paul Biya‘s security forces that left dozens dead and many injured.
The upheaval, which broke out at the end of 2016 and threatens to become an “armed insurrection” according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), was at first motivated by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), locally known as “the Consortium”.
Formed in December 2016, the Consortium chaired by Felix Khongo Agbor Balla comprised four lawyers’ associations and several teachers’ unions, sharing a moderate attitude in favour of federal ties with the larger French-speaking parts of the country.
In January, the Consortium was dissolved and two leaders were arrested. They were later freed, but several others fled abroad, where their political stance hardened and they joined the ranks of the secessionists.
France and Britain divided up the one-time German colony under League of Nations mandates after World War I. A year after the French-ruled territory became independent in 1961, the southern part of British Cameroons was integrated into a federal system, scrapped 11 years later for a “united republic”.
In the Southwest and Northwest Regions, home to about 20 percent of Cameroon’s population of 23 million, the secessionist struggle is waged “by local teams acting in semi-clandestine fashion”, says Mathias Eric Owona Nguini, an academic researcher specialised in geostrategic analysis in central Africa.
While differences over strategy and tactics remain, small secessionist groups have in recent months emerged to call for violence, particularly against the security forces but also against francophone citizens. They intimidate hostile members of the local elite comfortable with the status quo.
Yet the main political battle is “waged from abroad” by known individuals acting openly and favourable to independence of an angolophone Ambazonia, says Nguini Owona.
Living in the United States, Julius Ayuk Tabe Sisiku, the self-proclaimed president of Ambazonia, has a personal guard detail. A computer technician little known in Cameroon at large, Sisiku uses his Facebook page to give instructions to his followers. He also haunts the corridors of power to work quietly to win international recognition for his “country”.
Two exiled members of the Consortium, Wilfred Tassang and Harmony Bobga, have announced the creation of a “Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front” (SCACUF), which preaches independence and gives guidance in the fight against the Yaounde government.
Exiled members of the old Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), a secessionist movement that was decapitated over the past two decades by the security forces, have joined the front.
Inside the country, a famed radio personality, Mancho Bibixy or “BBC”, came forward as the voice of the radicals in the anglophone town of Bamenda in the Northwest. He was arrested in January and remains in jail accused of “terrorism”.