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Africa

Will 'Ambazonia' become Africa’s newest country?

The English speaking people of Southern Cameroons are demanding an independent, sovereign nation they call Ambazonia. Cameroonian President Paul Biya will have none of it.

The name Ambazonia comes from the Ambas Bay. The bay which is located in southwestern Cameroon is considered as the boundary between Southern Cameroons and the Republic of Cameroon. In 1858, British missionary Alfred Saker founded a settlement for freed slaves at the bay which was later renamed Victoria. Britain established Ambas Bay Protectorate in 1884 with Victoria as its capital. The region was later ceded to Germany in 1887.

Demonstrators in Douala. (Reuters/J.Kouam)

Anti-independence demonstrations against Anglophone regions are also taking place in Cameroon

When Germany lost her African colonies during the First World War (1914-1918), Cameroon ceased to be a German colony in 1916. The country was given the status of a League of Nations mandate in 1919, it was administered by both Britain and France.

Read more: Cameroon: colonial past and present frictions

"The problem is that when European powers partitioned Africa, they split up families, relatives and communities that got along very well, whereas in some cases, communities that were enemies or competed against each other were bundled together into one territory," Jürgen Zimmerer, a historian at the University of Hamburg, told DW.

UN and Southern Cameroons

Prior to Cameroon's independence in 1961, Southern Cameroons was administered as a UN Trust territory. By the time British Southern Cameroons and French Cameroun gained independence in 1961, the French territory was more economically developed than its British counterpart. Two unequal former colonies became a single federal state; however, the disparities between the two were not addressed.

Watch video 03:44

Divisions deepen in Cameroon

The English speaking region was then given two options by the UN; either to join Nigeria or Cameroon as a federation. "I still do not understand why the United Nations did not give a third option," Feh Henry Baaboh, a legal expert in Doula, told DW.

"Logically, I would have expected the UN to give them the option of gaining independence and stand on their own," Henry Baaboh said. "I think it is that third option which is disturbing Southern Cameroonians up to this day." Ever since the two territories became one, Anglophone Cameroonians have complained they are politically and economically marginalized.

'Republic of Ambazonia'

In 1984, a group of English speaking people, led by renowned lawyer and leader of the Widikum people, Fon Gorji Dinka, unilaterally declared the 'Republic of Ambazonia.' This was in retaliation to the move by French speaking President Paul Biya to unilaterally change the name of the country from United Republic of Cameroon to Republic of Cameroon.

Cameroon's Electoral offices (Dr. Dirke Köpp)

Cameroon has maintained a bilingual system but the English speakers feel oppressed

"The 1961 [Cameroon] constitution gave room for a federation," attorney Henry Baaboh said. "As a young boy, I knew of the West Cameroon Federation State and the East Cameroon Federation State."

In 1972, Cameroon held a controversial referendum which changed the form of the state. "This was a violation of the 1961 constitution which stated that the form of the state should never be discussed," Henry Baaboh added. These political changes were viewed by many Anglophone people as an attempt to absorb or do away with all that they brought into the union-including the legal, political and educational systems.

Accordingto lawyer Henry Baaboh, Southern Cameroons or Ambazonia does not need to fight for independence because it already attained it in 1961. "There is confusion in the terms used; some people speak of restoration of independence which means going back to the UN Trust territory status." 

President Biya's crackdown

The government of 83-year-old President Paul Biya has showed no signs to compromise. Instead, Biya, who has been in power since 1982, has ordered a military crackdown on the protests. The English speaking region is considered an opposition bastion. This adds to the volatility engulfing Cameroon as the country gears up for a presidential election in 2018.

For barrister Henry Baaboh, there is no need for a referendum like the ones which were held in Spain's Catalan region or the Kurdish territory in Iraq. "Legally, maybe we can talk about secession or separation."

Cameroon's President Paul Biya (imago/Xinhua Afrika)

In 1984, President Paul Biya changed the status of the country from United Republic of Cameroon to Republic of Cameroon

Read more: Soldiers in Cameroon shoot dead several independence activists

The quest for independence for Southern Cameroons began in October 2016 as lawyers and teachers took to the streets to decry perceived economic injustice as well as cultural and linguistic discrimination.

 

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