PEOPLE OF THE SOUTHERN CAMEROONS: AN ILL-FATED PEOPLE

by C. Anyangwe

I. The Southern Cameroons: Location, Demography and Resources The Southern Cameroons (current maps of Africa do not indicate its location) is a former British-administered territory strategically located in the ‘armpit’ of Africa. It is sandwiched between Nigeria to the southeast and the former French-administered Cameroun (la Republique du Cameroun) to the southwest. It is a wedge between West Africa and what, in effect, is still French Equatorial Africa. It shares maritime boundaries with Nigeria, la Republique du Cameroun, and Equatorial Guinea. It has a land size of 43,000 sq.km and a current indigenous population of about 4.5 million people. The Southern Cameroons is thus more populated than at least 60 UN and 18 OAU Member States, and larger in area than at least 30 UN and 12 OAU Member States. It is selfsufficient in food and its natural resources include crude oil and gas, bauxite, salt, coffee, cocoa, tea, banana, palm oil and kernels, rubber, timber, and an abundance of fish in its territorial waters. II. Synoptic History The name ‘Cameroons’ is the traditional English form used for the pre-colonial coastal strip stretching from Ambas Bay to the Wouri estuary which was a British sphere of influence in the 19th century up to the German annexation in 1884. In July that year Germany proclaimed a protectorate over the said coastal strip, including its hinterland. The vast territory at the hinge of Africa which Germany thereby took possession of was called ‘Schutzgebiet von Kamerun’ and effective and peaceful occupation was assured only in late 1890. In 1914, after only less than twenty years of effective and peaceful German rule, Kamerun was wrested from Germany by Anglo-French-led forces at the very outset of World War I. A 1916 Anglo-French partition of the conquered German possesssion carved out two separate territories of unequal size. The smaller one went to Britain and was called by the English form ‘Cameroons’, while the larger one went to France and was called by the gallicized form ‘Cameroun’. When World War I ended these two territories formed part of the possessions to which Germany renounced its title and right under the Treaties of Versailles, 1919. In 1922 the Anglo-French partition of 1916 was confirmed by the granting of League of Nations Mandates, separately, to the two Powers. At the end of World War II and upon the demise of the League of Nations, the Mandates System was transmuted to the United Nations Trusteeship System under Chapters XII and XIII of the UN Charter. The British Cameroons and French Cameroun became UN Trust Territories, each under a separate Trusteeship Agreement approved by the UN General Assembly on 13 December 1946. The British Cameroons consisted of a strip of territory on the Nigerian eastern border. The British constituted it into an administrative union with Nigeria. For administrative

1

purposes it was divided into the Northern Cameroons and the Southern Cameroons, and administered respectively as part of the Northern and Eastern Regions of Nigeria. Following the 1954 Lancaster House Conference and up to 1960, the Southern Cameroons was a self-governing territory in the Federation of Nigeria and exercised a wide measure of regional autonomy along with basic self-governing institutions ---- an executive, a judiciary, a bicameral legislature, a civil service and a police force. When Nigeria achieved independence on 1 October 1960, the whole British Cameroons was separated from that country pending a UN plebiscite to decide its future. From that date up to 30 September 1961, the Southern Cameroons was a full self-governing Territory administered directly from London and fully responsible for its internal affairs except for defence over which matter, along with foreign affairs, Britain continued to exercise jurisdiction. On 11/12 February 1961, Northern and Southern Cameroons voted separately in the said UN plebiscite on the basis of the questions whether they wished ‘to achieve independence’ by ‘joining’ Nigeria or by ‘joining’ la Republique du Cameroun. The Northern Cameroons elected to join Nigeria as part of that country and in June 1961 was incorporated anew in the Northern Region of Nigeria as Sarduana Province. On the other hand, the Southern Cameroons elected ‘to join’ la Republique du Cameroun on the basis of a two-state federation of equal partners. On 1 October 1961, the Southern Cameroons achieved independence and concomitantly united with la Republique du Cameroun in the agreed-to two-state Federal Republic of Cameroon. By forming a federal union, the Southern Cameroons and la Republique du Cameroun submerged their respective independence and transferred their respective sovereignty to the newly emerged Federal Republic of Cameroon, successor to both entities and subject of international law. Such degree of international personality as the Southern Cameroons possessed was lost, and la Republique du Cameroun became extinct as a subject of international law. In the Cameroon Federal Republic, the Southern Cameroons was transformed into the Federated State of West Cameroon, and la Republique du Cameroun into the Federated State of East Cameroun. However, there was a very low degree of differentiation between the organs of the Federation and those of the Federated State of East Cameroun. Indeed, institutionally, the creation of the Cameroon Federal Republic required little of East Cameroun beyond the interposition of a further stage between the East Cameroun legislative and ministerial institutions and the Presidency of the Federal Republic. East Cameroun and Federal institutions were essentially one in origin as well as in function. The result of this was that natives of East Cameroun monopolised the Union Presidency. They also heavily dominated and controlled the Union Executive, the Union Parliament, the Union Judiciary, the Union Civil Service, the Military, and the Diplomatic Service. Natives of West Cameroon were allowed only a token presence in all federal institutions and therefore had virtually no say in the governance of the Federation. Taking undue advantage of their territory’s larger demographic and spatial configuration, President Ahidjo and certain other natives of East Cameroun hatched up a plot and forcibly overthrew the Federal Constitution in May 1972. They then contrived to cover up their treasonable act with a pretended ‘referendum’ which they claimed ‘ratified’ their illegal act. That revolutionary overthrow of the federal constitutional order destroyed the
2

very foundation on which the union of the two Cameroons was predicated and, indeed, was anchored. West Cameroon’s legal personality was destroyed and its Governmental institutions and office bearers sacked. The territory was swamped. There was a massive take-over. The military control of West Cameroon was tightened by the encampment of more French-speaking troops in all nooks and corners of the territory. Furthermore, the territory was fragmented and placed under the rulership of gouverneurs, prefets, and commandants des legions militaires, all of them natives of East Cameroon. French and the French system of administration were then imposed, respectively, as the language of governance and the system of administration. A vast invidious and insidious policy of subjugation and forcible assimilation (euphemistically code-named ‘national integration’) was aggressively embarked upon. The military, especially the gendarmerie, terrorized an already traumatized people and carried out all sorts of exactions and cruel depredations in the territory. With the revolutionary overthrow of the federal constitutional order a counterfeit ‘Republique Unie du Cameroun’ was proclaimed in which West Cameroon’s status as a self-governing state as well as its constitutional importance were legislated out of existence. Overnight, West Cameroon was annexed and brought under the suzerainty of East Cameroun. The 1972 coup indeed marked the formal (but still thinly disguised) annexation of West Cameroon by East Cameroun. The status which it determined for itself, that of a self-governing State within an overarching federal system, in the 1961 UN organised plebiscite, was forcibly abolished.The annexation was openly confirmed in 1984. In February of that year President Biya, another native of erstwhile East Cameroun and one of the prominent confederates involved in the 1972 coup, proclaimed the revival of la Republique du Cameroun and concomitantly extended its territorial limits to embrace the entire territory of erstwhile West Cameroon, claiming that the 1961 union was intended as merely a rectification of the southwestern border of la Republique du Cameroun. ‘Republique du Cameroun’ is the name and style by which French Cameroun achieved independence on 1 January 1961 and was admitted to the UN in September of that year. Its revival was therefore a compulsively voulu act.

III. The Substratum of the Southern Cameroons / Republique du Cameroun Union On 31 May 1960 the UN Trusteeship Council adopted Resolution 2013 (XXVI) imposing a legal obligation on the Administering Authority to ascertain from Nigeria as well as from la Republique du Cameroun the terms and conditions under which the Southern Cameroons might ‘join’ either of them. The UK therefore urged both countries to put their respective constitutional offers on the table. Nigeria offered to the Southern Cameroons full Regional status within the Nigerian Federation. La Republique du Cameroun on the other hand offered to the Southern Cameroons a Federal Union of two States, legally equal in status. The Prime Minister of the Southern Cameroons who headed the party that favoured ‘joining’ la Republique du Cameroun accepted the latter’s offer, subject to confirmation by the people in the plebiscite. The Union Agreement signed in 1960 between the Southern Cameroons Prime Minister, Mr.
3

Foncha, and Republique du Cameroun President, Mr Ahidjo, evidenced this offer, and acceptance subject to ratification by the people at the polls. La Republique du Cameroun confirmed its offer in its Note Verbale of 24 December 1960 to the UK Government. The Agreement between the two Governments was made available to the UN and published in The Two Alternatives, a document issued by the Administering Authority and distributed to the Southern Cameroons electorate in its enlightenment campaign in the upcoming UNorganised-and-supervised plebiscite in the Territory. Concretely therefore, on 11 February 1961, the people of the Southern Cameroons were invited ‘to achieve independence’ by opting either for full regional status within the Federal Republic of Nigeria or for the status of a Federated State in an egalitarian two-state Federation., the sovereign powers of the two federating entities being vested in the Federal Government. The people chose the latter alternative. Their choice was not just for any union. It was an informed choice for a federal union. In other words, they determined for themselves, in the context of the two choices placed before them by the UN, the status of a self-governing State within an overarching Federal system. Federation was the substratum of the union; at least as far as the Southern Cameroons was concerned. On 1 October 1961, both the Southern Cameroons and la Republique du Cameroun became extinct as international legal persons and were succeded by the Cameroon Federal Republic as a new subject of international law. Minority interest in the Federation was constitutionally protected in two critical provisions of Article 47: one gave the minority power to veto any legislation by the majority that would detrimentally affect the interest of the minority; the other provided for the perennity of the Federation and, ipso facto, of the constituent States. As already noted, by 1961 the Southern Cameroons was already a fully self-governing Territory. By an act of self-determination that year it decided, within the limits of the ‘two choices’ imposed on them by the UN, to achieve independence by ‘joining’ la Republique du Cameroun. By common agreement the term ‘joining’ was understood to mean the two countries would unite in a two-state federation of equal partners. In voting the way it did, the Southern Cameroons decided two critical matters. First and foremost, it decided to achieve and did achieve independence. This was evidenced by the termination, in accordance with Article 76 b of the UN Charter, of the Trusteeship Agreement concerning the Southern Cameroons and the consequential ending of its status as a trust territory. Secondly, the Southern Cameroons decided to join and did join, on agreed terms, la Republique du Cameroun. Indeed, on 1 October 1961, the Southern Cameroons and la Republique du Cameroun formed a Federation of two states, equal in status. The federal system was critical for the status, dignity and worth of the people of the Southern Cameroons because it: (1) gave some meaning to the achievement of independence by the Southern Cameroons; (2) ensured the continuity of Southern Cameroons’ status as a selfgoverning State albeit within an overarching Federal system; (3) safeguarded the interests of the Southern Cameroons; (4) guaranteed the jurisdiction of the Government of the Southern Cameroons over its people and territory; and (5) guaranteed the unity and individuality of the Southern Cameroons. IV. The Problem

4

The revolutionary overthrow of the federal constitutional order and the subsequent revival of la Republique du Cameroun constitute (1) domestic trauncy in that it signified a total destruction and therefore dissolution of the foundation on which the union of the Southern Cameroons and la Republique du Cameroun rested, and a complete repudiation of the very idea of a union of the two Cameroons; and (2) international delinquency in that it was accompanied by colonial imperialism --- the annexation and armed occupation of the Southern Cameroons. The result is that the status of the Southern Cameroons has been degraded from that of a self-governing independent state to that of a dependent territory under the suzerainty of a foreign country. That means the people of the Southern Cameroons have become a colonized and stateless people anew, a people under alien subjugation. What is at stake in this whole saga is the independence and sovereignty of the Southern Cameroons and the dignity and self worth of its people. The situation of colonization which obtains in the Southern Cameroons is not negatived by the fact that la Republique du Cameroun colonial authority co-opts citizens of the Southern Cameroons into its Government, hires them in its administration, gives them the ‘vote’ and hands them identification cards and passports. This is a familiar ploy of colonizing states, especially those of Latin culture. The ploy changes nothing. No genuine sense of common belonging exists between the people of the Southern Cameroons and those of la Republique du Cameroun. The people of the Southern Cameroons owe la Republique du Cameroun no true and faithful allegiance. Such ‘obedience’ as they appear to yield for the time being to la Republique du Cameroun is the result of its forcible occupation of their territory and its maintenance therein of an administration of paramount force which compels their ‘obedience’ as a matter of necessity. The Republique du Cameroun passport some of them may carry is merely a convenient temporary document. V. The Law The delinquent behaviour of la Republique du Cameroun is indefensible under municipal as well as under international law. (a) Under Municipal Law Article 47 (1) of the Federal Constitution, 1961, forbade any modification thereof whether by law, referendum or otherwise, which would have the effect of impairing or destroying the federal structure of the State. This constitutional provision was of fundamental significance for the perennity of the Union and for the protection of the constituent states, and could therefore not be eliminated from the Constitution. In violation of this critical constitutional provision the federal constitutional order was treasonably overthrown. The proclamation of the counterfeit ‘United Republic of Cameroun’ was a legal nullity in more ways than one. First, it was the fruit of a criminal conspiracy. Second, it impaired the federal structure of the State. Third, it was unconstitutional, being sectionally inspired and driven. Fourth, its effect was the colonisation anew of the Southern Cameroons. The
5

dissolution of the federal union necessarily meant that the obligation of the Southern Cameroons to continue its political association with la Republique du Cameroun lost its effect and ceased to be binding by operation of the clausula rebus sic stantibus. (b) Under International Law Following upon its annexation by la Republique du Cameroun, the Southern Cameroons has lost its hard-won autonomy or self-government and has become a colonial territory anew under the colonial rule and alien domination of la Republique du Cameroun. Legally therefore, the Southern Cameroons has a most compelling case to free itself from colonial rule and assert its separate independence. Its effort to do so cannot be characterised as secession. In the first place, the Southern Camerons admits that it was part of the defunct Federal Republic of Cameroon but denies that it is part or that it has ever been part of la Republique du Cameroun. Secondly, on 30 December 1999 the Southern Cameroons National Council publicly proclaimed the restoration of the independence and sovereignty of the Southern Cameroons. Revived Southern Cameroons confines itself within its colonially defined borders as at the moment of its achievement of independence on 1 October 1961. The Southern Cameroons does not lay claim to one inch of the territory of la Repiublique du Cameroun. Neither the territorial dimension nor the population of la Republique du Cameroun has been diminished. Its spatial configuration remains the same as it was on its attainment of independence on 1 January 1960. Its population still consists of the same peoples comprised within its borders at the moment of its attainment of independence on 1 January 1960. There has therefore been no secession of territory from la Republique du Cameroun, whether the matter be considered from the municipal or international law point of view. The infringement of ‘the territorial integrity of the Republic’ which article 111 of the Penal Code punishes as secession must mean, in accordance with the doctrine of intertemporal law, the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic since the Code came into force in 1967 at the time of the Federation. But that Federation no longer exists, having been forcibly dissolved twenty-eight years ago! There has been no new definition of ‘Republic’ in the Code for the purpose of article 111 which must accordingly be considered otiose. At any rate, international law is neutral with respect to the existence of a right to secession although it will always eventually recognise the reality of secession once it has occurred and been made effective. It is now clear from contemporary state practice, and as a matter of normative political theory, that there are situations in which reasons for secession from an existing state are particularly compelling. Thus, secession may be justified in order to undo past injustice when a distinct people has a legitimate claim to territory that was wrongly annexed by another, as in the case of the secession of Belgium, Eritrea, Western Sahara, Panama, Iceland. Secession may also be justified when a constitutive federation is dissolved or when it breaks up into its component units, as in the case of ex-Soviet Union, ex-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ex-Czechoslovakia, ex-Colombian Federation. Secession may also be justified if a people is not able to freely determine its internal political status.

6

As a people under Republique du Cameroun colonial rule and alien domination, Southern Cameroonians have under international law and the law of nature an unquestionable right to assert its statehood. They are entitled to claim the intangibility of their country’s boundaries in conformity with the principle of uti possidetis. The territorial boundaries of la Republique du Cameroun, delimited under the French colonial regime, became frozen at the moment of its independence on 1 January 1960. It is within the four walls of these boundaries, which it is bound under international law to respect, that la Republique du Cameroun may righteously assert its territorial integrity and domestic jurisdiction. The territory of la Republique du Cameroun does not and has never included the territory of the Southern Cameroons. The impermissible annexation and occupation of the latter territory can never ripen into lawful possession or legal title. La Republique cannot base its illegal jurisdiction on the result of the 1961 plebiscite, the very result the implementation of which it rejected in 1972 and has since continued to reject. Nor can it base its illegal jurisdiction on the 1972 pretended ‘referendum’, generally acknowledged to have been a fake poll. VI. ‘The Force of Argument’ Policy The Southern Cameroons seeks to undo the colonial status to which it has intolerably been degraded. It seeks to restore the dignity of its people by reviving its statehood. The struggle to attain this goal is a people’s struggle, driven by a collective refusal to accept colonization anew and a fierce determination to be free men and women and architects of their own destiny. The agenda thus being pursued is a historically determinist claim, a political claim, a moral claim, and a legal claim. The legal claim being espoused is anchored in the now well-established right of self-determination, arguably a norm of jus cogens. It is now settled law that self determination is no longer only a right exercisable in the process of decolonisation. It is also a human right, the right of peoples within the accepted colonial territorial framework., and is thus a continuing right exercisable even within a post-colonial context. Convinced and confident of the justice of its cause and the cogency of its arguments, the Southern Cameroons has deliberately decided to achieve its stated goal by deploying the force of argument rather than the argument of force. The Southern Cameroons believes it is unncessary to resort to armed struggle in order to vindicate its claim to statehood because in whatever way one chooses to look at the matter, it has a most compelling case. This ‘force of argument’ liberation struggle is the first of its kind ever. The informed stand thus taken postulates that our cause is just and our arguments so movingly persuasive that the UN, the OAU, a friendly government or organisation, or some respected international personality would be roused to offer good offices or mediation that could (1) result in the holding of an internationally supervised referendum in the Southern Cameroons to settle this matter; or (2) bring the Southern Camerons and la Republique du Cameroun to the negotiation table, at an agreed neutral venue, to work out a peaceful separation and other consequential matters in a reasonable, just and equitable manner; or (3) prevail on la Republique du Cameroun to withdraw its forces of occupation and its colonial administartion from the Southern Cameroons. While we believe that we can achieve statehood for the Southern Cameroons without resorting to force, it must be recognised that the ‘force of argument’ policy is based on
7

two critical but untested assumptions: (1) that the other side is prepared to listen, is prepared to dialogue, and is ready to be swayed by the cogency of our arguments; and (2) that the other side will refrain from the use of force. So far, every indication appears to point to the fact that these assumptions are probably wrong. The other side has deliberately decided to put cotton wool in its ears. Moreover, it has not shown restraint in the use of violence. So, for how long the ‘force of argument’ policy will remain valid and relevant as a viable option in the liberation struggle is an open question. One thing appears certain. It would seem the present climate in the Southern Cameroons is one of a simmering intifada in which most citizens of the territory are very active but as yet nonviolent, while others, tired of waiting, their patience having snapped, are righteously calling for a resort to force. Whether such a call can be resisted for too long remains to be seen. But while the SCNC still maintains it will not be the one to fire the first shot that will signal the onset of an armed liberation struggle, it is not to be imagined that the use of force, under the circumstances in which the Southern Cameroons now finds itself, is illegal. For, the use of force by a colonized/annexed people to vindicate the principle of self-determination is permissible under customary international law as a just war and under Article 20(2)(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The use of force by the colonial authority in an effort to suppress the exercise of the right to self-determination constitutes a forbidden use of force and would qualify as aggression under international law. Any retaliatory action by the colonised to repel such aggressive force constitutes a permissible measure of self-defence. In this connection, it seems to me that it is still an unsettled question (and I doubt that the point has ever come up for debate) whether the force of argument postulate includes the doctrine of passive resistance, excluding any resort to force even in legitimate self-defence. Lusaka, May 2000

8