After three years of fighting La Republique du Cameroun, separatists fighting for a free Ambazonia are no closer to a state recognition. What they have achieved is an overwhelming local support for their struggle and that is no small feat.
The slow progress to a state recognition has frustrated many activists and diehard supporters who might have imagined their shear amount of determination and will power will cruise them to a finish line. Unfortunately, victory is still far-off, but their tough journey has tested their resolve in ways they could hardly have imagined.
The separatists face a well oiled machine from Paul Biya’s regime with a lot of practical knowhow to break resistance movements. The Biya regime employs every strategy in the book and field experts from around the world to push the separatists to breaking point. Judging by the increasingly deteriorating situation in the Northern and Southern zones of Ambazonia, the regime’s scorched earth strategy has largely worked against it.
The Biya regime has largely chickened away from any serious dialogue or negotiations fearing that might be the beginning of the end of the regime. Instead, the regime spends hundreds of millions of dollars on a military campaign to wipe out dissident fighters. A campaign that largely emboldens supporters of the resistance. The regime’s calls for dialogue seem to be a ruse to avoid sanctions giving it time to exact yet another military strategy it has devised.
The military pressure and the one of signals of dialogue constantly sets the separatist factions into confusion. Believing dialogue may soon be around the corner, separatist groups begin jockeying for opportunity to be at the dialogue table. Creating confusion amongst themselves only to realize there was never any intention for dialogue.
Mr. Biya sells his fight against the separatist as a choice between his pseudo peaceful dictatorship and the chaos the separatists create. Choices the regime creates.
The pressure and traumatic stress from the war is a lot for some to handle. Every now and then someone fires off a statement out of anger and the uncertainty the future holds for them, their family and the region.
It is challenging to watch some activists and leaders speak. You can feel the palpable anger both expressed and unexpressed. The burden they carry of what failure would mean. Would they ever be welcomed home if they fail. These are the thoughts that keep them awake.
Many separatists often believe they have to be united under one government. Something that seems to have created more disunity than unity. Groups that choose not to be under a government are labelled as traitors. Time and money is wasted to make sure their followers are in tune. Making outsiders wonder who the separatists really fight against, what they fight for and why they even fight at all.
For separatists, social media has been their greatest strength and it is increasingly looking like their greatest weakness. Something the regime is only too glad to exploit. Secessionist activists cling so closely to their likes and comments that in their live videos, they often pause to respond to a vicious comment, castigate or block a viewer. Typically, on issues so trivial that you wonder if they still have the stamina to continue their fight for much longer.
The outbursts, the infightings, the struggle to bring their supporters into one fold who are even more active in the harsh exchange of words seem to be an expression, not of inability, but the decades of psychological abuse of divide and rule. These petty infightings might last a little while until they get so used to them that they bounce off.
For a struggle that might last several more years, they can not afford not to stick to the foundations as they fight a formidable foe with a lot of money. The regime they fight has a lot of resources and foreign partners heavily interested on in their investments in the region. For them, the war can go on so long as their interests are protected.
Ambazonians leaders and activists have fought hard to bring the issue of Anglophone marginalization in the Cameroons to the international stage. The early adopters of the liberation struggle for Ambazonia feel they deserve recognition as leaders. They have come to see the rise of newcomers as a threat to their achievements. Achievements that may otherwise ring hollow to the devastation the region has suffered.
With such a narrow view of what a liberation struggle entails, the old and new groups are constantly at each other's throats about the way forward. They spend so much time not in articulating the merits of what they stand for and their strategies, but in trying to discredit other groups. Time is spent not in educating their followers, but to take down a perceived rival.
Some groups have shied away from transparency. Transparency is often postponed. Something they would have wielded as a rallying cry against the excesses of the regime. This makes others question the commitment to their cause. Calls for auditing their finances have dragged on for months missing deadline after deadline with no reasonable explanation given.
Separatist Group Allegiance
Separatist activists may lob accusations of financial misappropriation, conspiracy theories on how others have been compromised or have been fighting against their revolution only to suddenly switch sides a few months later and begin the accusations against the party they previously supported. Support is often very fluid.
It is hard to explain the reason for some of these allegations. Some are clearly false at a face value, but they do get their throngs of diehard supporters incensed. It is not uncommon to hear an activist narrate a tale of meetings between foreign oil companies looking to get a stake in Ambazonia or meetings between surrogates of the Biya regime and compromised leaders.
Their supporters require no proof so long as the stories support a narrative. Activists seem to be struggling to find a credible ideological narrative, simple enough for their followers to rally behind without having to resort to mudslinging.
Sometimes they focus on a narrative against a perceived rival forgetting there’s a war only to be reminded about their cause when a new atrocity is committed, when a village is burnt down or when the military sends an innocent early to grave. This reminder does not last long enough to hold their unity. Within a few days, they slide again into accusations and counter accusations.
Separatist Divide on Ideology
There is little ideological divide between the Ambazonian factions if ideology in this case means breaking up or staying united. They seem united on one thing and that is to break away from the rest of Cameroon. This has done little to minimize the petty and meaningless fights. For some Ambazonians, their struggle is as much a fight against the regime as it is against one another.
In the early start of the struggle, the various separatist factions were divided on pursuing a military strategy. As hardliners pushed for a complete breakaway, moderates advocated more diplomacy and were considerate of a federation. With the government’s brutal military response, most of the separatist groups now have backing armed groups in the Ambazonian regions.
As for what political ideal they stand for, market oriented economy, socialism or how they plan to minimize ethnic tensions, reduce the wealth gap between the rich and the poor, these we know very little of. These are not the ideological issues that divide the groups. You hear of counties and local government by local government, but not much else.
Hope for the Rise of More Leaders
While inter group fightings have created opportunities for other leaders and activists to rise, few have taken the chance. Many fearful of the fiery criticisms they are certain to get from activists and leaders who are sometimes too thin skinned to ignore a slight. Others falsely believe they may have to be radical to be taken seriously.
For a vast majority of people, uncertainty about the outcome of the struggle makes them fearful to step in. They worry about their jobs and investments. They worry if they will be able to get a Cameroonian passport or be allowed to travel into or out of the country. Worries so insignificant when it comes to the challenges that have befallen the region. For that, they have themselves to blame for allowing a fearless and courageous few lead them.
Where is the War Heading Today?
Biya got into the war with no exit strategy. Pulling out now means defeat, the total loss of support from La Republique du Cameroun and the collapse of his regime. How does he go on to justify the lives of hundreds of soldiers and civilians killed?
The troops Mr. Biya sends to the Anglophone regions are mostly fluent only in French. Nothing screams occupiers to the locals more than soldiers who do not even speak the language.
For the separatists, Ambazonia is homeland for them. This is where their parents and great grandparents lived. They seem ready and prepared to die till the last person standing. Losing would mean no safe place to call home and they might even be hunted abroad. Federalism to separatists still means living under the Biya regime. For the separatist hardliners, this is a nonstarter.
So, today, it seems the war has only begun. The regime has so far decided against genuine dialogue. As more soldiers, generals and separatists get their hands dirty in the war, it becomes even more challenging to resolve the crisis.
For many Ambazonians, the choice now is between living under a dictatorship and war with the chance to experiment at democracy. They have had 50 years of experience in a dictatorship and that to many is more than enough experience to figure out what their choice should be.