Ambazonia

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Federal Republic of Ambazonia
Amba Land
Flag of
     Territory claimed by Ambazonia      Undisputed Cameroonian territory
     Territory claimed by Ambazonia
     Undisputed Cameroonian territory
StatusUnrecognized State.
Recognized as part of Cameroon
CapitalBuea
Largest cityBamenda
Official languagesEnglish
Common languagesCameroonian Pidgin English, Grassfields languages, Oroko, Akoose, Kenyang, Duala
Demonym(s)Ambazonian
GovernmentTransitional
• President
Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and Samuel Ikome Sako both claim to be the legitimate president of Ambazonia
Independence from Cameroon
• Declared
1 October 2017
Area
• Total
42,710 km2 (16,490 sq mi)
Population
• 2021 estimate
7,800,000[citation needed]
CurrencyAmbaCoin (official crypto currency)[1]
Central African CFA franc (de facto)
Time zoneUTC+1 (WAT)
Driving sideright
Calling code+237 (Cameroon)

Ambazonia, officially the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, also referred to as Amba Land, is a self-declared state constituting the Northwest Region and Southwest Region of Cameroon. No country has formally recognized Ambazonia's independence, and it is currently the site of an armed conflict between Ambazonian separatists and the Cameroonian military known as the Anglophone Crisis. Ambazonia is located in the west of Cameroon and southeast of Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea.

Until 1961, the region was a British colony, Southern Cameroons, while the rest of Cameroon was a French colony, French Cameroon. At independence, a plebiscite was held, and voters in Southern Cameroons opted to join Cameroon as a constituent state of a federal republic.[2] Over time, the power of the central government, dominated by Francophones, expanded at the expense of the region's autonomy. Many inhabitants identify as Anglophones and resent what they perceive as discrimination and efforts to eliminate Anglophone legal, administrative, educational, and cultural institutions by the Cameroonian government.

In 2016 and 2017, a widespread protest movement was met with a violent government crackdown, which led to rioting and violence against security forces and, in 2017, a unilateral declaration of independence by Ambazonian leaders.[3] The violence developed into a guerrilla war, and as of 2021, clashes continue, with population centers and strategic locations largely controlled by the government engaged in counterinsurgency actions, with swathes of more remote, rural areas controlled by separatist militias and used to launch guerrilla attacks.[4] Ambazonian forces have struggled to form a united front, and internecine conflicts have hampered efforts to negotiate with Cameroon or establish control over the various militia groups engaged in the fighting.[5] Ongoing violence has led to widely reported human rights abuses by both sides, including indiscriminate killing of civilians, torture, rape and gender-based crimes, and unjustified detentions and kidnappings.[6]

Etymology and terminology[edit]

Colonial-era map showing Ambas Bay far left

The term "Ambazonia" is derived from the word Ambozes, the local name for the bay at the mouth of the Wouri river, known in English as Ambas Bay.[7] The name was coined by Fon Gorji Dinka in 1984 as part of a campaign for the restoration of autonomy and preservation of Anglophone institutions in the region.[8]

The term Ambazonia is more usually associated with the separatist or independence-seeking faction, while the Cameroonian government and other official sources, such as the UN, continue to refer to the "Northwest Region" and "Southwest Region" (or sometimes the "North-West" and "South-West" or "North West" and "South West" regions), the official names of the two administrative divisions since 1972.[9][10] Other sources may also refer to "Southern Cameroons", "Anglophone Cameroon" or "Cameroon's Anglophone regions".

History[edit]

Early colonisation and German Kamerun[edit]

Cameroon political map from 1901–1972

European traders from several nations visited Ambas Bay beginning with the Portuguese in the 1470s. The first permanent European settlement on the mainland in the region was founded in 1858 by British Baptist Missionary Alfred Saker as a haven for freed slaves. This settlement which was later named Victoria (now Limbe, Cameroon) after the then Queen Victoria. Until the 1880s, European activity was dominated by trading companies and missionaries. However, in the 1880s, the Scramble for Africa reached full swing with European powers rushing to gain diplomatic or military control over Africa to secure colonial claims. The Germans, who had established substantial trading centers to the southeast on the Wouri River delta (modern Douala), and the British, who had extensive interests to the west in Nigeria, both raced to sign agreements with local rulers. German explorer Gustav Nachtigal signed key treaties with several prominent kings. Dissatisfaction with these agreements led to the brief Douala War in 1884, in which Germany assisted its local allies in winning, essentially cementing its colonial position in Cameroon and by 1887 Britain had abandoned its claims in the region.[11][12]

Germany continued to consolidate its control over the coast through agreements with local leaders backed up by military expeditions. Germany conquered Buea in 1891 after several years of fighting, transferring the colonial capital there in 1892 from Douala. By 1914, the Germans had established control either directly or through local leaders well into the hinterlands of the territory now claimed by Ambazonia, conquering communities such as Nkambe and establishing a garrison fort at Bamenda in 1912. However, many towns and villages in the hinterlands had no German administration and may have only seen German soldiers a handful of times. German administration was focused on establishing plantations for cash crops, and improving transportation and communication infrastructure to bring products and natural resources swiftly to ports and thence to Europe. The rough terrain of the Cameroon line and the lack of navigable rivers in much of the interior of the region claimed by Ambazonia limited colonial activity outside the coastal regions.

British colonial period (1914–1961)[edit]

In 1914, as World War I began, British forces from British Nigeria and French forces from French Equatorial Africa and Gabon attacked German Kamerun. Allied naval superiority allowed the swift capture of the Cameroonian coast, cutting the Germans off from reinforcement or resupply. In early 1916, the last Germans surrendered or withdrew from Cameroon into neutral Spanish Guinea. In 1919, Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, formally surrendered its colonies to the Allies. A few weeks later, Britain and France issued a statement known as the Simon-Milner Declaration, delineating the frontiers between the British Cameroons and French Cameroon.[13] This boundary was recognized internationally in 1922 and Britain and France were given control of their respective regions as League of Nations Mandates.[14]

The British Cameroons Administration Ordinance, 1924 divided British Cameroons into the Northern Cameroons (administered as part of Northern Nigeria) and the Southern Cameroons (administered as part of Eastern Nigeria). When the League of Nations mandate system was transmuted into the UN trusteeship system in 1946, this arrangement was again provided for in the Order-in-Council of 2 August 1946 providing for the administration of the Nigeria Protectorate and Cameroons under British mandate.[15] In 1953, the Southern Cameroons representatives in the Eastern Nigerian Legislature demanded a separate regional government for the Southern Cameroons with seat in Buea. Under the Lyttleton Constitution of Nigeria in 1954, Southern Cameroons gained limited autonomy as a Quasi-Region within the Nigerian Federation. E.M.L. Endeley emerged as leader of the Quasi-Region of Southern Cameroons, with his official title being Leader of Government Business.[16]

In 1957, United Nations Resolutions 1064 (XI) of 26 Feb 1957 and 1207 (XII) of Dec 13, 1957 called on the Administering Authorities to hasten arrangements for Trust territories to attain self-governance or independence. In 1958, the Southern Cameroons attained the status of a full autonomous region of the Nigerian Federation and Endeley's official title accordingly changed to Premier.[17] Despite calls by Southern Cameroons leaders for full independence as a separation nation, United Nations' resolutions 1350 (XIII) of March 13, 1959 and 1352 (XIV) of October 16, 1959 called for plebiscites in Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroons with two alternatives for ending the trusteeship: joining Nigeria or joining Cameroon.[18]

Independence and the plebiscite (1961)[edit]

The first Premier of Southern Cameroons, Dr. Endeley (first row, third from right) in Banmeda

Despite calls by Southern Cameroons leaders for full independence, United Nations' resolutions 1350 (XIII) of March 13, 1959 and 1352 (XIV) of October 16, 1959 called on Britain, the Administering Authority to organize separate plebiscites in Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroons under UN supervision based on the following two 'alternatives': independence by joining Nigeria or joining Cameroon.[19] Two reports by English economists, the Phillipson Report in 1959 and the Berrill Report in 1960 both concluded that Southern Cameroons would not be able to continue to finance development and growth as an independent state.[20] The United Nations initiated discussions with French Cameroun on the terms of association of Southern Cameroons if the outcome of the plebiscite was in favour of a federation of the two countries.[21][22][23] While many Southern Cameroonians resented the lack of an independence option, the disappointment with Nigerian administration which had fed the push for further autonomy and hope that a more equal federation could be had with Cameroon led to a majority in favor of "reunification" with Cameroon.[24]

On 21 April 1961, UN resolution 1608 (XV) set 1 October 1961 as the date of independence for the Southern Cameroons.[25] In July 1961, the Southern Cameroons and the French Cameroon Republic delegations met in Foumban, a town in French Cameroon near the border with Southern Cameroons. The South Cameroons delegation lacked much leverage as the interests of the UN and colonial powers were to expedite the unification rather than guarantee the autonomy of Southern Cameroons.[26] The result was a constitution that provided for a federal structure with two constituent states,[27] East Cameroon (former French Cameroon) and West Cameroon (former Southern Cameroons), but which gave power over most critical issues to the national government (dominated by Francophones). One critical concession was to require that laws applying to both states could only be adopted by the federal assembly if a majority of deputies in both federated states vote for them.[28]

Federal Republic of Cameroon and 1972 Constitution (1961–1972)[edit]

Cameroonian president Ahmadou Ahidjo meeting U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1962

In 1961, the government of Cameroon, with continuing assistance from France, was fighting a civil war against remnants of pro-independence fighters still dissatisfied with continued French influence in Cameroon or hoping to overthrow the pro-Western government and implement a Marxist program. President Ahmadou Ahidjo used the continuing war and the vagueness of many provisions of the Constitution, to consolidate power. In 1962, he arrested and imprisoned a number of prominent (Francophone) political opponents on charges of subversion and criticizing the state. In 1966, he succeeded in banning opposition political parties, establishing a one-party state. During this time, West Cameroonian leaders were critical of efforts to decrease their autonomy through expanded assertions of federal authority by Francophone administrators in West Cameroon. Anglophones also resented the introduction of bilingual schools in West Cameroon as an attempt to assimilate Anglophones.[29]

After achieving near total control over East Cameroon, in spring 1972, he targeted the autonomous powers of East Cameroon. Placing the blame for Cameroon's underdevelopment and poorly implemented public policies on the federal structure and arguing that managing separate governments in a poor country was too expensive, he announced a referendum on a new constitution, which did away with the federal structure in favor of a unitary state and granted more power to the President. The referendum was held on 20 May 1972 and in the one-party state, the outcome was never in doubt. Official results claimed 98.2% turnout and 99.99% of votes in favor of the new constitution.[30] Ambazonian nationalists have claimed that the referendum was not free and fair.[31] They have additionally argued that the new constitution was legally invalid since changes to the 1961 Constitution required approval from a majority of members of the Federal Assembly (legislature) and from each of the two constituent states, and that the new constitution was never approved by a majority of West Cameroonian legislators.[32] Along with the new constitution, the country's name was changed from 'Federal Republic of Cameroon' to the 'United Republic of Cameroon'. West Cameroon was divided into two administrative regions, which survive today: the "North West" and "South West" regions.[33]

Unitary state and growing Anglophone discontent (1972–2015)[edit]

1975 change to Cameroon's flag
Flag of the Cameroon 1961-1975 with two stars representing the two federal states
Flag after 1975 with one star

In 1975, the government removed one of the two stars from the flag, another symbol of the federation between two states, creating a new flag with a single star.[34] On 6 November 1982, Ahidjo resigned and handed over power to Paul Biya who continued Ahidjo's policies and, after a falling out with Ahidjo and attempted coup by Ahidjo supporters, consolidated power in himself.[35] In February 1984, Biya changed the official name of the country from the United Republic of Cameroon – the name adopted after unification with the Southern Cameroons - back to the Republic of Cameroon.[36] Biya stated that he had taken the step to affirm Cameroon's political maturity and to demonstrate that the people had overcome their language and cultural barriers but many in Southern Cameroons saw it as yet another step to erase their separate culture and history.

From the mid-1980s, the break between the Southern Cameroon elites and the Francophone-dominated central government became increasingly apparent. Political exclusion, economic exploitation and cultural assimilation were criticized more and more openly. In early 1985, Anglophone lawyer and President of the Cameroon Bar Association Fon Gorji Dinka circulated a number of essays and pamphlets arguing that the Biya government was unconstitutional and calling for an independent Republic of Ambazonia. Gorji Dinka became the first head of the Ambazonia Restoration Council. In May 1985, he was arrested, imprisoned, and then put under house arrest for three years before escaping first to Nigeria and then to the United Kingdom.[37]

In 1990, opposition political parties were legalized and John Ngu Foncha, the leading Anglophone in Cameroon's government, resigned from the governing party and encapsulated much of the dissatisfaction with the central government's attitude toward the Anglophone regions in his public resignation letter:

Logo of the SCNC

[I]t became clear to me that I had become an irrelevant nuisance that had to be ignored and ridiculed. I was to be used now only as window dressing and not listened to. I am most of the time summoned to meetings by radio without any courtesy of my consultation on the agenda. All projects of the former West Cameroon I had either initiated or held very dear to my heart had to be taken over, mismanaged and ruined, e.g. Cameroon Bank, West Cameroon Marketing Board, WADA in Wum, West Cameroon Cooperative Movement. Whereas I spent all my life fighting to have a deep sea port in Limbe(Victoria) developed, this project had to be shelved and instead an expensive pipeline is to be built from SONARA in Limbe to Douala in order to pipe the oil to Douala. All the roads in West Cameroon my government had either built, improved or maintained were allowed to deteriorate making Kumba-Mamfe, Mamfe-Bamenda, Bamenda-Wum-Nkambe, Bamenda-Mom inaccessible by road. Projects were shelved even after petrol produced enough money for building them and the Limbe sea port. All progress of employment, appointments, etc. meant to promote adequate regional representation in government and its services have been revised or changed at the expense of those who stood for TRUTH and justice. They are identified as "Foncha-man" and put aside. The Southern Cameroonians whom I brought into the Union have been ridiculed and referred to as "les Biafrians" (Biafrans), "les enemies dans la maison" (enemies within the house), "les traitres' (traitors), etc., and the constitutional provisions which protected this Southern Cameroonian minority have been suppressed, their voices drowned while the rule of the gun has replaced the dialogue which Southern Cameroonians cherish very much. ...

— John Ngu Foncha, Resignation Letter from the CPDM party (1990)

In 1993, the All Anglophone Conference took place in Buea bringing together all Southern Cameroons citizens who called for the restoration of the federal system.[38] At a second All Anglophone Conference held in Bamenda the call for the Cameroon government to accept a return to the two state federation was reiterated with some voices explicitly calling for secession. In 1995, over the objection of some Anglophone Cameroonians, Cameroon was admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations recognizing former Southern Cameroon's history as a British colony. During this period various independence and federalist factions joined to form the Southern Cameroons National Council, a pressure group which undertook initiatives at the UN, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Commonwealth, and with national embassies to bring attention to the region and Anglophone issues in Cameroon. In 2005, the Southern Cameroons/Republic of Ambazonia became a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) it was renewed in 2018.[39][40] Due to harassment and arrests by the government, many leaders of he SCNC and other organizations fled the country.[41] Both 1999 and 2009 saw symbolic declarations of independence by Ambazonian nationalists, which led to arrests but little concrete action.[42]

Increasing pressure for autonomy or independence reduced trust and engagement between the government and the Anglophone minority, with the result that by 2017 there was only one Anglophone among 36 ministers with portfolio in the Cameroonian government.[43]

Protests and civil war (2016–present)[edit]

Proclaimed Ambazonian territory

In November 2016, a number of large protests and strikes were organized, initially by Anglophone lawyers, students, and teachers focused on the growing marginalization of English and Anglophone institutions in the law and education.[44] Several demonstrations were violently dispersed by security forces, leading to clashes between demonstrators and police in which several people were killed. Violence by both sides undermined negotiations in early 2017, which fell apart without an agreement.[45] The violence led to additional demonstrations, general strikes (called "lockdowns"), and further crackdowns by the government into early 2017, including the banning of civil society organizations, cutting off phone and internet connections from January to April,[46] and arrests of demonstrators.[47] Although the government established a Commission to focus on Anglophone grievances and took steps to address issues of language equity in courts and schools, continued distrust and harsh responses to protests prevented significant deescalation.

By late 2017, with dialogue efforts moribund and violence continuing on both sides, the leading Ambazonian nationalist movements organized the umbrella organization Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF). SCACUF unilaterally declared the region's independence as Ambazonia on October 1, the anniversary of Southern Cameroons' independence from the United Kingdom. SCACUF sought to transition itself into an interim government with its leader, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe Julius, as interim president.[48] At least 17 people were killed in protests following the declaration of independence, while fourteen Cameroonian troops were killed in attacks claimed by the Ambazonia Defence Forces.[49] The Cameroonian government stated that the declaration had no legal weight[50] and on November 30, 2017, the President of Cameroon signaled a harder line on separatist attacks on police and soldiers.[51] A massive military deployment accompanied by curfews and forced evacuations of entire villages.[52] This temporarily ended hopes for continued dialogue and kicked of full-fledged guerilla war in Southern Cameroons. Several different armed factions have emerged such as the Red Dragons, Tigers, ARA, Seven Kata, ABL, with varying levels of coordination with and loyalty to Ambazonian political leaders.[53] In practice, pro-independence militias operate largely autonomously from political leaders, who are mostly in exile.[54]

Destroyed vehicles after a clash in Buea, South West Cameroon

On 5 January 2018, members of the Ambazonia Interim Government in exile in Abuja, Nigeria, including President Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, were arrested and deported to Cameroon into the custody of government forces to face criminal charges.[55] On 4 February 2018, it was announced that US-based preacher Dr. Samuel Ikome Sako would become the Interim President of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, temporarily succeeding Ayuk Tabe.[56] However, despite receiving a life sentence on terrorism charges from a Cameroon court,[57] on 2 May 2019, Ayuk Tabe declared from prison the dissolution of Sako's caretaker cabinet and the restoration of his own cabinet.[58] Sako resisted, leading to the 2019 Ambazonian leadership crisis.

Destroyed school in Fontem, South West Cameroon

As the violence intensified, international efforts to resolve the crisis picked up. On 13 May 2019, the United Nations Security Council had an informal meeting to discuss the Anglophone Crisis.[59][60] Peace talks mediated by the Swiss government have fallen apart multiple times, primarily due to factional divisions and lack of actual control over militias by separatist leaders making even preliminary steps difficult.[61]

The war has been characterized by guerilla attacks by separatist militias against both security forces and against civilians suspected of collaboration or simply failing to abide militia's declared school and election boycotts or "lockdowns" which prevent all travel and activity. Many militias have sought to enforce a total school strike since 2017 due to concerns over the lack of Anglophone teachers and curriculum. Teachers and students have been kidnapped and killed and many schools and school materials burned while many children have had no schooling since the crisis began. Others have alleged that some militias have engaged in ransom attacks against civilians to fund their continued activities. Meanwhile, government forces have torched entire villages suspected of harboring separatists, disappeared and executed civilians without due process, and torture of detainees. Reports of indiscriminate killings, torture, and rape and other gender-based violence by both sides have been widely reported.[62][63][64] The governments of the United States and Germany have expressed concern over the human rights violations and scaled back or cancelled military cooperation with Cameroon over reported abuses.[65] France, the UK as well as the European Parliament have also expressed concern and pushed for negotiations between the parties to resolve the crisis.[66]

Military[edit]

The Ambazonia Defence Forces is the de facto armed forces of the breakaway state.[67]

Geography[edit]

Ambazonia is characterized by two main landscapes. On the west towards the border to Nigeria the lowlands of the Mamfe basin can be found. The area is covered with dense rain forest. There are protected areas like the Korup National Park[68] or the Takamanda National Park. Further east towards Cameroon a series of volcanoes like the Manengouba or Kupe can be found. They stretch from the South along the border of Cameroon to the North where they go to the highlands of Bamenda. A bit isolated from the other volcanoes is the Mount Fako (Mount Cameroon) near the very Southern Tip of Ambazonia. At 4,040 m (13,250 ft) it is the highest mountain in Western Africa and the 28th highest in Africa overall.

Climate[edit]

As large parts of Ambazonia are in the Western High Plateau, they have a somewhat cooler climate than the surrounding areas in Cameroon and Nigeria. The lowlands along the coast and the river valleys of Manyu, both of which are parts of the Benue Trough, are warmer. Most of Ambazonia has a tropical monsoon climate, with the coastal plain containing some of the rainiest places in the world (such as the village of Debundscha).[69] The northeastern parts of Northwest Region (including the city of Bamenda) have a tropical savanna climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons. At higher altitudes, such as the Oku Massif and Mount Cameroon, there are pockets where the temperatures fall sufficiently to be classified as a warm-summer Mediterranean climate. The top of Mount Cameroon has a polar climate of the tundra variant, unique in West Africa and extremely rare so close to the Equator.[70]

Administrative structure[edit]

Ambazonia is divided in 13 counties [71] and 61 Local Government Areas (LGAs).

County County Capital
Fako Victoria
Meme Kumba
Ndian Mundemba
Kupe Muaneguba Bangem
Lebialem Menji
Manyu Mamfe
Momo Mbengwi
Mezam Bamenda
Ngoketunjia Ndop
Bui Kumbo
Boyo Fundong
Menchum Wum
Donga Mantung Nkambe

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References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Ambazonia at Wikimedia Commons