Southern Cameroon And The International Slumber

By Ikenga Chronicles February 11, 2018

Southern Cameroon And The International Slumber

— Osinemi Oyi

The recent stories flooding the news of chaos in southern Cameroon, the influx of over 45,000 displaced persons into the Nigerian states of Benue and Cross River, arrest and repatriation by the Nigerian authority of the regional secession leaders and the Cameroonian Gendarme’s attack on communities in Cross River have raised a few eyebrows but do not come as extraordinarily oblique events for a number of observers across the globe. This is so because the nascence of this conflict–the struggle for self determination and the spin-offs that characteristically follow seem to have a disconcerting ability to reappear just when it seems to have gone dark, it has consistently shone, albeit gloomily as a flash point for trouble.

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The year 2017 will be recalled as a daring one in this discourse where disparate, hitherto isolated cries for self determination were consolidated into genuine shouts for independence with a rippling effect on the polity. New heroes and poster boys emerged and existing ones were canonised and given godlike statuses. These ones cavorted the media space with almost a Messianic complex as if possessive of the magic bullet needed to snuff out all the imbalances of the status quo.

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This shout enjoyed an echoing reverberation with Biafra in Nigeria, Xinjiang and Tibet in China, Kurdistan in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and especially Iraq and Catalonia in Spain. The latter two going as far as conducting a referendum the results of which empowered the regional leaders to secede, sadly that mandate now lingers in abeyance.

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This struggle and the miasma that followed it as if a contemporary quagmire, reeks of the stale scents of yesteryears–the struggle for secession is by no means a passing fad. A research paper in 2006 stated that there were 26 ongoing violent self determination struggles across the globe, displacing many from their homeland and handing many souls to the conveyor belt of eternity. What is even more disquieting is the drumming silence of the international community. Other than the rehearsed custom of rolling in pittance under the cloak of humanitarian aid or relief materials, there has never been a genuine flicker of interest in putting this issue to bed. At every occurrence, they bend over backwards as if to deny culpability, they even dare to project themselves as bearers of succor.

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News reports from the BBC show the United Nations refugee agency helping displaced persons from the southern Cameroon region into Nigeria. While this is done in good faith, it is only a temporary solution, more like applying soothing balm on an infectious wound that demands a major surgery.

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It doesn’t require tremendous mental dexterity or uncanny prescience to see that the issues surrounding secession will continue to be a seed of conflict globally and has to be addressed from the root up. It is the indifference of the international community that is giving even greater legitimacy to national leaders especially in unadvanced democracies, whose perspective of secession is that of treason. Their knee-jerk reactions when confronted with what looks like a challenge on their stranglehold on power, rather than engage with the idea, is to make sure the linchpins of such self determination ideas are deeply excoriated, wrong footed by the political and legal system, prosecuted, if not persecuted and declared persona non grata.

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The aftermath of this confrontation is a reflection of how dim the light in that firmament that produces empathy in our hearts can go. A bewildered and terrified citizenry, ruined buildings and businesses that had consumed efforts of a lifetime, scattered bones of those who are fortunate enough to live to tell their sad stories, this is the tale of ignominy told not by the dramatis personae, but by innocuous and innocent citizens.

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This is a failure of international law and the system that surrounds it.The right to self determination is an internationally recognized right according to the United Nations Charter. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 also provides for this right as the right of a people have to decide their own political, economic and social boundaries and that includes an exerciseable right to secede or to remain autonomous within a federation.

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The root cause of the negative chain reaction that now customarily follows the desire of any group to exercise this right is a result of the failure of the United Nations Charter to evolve from just being a proclamation to becoming an architecture within which the right to secession can be realized.

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The provisions that pertain to this right have not been proceduralized and made a question of law and not of politics or might. There has been no set threshold for budding nations seeking independence, the actualization of this right has been circumscribed to the theater of war-war, not jaw-jaw. I place culpability for the ferment in this section of our international law firmly at the doorstep of the United Nations, because it offers the best platform for spearheading a solution given its universal acceptability, organizational skills, enormous, if not endless resources both material and intellectual as well as international goodwill.

If half the effort immersed in ensuring compliance with the Geneva convention and the Hague rules during war situations is re-channeled towards lifting this right from printed pages and molding same into structures, some of these confrontations which have evolved to full-fledged conflicts will have been avoided.

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While skeptics will easily point to South Sudan and Eritrea as failed specimens in the self determination experiment, there is Austria and Belgium to point to as proud specimens of secession. That is not to say self determination is an easy fix to national problems.

The gravamen of this article is not to project secession as solution to societal problems, but to prevent it from being a source of one.

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The reluctance in advancing this aspect of international law might not be unrelated to the challenge of redrawing national borders and that of getting nation states to commit. If colonialists could so easily draw up our deeply flawed borders grouping together people with nothing in common from the comfort of their couches in Europe, then with proper engagement, a better job can be done, and as with the Geneva convention and the Hague rules, the presence of laws might not prevent crime, it will however distill the errant elements.The same way domestic legal structures exist to help the aggrieved ventilate their grievance rather than resort to self help, a formidable framework will definitely be a step towards civility and progress.

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As Ghandi noted, constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position. The current ostrich treatment meted out to this constant source of humanitarian catastrophe which has caused its victims so much, will go unabated unless rivalled with a decisive conscientious action.

The United Nations and other international bodies owe these ones a duty to prevent a repeat of Southern Cameroon. Failure to do so will lead to a complete erosion of whatever remains of the international goodwill it currently enjoys.


  • Osinemi Oyi is a legal practitioner with interest in International Humanitarian Law and Diplomacy.