The International Crisis Group ICG, recently contacted Barrister Harmony Bobga, a Southern Cameroons Human Rights Lawyer currently residing in the US, to chronicle in a question and answer format, events leading up to the current crisis in Cameroon. In the interview, Harmony laments that Southern Cameroons’ conquest began when the British Ambassador, in a little note traded off Southern Cameroons to President Ahmadou Ahidjo in Tiko in 1961. He not only defines and traces the root of a crisis that has paralyzed a section of Cameroon and have the gov’t on her knees, he delves also into the circumstances informing the formation of the Consortium, and how subsequent negotiations with LRC were initiated and why they botched. This is a must read for every Cameroonian, (Southern Cameroonians in particular), and any party interested in looking for lasting solutions to the crisis in Cameroon. It’s a piece for the moment and for posterity.
Can you give us your background (age, ethnic group, studies high school to university, professional experiences, unions in which you have militated in the past)?
The structure and content of a specific Resumé, are usually tailored to the purpose for which they are intended. In the instant case, you are better placed to know what you want to know about me. The best I can do therefore is to lay bare as much information as you would find from a general and essentially informative personal biodata, curriculum studiorium and broad strokes of my work and travel life. I therefore attach a copy of a fairly informative Resume for your exploit.
How will you define the Anglophone problem? What is it about?
The term “Anglophone” in itself is an unfortunate yet deliberate construct designed to becloud the root of the real legal and moral problems that have been rocking Cameroon since September 30, 1961. In order to move away from the destructive self-deception, let me assist you here in” calling a spade a spade”. There exists, not an “Anglophone problem”, but a problem of “absence of legality of any union whatsoever between “La République du Cameroun, and The State of “Southern Cameroons”.
There is not a linguistic problem but a political problem, which involves the overrun, illegal occupation and rapist-type exploitation of the State of Southern Cameroons by “La République du Cameroon, in grave and blatant violation of international law, of an African peoples’ national identity by a sister African country with the backing of former colonial Masters.
For a clearer historico-legal picture of the problem, it is worth recalling here that While “La République du Cameroun earned her independence on January 1, 1960, the independence of the State of Southern Cameroons was compromised on September 30, 1961 when the British Ambassador, in a little note traded off Southern Cameroons to President Ahmadou Ahidjo. This incident occurred on the grounds of the Tiko Airport at the ceremony marking the definitive withdrawal and departure of British Administrators, Police, and Soldiers, from Southern Cameroons.
In a nutshell therefore, the problem you are inquiring about concerns the question of compromise of the independent statehood of the United Nations-British Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons.
What are the direct causes of the current strike and how did things evolve chronologically?
- Self-deception with a belief of success in the neutralization of Southern Cameroons nationalist identity and resistance to [re]-colonization;
- Underestimation and undermining of Common Law Lawyers’ Resolutions and Proposals for new directions in the Cameroon Justice sector;
- Adoption of a genocidal military option as against the invite of Common Law Lawyers to dialogue over the issues posed by them to government as requiring urgent attention and solution;
- Segregative shutting down of internet access from the territory of Southern Cameroons for a period of 125days;
- Abuse of Court system (military tribunal) as a means of terrorising the population of southern Cameroons;
- Rejection of Common Law Lawyers’ invitation to revisit the constitutional process of “unification of La République du Cameroun and Southern Cameroons”;
- Heightened and accelerated socio-economic rape of the Land of Southern Cameroons;
- Realization of betrayal of trust of Southern Cameroonians by internal and external forces;
- Easing of political communication through social media.
When was the consortium formed? By who? For what purpose? And which unions and associations are part of it?
The Consortium was created sometime in November 2016. No individual or group of individuals created the “Consortium”; It was the creation of civil society organizations engaged in the indefinite sit-in strike called by the constituent Associations of common law lawyer’s Associations in Cameroon – namely North-West Lawyers’
association (NOWELA); Fako Lawyers’ Association (FAKLA); Meme Lawyers’ Association (MELA); and Manyu Lawyers’ association (MALA), through their elected Representatives (Presidents);
The initial signatories were the above Common law lawyers’ associations, the syndicate of university of Buea Lecturers; Traders associations in Bamenda, the Cameroon teachers Trade Union (CATTU), etc.
How did the negotiations with the government evolve? And how do you evaluate the government response?
The government only opened up to dialogue when she began to realize a backlash from its atrocious and misguided brutal reaction to the peaceful resistance of the Common Law Lawyers whose actions had already metamorphosed into a general strike of virtually 98% of the Southern Cameroonian population, particularly the galvanizing effects of the CONSORTIUM that had received an across the board approbation of the southern Cameroonian population taking advantage of the Common Law Lawyers’ cracking of the glass ceiling under which challenging the government of La République du Cameroun’s last lap of a 56years annihilation of Southern Cameroons program.
The dialogue was also approached with arrogance and bad faith. The minister of justice had initially proclaimed that it will not take two weeks for the striking lawyers to get hungry and call off the strike. He had denied himself and the government the due diligence of reviewing why the strike was launched and why everyone in Southern Cameroons was ready to join in. This reflected how a dictatorship gets blinded in its past modus operandi and successes and gets permanently disempowered to act promptly and intelligently.
I recall that when the CPDM Parliamentarians of Southern Cameroons extraction invited us to dialogue, the window of opportunity was shut by members of the Executive who questioned and bullied the Parliamentarians over what authority they had to dabble into the affairs of the lawyers. I recall that I discussed the aspects of human rights violations that had accompanied government’s response to the Lawyers’ and teachers’ strike with some Diplomats in Yaoundé who diplomatically urged the president of the republic to review the way the government was responding to the Lawyers and Teachers.
After the diplomatic interventions, the Prime Minister’s Office upon instructions from the Presidency requested the minister of Justice to open up dialogue with us. Instead of proceeding as requested, the Minister, with characteristic callous indifference and tactless insensitivity, opted first to dilute the instructions both in structure and content. He called for a “workshop” as if to teach us what we did not know and on issues that were now enlarged to minimize the concerns of Lawyers, just as those invited to participate were assuredly compliant persons who had nothing whatsoever to do with the strike action. We rejected the attempt to trick us even though we felt sorry for such important crisis management assignment being entrusted to a Minister who recklessly demonstrated destructive arrogance and ignorance.
The Prime minister himself was ultimately sent to meet us and he too came up with a denatured agenda that failed. The last attempt which involved the Prime Minister creating a Dialogue committee on the lawyers’ issues and one for the Teachers’ problems, entrusted respectively into the hands of the Minister-delegate at the
Ministry of Justice and the Minister of Secondary Education. Both Committees failed on account of bad faith from the government side. (see in this respect the errors in structure, substance and procedure that I pointed out to the Committee and despite which the Minister Delegate of justice had the courage to give a Press briefing after we the leaders of the Common-Law Lawyers’ association had staged a walk-out, lying that it had all ended up well.
By way of concluding evaluation, the government of “La République du Cameroun” has been consistent in pursuing her own logic and not opening up to dialogue which we had invited. All government actions over the Southern Cameroons problem ignited by Common Law Lawyers’ strike, from beginning to date, have demonstrated bad faith, incompetence and the pursuit of a non-conflict transforming logic. The unfortunate result has been a cancerous deepening and complication of the crisis to the extent that there are already signs of a failing or failed government.
How many people have been killed and injured since the beginning of the strike? How many arrested and how many currently imprisoned?
While I am not a Statistician, even if I were one, it will require an opportunity for data collection to have been able to carry out the exercise to answer your question as straight as you have put it. Journalists whose regular reports sometimes help with rough estimates have not practiced their profession in Southern Cameroons freely
to be helpful in this regard.
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists based in New York attempted to go into Cameroon and Southern Cameroons in particular to carry out an assessment of the situation of the practice of the profession and were denied visas. The internet shutdown and the sustained siege on the Southern Cameroons Territory betrays a vigorously pursued policy to hide facts from the public.
The procedure of nocturnal arrests of especially young people from Southern Cameroons and ferrying them out of their Regions of abode without any record being left within these territories blinds access to quantification of exactly how many people have been arrested. Murders are reported to have been part of the modus operandi of the security forces in keeping with strict instructions from hierarchy. There have been rumours of mass graves for which the chances of doubting the ultimate reality of such rumours are very slim given the continuously crystalizing bad faith of government in the handling of the crisis.
What is the economic impact of the current strike? Can you financially evaluate that?
Having been forced to flee from home into exile, I have no access to any financial or fiscal statistical data from the territory of Southern Cameroons or “La République du Cameroun”, with which I can give a scientifically correct answer to this question. Speaking generally without holding myself out to be expected to proof correctness, I can say in general terms the current political situation between the Southern Cameroons territory and “La République du Cameroun has adversely affected the economy which could be said to have been bleeding this far. This bleeding notwithstanding, we reckon that no price is too high for a worthy project like restoring the independence of our country that has been compromised over 56years, through peaceful resistance to the chagrin of arms dealers of the world!
We have heard that 13 January can be considered as the most important date of this crisis. What happened this day?
Back on November 8, 2016, I had announced the creation of the Common-Law Lawyers’ Bar. On January 13, 2017, the announcement of the creation of the Cameroon Common Law Bar Association at its first General Assembly received approbation from the Common-Law Lawyers themselves, marking a departure from the singular Cameroon Bar Association that had demonstrated with criminal silence apathy towards the predicament of Common Law Lawyers in Cameroon in the hands of an insensitive and brutally repressive government.
The same General Assembly on that same January 13, 2017 unanimously endorsed the leadership of the Constituent Common Law Associations of the Common-Law Jurisdictions of Cameroon as the pioneer leadership team for the new Bar Association and beefed it up by adding some other members into the steering Committee. It was also agreed at that critical meeting that the Common-Law Lawyers of Cameroon so reorganized retake their special position and roles in the emergent Southern Cameroons problem and begin to work on a new constitutional proposal for resolution of the problematic of absence of constitutional foundation of the ill-fated union of Southern Cameroons and “La République du Cameroun” Emissaries carrying a message of compromise of our struggle. The last of these Emissaries who I had the privilege of addressing off our course was a former Minister of Biya’s government who claimed, without documentary proof that he had been commissioned by Mr. President Paul Biya to open up negotiations with us, after The Prime Minister, Members of the Central Committee of the Ruling CPDM Party of Mr. Biya, and Alhadji Danpullo had failed to convince us.
Effectively, that date also saw the turning point by rejection of government’s ploy of President Paul Biya’s to steadily multiply manoeuvres with a view to bursting our strike action through corrupt means. Such has failed so woefully.