Cameroon Political Crisis: Ambazonia separatists jailed for life

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A military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon has sentenced a leader of Cameroon’s separatist movement, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and nine other separatists to life imprisonment.

Sisiku Ayuk Tabe is the leader of the so-called Governing Council of Ambazonia.

The court convicted the accused, who had been arrested in Nigeria in January 2018 and deported back to Cameroon, of rebellion and other charges.

The lawyers of the convicts had accused the military judge of bias and serious irregularities in the proceedings and withdrew from the court participation; although, the defence lawyers had continued to stay in the court as spectators. The military court, however, rejected defence lawyers’ accusation of bias as well as their tabled evidence to support their accusations.

The government prosecutors charged the separatists of various crimes, including complicity in terrorism, revolution, financing terrorism, propagation of fake news, insurrection, hostility against the state and lack of identification.

Furthermore, the court ordered the separatists to pay a fine of 250bn CFA francs ($422m) to the government for civil damages as well as 12bn CFA francs ($202m) for court costs, the fines many analysts find outrageous. Others regard the high penalty as an attempt by the government of Paul Biya to cripple the separatists financially and send out a strong warning to other Ambazonia separatists.

What is Ambazonia?

Ambazonia is the name separatists have baptised the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, following their agitation for self-governance.

The Anglophone separatists have accused the French-speaking central government of Cameroon of years of marginalisation and discrimination.

Years of perceived marginalisation had led lawyers and teachers from mainly the English-speaking part of the country to organise a protest and strike in 2016 demanding the end to the use of French in the courts and schools. The government of Cameroon did not heed to their demands.

Following the refusal by the central government to address their concerns, the English-speaking regions of the country declared autonomy in October 2017. As expected, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya flatly rejected the call and sent in his military and security forces to the regions. The activists responded and took up arms against the military.

The military has been accused of gross human rights abuses in the Ambazonia regions, including death, rape and torture. Others have equally accused the military of genocide and crime against humanity, and call on the international community to initiate investigations.

Sadly, the crises have created enormous crises, including thousands of deaths. It is estimated that more than 500,000 people have been displaced as a result of the crisis.

 Why both Anglophone and Francophone in Cameroon?

Cameroon gained independence from France on 1 January 1960. Nine months thereafter, Nigeria got its independence from the UK on 1 October 1960. Before Nigeria’s independence, the UK also controlled the former German colony of Cameroon. At the time of independence, citizens of the former German colony of Cameroon were offered an option to either join Nigeria or Cameroon. Southern Cameroonians decided to join Cameroon, while Northern Cameroon opted for Nigeria. After joining Cameroon, the Southern German colony of Cameroon, would only see themselves as second class citizens and marginalised in their new country Cameroon.

Many political analysts are closely watching the situation in Cameroon. If not well handled, the dangerous situation could have serious political implications in Nigeria, where some individuals in the predominantly Christian dominated South-eastern regions of the country have been demanding for an autonomy, following what they describe as decades of marginalisation and unfair treatments in the hands of the Muslim controlled central government of the country. Let us hope the situation in Cameroon will not slip over to Nigeria.