After 1 year of engaging the Cameroonian military, Anglophone Cameroonians with the Free Ambazonia movement are gradually coming to grips with the stark reality of war. Civil wars typically last an average of 7 to 12 years. Are Anglophones prepared for that?
In a rare show of unity, the different Anglophone factions have chosen to put forward a united front. A choice they could not afford to ignore any longer if they wanted their struggle to last. They may have an abundance of vocal and silent local support, but the lack of sustainable funding is a premonition for things to come.
With a Cameroonian military personnel of more than 14000 well trained soldiers that shows no sign of mutiny, the struggle is an uphill climb.
Having successfully been in power for 35 years now, Biya knows Cameroonians a lot better than his detractors. The data never lies.
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A conflict that started as a peaceful protests by lawyers and teachers in the Anglophone regions seeking better conditions quickly morphed into a secessionist movement after a heavy crackdown by the government.
The war is being fought on two main fronts, communication and physical. The government had tried to suppress the spread of information by limiting access to social media and on multiple occasions cutting off internet access in the North West and South West Provinces of Cameroon. And with Ambazonians having amassed a TV, radio and internet communication networks that beam their propaganda directly into the homes of locals, there’s no shortage of misinformation from both sides.
Fighting has taken a severe tool economically, socially and psychologically in the Anglophone areas. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been displaced, economic activity has largely come to a standstill, schools shut down for the most part for 2 years.
The regime’s brutality and the economic despair that clouds the region has united many Anglophone Cameroonians to a common cause. But, anger alone is not enough to win a war. At some point people will begin to assess the reality of war and decide if there are better alternatives.
The Ambazonian leaders have been mainly frustrated by the lack of involvement of international bodies like the UN and other countries to get involved despite many pleas for help. Something experienced minds have always cautioned. The government’s silence to entertain their agenda of separation has provoked many outcries. Outcries that generated even more silence.
Many Anglophone leaders have done a great job in articulating the Anglophone problem in Cameroon. That has won them support from a few Francophones. However, the movement never figured out a way to broaden its struggle to bring in disgruntled Francophones. It pitted its fight as a struggle solely against Francophones diminishing its credibility and the sympathy it could get from moderate Anglophones and Francophones.
Presidential and legislative elections come up next October. The octogenarian president, Paul Biya is widely expected to defeat the field of 8 competitors with 2 prominent Anglophones. The inability of the opposition candidates to form a winning coalition than their go it alone and lose tells us Cameroonians are not ready for change.
Ambazonian leaders like the current crop of presidential candidates make promises of highways, airports, free education and housing for all, innovation, but no one talks about how these will be paid for.
With little ongoing economic activity, one can say the Ambazonian leaders will not have the financial means to fulfil these promises. That is likely to lead to more despair and internal revolt. In fact, a good number of countries are moving away from providing free goodies to their citizens as such ambitious plans are unsustainable.
The Anglophone problem degenerated this much because those who were quite rational and able to provide critical solutions had adopted a wait and see position. They never stood up when the nation needed them the most and the little credibility they can offer now is severely tarnished. All conflicts as always arise from entrenched self-interests, the unwillingness to seek and offer objective options.
Silence, the age old adage survival skill is on the minds of many. With silence, you are in nobody’s way and so, no one is motivated to stand in yours. In this day and age, silence only forces you to adopt the ideas of others no matter how irrational they are.
Can Ambazonians win? Certainly not today or tomorrow, but it will be a messy and brutal war like every war is. Are they prepared for the severity? Perhaps those upping the ante are, but they are far away from the conflict zone. Those close who are bound to bear the brunt of it, sadly are not.
It is sad to imagine that people were getting pushed to the forefront to fight under some pretext that the sheer amount of casualties or the shutdown of schools will push other countries to intervene. That has not happened and it is hard to imagine any circumstance under which this will ever happen. To outsiders, this is just another conflict in Africa and one in many around the world.
The other argument currently advanced is that because of the heavy casualties already sustained, there can be no turning back. As reality sinks in, people will gradually gravitate towards their self-interests, survival instincts will kick in.
It is a revolution mainly fought on social media with videos, images and antics. The reality on the ground is that Ambazanian soldiers are poorly equipped, outmanned and outgunned by a military that is better trained. Although their tenacity and familiarity with the local terrain can not be overlooked, that can only work for so long.
After the elections, it will become harder for Ambazonians to make their case on the international front given that prominent Anglophones would have run for the presidency. The rationale will be that their movement is just about stifling democracy and it never gave a chance for others to have their say.
What happens after Biya?
Cameroonians can only look forward to the day Biya chooses to resign or passes away from natural causes. Many are too busy with their self-interests to think about the greater good. A self-interest Biya exploits at every turn.
With the president no longer in power, the ruling party is likely to split up into multiple factions as no one would be able to wield the strongman command Biya does. The armed forces might not be able to keep rank and file officers in order causing the country to split up into several breakaway regions like Ambazonia, the Northern Provinces, the West with the Central, Littoral and East Provinces making up the rest.
Worst case scenario, the country slides into a military dictatorship, but the Anglophones are likely to remain obstinate in their quest to break away.