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The Reunification Referendum

Sunday 23 February 2014

By Mwalimu George Ngwane

20th February 2014 is the day chosen by the State to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Cameroon’s Reunification. Coming three years behind time, the rhetoric on the event seems to focus more on the aesthetics rather than the essence of Reunification.

Granted, the development deficiency that Buea has suffered from since 1972 calls for an overwhelming and unprecedented euphoria of seeing new feeder roads, disenclaved neighbourhoods, a new Public stand, a beautiful boulevard, large clearings, two renovated and refurbished hotels, an ahistorical Reunification monument, a conspicuous incomplete amphitheatre, in fact disposable and sustainable projects for which the Buea citizens shall for a long time remember “how nice it is to meet our brothers again”. Unfortunately but understandably, the pre-Reunification plethora of official meetings gave the impression that the hosting and success of the event itself was predicated on how much funds could be raised for entertainment and how complete the projects were before President Paul Biya comes to town to preside at the event.

The toll has been a shift of emphasis from the spirit to the spoils of the event, a spirit that would have been informed by a culture of political discourse underpinned by the road taken since West Cameroon voluntarily decided to “achieve Independence by joining the Republic of Cameroon” in 1961. For instance, while a vox pop conducted by the Sunday morning program “Cameroon Calling” of 15th February revealed how most of the respondents were excited over “seeing the President after 1999 when he last made his volcanic eruption trip in Buea” and even “thanking the President for delaying the event since most of the projects have now been completed”, headlines from two newspapers read “No beer before welcoming Biya in Buea” (The Post newspaper) and “Biya in Buea at last”(The Star newspaper).

The event is here and on 17th February I attended the Colloquium on the theme “From Reunification to Integration, 50 years of nation building” at the University of Buea Amphi 750 that itself was jammed to capacity and no one was indifferent to the fact that the presentations by the Professorial panelists were as polarized as the Reunification divide. One of the take-home sound bites from the Colloquium came from Prime Minister Philomen Yang who urged Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) to, if it wants to make itself politically relevant but secessionist-proof, transform itself into a political party in Cameroon. Well, Mr. Prime Minister, the snag is that most Liberation movements or Identity-centered groups that transform themselves into political parties do so after dissolving their or in tandem with a Liberation army (African National Congress and their Umkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa, the Eritrean Peoples’ liberation Front and Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt just to name these few). You just cannot beat a child and tell it how to cry.

Unanswered Questions

All of these raise a number of unanswered questions about the Golden Jubilee Reunification event. Did the state leadership not know that 1st October 2011 was the real date of the 50th anniversary of Reunification? Shall we remember 20th February 2014 more as the day President Biya visited Buea or the day the Golden Jubilee Reunification event took place? Shall our short memories be concerned with the ego-massaging speeches on future development promises or frank talk on past unfulfilled promises? Are development realizations based on the spontaneous visits of the President or part of a coherent vision based on national policy (Public Investment projects, Vision 2035)? Will the Golden Jubilee Reunification event be long remembered for its cultural commodification or its historical introspection? What accounts for the fact that most West Cameroonian musicians have been inspired to compose Reunification songs and West Cameroonian magazines have covered the Reunification narrative more as opposed to their East Cameroonian counterparts? Was the onus of the event limited only to development projects in Buea to the detriment of the South West Region? How come that the South West Elite, South West Chiefs and South West politicians in particular and the West Cameroonian intelligentsia in general allowed themselves to be gatecrashers rather than gatekeepers in articulating the interest and voices (safe for crowd-funding) of their geo-political polity?

Answers to these questions shall continue to define and shape our mindset about our political will to address both the West Cameroon problem and the lopsided development trajectory that have been the scar on our national conscience.

Unfortunately, as it obtains in every pedagogy of the oppressed, West Cameroonians remain divided over the historical dialectics of Reunification with some arguing that there was never any Unification, others say there was Unification without Reunification and others confirming the rationale of the event with reference to the 11th February and 1st October 1961 sacrament of matrimony. This has translated into various geo-political nomenclatures spanning from British Southern Cameroons, Southern Cameroons, West Cameroon to Anglophone Cameroon arguably along historical realities and/or generational lines. Worse still, since the All Anglophone Conference of 1993 and 1994, there still remains a lack of gelling among West Cameroonians on the endgame of their legitimate grievances that were so faithfully mirrored in the Buea Declaration of 1993. That space of endgame consensus has been occupied by a cocktail of fleeting memories and floating legacies, a history of victors and victims and a checklist of patriots and traitors. That lack of endgame cohesion has been filled with pedantic pontifications of national unity and integration as if the constitutional right to self-determination endorsed by International legal instruments was anathema. Yet comptemporary historical trends abound with how nations grappling with internal fissures use time-bound referendums and constitutional accommodation rather than civic education platitudes, decrees and assimilation-driven agenda to glue their snapping bonds.

Time for another Referendum?

As long as human beings resolve to push the boundaries of injustice to the frontiers of freedom there shall be internal agitations within and between nations to the point of new constitutional engineering and the birth of new nation-states. From the Province of Quebec in Canada, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in Morocco, Azawad in Mali, Casamance in Senegal, Barotseland in Zambia, Catalonia in Spain to Scotland in the United Kingdom, leadership the world over is coming to terms with the conflict resolution mechanism that addresses rather than ignores dissenting voices. This antidote to spiraling conflicts is by itself along the spirit and letter of the therapy of the United Nation’s Preventive Diplomacy and the traditional Africa’s palaver theory.

Ethiopia took a major lead in Africa after the secession of Eritrea when on November 22 1994, its Constitutional Assembly enshrined the right of any of the eleven kilils (regions) to secede through a Referendum as long as 61 % of the members of the Regional Assembly concerned did agree. Twenty years later no kilil has effectively agitated for Independence probably because according to the then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi the secession clause was not to make secession easy but to make the Federal government responsive.

Quebec in Canada has been going through periodic Referendum exercises knowing that each generation has its perceptions and vision but with the Integrationists winning over the secessionists each time, Eritrea got her Independence from Ethiopia in November 22 1993 through a Referendum, South Sudan became Africa’s newest nation through a Referendum on 9th January 2011 and Scotland shall be consulted through a Referendum in September 2014 to decide their political character either within or out of the United Kingdom.

So if the future of Southern Cameroons was decided through a Referendum (Plebiscite) on 11th February 1961, and the future of West Cameroon was determined through a Referendum on 20th May 1972 is it not logical that the future of the British Southern Cameroon, Southern Cameroons, West Cameroon or Anglophone Cameroonians, and they only, should be consulted, through another Referendum? Thank Heavens, Article 48 (1-3) of our 1996 constitution makes provision for the regulation of Referendum operations in Cameroon.

See online: The Reunification Referendum