Bamenda, 12 February 2019 – Pro-independence campaigners are 48 hours away from the end of a nine-day lockdown of all activities – political, economic, social and financial – in the self-proclaimed Republic of Ambazonia.
Organizers of the lockdown promised to shoot to kill anyone seen walking in the streets, opening up their businesses or pursuing any other activity.
Ambazonia is the former United Nations British Trusteeship of Southern Cameroons which gained independence from Britain on 1 October 1961 under an arrangement which made it one of two states equal in status with neighboring Republic of Cameroon (independent on 1 January 1960).
The lockdown has divided Ambazonian leaders with, on the one hand, those who support the lockdown and have issued threats to anyone who dares to break it and, on the other hand, those who describe the lockdown as ill-advised and more likely to harm than promote the independence restoration quest.
The campaign was launched ahead of the 58th anniversary of the United Nations-supervised plebiscite of 11 February 1961, imposing a de facto state of emergency to protest the annexation of Ambazonia by Cameroon.
On 21 April 1961, the United Nations General Assembly voted – 64 in favor, 23 against, and 10 abstaining – to grant independence to the territory, then known as Southern Cameroons.
For 11 years – from 1961 to 1972 – Ambazonia was one of the two states, with its own prime minister, parliament, police force, justice and education systems, among others.
On 20 May 1972, Cameroon’s first dictator, Ahmadou Ahidjo, scrapped the federation in violation of the United Nations sponsored union arrangement as well as in violation of Article 47 of the Federal Constitution which said none could make law to destroy the federation
The lockdown was implemented, to put it mildly, as an upgrade – or a version 2.0 – of the better-known civil disobedience campaigns known as “Ghost Towns”.
For a little over two years, “Ghost Towns” – the practice of shutting down stores, shops, offices, markets, transportation, etc. each Monday – has been in full force and largely adhered to by the population.
The goal is draw world attention to what campaigners say is a recolonization of Ambazonia by Cameroon. Other aspects of the campaign support the increasingly popular – even populist – goal of achieving peaceful separation, self-rule and outright independence as Africa’s 55th nation.
The campaign has been anything but peaceful. The regime of President Paul Biya responded to peaceful protests with disproportionate force, further radicalizing even those Ambazonians who were in favor of a return to federalism under the sabotaged formula of two state, equal in status.
Genocidal violence, war crimes and mass atrocity crimes have not stopped growing in number and in horror since Biya declared war on Ambazonia on 30 November 2017, terming the symbolic restoration of independence on 1 October 2017 an act of terrorism and secession.
Thousands have been killed. Thousands are in jail. Nearly 60 exiled leaders and political refutes have been rounded up from refugee camps and political asylum in neighboring Nigeria. Their rendition to Cameroon led to the opening of a trial on charges that include terrorism, rebellion, insurrection, dissemination of false information.
Civilians are caught between the rock and a hard place. They have been targeted and killed in raids by Cameroonian armed and security forces but also, in crossfire by Ambazonian self-defense units whose numbers have continued to grow.
Despite being poorly equipped, most Amba Boys, as the Ambazonian fighters are called, carry locally fabricated hunting rifles. A bigger number of volunteers do not have a gun and must wait for a fellow combatant with a rifle to be killed for them to pick up the gun and fight on.