Wars of liberation are brutal. They are one of the worst types of conflict. Combatants are not just fighting for an ideology or geopolitical goals but for their homes and the lives of their families.
Africa is the mother of all continents in terms of wars of liberation. Conflicts on the continent have been horrific in regards to violence and the lack of respect for human life.
My country of Southern Cameroons, which we now call Ambazonia, is no different. Our liberation war, after the United Nations voted in favor of our independence more than 60 years ago, has been devastating for my people and has far-reaching implications on the geopolitical chessboard. All the way to Eastern Europe and beyond.
It is no secret that Russia is actively expanding its influence on the African continent. The Central African Republic (CAR) borders Cameroon and is famous for Kremlin activity. The Wagner mercenary group run by Yevgeny Prigozhin—aka “Putin’s Chef”—also operates there. Wagner activities are well documented in Donbass, Ukraine, but it is less well known that five years ago the group likely murdered several Russian journalists who were looking into its activities in CAR.
Closer to home, the devastating war inflicted on us by the Cameroonian central government has been going on for years and it has seriously impacted our freedom and economy.
Although our security forces have put up a good fight to resist the Cameroon government forces, the territory of Southern Cameroons has been especially hard hit by military raids, arson and economic collapse. Russia has backed acts of war on our people by a military agreement it signed with Yaoundé last year.
Research by Amnesty International has revealed the devastating scale of destruction caused by the ongoing conflict in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.
Fighting between our forces and the Cameroonian military continues with our people bearing the brunt of unlawful killings, kidnappings and widespread destruction of houses and villages by Cameroon’s armed forces. Many mass graves have been uncovered by international organizations investigating the six-year-old conflict.
President Paul Biya has ruled Cameroon from Yaoundé with an iron grip since 1982 and the country is listed as “not free” by Freedom House. His administration is considered rife with corruption, polling near the bottom of the corruption index worldwide, at 142 out of 180 countries.
Before annexation in 1961, Southern Cameroons was a democracy. In 1953, the first democratic elections were organized in Southern Cameroons. In 1958, the opposition won the general elections and the incumbent Prime Minister lost. There was a peaceful transition of power—the first of its kind in British colonial Africa.
We were among the few advanced pre-independence democracies in West Africa. Unfortunately, the Southern Cameroons government and our institutions were dissolved and destroyed by Yaoundé.
Under the restored leadership of Southern Cameroons, known as the Interim Government, our nation has a glimmer of hope with democratic traditions worthy of respect in international diplomatic circles as we try to protect our heritage and livelihood.
I was elected leader of this government in exile in 2018 after claiming political asylum in the United States eight years earlier. I stand for a peaceful resolution of the conflict through genuine dialogue and negotiation on equal terms.
Our conflict provides an opportunity for the US and the West to build a viable relationship with the English-speaking people of Southern Cameroons who live at the heart of the Gulf of Guinea, an area that is now open to new alliances and benefactors.
If Washington is seeking to build a strong and reliable relationship with a friendly government in the strategic gulf region, one that counters Russia’s ambition to expand its access to warm-water ports, oil and natural resources, Southern Cameroons will be the most strategic US ally in the sub-region.
As China and Russia conduct numerous operations in Africa, especially in the sub-region, the US cannot afford to be choosy when opportunities such as this present themselves. “Countries like the United States should send high-level personnel or special envoys to meet with victims and belligerents and, in coordination with other stakeholders, support internal efforts to investigate and document atrocities. For example, similar actions have been carried out by the United States in the past regarding Burma, South Sudan, Darfur and other foreign conflicts,” reported Human Rights Watch.
Russia established an embassy in Cameroon for the first time in 2019. Many Russian-sponsored NGOs have increased their activities in the country and the sub-region. It is obvious why Cameroon did not vote on the recent United Nations resolution demanding Russia leave Ukraine: 141 nations voted in favor of that demand on February 23 and Southern Cameroons would have also voted yes if we had a seat at the UN.
Cameroon’s vote highlights Yaoundé’s relationship with Moscow. Suffice to say the vassal state did not want to anger the Tsar.
“The deal [between Russia and Cameroon] signed on April 12  but revealed last week covers the sale of weapons and armored trucks as well as intelligence gathering and training,” wrote Foreign Policy.
That deal may not come as a surprise to foreign-policy observers because it is largely a revision of a 2015 agreement between Moscow and Yaoundé. Yet the timing of the pact—amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and reports of war crimes there as well as in CAR, Libya, and Mali—has been criticized by Cameroonians.
Only a genuine and inclusive dialogue, not a military solution, will end Cameroon’s Anglophone conflict. The international community has a critical role to play in achieving this outcome, according to Human Rights Watch.
It is time the United States became intimately involved in the conflict in Cameroon to stop Russia and our suffering. The US should not make the mistakes it made elsewhere, such as in Burkina Faso, where it became too late to contain Russian influence.
Perhaps the West should come to terms with the fact that a failed union between Southern Cameroons and Yaoundé is not a fatal accident of history in light of Russia’s growing influence in the country. Now is the time to rebuild America’s alliances around the globe as the Ukraine conflict threatens to escalate out of control.
Indeed, in the new world order since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, it is in US national interests for a stronger, healthier Southern Cameroons to balance the central government in Yaoundé. Southern Cameroons and her people cherish democracy and are committed to helping in this effort.