September 22 is henceforth a marble milestone on Southern Cameroons’ political desert trail. It was a day of self-discovery. Like the Lion of Oz who roared so loud that he scared himself, the entire population of Southern Cameroons shouted “enough” so loud that they could not believe their own ears.
In one of the many compelling videos that immortalized the event, the nonagenarian Fon of Besi broke down in public as the youth of his Fondom trooped around him along with the “Takumbeng.” It was like the touching picture of children returning in tears to their father after a long sojourn with an abusive uncle.
And you had to be made of marble to not catch a treacherous tear sneaking down your cheek as you watched mammoth crowds in all Southern Cameroons towns take the plunge, undeterred by the eventuality of testy fingers among the troops pulling the murderous trigger.
At first, given the regime’s track record of brutal repression, “SCACUF’s” call for these mass protest rallies had looked like a tall order – until word spread that President BIYA had given strict instructions against shooting any protesters. His apparent change of heart was easy to explain: He was in New York to address the UN General Assembly that same day, and the protest marches would be a great opportunity for him to hoodwink the world as usual about how his regime tolerates dissent.
But if he thought he had a monopoly of brinkmanship, the seemingly simple-minded crowds beat him to it. On that score, 9/22 was a win-win for Yaounde and Buea. It was a near-win for President Biya’s public image laundry. For once, the world saw his police look on, as crowds all over Southern Cameroons spilled into the streets singing, “BIYA let my people go” or “Na how many people you one go kill?” It must have been a moment of mortifying restraint for him and his troops to read all the separatist placards, hear a different anthem sung in public and watch a different flag unfurl in a territory he believes he still controls. But it was only a near-win, because among the security forces there were blood thirsty ones who, unable to help themselves, defied his orders and felled eight unarmed protesters. Allegedly one of the murderers was a civilian – a mayor who now still walks the streets unperturbed.
The win for Southern Cameroons was mind-blowing. Never again will the Yaounde regime delude itself or anyone that the Anglophone problem is just a handful of ambitious, frustrated fame seekers, misleading a small group of people. To those who had resigned themselves to suffering in silence because the spectre of bloody repression hung over them like Damocles’ sword, last Friday brought new meaning and proximity to Barack Obama’s words, “Yes, we can.”
With the rush of adrenaline that 9/22 triggered, two new dangers now lurk. The first is naive triumphalism. Yaounde’s restraint last Friday should not delude anyone into assuming some cheap victory. The now popular trend to associate the Anglophone struggle to terrorism must not be taken lightly. Whether or not Yaounde succeeds in marketing that new label abroad, it cannot be expected to pass the opportunity to use it as a pretext for extreme repression.
The other danger that lurks is foolhardiness. Having crossed the threshold of fear, chances are that some young people will take liberties and carry out unnecessarily provocative acts. Already, videos have been in circulation, in which some Francophones complain that their cars were savaged as they tried to enter Southern Cameroons territory. If that is true, the authors of such mindless behavior must be promptly reined in because 9/22 was not against Francophone Cameroonians, but against the oppressive policies of the regime. It must not be seen to herald the creation of a xenophobic state that would treat citizens on the other side of the cultural divide as enemies. Southern Cameroonians must not lose sight of the eventuality of perfectly legitimate retaliation for any xenophobic behavior, and God alone knows what could happen to the droves of their kith and kin living and working across the Mungo. This is to say nothing about the likelihood of a brutal response from Yaounde itself. It would be sheer naiveté and complacency to assume that Scexit is now a slam dunk just because 9/22 happened. All in all, those who pull the strings must take counsel and refrain from putting anyone in harm’s way unnecessarily.
Having pulled off 9/22, and while setting their sights on other milestones, the parties must take a moment to draw some appropriate lessons from what has happened so far.
Totally flabbergasted by massive mobilization on 9/22 the “colonial” Chieftain in Buea is quoted as saying, “they took us by storm” – an unwitting public acknowledgment that there is a them versus us – a dichotomy that has all along been on the mind of the regime and its vassals, but just being papered over by beguiling hashtags like “one and indivisible Cameroon.”
The statement is also an acknowledgment that the regime grossly underestimated the depth and scope of the anger it has provoked by its insensitivity and lack of respect for Southern Cameroonians.
9/22 was the eruption of a sleeping volcano. After ignoring the rumblings in its belly and the multiple little tremors for over half a century, Yaounde is now shocked and awed by the magnitude of the eruption, and that speaks volumes of Biya’s ability to lead a people he knows so little. And whatever may happen hereafter, it seems evident that that has shifted, some say from Etoudi to the Diaspora, but more from Etoudi to the streets, holds and valleys of Southern Cameroons.
9/22 was a final fail mark for Biya’s proactivity. Now starts the ultimate reaction test. Should he fail that too by still resorting to brute force and falsehood, he can as well just say Adieu to Anglophone Cameroon.