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Forcing Argument Or The Force Of Argument? 

By Clovis Atatah in Vienna, Austria

Two items in The Post last week especially caught my attention: an article on the launch of tireless Mola Njoh Litumbe’s book, "Case of the Annexation of the UN British Administered Territory of Southern Cameroons", and a write-up by the erudite George Ngwane on the need for ex-West Cameroonians to go beyond the "re-unification" blame game and engage in a constructive process of renegotiating the current political arrangement in the Cameroons.

Both write-ups raise the crucial question of the status of the ex-British Southern Cameroons in the current putative Cameroon union and necessitate a brief discussion on that subject.

On the eve of the golden jubilee commemoration of Britain’s departure from the territory on October 1, developments such as publications of books and interventions by intellectuals in a bid to establish the historical truth on this weighty subject matter can only be welcome. Such actions are definitely in line with the vision of the founding fathers of the Southern Cameroons liberation struggle who opted for a non-violent approach, insisting on "the force of argument, not the argument of force".

However, there has been no common, compelling argument threading through the different separatist groups. The cacophonic narratives flying around often leave ordinary Southern Cameroonians dazed, wondering what the real case for independence is.

The founding fathers of the Southern Cameroons struggle did not help matters in this regard. The Buea Declaration issued after the All Anglophone Conference focused on the marginalisation of Southern Cameroonians and called for a return to the pre-1972 federation.

It is only after the adoption of the "zero option", after Yaounde superciliously sneered at the demand for a return to the federation, that separatist groups started talking forcefully about the legal loopholes in the Cameroons arrangement. Unfortunately, however, interpretations of the historical facts have been as varied as the groups advocating separate independence or autonomy for the Southern Cameroons.

Ongoing efforts by the various liberation groups to adopt a common position will therefore help to clarify the public on the merits (or demerits) of the Southern Cameroons quest for a separate independence. The question of whether it is a case of marginalisation or illegality or both should be answered in no unambiguous terms.

For starters, it should be clear to Southern Cameroonians what happened on October 1, 1961. When respected intellectuals talk of "re-unification" – the emotive concept coined by pro-"joining" the Cameroun Republic advocates ahead of the 1961 plebiscite, but which is obviously a historical fantasy – one cannot help grudgingly acknowledging the effectiveness of Yaounde’s psychological warfare.

Mola Litumbe’s publication is not only a giant stride in setting the historical records straight; it also offers a simple, clear interpretation of the relation between the two territories, which were known between 1961 and 1972 as East and West Cameroon. Using the analogy of the pseudo-connubial institution, which is prevalent in Cameroon, was sheer ingenuity because everybody understands how that works.

The explanation goes something like this: On October 1, 1961 Southern Cameroons moved into the home of the Cameroun Republic in a "kam-we-stay" relationship. Like in all "kam-we-stay" relationships, either partner can leave whenever he or she wishes, especially when the relationship is not working out well. Unlike in a common law marriage, there is no need for a procedure to end a "kam-we-stay" relationship.

So there is no reason for the Cameroun Republic to try to prevent Southern Cameroons from leaving the relationship now that she wants out. It is as simple as that. If the different separatist groups decide to adopt a common position that will be simple to explain to the masses, they will have to work very hard to get something that beats Mola Litumbe’s version.

This, of course, is a bit of a simplistic way of explaining a complex issue, but it is always necessary to break down complex concepts into easily understandable explanations or slogans if anyone wants to successfully purvey a message. Ordinary people will only understand sophisticated explanations about the implications of UN Resolution X or Y on the Southern Cameroons issue after they have grasped the overall import of the relationship between the Cameroun Republic and Southern Cameroons.

Once the hurdle of messaging, which has bedevilled the Southern Cameroons cause for some time now, has been overcome, the next stage in my view will have to be forcing Yaounde and the international community to listen to the argument.

So far, Yaounde authorities have remained resolutely deaf to the argument, and it is unlikely that modifying messaging tactics will change that. Among the various changes that have taken place in the world in the recent past, it is difficult to point at one that came about because of the force of argument alone. Even a foremost pacifist like Martin Lurther King Jr. will likely not have achieved anything significant if he did not combine the force of argument with pressure in the streets.

If Southern Cameroons separatist groups do not seriously work towards taking the struggle to streets, the force of argument will only remain a force in name only. While Southern Cameroonians continue deceiving themselves about the potency of their arguments, Yaounde will continue reinforcing the structures of subjugation.

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