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October 1, 2010: Biya’s Inimitable Opportunity For Atonement 

By Clovis Atatah

Here we are with another October 1. The SCNC, as usual, is yelling in protest against annexation; Diaspora Southern Cameroons nationalists have announced demonstrations; and, of course, The Post is focusing on this historically significant date. But this October 1 is not like any other, not least because it is the Southern Cameroons independence anniversary penultimate to next year’s golden jubilee.

It is equally very symbolic that 2010 is also the year in which La République du Cameroun is celebrating not only 50 years of its independence, but also the golden jubilee of its army. This year’s October 1 puts the Yaounde regime in a moral dilemma as it is very difficult for them to claim to be celebrating freedom, while flagrantly undermining the quest for freedom by Southern Cameroonians, as they have brutally done in the past.

Yaounde regime strategists are, however, no fools. After initial missteps in handling the delicate issue of the independence dates of the two Cameroons, they made clever attempts to cover their tracts. In belated efforts at political engineering earlier this year, the regime tried desperately, but unsuccessfully, to hoodwink Southern Cameroonians (call them Anglophone Cameroonians, if you please) into considering celebrations marking the golden jubilee of the independence of La République du Cameroun, as their own.

Taking it a step further, President Paul Biya decided to celebrate the golden jubilee of the armed forces of La République du Cameroun in Bamenda, in total disregard of the fact that Southern Cameroons, where the city is located, had no official relationship with his country 50 years ago. Since the supercilious display of military might has never won hearts and minds, Mr. Biya should not expect that his lavish party in Bamenda will blow Southern Cameroonians off their feet.

Over the years, the Yaounde regime has attempted, again unsuccessfully, to downplay and distort the historical significance of October 1 and its political underpinnings. More than a decade ago, President Paul Biya brushed aside the issue of Southern Cameroons nationalism, boasting to a French journalist that he would organise a referendum to disprove the "tiny" band of Anglophone secessionists wrong.

He is yet to implement his "threat". Unfortunately for him, the occasion of the independence of La République du Cameroun forced him, after loud protests by especially Southern Cameroonian journalists in Yaounde, to acknowledge, albeit grudgingly and incompletely, the separate historical trajectories of the two Cameroons.

Decidedly obstinate in his warped philosophy that talking to those who do not agree with him is a sign of weakness, Paul Biya has always deliberately sidestepped the Southern Cameroons question, probably hoping that the flame of nationalism will peter out. He missed a golden opportunity to address this issue during the constitutional discussions in the early 1990s and after the 1993 Buea Declaration, 17 years ago. He missed another opportunity after the Bamenda Proclamation. Biya scornfully let many other subsequent opportunities to flow into the slush pit.

Even after the ruling of the rights commission of the African Union (AU) last year, which urged Mr Biya’s government to initiate dialogue with Southern Cameroons nationalists, the Cameroon president has not moved an inch, preferring to play delay tactics. It is also being suggested that the Yaounde regime’s successful campaign to have a Cameroonian female judge appointed to that AU rights commission is a malicious attempt to frustrate the aspirations of Southern Cameroonians.

Mr Biya ought to realise that he cannot run away from the Southern Cameroons question forever, because he is only paving a veritable cul-de-sac. Be that as it may, this year’s October 1 is a golden opportunity for the Cameroon president to partially salvage his image among Southern Cameroonians and in the international arena. He could take the opportunity provided by the occasion to announce the date, in the coming weeks, on which Southern Cameroons representatives will sit with negotiators from his government on the same table to start talking things out.

The negotiations should have a specific time-table (perhaps six months) so that on October 1, 2011, he could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Southern Cameroons leaders and proudly announce to cheering crowds that the conflict has finally been resolved. It is true that one should normally not expect too much from Paul Biya. In 28 years in power, he has only scorned calls for dialogue with Southern Cameroonians and the political opposition in his country.

Late human rights crusader, Samba Churchill, describing the Yaounde regime as hard of hearing, once said Southern Cameroonians should not expect to dialogue with the deaf. Well, it is my belief that even with sign language one can dialogue with a deaf, especially one who decides to atone for his sins. Perhaps, just perhaps, we may on this special October 1 succeed to appeal to the better nature of the nearly 79-year-old Mr Biya to, in the evening of his life, do something for which he could be positively remembered.

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