Ambazonian leader, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and nine other leaders fighting for the separation of English-speaking South Cameroon from Francophone Cameroon, have been under incarceration for about two years now, following their abduction conviction for “terrorism and secession”.
Recently, the Ambazonian leader had an interview with Le Messenger on the state of their incarceration, the ongoing human rights crisis in Cameroon and their general fight for “freedom”. AfricanVoice Global republishes the English version of that Question and Answer interview below.
Le Messenger (LM): What is the state of mind of Sisiku AyukTabe and 9 others sentenced with him?
Sisiku Ayuk Tabe (SAT): It has been over 2 years since we were abducted from a hotel in Abuja and illegally transferred to Yaounde. We were held incommunicado for 7 months without access to family or friends or counsel. We were treated in the most dehumanizing conditions and denied our basic human rights.
That only served to strengthen our resolve. We recognize that there is no justice to be gotten from a Cameroun regime that violates international law by abducting refugees and asylum seekers and illegally transporting them across international borders. We recognize that there is no justice to be gotten from a regime that manufactures evidence to substantiate trumped up charges. We recognize that there is no justice to be gotten from a regime that conducts sham trials and hands out life sentences to people who have committed no crimes. After over two years in captivating and illegal detention, the regime, by its brutal actions has only served to convince us and many more Southern Cameroonians of the validity of our cause and the need to remain steadfast.
LM: Where are we with the appeal of your case?
SAT:We do not currently have any updates on the status of our appeal. The military tribunal made it near impossible for us to appeal the judgements of life sentences handed down by imposing a huge cost and giving a very limited time to file all submissions.
Despite the hurdles, we were able to fulfill the conditions and complete all submissions within the stipulated timeframe. However, more than six months after we filed the appeal, we are yet to hear from the Court of appeal. Clearly, the regime, that sat for 19 straight hours, to conduct a sham trial that ended at 5am in the morning, and ignored the fact that there were no counsel for the defense in the court, is in no hurry to reexamine it’s decisions.
LM: The death toll in Ambazonia is mind-blowing. People estimate it at 3,000. What is your take on this number?
SAT:The figures quoted have been grossly understated, presumably to conceal the fact that Cameroun’s Military is committing genocide in the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia). We are not surprised because even in its latest massacre in Ngarbuh, while all reliable sources put the number of people killed by the Cameroun military at over 23 including 14 children and 2 pregnant women, the Yaounde regime still lies and talks of 5.
From the information we have, over 30,000 people, mostly children, adolescent boys and girls, women, including pregnant ones, people with disabilities and the aged have been killed by Cameroun Military who have also burnt down about 500 villages. In the process, they have displaced over 1.4 million people including over 120,000 refugees in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and in far flung places such as Mexico, Guatemala and the United States of America.
In fact, this is one of the few conflicts worldwide where there are no documented prisoners of war. This shows clearly that the Cameroun army is commiting genocide. It is only a matter of time before an internationally mandated fact-finding mission is convened. At that point, the true extent of the crimes committed will be revealed and the members of the regime and their enablers prosecuted.
LM:There is an unthinkable misery of the population with 60,000 refugees in Nigeria and 600,000 internally displaced persons. What is your take on the severity of the disaster?
SAT:As stated before, the numbers grossly understate the severity of the genocide being perpetuated by the Cameroun Military in the Southern Cameroons (aka Ambazonia). When the internationally mandated fact-finding mission is finally convened, the true extent of the genocide will finally be revealed.
LM: It is about 4 years now that more than 600,000 youths are deprived of education in the conflict zone. What is the future of these youths?
SAT:One of the causes of the conflict has been the systematic destruction of Southern Cameroon’s Anglo-Saxon education system by the Biya regime over the past 38 years. The regime has tended to conflate school attendance with education even where there are neither teachers nor classrooms. The education policies served to destroy the curriculums and impoverish parents while at the same time ensuring the children received very little education, making them virtually unemployable.
When teachers requested for better conditions including improvements in the curriculum and policies, they were brutalized. The events of the last four years, with the Cameroun military burning down whole communities including schools and hospitals, raping young girls and killing babies, women and children as was the case in Muyaka on May 20, 2019 where 4 months old baby Martha was shot 8 times, and the more recent case of Ngarbuh on February 14, 2020 where Cameroun millitary massacred 34 people among whom were 14 school children, makes going to school unsafe for our children.
It must be remembered that the right to life supercedes the right to education. We are confident that, given the right environment and investments in education and with the right policies, the damages our children have suffered and are suffering can be reversed. The Biya regime is incapable of providing such an environment or enacting such policies.
LM: In the face of this calamity don’t you bear the responsibility for the pains of these people?
SAT: Responsibility lies squarely on Mr. Paul Biya and his regime who responded to peaceful demonstrations with force; beatings, rape, torture, arrests, abductions, killings, genocide and massacres. In November 2017 he irresponsibly declared war on the people of Southern Cameroons. In the face of such a declaration, our people eventually rose up to defend themselves, which is their right.
There have been numerous calls from Church leaders, local and international NGOs, the United Nations, the African Union, the Commonwealth, the European Parliament, the UK Government, the US Government, the Swiss Government and even the French Government for Mr. Biya to:- call off the war, demilitarize Southern Cameroons, release all incarcerated within this crisis and engage in all-inclusive dialogue without preconditions.
These calls have gone unheeded. In the
meantime, his army continues to rape and pillage, to massacre people, amongst
them babies and pregnant women and to burn-down entire communities. The
brutality with which the government of Cameroun and its security forces
have prosecuted the war in Southern Cameroons has defied even the most pessimistic projections. This demonstrates clearly that these people place no value on human lives, especially the lives of Southern Cameroonians, whom they profess to love and are fighting to keep together in their one and indivisible country. When we were incarcerated at SED, the Gendarmerie officers there routinely referred to our people as “being worse than slaves”, prior to the usual nightly torture routines.
LM: Do the military groups listen to you?
SAT: Ambazonia has self-defense groups that automatically sprung up to defend themselves, their families and communities against the war declared on the people of the Southern Cameroons by Mr Biya. As the President of the Interim Government of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, Ambazonians from all walks of life both at home and in the diaspora including those in the self-defense groups look up to me.
LM: Recently there has been some unfortunate incidents in the field like the 22 deaths in Ngarbuh, the beheading of Florence last year, the woman buried alive and many others. All these caused a national uproar. Do you share that collective sentiment?
SAT: The Ngarbuh massacre and the other gruesome murders of Southern Cameroonians shows the depths to which Mr. Biya and his regime are willing to descend to, in order to stop the legitimate aspirations of Southern Cameroonians to achieve freedom from occupation and colonisation.
Our hearts go out to the people of Ngarbuh and all Southern Cameroonians who have lost loved ones as a result of this unnecessary conflict. We note that Ngarbuh is but one of hundreds of mass killings that have occured in the Southern Cameroons over the past 3 years. Between late 2019 and now, there have been similar massacres in Pinyin, Balikumbat, Bafut, Muyuka, Bum, Wum, Weh, Ekona, Fongum, Kwakwa, Babanki and in Kupe-Manenguba, just to mention a few, where similar numbers of innocent persons have been murdered and or burned to death by the Cameroun Military. The Ngarbuh incident is one of the latest incantation of the atrocities being committed by the Cameroun military in the Southern Cameroons.
LM: The president of the Republic has put in place some peace initiatives like the different laws that came out of the National Major Dialogue, National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR), National Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. How do you appreciate these peace initiatives?
SAT: The conflict in Southern Cameroons is rooted in international law as per UN resolutions 1514 and 1608. It centers on the restoration of the independence of the Southern Cameroons that became effective on October 1, 1961.
The fact that Southern Cameroons was annexed by La Republique du Cameroun and has been under occupation since then must be addressed as part of any solution to the conflict. The initiatives Mr Biya and his regime are purporting to put in place have nothing to do with any of the root causes of the conflict. Neither have they addressed the fact that Mr Biya declared war on Southern Cameroons in November 2017 or that his forces are carrying out genocide against Southern Cameroonians.
It is very obvious, after close to 4 years, that Mr Biya’s regime is incapable of resolving this conflict. Their increased use of gratuitous violence and stoking of inter-communal conflict between Mbororos and indigenous peoples in Southern Cameroons is clear evidence that they believe only in violence as a means to resolving issues. Unfortunately, this not only causes loss of lives, but there is no possibility of victory for him, even in the distant future. Mr. Biya grossly underestimated the resolve Ambazonians.
LM: On the other hand, what do you think the President of La Republique du Cameroun would have done differently to ensure peace returns in the conflict zones?
SAT: Mr. Biya declared war on Southern Cameroons in 2017. After that, by his own admission in Lyon in 2019, all attempts at assimilation of Southern Cameroonians had failed. The ongoing genocide will also not succeed in quelling the genuine aspirations of the people of Southern Cameroons for freedom from oppression & tyranny.
For peace to reign, Mr. Biya should end the war, withdraw his military from Southern Cameroons, release all prisoners of war and engage in a mediated dialogue with Southern Cameroonians to end his annexation of Southern Cameroons.
LM: If you were invited to participate in the Major Natonal Dialogue, under what conditions would you have accepted the invitation?
SAT: We have always declared our readiness for dialogue provided it is mediated by independent and credible parties in a neutral territory. The Major National Dialogue was a mirage. It lacked the capacity and legitimacy to resolve an international conflict between the Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun. It was primarily undertaken to resolve internal issues in La Republique du Cameroun, to which we now have little or no interest.
LM: Your position is for separation of the English speaking Regions from La Republique du Cameroun. If there is a negotiation, what will be your minimum take to abandon the separation agenda?
SAT: I take this opportunity to correct this misconception propagated by the press and regime loyalists in La Republique du Cameroun. We are in the process of restoring the independence and sovereignty of Southern Cameroons. Southern Cameroons has never been part of La Republique du Cameroun. La Republique du Cameroun gained independence on the 1st of January 1960.
On that date its international boundaries were frozen. Southern Cameroons was not part of La Republique du Cameroun on the 1st of January 1960. How does it today, become part of a one and indivisible La Republique du Cameroun? The February 1961 plebiscite questions of “Achieving Independence by Joining” and the subsequent vote in no way bequeath Southern Cameroons to La Republique du Cameroun. The AU charter makes it clear that all countries maintain their boundaries at Independence. The UN charter requires a Treaty of Union between Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun and no such treaty exists. The notion that we are separating two entities joined together is misguided.
By International law, Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun are two distinct entities with distinct international borders and the vast majority of Southern Cameroonians have come to recognize this fact. Until the independence of Southern Cameroons is restored, all discussions about alternatives are bound to be futile.
LM: What is your relationship with the political class in the country?
SAT: The politics of Cameroun is of no interest to us except where it impacts on the well-being of Southern Cameroonians. Our long-term objective is to ensure that Southern Cameroons maintains a cordial relationship with all its neighbors that guarantees regional stability for peace and prosperity to return. To that extent, we remain impartial observers in the internal politics of Cameroun as it has little or no bearing on; firstly the freedoms and eventually the positive developmental outcomes we seek for Southern Cameroonians.
LM: The armed groups have asked for the resignation of SDF Parliamentarians. What is the reason for their request?
SAT: If the armed groups have asked for the resignation of SDF Parliamentarians, it is simply because these Parliamentarians, by their words and actions, have not portrayed themselves as representatives of Southern Cameroonians.
While the US Congress and Senate, the French Parliament, the German Parliament, the European Parliament, and both the UK house of Lords and the house of Commons have held debates to discuss the plight of Southern Cameroonians, Cameroun’s Parliament has banned any and all discussions on the issue. This clearly demonstrates that the plight of Southern Cameroonians is not their primary concern. As such, no individual, purporting to represent Southern Cameroonians should be in such a parliament.
LM: What is your relationship with the Cameroonian diaspora?
SAT: Southern Cameroonians in the diaspora to a large extent share our vision of a free and sovereign nation whose independence has been restored. They want to be at liberty to visit their ancestral homes without fear of harassment, arrest, detention and torture. They also don’t want to pay through their noses for passports or travel documents, or suffer the myriad injustices and indignities that come with being treated as second-class citizens in La Republique du Cameroun. To that extent, we share the same objectives, a common purpose and a common fate. It is this unity of purpose that binds us as one. These bonds are stronger than any intrigues that the Biya regime can devise to divide us.
LM: You solicited for the services of J. Cohen as your representative in all negotiations. Where are you on that today?
SAT: We have put together a team of persons to represent Ambazonia in the event of any genuine negotiations with La Republique du Cameroun. The details will be made public when the moment arrives.
LM: The Americans have expressly said that none of the parties to the conflict can win the war militarily, which supposes that it is only on the negotiating table that the problem can be solved. What do you think should be done for negotiations to take place, in terms of: the parties involved; the venue; the pre-conditions; and implementation of the resolutions?
SAT: With respect to resolving the conflict, we have made our position very clear: Negotiations must be between La Republique du Cameroun and the Southern Cameroons and must be mediated by the United Nations as was the case in other similar conflicts such as that between Sudan and South Sudan and the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritia. Negotiations must also be held in a neutral environment.
Finally, for negotiations to be meaningful, the Biya regime must show good faith by declaring a cease fire, releasing all prisoners detained in the context of the conflict and withdrawing Cameroun military from the conflict zones. It is our firm believe that the United Nations will serve as an ideal mediator because this conflict is solely within its domain, as the root causes of the conflict can be traced to the botched decolonization of Southern Cameroons in 1961. Furthermore, the United Nations will be best placed to ensure that resolutions from the mediation are implemented.
LM: What message of hope do you have for the people of Cameroun?
SAT: My message is rather addressed to Southern Cameroonians who have borne the brunt of this conflict. They are the ones who have seen their friends, families and loved ones raped, murdered and or burnt to death, their homes and businesses, crops and livestock destroyed and their children abducted and detained in horrendous conditions in the dungeons of La Republique du Cameroun and on our homeland. I am asking them to remain resolute. Their sacrifices cannot and will never be in vain.
The quest for the restoration of the Statehood of the Southern Cameroons is a just cause. It is rooted in history, culture, and international law. And because we stand on the truth, we will prevail.
LM: Is there anything you would like to add?
SAT: A genocide is presently going on in the Southern Cameroons. La Republique du Cameroun is doing everything to cover it up. The Ngarbuh massacre should be an eye opener for the world to see. After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, World leaders promised that never again will such happen. Sadly, Cameroun Military is committing genocide in the Southern Cameroons and the world is silent. We understand that the United Nations has received many calls and is considering convening a mandated Fact-Finding Mission to establish the truth, bring the perpetrators to justice and hopefully bring and end to the violence. This can’t happen soon enough.
The enablers of the ongoing genocide within the Biya regime and the Cameroun media must understand that they will eventually be brought to justice irrespective of how long the conflict lasts. The body of evidence already put together is too weighty to be ignored by the international criminal court. Mr Biya should heed to the many calls from the international community to end the genocide, withdraw his military, release all persons detained within the context of the conflict, and engage in genuine negotiations with Southern Cameroonians without preconditions.