The current struggle between the Amba in Anglophone Southern Cameroons, seeking an independent Ambazonia, and Cameroon's majority French territory may have arisen five years ago, but the conflict, like so many in Africa, has a history forged in the crucible of the colonial era. Saeed Khan explains more.

Occupation, enslavement and annexation of Southern Cameroons were the consequences of the so-called Great Game of the 19th century, where European powers raced to Africa, to exploit and control resources as fuel for their own economic ambitions and rivalries. Little to no regard was given to the indigenous populations and borders were drawn as lines of demarcation for European expediency, rather than seeing the area's inhabitants as anything but inferior and manipulable.

The UN voted overwhelmingly in 1961 for the independence of British Southern Cameroons; the French, however, had other plans. The UN and UK inexplicably refrained from further involvement, allowing the French to dictate further negotiations that saw the region, once destined for sovereignty, instead become dominated by French Cameroon in a sham federation.

Now, 60 years on, according to Chris Anu, the Interim Government spokesperson for the declared Federal Republic of Ambazonia, that quest for sovereignty hungrily persists.

For a country today that is supposed to recognise and respect demographic differences, Cameroon fails to practice what is both legally prescribed and reflective of societal realities. Despite the capital, Yaoundé, listing both French and English as official languages, French presides over civil law and the courts, even in the Amba region, where the majority speaks English. The judges and other court officials interpret and apply French-style law for a region that has historically used English common law as the basis for its legal system.

Cameroon also ensures that French and French teachers from French Cameroon come to exclusively English-speaking territory and control what is taught in the classroom, impressing a clear bias toward the Francophone agenda and expressing unconcealed contempt for the Amba.

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Given the economic and geopolitical volatility of today's era of globalisation and worldwide crises like Covid-19, questions remain whether striving for an independence is a prudent objective, instead of autonomy in a Federal Cameroon in which the powers of the centre are devolved to the Anglophone region, for example.

The key to Ambazonia's self-sufficiency ironically, though unsurprisingly, appears to be the reason why the Cameroon government persists in its opposition to any political or economic freedoms for the region's peoples. The region is rich with over 80 mineral fields, with the potential to yield such valuable commodities as cobalt, gold, sapphire and uranium. There is also oil, and the oil refinery is the region's second largest employer, with over 25,000 workers. The abundance of both cocoa and oil have created export markets, a prospective economic boon for the impoverished Anglophone region. The fact that the region's territory abuts the Gulf of Guinea and the wider Atlantic Ocean is attractive for both investment and export.

Unfortunately, as the Amba people of Southern Cameroons know all too well, Cameroon's President, Paul Biya, serving for almost forty years, has built up the French part of the country at the expense and to the detriment of the Anglophone region, allegedly through rampant corruption, including the diversion of public funds for private use. Biya has exploited the region and its resources for not only the advantage and benefit of the French part of the country, but through discrimination and persecution of the Amba.

The Ambazonia government has called on the Biden Administration to bring the sides to the table to negotiate a settlement. This overture toward diplomacy is important and commendable, especially for those who paint the Amba as violent, and is consistent with their declaration of a ceasefire last summer.

Such pragmatism and good faith must be rewarded by support of the international community, in particular, those with the most experience and involvement in the conflict historically. For its part, the Biden administration acknowledged the severity of the ongoing conflict.  During his confirmation hearing in January, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. administration would uphold American values in defending human rights in Africa and expressed concern with the conflict in Cameroon. Blinken declared, "The US must actively participate in the resolution of the situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where populations are victims of multifaceted violence."

Thanks to the enhanced attention on social media to the brutality perpetrated by the Cameroon government against the Amba, Yaoundé understands the power and visibility that the Ambazonia independence movement is receiving globally. This should serve as a clarion call for the UK and the British Commonwealth as a whole to take a bigger role.

The former needs to complete what it started in 1961 when it voted for Southern Cameroons' independence at the UN, and the Commonwealth must support a fellow former member of the British Empire in fulfilling its aspirations 60 years after they were cruelly denied.

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