|Barrister Sam Ekontang Elad .Photo Credit:Chris Ambe|
*In the following exclusive interview,Barrister Sam Ekontang Elad,who was Chairman of the All-Anglophone Conference(AAC1) & AAC2 of 1993 and 1994 in Cameroon, advises Anglophones to speak with one voice.
* The pioneer Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) chairman also urges Anglophones to keep mounting pressure on President Paul Biya and be ready for a long walk.
*He says AAC3 will be time to tell the Biya regime that"if you don't act ,as they were saying in the '90s, then the Zero option would fit in"
*Says he’s still ready to support the Anglophone Struggle.
Barrister Elad sat down for this exclusive interview with The Horizon's Contributing Editor, Christopher Ambe Shu, last week.
Barrister Sam Ekontang Elad, you were the chairman of the April 1993 All-Anglophone Conference (AAC) and later pioneer Chairman of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), now outlawed in Cameroon. You have been following the Anglophone crisis now for close to a year. What is your understanding of this crisis?
Barrister Elad: Thank you very much Mr.Ambe.The problems we are facing today are not new. I would say they stem from the late appreciation of the problems which existed since 1961. You remember the AAC complains bitterly about the marginalization of Anglophones in this country. We had the Buea Declaration, which spoke adequately then of the position of Anglophones. And that document is still very relevant today. So the whole problem relates to the marginazation of the English-speaking people of Cameroon. And it has resurfaced maybe because the President of the Republic has realized -if he had not realized before now, that there is, in fact, the marginalization of Anglophones.
The AAC of 1993 had as its main purpose to adopt a common Anglophone stand in view of an announced Constitutional reform, which would help make Anglophones feel more at home in Cameroon. Could you remind our readers of the position the Conference adopted and how far it was implemented?
Permit me to say the AAC was not meant to necessarily narrow Anglophones to take a single position on the constitution. That conference spoke of the total subjugation of a people who had freely joined the Republic of Cameroon and these Southern Cameroons people had been subjected to discrimination and they have been reduced to the level of second-class citizens. In fact, the AAC was a statement to say No to what Francophone Cameroonians were/are doing to Anglophones was/is wrong and totally contrary to the spirit of reunification-which was that of equal partners in status was.
I understand that the AAC came out with some resolutions which you intended to implement. How far did you go about that? In a nutshell, what was the Buea Declaration?
It is a document that details the points of discrimination Anglophones can point to and say this is why we feel aggrieved. They listed for example that, in the whole of the country almost all the divisions are headed by Francophone SDO’s.They brought out the fact that, at the time none of the important ministries had be headed by an Anglophone. It was a document that is still relevant today. It would be useful for every Cameroonian to have a copy of that document and realize that what we are saying now is the same thing compatriots had said in 1993.
Would you say the Buea Declaration has ever been taken with seriousness by the Biya Government?
I don’t think. What happened at the time was a strong expression by Anglophones that we should have a system of government that is federal in character; a government that would take cognizance of the existence of Francophone and Anglophone ways of doing things. In fact, that this country is a product of Anglophones-the British way of doing things and the French colonial heritage. What has happened, to the best of my knowledge and I guess to the best of yours, is the persistent pursuit of the French way of doing things to the total detriment of the Anglophone-Anglo-Saxon culture.
And do you think, with the on-going crisis which seems to be deepening, the Biya Government can now reverse this ugly trend?
The spirit of reunification was that we should come together, adopt that which was good in the French culture inherted and do same with the British culture inherited, and see how to create better nation.Today, this is not what has happened! I am absolutely convinced that the problems today reflect the persistent insistence by the Francophone Regime of implementing and toeing the line of the French cause.
Politically,you are conscious. I don’t doubt that. Why do you think Anglophones are treated as a subjugated people instead of partners of equal status, as it was supposed to be by the successive Francophone regimes?
I have two opinions. One is that the authorities that designed the state of the Republic of Cameroon in 1960 had no conception that we would ever be part of La Republique. As a result, every thing they are doing take the position that If they we joined them we must do things their way.
The other position could be that Anglophone Cameroon is naturally wealthy. And you know when a country colonizes another which is very rich, it tries to take all the wealth, and suppresses the indigenes of the area it has colonized from making a noise otherwise, they too would want to benefit from the resources West Cameroon has.
I understand you gave up the leadership of this Anglophone struggle long time ago but you still believe in the cause. How close you are to the present leadership; some of the leaders want a federation and others want nothing less than an outright independence for Anglophones? Have they been contacting you for advice?
I would say no. But we get in touch. I get their view points; sometimes I meet some of the leadership and they express to me some of their ideas. But closeness, in the formal sense that they come to say ‘OK Senior citizen or dear elder brother, what do you think we should do hear? This has not happened; but from time to time members of the new generation elite, the new leaders of the Anglophone struggle reach me and we converse. You know some news media make public my ideas concerning this country.
But why can’t you as the pioneer leader SCNC and the chair of the 1993 AAC invite them and give them some good advice?
Mr.Ambe, we must appreciate that all of us get old and there is a point where you let the young ones carry the struggle forward. Whenever I have the opportunity I do suggest what should be done. But the time has passed when I should come forward and say this is how it should be.
Human life is dynamic, it is creative and you know the new generation is moving forward. Let it be that way.
Should they come to you formally, are you going to give them your support?
There is no doubt about that. It is not if they come. I am there ready to give the support!
The 1993 AAC, which you chaired, was boycotted by the then Anglophone Prime Minister (Achidi Achu) and other Anglophone Members of Government. I hear talk about the need for another all-Anglophone conference. If such a conference were to hold today would you advise Anglophone members of Government, who are so silent about this struggle as if they have taken an oath of sealed lips, to participate effectively and not be pretentious?
I would beg to differ with the proposition you have made.Mr. Benjamin Itoe was very much one of the members of the document we produced for the AAC. So, one can’t say all Anglophone ministers stayed away.Mr.Achidi Achu,in Bamenda during AAC2 presented the leadership of the AAC with a goat. One can understand with his position as Prime Minister he could not come down and say this or that. I know that he gave his support behind-the- scene that we should go ahead, but not to jeopardize anything he may have stood for. I want to say this:it could be me or you. If you are appointed a minister today circumstances would compel you to stand up and say” Oh, Cameroon is one and Indivisible.” The system that has been created compels ministers to be loyal otherwise they would be expelled.
You know we have been plunged into this crisis because people have been pretending. People who are supposed to be our leaders or true representatives see black and say it is white for selfish interests. What is wrong if people are true to themselves?
People have different approaches to solving problems. I think the approach they (Anglophone Ministers) took was that let them advise from the rear. I don’t see anything wrong with that. You wouldn’t expect the Members of Government to come up and advocate for “Zero option”. I can’t negate them or say they acted in bad faith.
We had ACC1 and AAC2. Do you think there is need for another All-Anglophone Conference now?
Yes, there is that need! That must be said without equivocation. In the 1990s when we said all- Anglophone conference we probably did not mean it to be all-embracing as it should be today. There is absolute need that Anglophones should speak with one voice. AAC I and II were spectacular demonstrations of needs among Anglophone people. At the time the resistance was not so much. But today the consciousness has grown among our people, that such a conference, were it to hold, I think that it would make a serious statement to Yaounde-that enough is enough.
But these are the same problems that were articulated in the 1990s and we still have the same government?
Yes but there will be a new voice, a new determination, a new fire behind the conference to stand up and say to the government, “Look, these are our problems if you don’t act, as they were saying in the 90s then the Zero option would fit in.”
We have to learn to see what is happening in the rest of the world. In Spain, you have the Catalans and the Government in Madrid. You see Catalonia declared the zero option-that Catalonia would become an independent state…they understand the consequences.
Ok,here in Cameroon the people who would want to adopt the zero option should be bold enough; they should stand up and say this is what we want..
Although as an individual I am not so sure that the zero option would be the best solution, because it is good to be united, but I can see that producing results. Some people there in East Cameroon would say,” Eh, take care. Our brothers over there feel so desperate and angry that they are prepared to go independent”. It could bring a change.
Don’t you think there will be a total crack down on the activists? The people have no arms.
I think people, I am talking of West Cameroonians should look at what is happening elsewhere and learn. Nobody would urge the Catalans to go about carrying weapons. There is no need to waste lives or spill blood. If the pressure mounts-look at what happened in Eritrea, in several countries, South Sudan. These are examples. If the pressure is put on the existing government, the consciousness of the government would certainly bring about the needed change.
But the point I want my compatriots to note is that, when ministers say “Cameroon is one and indivisible,” they are bound by their positions to say such. That does not mean the other side should relent. They should keep mounting pressure because somewhere along the line there will be exchange of ideas.
In 1961, Southern Cameroons through a UN-supervised plebiscite freely chose to enter into a political union with La Republique du Cameroon. Article 102 of the UN Charter says that any union treaty must be registered with the Secretariat of the UN and published by it for it to be binding. This was not respected.
Can La Republique du Cameroun, which became independent in 1960 and is a member of the UN rightfully claim sovereignty over Southern Cameroons without a union treaty?
The issue of legalistic interpretation is there .Yes there was no binding union treaty. They (La Republique du Camerooun) have moved in to this side of the country and captured it. We could resist; but for some now we have been regarded as part of one nation. The way to solve that problem is either to bring to bear pressure on the Yaounde regime to appreciate the fact that the terms of cohabitation are not equitable or this element of dragging us as second-class citizens must stop.
This year-old Anglophone crisis sometimes has been characterized by violence, vandalism and school boycott. What is your take on that?
I think that all the measures that have been taken by the aggrieved populations are in order. They may not be right, just or prudent but you see these are an angry people expressing their frustrations. In some villages you ask school children why they are not going to school and they tell you we don’t want this French system of doing things. You see this Anglophone struggle is being planted in the minds of children. There is no way Yaoundé can escape from the reality: that we deserve our nation!
What advice would you give to President Biya and his Government, which appear to be silent on this matter?
I would not say President Biya has been totally quiet. To a certain extent he may have triggered partially the crisis, when he came up and publicly acknowledged that there is an Anglophone problem. You see before his acknowledgement it would have been almost treasonable for someone in Yaoundé to say there is an Anglophone problem. The fact he did acknowledge it in a way told the world that there is, indeed, a problem.
Perhaps, it is a strategy on his part to remain quiet; perhaps it is a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. But the struggle is beyond one man; beyond the President of the country. Whether they like it or not, the march of history is set.
Some pundits blame the UN for plunging Anglophones into this crisis. Do you buy this opinion?
When I was chairman of the SCNC we led a delegation to UN.At the time the UN scribe was Boutros Boutros Ghali .We summoned late Dr. John Ngu Forcha and Honourable Solomon Tandeng Muna to come join us at the UN,so that with their own voices they could tell world that what they bargained to enter for in 1960-1 was not exactly what was on the ground and they were asking the UN to step in and do something. The UN is a multinational organization-that is to say they act upon the consensus of member countries. No one country can take up the issues and impose on others. The UN Secretary-General can not say Cameroon has burning problems, so let us send troops there. It has to be decided by the Security Council. So for the UN to step in the people of Southern Cameroons must agitate sufficiently to trigger the UN to know that there is a crisis here that needs a resolution, that is a threat to peace. And I think that when Anglophones demonstrate they, in fact, are doing the right thing to say “Look, there is a problem. United Nations if you want us to die like the massacre in Rwanda Ok your conscience will judge you. It is not that after events have taken place then you come and say there was problem. What were you doing now?
What is your reaction to the Government use of excessive force on Anglophones activists, marching peacefully, on September 22 and October 1, which resulted to deaths?
I must say the death of any citizen in this matter is highly regretted; it is unfortunate. But there is something Americans call collateral damage-that is to say if there is a struggle and you want to achieve an end it is not necessarily the point you are targeting that become the focal point, there is collateral damage, other issues that are not necessarily in the focal point could be damaged. Now the Anglophones came out; I am happy they did; I praise their bravery. Should I say they were wrong? No, because they are doing the inevitable; it touches their souls. I am not saying they should go carry guns .They knew what they had to do and the Government too has its obligation to maintain law and order. It is dynamic which could result to something.
Barrister the present Anglophone leadership seems divided. If you are given the opportunity to convene another AAC, would you accept the offer?
The issue of the leadership-I must appreciate that there is a leadership vacuum. I know a number of my friends hold that leadership is not an issue. There is a vacuum. But would I as an individual imagine that I can aspire to that challenging position of leadership? I doubt. First of all, age! Secondly there are dynamic young men knowledgeable in these things than somebody who is approaching permanent retirement. We need a young person in his 40s or 50s.But I will support whatever they say that leads us to the struggle.
I would tell because I was the leader of the SCNC at creation. The SCNC was formed in 1994 in Buea. We had a meeting here in Buea and we had a colleague who was working with an international organization, who said “Look, let us put this thing in the cloak of a freedom struggle”. And we resolved in that meeting to change from All-Anglophone Conference(AAC) to SCNC, aimed at restoring Southern Cameroons.
Was SCNC for secession, because the Government of Cameroon tags it as such?
No. It was not for outright secession.Now the question of secession was employed as a tactic to tell the Government that our people would be prepared to go to that extent –the zero option, if Government did not pay attention to legitimate cries of Anglophones.
I would say that since then the situation has worsened; the legal situation deplorable; it has gotten worse so that things have not moved forward.
Now what would you propose as the way forward, to get us out of this crippling crisis?
Anglophones have been in a state of agitation for almost a year. I would caution Anglophone against hoping for instant remedies; they should note that this struggle can last for years; You see the people in Palestine have been fighting for their rights since 1948;so Anglophones must be prepared for a long walk, so that with faith, inevitably their aspirations would come; there should be no fear, no relenting back; this issue they are fighting for is self-evident; So let nobody try to say,” Look, give up. When will it come?” They should continue in this path and as they see things improving, they should intensify the pressure.
(NB:This interview was first published as lead story in The Horizon Newspaper,Yaounde-Cameroon,of Monday November 6,2017)