By Dr. Zuhmboshi Eric
In this present struggle for our freedom and independence, we should be very careful and articulate in the way we use legal words and concepts in order not to create the wrong impression. I say so because I have heard and read many write-ups on Facebook where Southern Cameroonians are voicing that they want “Secession” from La Republique du Cameroun.
In reality, do we really want “secession” or “separation”? In normal discourse these words are used synonymously. However in politico-legal discourse, they are different with different implications and applications. Which of these concepts is applicable in the Southern Cameroons situation?
The aim of this short write-up is to explain these two concepts, secession and separation, and determine the one which is applicable in our context.
Contextually, what Southern Cameroonians are asking for is a mere Separation from L R.C, not Secession!
As a matter of fact, secession does not in any way apply here and if we keep forcing the word into our context, it might create a negative impression which could be counter-productive to our struggle. In this guise, most Southern Cameroonians are separatists and not secessionists, even our SCNC brothers.
In international law, secession is the detachment of a territory that was part of another at the date of independence. For example, what the Biafrans were trying to do in Nigeria was secession because at the time Nigeria had her independence on October 1, 1960 the territory of Biafra was an integral part of Nigeria.
The most recent example is Southern Sudan which seceded from Sudan.
Contrariwise, separation is the detachment of a territory that was not part of a country at the time the country had her independence. In this case, Southern Cameroons was never a part of French Cameroun when the latter granted independence on January 1, 1960. Consequently, the detachment of Southern Cameroons from La Republique du Cameroun is not “secession” but a mere act of separation.
If we keep using the word secession in our context, it will create the impression that we were once part of French Cameroun at the time it had independence in 1960 – an idea which is historically untrue and misleading!
Interestingly, the act of separation is permissible under the African Union Constitutive Act (Charter) of which La Republique du Cameroun is a signatory. The A.U. Charter accepts separation because no people can consciously form a union with another country to assume the status of slaves or sub-humans.
In international law and diplomacy, nations form unions in order to better their conditions of existence. If what brings two or more nations together cannot longer sustain them, they have the right to either re-negotiate the terms of their union or separate indefinitely – which is different from secession. They came together willingly; so they can separate willingly!
In the case of Southern Cameroons, our fore-fathers voted overwhelmingly on February 11th, 1961 to have their independence by joining French Cameroon under the guise of forming a federal association with the latter. In fact in June 1960, President Ahidjo reiterated that French Cameroon had no intention to annex British Southern Cameroons. In his interview in Agence Press Camerounaise he said: “I have said and repeated, in the name of the Government [of Republique du Cameroun], that we do not have any annexationist design”. In July, the same year, he stated more firmly in the same press that “For us, there can be no question of annexation of the Southern Cameroons. We have envisaged a flexible form of union, a federal form”.
Conclusively, it was on the basis of Ahidjo’s assurance that he will not annex Southern Cameroons that we formed a federal union with French Cameroun on the 1st of October, 1961 although no union treaty was signed to this effect. Truly, what brought us into this union was a federation and since it was destroyed in 1972 under the pretext of an illegal referendum, La Republique du Cameroun has no locus standi to force Southern Cameroons to stay in the association since what brought them together is no longer in force.
Southern Cameroonians, therefore, have the legal right to separate from La Republique du Cameroun as per the A.U Charter which permits the separation of countries and also the U.N. Resolution 1541 of 15th of December, 1960.
We shall overcome because he who is with us is greater than him who is in them!