Max recently completed an undergraduate law degree at Oriel College, Oxford, and is now studying for an LLM in Public Law at UCL. He has joined the Cameroon Conflict Research Group for a Summer Research Internship (2020).

Introduction

Farmhouse in the Western Highlands of Cameroon, on which the people of Ngarbuh rely for farm produce.

Image taken by Kekiwiyi and shared under the CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

The freedom of Anglophone Cameroonians has been largely under threat since 2016, due to armed conflict. The conflict involves tensions between the minority anglophone populations of Cameroon and the largely francophone government, and has thus been termed the ‘Anglophone Crisis’.

This blogpost aims to analyse the ‘Anglophone Crisis’ through the lens of whether Anglophones in Cameroon are ‘free’, in a meaningful political sense. It argues that Anglophone Cameroonians are not free and this is clear from:

(i) provisions on freedom under the Cameroonian Constitution, especially when compared with regional Constitutional practice

(ii) the fact that Anglophones lack the right to self-determination and the strong human rights abuses they have suffered

(iii) the complicity of the international community in Cameroon’s depriving the anglophones of their freedom.

I conclude that there is a positive moral duty on previous colonial powers, such as France and the UK, to intervene to ensure that Anglophones, both individually and collectively, can live freely.

(i) Provisions on Freedom under the Cameroonian Constitution

(a) An analysis of the Cameroonian Constitution

The Cameroonian Constitution claims that “freedom and security shall be guaranteed to each individual, subject to respect for the rights of others and the higher interests of the State”. I argue that this provision has been breached by the actions of the State with respect to the Anglophone population.

For example, take the actions of the government at Ngarbuh – according to Human Rights Watch, 21 people were killed, including 13 children and an unborn baby by Cameroonian forces, including the elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (‘BIR’). An atrocity of such a nature cannot be said to be in keeping with the Preamble to the Constitution, as it clearly deprives the individuals involved of their freedom and security.

Although it could be counter-argued that there are countervailing considerations as to when killings by the state are legal (such as a credible belief that the persons are involved in terrorist activity), these considerations do not apply here. Firstly, HRW has confirmed there were no separatist fighters present during the massacre, and the victims largely involve children who cannot be said to pose a security threat. Secondly, HRW has found that “the killings were deliberate and aimed at punishing the population accused of harboring and supporting separatists”. Thus, these potential countervailing considerations ought to be discharged, and the encroachment on the freedom and security of the Anglophones in Ngarbuh cannot be excused on these grounds.

Furthermore, using Fuller’s approach to the desiderata of the rule of law (from his (1964) ‘The Morality of Law’), it cannot be said that the State is acting constitutionally with regard to the above killings. It is impossible to reconcile the Constitutional provisions that “the State shall ensure the protection of minorities and shall preserve the rights of indigenous populations in accordance with the law” with the State’s actions over time, which have been to create a “Francophone hegemony”.

This hegemony is primarily manifested through the deprivation of resources in Anglophone areas, which are marked by huge wealth inequality. According to Nicodemus Fru Awasom, the Francophone hegemony treats Anglophones with suspicion as part of the political system. For example, in 2006, during an ordinary Parliamentary session, a Francophone deputy of the ruling CPDM screamed at an opposition Anglophone deputy, whom he referred to as a ‘Biafran’, a derogatory term referring to the secessionist views of the 1960s. Fru Awasom holds that these views are common amongst the Francophone ruling class, and thus the lack of political respect for Anglophone representatives can be seen as emblematic of political unfreedom.

Thus, I argue that the Cameroonian state should be seen as an ‘unjust regime’ according to Radbruch’s classification, as the state is acting in a way that is not in accordance with the protections provided by their own constitution, thus challenging the rule of law. Therefore, its legitimacy can be questioned.

(b) A Comparative Approach with Regional Constitutions

Comparatively, the lack of protection for the Anglophone minority in Cameroon is made clear when compared with a case study of another (formerly) marginalised minority, the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Rwanda, which has suffered a genocide in the past, has a constitution which contains explicit provisions stating the commitment to protecting its different ethnic groups. For example, under Article 52 of the Rwandan Constitution, there is a positive obligation on the State and all its citizens to preserve and safeguard memorial sites of the genocide against the Tutsi people. The current Cameroonian constitution, by way of comparison, does not offer any explicit protection for the Anglophone minority.

Instead, the language used in the Cameroonian Constitution is that of the President being the guarantor of ‘territorial integrity’, in a state that is ‘one and indivisible’. There is thus tension in the document, as this ‘indivisibility’ is prima facie at odds with its separate stated commitment to protecting minorities. Commentators have described this Constitution as representative of the systemic destruction of the political identity and the colonisation of Anglophone Cameroon in the classical sense.

In my view, it is clear that, when compared to, e.g., Rwanda’s constitution, Anglophone Cameroonians are denied the enforcement of their human rights through the textualist language of the Constitution.

(ii) Human Rights Abuses

The anglophone minority has suffered an abundance of human rights abuses since independence was declared in 1960 and continuing through to the 1990s and up to the present time. Over 400 incidents have been recorded since 2016 by the CCRG, and recent events such as the aforementioned Ngarbuh massacre show that at least some of these are actions linked to the Cameroonian state.

‘Freedom’, on any understanding, is conditional on a right to life: a person who loses their life loses any prospect of freedom. The actions of the State in this case, thus, fundamentally deprive the Anglophone minority of this freedom, and thus should be condemned in the most absolute terms.

(iii) The Complicity of the International Community

Map showing the western regions (NW and SW), formerly Southern Cameroons, and claimed as Ambazonia by restorationists / separatists.

Image hosted on Wikimedia and shared under the CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

The current unfreedom of Anglophone Cameroonians can historically be linked to the role of slavery and colonialism in the region. The motif of slavery is one that has been stated by Anglophone stakeholders on the ground, and in recent academic literature on the topic. Doho claims that “taxation without representation and accountability is sheer slavery”, and argues that there has been too much trampling of the dignity of Anglophones for business to go on as usual. I argue that this link is compelling – being sold and transported as goods to a life of enforced labour is an ultimate loss of liberty. Further, having collective self-governance denied by imperial forms of governance is also a loss of, at least, a political liberty.

I argue that this creates a positive moral duty on international actors to intervene.  Research by the Oxford Law Faculty’s Cameroon Conflict Research Group has shown this is the position of some stakeholders on the ground in Cameroon. Quoting Ozias from their report, “Why is Britain silent when they caused all this? Why is Britain silent? And the United Nations, what about their Charter? What about the United Nations Charter?”

The reference to the United Nations Charter, I argue, is extremely significant. Yves Beigbeder, an international scholar, once asked, “If self-determination is an internationally recognised principle, why does it not apply to the people of West Iran, East Timor, Tibet, Kashmir, Southern Cameroons and other territories, as it has been applied to other colonial territories?” The claim has been made however, that the actions of the UN in 1961, in complicity with Britain and France, denied Anglophones exercise of this fundamental right.

Despite the UN supporting the right to self-determination in theory, and the fact that there are an estimated 140 minority groups around the world asserting this right, no state has recognised a right to self-determination for a group within its own territory. I argue that there is a positive moral duty on members of the UN to ensure that the principles of their Charter are upheld in Cameroon, a member state. This includes guaranteeing the right to freedom through self-determination, and allowing a marginalised population autonomy to decide their own future. The human rights atrocities that the Anglophone community has suffered should be seen as strengthening their case for self-determination.

Conclusion

I conclude that it is imperative for the upholding of the UN’s UDHR that the freedoms and civil liberties of anglophone Cameroonians are ensured. It is important to note that Anglophones are not univocal in their political solution to the self-determination issue, with some preferring independence, and others federalism. However, notwithstanding the outcome, a crucial factor to ensuring anglophone Cameroonian liberty involves ensuring that external actors do not proclaim what is and is not possible. In that sense, Anglophones should have the right to self-determination honoured, which means them having the right to decide whether to pursue independence or not. The fact that this ‘right of decision’ has been withheld is indicative of a lack of liberty.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Shreeve-McGiffen, M. (2020). Freedom as a Political Ideal in Cameroon: A Jurisprudential Inquiry. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/cameroon/blog/2020/09/freedom-political-ideal-cameroon-jurisprudential-inquiry (Accessed [date])