Cameroon: Who makes up the Ambazonian government and diaspora?

By Nancy-Wangue Moussissa
Posted on Friday, 23 September 2022 14:55, updated on Saturday, 24 September 2022 00:49

Photo by TAR

Ambazonian separatists declared secession from Cameroon and celebrated the independence of Southern Cameroon on 1 October 2017. Today’s Ambazonian leaders remain operational from abroad, but part of a divided system. From the forefront institutions and key players, several faces stand out. Who are these key Ambazonians players ? What are their strengths ? 

Julius Ayuk Tabe was the first president of the Interim Government (IG) of the ‘Federal Republic of Ambazonia’.

Ayuk Tabe had been living in Nigeria from where the council was arranging meetings. In September 2017, he called on the takumbengs, groups of older women protecting protesters from troops, to lead the processions. From Nigeria, Ayuk Tabe took the lead after Cameroonian authorities arrested lawyers and teachers.

Since then, the charismatic leader has made several appearances on local and international TV channels.

However, that did not last long. On Friday 5 January 2018, Nigerian forces held him and nine members of his cabinet at the Nera hotel where meetings were being held. Charged with terrorism and secession, ‘the Nera 10’ were then delivered to Cameroon’s Kondengui prison where they have been serving life sentences since January 2018.

After Ayuk Tabe agreed to informally meet with state officials Léopold Maxime Eko Eko and Joseph Dion Ngute, his authority was disregarded. The meeting was seen as “treasonous” and “abusive” by his local supporters, says one administrator from Voices of Ambazonia (an activist Twitter account) who asked to remain anonymous.

The fall from grace for Ayuk Tabe since 2018 has seen disputes erupt from the three factions from abroad, the ‘interim governments’, for legitimacy in the movement.

Following the downfall of Ayuk Tabe, an internal power play broke out among the Ambazonian ranks.

Samuel Ikome-Sako, who was once the secretary of foreign affairs in Ayuk Tabe’s IG, was nominated president. Dabney Yerima, vice president of Ayuk Tabe’s IG and who was once appointed president as well, says he also served as secretary of foreign affairs from Europe at the same time.

Yerima tried to play down the space that Sako’s faction was taking in the reinstated cabinet. “They chose to continue with their splinter group” he tells The Africa Report . Sako was later accused of “abuse of presidential powers” by the Ambazonia Restoration Council.

From Washington, Sako continued to steer the Ambazonian struggle. Herbert Boh, a member of the Ambazonian Coalition Team – a collection of nine movements, including IGs – established the roadmap for a functional Ambazonian government. Boh says Ikome-Sako “decided that this position was for keeps” as he began to have authoritarian leanings: Impeaching and accusing his predecessors of being “sellouts”.

We can speak freely or we can say things that those on the ground cannot most cannot say, because once they do, they could easily be identified and killed

Four years and a fraud scandal later, Ikome-Sako was impeached. Yerima says this was due to mismanagement of funds. Diaspora leaders, such as Marianta Njomia, Chris Anu and others, then split from Sako’s cabinet in an effort to remain separate from the scandal. This, in turn, saw the cause of the Ambazonian government broken up and eventually pushed towards ‘a downward spiral’.

In March 2022, the Restoration Council of Ambazonia nominated Njomia as president of Ambazonia. The London-based candidate contested the presidency on 6 September when elections were held to decide on the next interim president, but she lost to Anu, who won by 98%.

Despite having a new leader at the helm, the Amazonian government remains fractured over internal power plays and divisive governing ideas. Mark Bareta, a known activist for the Ambazonian cause, says “Ambazonia has no president. We don’t have any government. We are in a revolution. Many groups call themselves the government, they have their own followers. […], but these are just groups”.

Bareta currently lives in the UK after leaving Cameroon in 2012. He became interested in the 2016 movement and organised online protests.

“[The] diaspora has more data than locals. Our role was to amplify the message on social media, to educate more of our people, to galvanise foreign actors,” he tells The Africa Report. 

Through WhatsApp and Twitter, Bareta engages with the youth – far from Yaoundé’s authority. “We can speak freely or we can say things that those on the ground cannot most cannot say, because once they do, they could easily be identified and killed.”

On 6 May 2017, the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation (SCBC) was launched by an Ambazonian ‘comrade’ in South Africa. “People paid up, in what they believe[d] were shares, to a public government-owned television station for the future. It became an instrument of propaganda for one group and their president versus the other groups. Once that was done, they turned it into a private service of their own” says Boh.

Eventually, groups from different factions began to set up rival TV broadcasting stations. The Africa Broadcasting Service (ABS) – set up in Houston, Texas by Chris Anu’s  group –  welcomed Tibor Nagy, former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

In 2017, Yaoundé blacked out the English-speaking part of the country by cutting off the Internet for 3 months, leaving an information vacuum.

The Cameroonian diaspora in the US witnessed the start of the armed struggle. Judith Nwana, a global telecommunications professional, became involved when the central government shut down the Internet in the Anglo North-West, South-West (NWSW) regions.

With fellow diasporans, they launched the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations (CDN).

“We came together, a group of us in the US, in Europe and Africa came together to see how we could engage the international community and factions and do a bit of diplomacy and advocacy […] to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, regardless of what the outcome is,” she tells The Africa Report. 

There is brute force by an autocratic regime that has shown that it is determined to stay in power at whatever cost.

In Canada in October 2021, the coalition gathered armed fighters, women groups, federalists, separatists, along representatives from international partners including Civil Society Organisations, International NGOs and Church groups were in attendance.

Nwana says she is confident they are “working on a common communications agenda, [making] sure that it does not just become a diaspora discussion”.

Throughout the crisis, the diaspora was empowered by the international community, calling on their support as they achieved new advances. For example, through a joint letter, 62 NGOs called on the UN to address the human rights crisis, while Christopher Fomunyoh, the senior associate for Africa and regional director at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in DC, called on the Vatican to mediate the crisis.

Since 2019, Switzerland has led a round of meetings to mediate negotiations between feuding parties, but the divisions still persist. “If you take away the Swiss led process, there’s nothing on the table. There is brute force by an autocratic regime that has shown that it is determined to stay in power at whatever cost. You need the international community to be on board to be able to negotiate with the State from which you are breaking away,” says Boh.

For weeks now, a deep respite is taking over the conflict, but as Western powers visit President Paul Biya’s official residency, Anglophones’ claims are slipping away from international focus.

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