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September 28, 2011

What History Books Don't Tell You About the British Southern Cameroons


by Professor Carlson Anyangwe (PhD)


In 1858 the British Baptist Missionary Society claimed for Britain a coastal enclave at the Bight of Biafra and named it Victoria after Queen Victoria. The area together with its hinterland became British and, after years of historical vicissitudes, was named in 1922 as the British Southern Cameroons. One hundred and fifty years on, that territory is still under colonial rule. The territory was British from 1858 to 1888 when Britain transferred it to Germany. From 1889 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Germany administered it as part of its contiguous Kamerun colonial protectorate acquired in 1884. The territory became British again from 1914 until October 1961 when it tragically came under the colonial rule of the neighbouring French-speaking state of Cameroun Republic and has remained so since then.

During the second period of British rule the territory was constituted into an administrative union with Nigeria, and administered from 1922 to 1945 as part of the League of Nations Mandated Territory of British Cameroons and from 1946 to 1961 as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the same name. The British Southern Cameroons achieved internal autonomy in 1954, became fully self-governing in 1958, and, in 1960 was endowed with a Westminster-type Constitution meant to pave the way for the territory’s emergence as a sovereign independent state. This development was consistent with Article 76 b of the Charter of the United Nations, which imposed on Administering Authorities the obligation to lead Trust Territories to ‘self-government or independence’. It was also consistent with undertakings given in 1958 by the British Government before the UN General Assembly and also with guarantees in the same year by the UN itself, to the effect that the British Southern Cameroons would achieve independence in 1960. Having already achieved full self-government status, the next and ultimate status the British Southern Cameroons was expected to emerge into could only have been that of independent sovereign statehood as contemplated by Article 76 b of the Charter of the UN and by the binding UN 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

But, in a melancholic twist of fate and for reasons difficult to comprehend, the UN imposed on the people of the territory a plebiscite “to achieve independence by joining” either Nigeria or Cameroun Republic. The political authorities of the British Southern Cameroons and those of Cameroun Republic held a series of pre-plebiscite talks which resulted in signed undertakings given by Cameroun Republic that if the vote went in favour of ‘joining Cameroun Republic’ the ‘joining’ would take the form of a two-state federal association. The plebiscite result went in favour of ‘joining Cameroun Republic’. United Nations Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961 endorsed that result and, in its operative paragraph 5, invited Britain, the Government of the British Southern Cameroons and the Government of Cameroun Republic “to finalize before 1 October 1961, the arrangements by which the agreed” two-state federal association was to be implemented. The mandated finalization never took place.

Instead, on 1 September 1961 the National Assembly of Cameroun Republic boldly enacted a piece of legislation that was in effect an annexation law but passed off as a so-called ‘federal constitution’. By that piece of legislation Cameroun Republic claimed entitlement to the British Southern Cameroons as part of its territory returned to it by the UK and the UN. The long title of that document so proclaimed. At the time this annexation law was promulgated the British Southern Cameroons was still a UN Trust Territory under UK Administration. But both the UK and the UN maintained a studied silence in the face of such a baseless and clearly expansionist claim by Cameroun Republic. What is more, on 30 September 1961 the UK proceeded to transfer sovereignty over the British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic, a foreign country that had nothing with the Trust over the British Cameroons, and then hurriedly withdrew from the territory, leaving it defenceless. Opportunistically, Cameroun Republic occupied the land. It has remained in armed occupation ever since, exercising a colonial sovereignty over the territory. In 1972 the political leadership of Cameroun Republic staged a pretended ‘referendum’, the pre-arranged results of which they claimed authorized them to abolish peremptorily the 10-year old informal ‘Cameroon federation’. In reality the ploy was a farcical quest to legitimize its Germano-Austrian Anschloss-type annexation of British Southern Cameroons. The resultant controversial conflated entity was first denominated ‘united republic of Cameroun’ and then, twelve years later, as ‘Cameroun Republic’, the very name and style by which French Cameroun achieved independence from France on 1 January 1960.

I. The Betrayal of too Trusting a People

The people of the British Southern Cameroons had absolute faith in the UN and trusted the Administering Authority, believing that both would always act in the best interest and for the wellbeing of the territory. This turned out to be a monumentally misplaced faith. In breach of the legal, moral and human rights foundations at the root of the trusteeship system, in breach of obligations assumed under the Charter of the UN, and in breach of the undertakings in the Trusteeship Agreement for the British Cameroons the UK betrayed the people of the British Southern Cameroons. The UN itself failed to stand up for the people of the trust territory.

A. The Betrayal by the UN

The UN failed to secure statehood for the people of British Southern Cameroons. By this failure the UN acted in breach of its own Charter (Article 76 b), in breach of its own 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and in breach of the right of self-determination of peoples. The plebiscite and its timing were a UN imposition. The political leadership of the territory requested its deferment to 1962 but the request was ignored. The plebiscite questions, framed with the greatest opacity, in effect demanded the hapless people of British Southern Cameroons to choose between colonial rule by Nigeria and colonial rule by Cameroun Republic, the UK Government having indicated it was no longer prepared to continue to assume responsibility for the administration of the territory.

The plebiscite was in fact uncalled for and the alternatives presented to the people amounted to a violation of the right of all peoples to existence. A people cannot achieve independence by offering themselves for domination and their territory for annexation, by another country. The British Southern Cameroons had already achieved full self-government status and was poised for and had the right to accede to the ultimate status of independence as a sovereign state. Given this fact the plebiscite was unnecessary. The phraseology of the plebiscite question was itself a gross deception and an unconscionable fraud on an essentially illiterate population who, as the Plebiscite Commissioner rightly pointed out, may not have fully grasped the full implication of what they were invited to vote on.

Further, the UN did not present the people with the internationally recognized self-determination political status option of emergence as a sovereign independent state. There was, and there can be, no good reason why this option was withheld from the people. The very representative conference of all stakeholders held in Mamfe Town had resolved that given the UN’s insistence on a plebiscite in the territory the questions to be put to the people should be the following clear, sensible and straightforward questions: Do you want integration into Nigeria? Do you want secession from Nigeria? The British Southern Cameroons though internationally a separate territory from Nigeria was at then still administered by the UK as if it was an integral part of Nigeria. The questions therefore made great sense. There was no need bringing in French Cameroun into the equation as that country was foreign land. It was clearly understood by all the stakeholders at the Mamfe conference that a vote for secession from Nigeria would necessarily entail the emergence of the British Southern Cameroons into statehood. Mr. JN Foncha, Premier of the British Southern Cameroons, painstakingly outlined to the UN the proceedings and outcome of the Mamfe conference. But for reasons that have never been stated the UN ignored all of that and went ahead to impose an unwarranted plebiscite with vaguely framed questions and dead-end alternatives. It is still a mystery how the UN could have believed and taken the attitude that the destiny of the people of the British Southern Cameroons was necessarily tied to that of either of its two neighbours.

The UN betrayal did not end there. The Organization even failed to see to it that the very process of what it called ‘independence by joining’ and which it had initiated was carried to its completion. It did not call for four-party talks (UN, UK, British Southern Cameroons, Cameroun Republic) to satisfactorily iron out any outstanding issues and to ensure that there was indeed genuine de-colonization of the British Southern Cameroons. It did not participate in any post-plebiscite talks, whether bipartite between British Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic or tripartite between the UK, the British Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic. It did not even bother to ensure that any such talks took place under its auspices in the same way the plebiscite had been conducted under its auspices. It did not ensure that the Administering Authority participated effectively, meaningfully, in good faith, and in the best interest of the British Southern Cameroons, in any talks or dealings with Cameroun Republic that had a bearing on the future of the people and territory of British Southern Cameroons. Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961 failed to include safeguards designed to show conclusively British Southern Cameroons as a de-colonized territory. The resolution was in fact a dangerously watered down version of the robust resolution earlier recommended by the Trusteeship Council for adoption by the General Assembly. The Trusteeship Council resolution had called for the UN involvement in the post-plebiscite de-colonization process and for the UN to make available to the Government of the British Southern Cameroons administrative, financial and constitutional expertise. The UN should responsibly have done so, but it failed to. The assistance to British Southern Cameroons recommended by the Trusteeship Council would have, on the reckoning of the UN Secretary General, cost a mere US$46, 000. Discriminatorily, the UN considered that paltry sum too large an amount to spend in order to secure and safeguard the integrity of the territory of the Southern Cameroons, however spatially small, and the dignity and worth of its people, however demographically small. It would seem the UN even appeared to have adopted the suspect attitude that the British Southern Cameroons was a returned part of the territory of Cameroun Republic.

B. The Betrayal by the UK Government

As far back as 1922 the UK Government formally decided to administer British Southern Cameroons as an integral part of Eastern Nigeria. The opinion of the people was never sought as to whether or not they wished to be administered as a part of Nigeria. But the UK later claimed entitlement to administer the territory as part of Nigeria apparently in virtue of a permissible provision under the mandates/trusteeship agreements allowing for the constitution, by the colonial power, of its contiguous colonial territories into an administrative union. This administrative union of British Southern Cameroons and Nigeria had disastrous political and economic consequences for the former. The territory became a mere backwater to developments in Nigeria. It remained backward in every aspect of human development and was commonly referred to as a colony within a colony. Much of the struggle by the thirteen British Southern Cameroons parliamentarians in the Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly at Enugu focused on freeing the British Southern Cameroons from the Nigerian gridlock. There can be no doubt that had the UK administered the territory separately and directly from London rather than indirectly from Lagos as a part of Nigeria the focus of the territory’s politicians would have been on securing statehood for the territory. The albatross by way of Nigeria or Cameroun Republic would hardly have appeared on the scene.

The UK Government was well aware that a strong majority of the people of the British Southern Cameroons did not want to join either Nigeria (the Southern Cameroons having just fought and secured its separation from Nigeria) or Cameroun Republic (a strange and unknown land steep in the throes of a bloody terrorism). Yet it insisted that it was in the best interest of the British Southern Cameroons to constitutionally become a part of Nigeria, even though there was nothing palpable to show for after nearly half a century of the Nigerian connection. In fact, the UK Government actively set out to hush up the clear wish of the people for statehood. It went out of its way to prevent the emergence in the territory of any organized body of opinion in favour of independence. Sir Andrew Cohen, the UK Representative at the UN, uppity, ruthless and autocratic, sent a confidential memo to the Commissioner of the Southern Cameroons in which he declared: “I think that HMG’s position should be made abundantly clear to Foncha [Premier of the Southern Cameroons] in an effort to scotch tendencies towards the third question of outright independence.”

The UK Government peddled at the UN the economic non-viability propaganda as the excuse for its selfish opposition to the independence of British Southern Cameroons. Economic viability or non-viability had and still has nothing to do with independence for a colonial territory. Britain knew this only too well. If there was any doubt on the matter that doubt was dispelled by the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence which made it very clear that economic non-viability is irrelevant to the question of independence and cannot be used to delay it. Thus in 1960 France launched its African territories as independent states, hopping from one colonial capital to another lowering the French flag and hoisting independence flags. But hardly any of these new states were economically viable; all of them relied heavily on French subsidies. France did not make a song and dance over this.

The question of the independence of the Southern Cameroons was eminently one for decision by the people of the territory alone and not by Britain, the Administering Authority. The real reason for the British Government presuming to oppose independence for British Southern Cameroons was the UK Government’s erroneous belief that the territory had no economic resources that could possibly be of benefit to Britain. Worse, since the territory, as the UK Government thought, was economically not viable, Britain would then, as former colonial power, be at least morally constrained to provide aid to an independent Southern Cameroons. Since the territory, as the UK Government thought, was poor, there was nothing Britain could possibly gain from the territory in return for the subsidy it would have to provide. Mr. CB Boothby, Head of the African Department at the British Foreign Office, in a confidential dispatch confessed egoism as the explanation of the British attitude: “We are not attracted to the idea of an independent Southern Cameroons because it would certainly not be able to pay its way and … we are not at all anxious to have to do so on its behalf. We cannot expect to gain any advantage from being foster mother to an independent Southern Cameroons and it is clear that it would have to be fostered by somebody.” This piece of rationalization by the UK Government was as wicked as it was egoistic.

Since the UK Government saw British Southern Cameroons as economically not valuable to Britain and as a potential future liability to the Bank of England, one would have thought that Britain would, to say the least, leave the territory to rot in its presumed poverty. But the UK Government chose to adopt a policy that consisted in throwing the territory to the dogs. The Colonial Secretary, Mr. Iain Macleod, informed his listeners of the UK “transfer of sovereignty” over British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic. Several confidential Colonial Office memoranda emphasized the UK “handover” of British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic. Indeed, the British Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Hugh Fraser, in a formal statement to the House of Commons on 1 October 1961 informed a somewhat perplexed but resigned House that British Southern Cameroons had already been “transferred” by the UK to Mr. Ahidjo, President of Cameroun Republic. Evidently, the UK Government showed no concern for the fate of the people and territory of British Southern Cameroons entrusted to its care by the international community. For all it cared, the territory could be grabbed by whoever wanted to and its people exterminated. Lord Perth, the British Minister of State in an unexplained outburst of frightening hostility and murderous hatred sneered: “the Southern Cameroons and its inhabitants are undoubtedly expendable.”

There is therefore overwhelming evidence that neither the British Government nor the United Nations acted in the best interest of the people and territory of British Southern Cameroons over whom they had assumed obligations under international law. Both betrayed the ‘sacred trust of civilization’ assumed by them in respect of the people of British Southern Cameroons.

II. The Southern Cameroons, an Eternally Dependent Territory

The termination of UN trusteeship over the British Southern Cameroons was, to say the least, controversial, and did not result in the ‘self-government or independence’ for the territory promised in Article 76 b of the Charter of the UN. When what took place is intelligently analyzed it is clear that there was simply a succession of colonialists. Cameroun Republic succeeded to the UK as the new colonial authority in the Southern Cameroons. The territory therefore simply moved from being a dependency of one power, Britain, far away across the seas and tired of administering the territory. It became a dependency of another power, Cameroun Republic, next door, lately de-colonized by France and eager to add to its tiny and limited maritime coast by grabbing new territory that gave it enormous natural resources as well as greater and better access to the sea. British Southern Cameroons moved from internationally supervised British colonial rule to brutal colonial rule by Cameroun Republic, a political, economic and cultural colonialism that is far more dehumanizing and exploitative. That colonialism remains unchecked on account of the fact that it is not subject to any organized international scrutiny.

A. Evidence of continuing colonial subjugation

As a territory under international tutelage British Southern Cameroons had international status. Its international boundaries are well attested by boundary treaties to the west with Nigeria and to the east with Cameroun Republic. The territory achieved a measure of self-government in 1954. It became fully self-governing from 1958 to 1961, except in matters of defence and foreign affairs over which Britain still exercised control. It was endowed with a constitution in 1960. It had fully functional governmental institutions with a ministerial system of government. All that remained was for the territory’s colonial status to be formally ended for it to assert itself internationally as a sovereign independent state. The march towards statehood seemed inexorable. The political leaders appeared prepared and ready to govern, whatever limitations they may have had. The people had legitimate expectations to take control over their own destiny and to fashion their own way of life. Then the unthinkable happened! Independence was not granted, quite unlike what was happening in other and even similarly circumstanced colonial territories in Africa at the time. Statehood did not materialize. Even the self-government status and autonomy which the British Southern Cameroons enjoyed from 1954 to 1961, and the limited autonomy it enjoyed up to 1971 was forcibly suppressed by Cameroun Republic in 1972.

1. British transfer of the territory to a successor colonialist

The British Government actively and unjustifiably opposed independence for British Southern Cameroons. The spurious claim was the claimed economic non-viability of the territory. The egoistic reasoning was that Britain had nothing to gain from an independent Southern Cameroons. The selfish reasoning was that an independent Southern Cameroons would depend on Britain for developmental aid. So reasoning Britain propounded and acted on the shameful policy that the British Southern Cameroons and its people were undoubtedly expendable. The UK Government therefore spared no efforts at the UN and within the colonial administration in the Southern Cameroons to deflect any move that had the potential to result in independence for the territory.

The UK Government was eager to hand over the British Southern Cameroons to what it called “a foster mother”. So it contrived to transfer the territory, acting without any colour of right whatsoever, to Cameroun Republic. Excited, French President Charles de Gaulle is reported to have said British Southern Cameroons was “un petit cadeau de la reine d’Angleterre.” In de Gaulle’s eyes France, via Cameroun Republic which remains French in all but name, had gained a piece of ‘British territory’ to compensate for the British acquisition in the 18th century of Quebec, a ‘piece of French territory’. The UK purported transfer of British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic was clearly legally invalid. The territory was not a classic colonial possession that was transferable, as when Britain traded parts of northern Nigeria with the French for fishing rights off Newfoundland. British Southern Cameroons could therefore not be transferred to another power. Britain was the administering, not the sovereign, authority in the British Southern Cameroons. The trust concept meant that administration of the territory was limited in time and that sovereignty over the territory continued to lie with the people of the territory, though for the time being they could not, on account of the trusteeship, exercise it. Legally, during the trusteeship period that sovereignty lies in abeyance and resurfaces at the moment of termination of trusteeship. What the UK Government should have done on the termination of trusteeship on 1 October 1961 would have been to transfer the instruments of power to the political leaders of the British Southern Cameroons. At one and same time the territory would have become independent and sovereign. It would then have been up to it to freely enter into political associate with any other country desiring the same. The UK Government was alive to this correct process but decided to act differently.

At no time therefore did the UK Government hand over the reins of power in respect of the British Southern Cameroons to the political leaders of the territory. Such a handover, had it taken place, would have formed a solid basis for the contention that the territory achieved independence, however brief its duration. The sovereignty that Britain had and exercised over the Southern Cameroons could only have been a colonial sovereignty. And since no one can give what he does not have the sovereignty Britain purported to have transferred to Cameroun Republic could only have been a colonial sovereignty. It follows that the sovereignty exercisable by Cameroun Republic over the Southern Cameroons is a derivative sovereignty and that that sovereignty has always been a colonial sovereignty. The position of Cameroun Republic vis-à-vis erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is accordingly that of successor colonialist.

2. UN complicity in the transfer of the territory to a successor colonialist

The UN-imposed plebiscite in the British Southern Cameroons was unwarranted. The questions were extremely vague and offered no real choice but dead-end alternatives (colonial rule by Nigeria or colonial rule by Cameroun Republic). There were thus no status options as required by UN declarations and practice bearing on de-colonization. The status option of independence was unjustifiably left out. The UN failed to explicate and to see to it that its strange concept of ‘independence by joining’, whatever it meant by that, was implemented. It turned a blind eye when on 1 September 1961 Cameroun Republic passed an annexation law claiming entitlement to British Southern Cameroons as part of its territory returned to it by the UN and the UK. British Southern Cameroons was then still a UN trust territory and one would have thought the UN would have at least vigorously protested this brazen act of expansionism.

The UN claims the British Southern Cameroons was de-colonized. But nearly half a century on it is still unable to indicate the status into which the territory emerged following its purported de-colonization by the UN. The UN moreover appears to have taken the highly suspect attitude that the British Southern Cameroons + Cameroun Republic = Cameroun Republic.

The ICJ, judicial organ of the UN, in its judgment of 2 December 1963 in the Northern Cameroons Case remarked, obiter, that “on 1 October 1961, pursuant to the results of a plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations, the Southern Cameroons joined the Republic of Cameroun within which it then became incorporated.” The judgment refers to a two-stage process: the Southern Cameroons joined Cameroun Republic; then the Southern Cameroons became incorporated within Cameroun Republic. What was the nature of these separate events and when did they take place? The judgment does not say. Nor does it say who effected the incorporation, and how and by what authority it was done. It is not suggested anywhere in the judgment that the Court construed ‘join’ to mean ‘incorporate’.

3.Cameroun Republic’s assumption of a colonial sovereignty over erstwhile British Southern Cameroons

On 1 September 1961 the Assembly of Cameroun Republic passed an annexation law claiming entitlement to British Southern Cameroons as part of its territory. That law did not indicate when and how British Southern Cameroons could possibly have become part of its territory since Cameroun Republic is a former French colonial territory which achieved independence from France within well-defined boundaries (British Southern Cameroons not comprised within them) attested by boundary treaties. The annexation law was passed off as a so-called ‘federal constitution’ under which Cameroun Republic claimed to have “temporarily transformed itself into a federation so as to facilitate the constitutional accession of a returned part of its territory.”

Political leaders of Cameroun Republic have repeatedly maintained that no political association of any kind, less still a union of two countries, British Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic, took place on 1 October 1961. According to them, what took place on that date was simply the constitutional accession of British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic. The latter, they say, merely made a minor amendment to its constitution so as to allow for a returned part of its territory “to rejoin the motherland”. And yet in 1972 these same leaders went out of their way to stage a pretended ‘referendum’ in both erstwhile British Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic, the well-cooked result of which they claim gave them the mandate to formal annex the former to the latter. Does a country annex territory that is its own? Does a country need special authority to assert authority over its own territory?

Up to April 1972 erstwhile British Southern Cameroons enjoyed a measure of autonomy as a ‘federated state’ under an informal federal system that came into existence after 1 October 1961. Following the 1972 fake ‘referendum’, however, the political leadership of Cameroun Republic proceeded to dismantle everything that had painstakingly been built over the decades in the Southern Cameroons right from the inception of British rule. The government and institutions of the territory were sacked by decree of Mr. Ahidjo, a national of Cameroun Republic and self-anointed head of the informal Cameroon federation. Cameroun Republic set about the business of systematically looting the wealth of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons and plundering its natural resources. Having sacked the territory’s government, parliament, civil service and other state institutions the authorities of Cameroun Republic proceeded to impair its integrity as a single territorial and political unit. The territory was cut into two provinces and administered as mere adjuncts to limitrophic regions of Cameroun Republic. These two provinces continue to be placed under civilian and military officials from Cameroun Republic operating in French with an agenda to enforce the French administrative, educational, legal, constitutional and value systems. In spite of this huge colonial and assimilationist enterprise the political leaders of Cameroun Republic still considered it absolutely necessary to abandon the new name ‘united republic of Cameroun’ which they had themselves instituted in May 1972 and to revert, in 1984, to the old name ‘Republique du Cameroun’, the very name and style under which French Cameroun achieved formal independence from France on 1 January 1960. That name change could not have been intended to be, and was not, a meaningless exertion.

4. Pronouncements of writers who have examined the evidence

P. Gaillard (Ahmadou Ahidjo: Patriote et Despote, Batisseur de l’Etat Camerounais, 1994) affirms that there was no union whatsoever on 1 October 1961 and that what took place was a mere border adjustment enabling Cameroun Republic to shift its southwestern border some 400 km westwards to the point where it then shares a maritime border with Nigeria.

FM Stark (‘Federalism in Cameroon: The Shadow and the Reality’, 1976) posits that the Cameroon federation was a de facto federation and not a true and genuine federation in the sense of a voluntary relationship between political units. His conclusion is that the British Southern Cameroons was in reality incorporated into Cameroun Republic.

J Vanderlinden (‘L’Etat Federal, Etat Africain de l’An 2000?’, 1985) concludes that the ‘federation’ was used by Cameroun Republic merely as a ploy, a smokes-screen to soft-cushion its colonization of British Southern Cameroons and to enable the territory to swallow the bitter pill of its annexation, in the same way Eritrea was annexed by Ethiopia.

Professor J Crawford (‘State Practice and International Law in Relation to Unilateral Secession’, 1997) cites in his study British Southern Cameroons as an example of a former colonial territory ‘integrated in a state’.

J Benjamin (Les Camerounais Occidentaux, 1972) details the fraudulent manoeuvres used by Cameroun Republic to destroy British Southern Cameroons. He concludes that what happened to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is a classic example of a creeping annexation.

P Mesmer (Les Blancs s’en Vont, 2000), speaking from insider knowledge and as the last colonial governor of French Cameroun, is emphatic that Cameroun Republic annexed British Southern Cameroons.

L Sindjoun (L’Etat Ailleurs, 2002), a native of Cameroun Republic details how British Southern Cameroons was all along misled and deceived by Cameroun Republic. He is also emphatic in his conclusion that the ‘federation’ was a strategy used by Cameroun Republic to annex British Southern Cameroons and a mere make-belief ploy successfully used to hoodwink both the United Nations and the Southern Cameroons.

B. Examination of Cameroun Republic’s territorial claim to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons

Cameroun Republic has never denied that it is in occupation of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons. But it makes the fantastic claim that the latter is part of its lost territory that was merely found and returned to the ‘fatherland’, presumably by the UK and the UN. This claim seems based on two dubious arguments, so-called ‘historical consolidation’ and so-called ‘colonialism by consent’. From these specious arguments Cameroun Republic draws the equally specious conclusion that the on-going struggle for self-determination by the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is a secessionist bid unlawful under international law. These matters may be briefly examined.

1. ‘Historical consolidation’

The historical consolidation argument is based on a mythical so-called ‘Kamerun-nation’, a propaganda peddled by Cameroun Republic about a supposed ‘Allemanic Kamerun Nation’ created by Germany. According to that piece of propaganda the 20-odd years of German colonial protectorate over a swathe of territory at the hinge of Africa created a so-called ‘Kamerun nation’. Cameroun Republic, so it is contended, succeeded to that protectorate when it attained independence from France and is entitled (the bases of such claimed entitlement have never been articulated) to reassemble all the territories that made up the said German Kamerun. This is of course strange and bogus learning.

The claim by Cameroun Republic is patently expansionist and simply political. Political arguments have always been rejected internationally as a basis of claim to territory or to land within another country because such arguments lack substance and are irrelevant to issues of territorial entitlement. Similar fanciful claims were unsuccessfully made by Morocco (to Mauritania and the Western Sahara), by Guatemala (to Belize), by Iraq (to Kuwait), by Somalia (to the Ogaden and to Djibouti), by Indonesia (to East Timor), and by Ethiopia (to Eritrea).

The existence of German Kamerun was so brief (less than three decades, most of which was spent in trying to pacify rebellious native tribes) that no sense of native Allemanic identity and no sense of common togetherness were ever engendered in the inhabitants of the territory. This is the more so as the territory never had any common governance institutions in which the native representatives could have taken part and gotten to know each other.

The juridical basis of the existence of British Cameroons as a political unit and of the existence of French Cameroun as a political unit, and the international basis of the frontiers between the two territories, is the international tutelage system. The legal foundation of Cameroun Republic as a country goes back to the inception of French, and not German, colonization. Cameroun Republic succeeded to the subsisting rights and obligations of France over the colonial territory of French Cameroun. At its independence Cameroun Republic acquired its territories not from Germany but from France. In the law of state succession a successor state succeeds to the immediate predecessor state. The ‘francophonity’ of Cameroun Republic gives the lie to its claim that it is the successor state to Germany over extinct Kamerun, a territory to which Germany renounced all claims in terms of the Versailles Treaty 1919 and which was dissolved as a political unit and was divided up between Britain and France.

At no time prior to 1 October 1961 were there in existence any political ties, legal ties, cultural or economic ties, or ties of territorial sovereignty between British Southern Cameroons and French Cameroun/Cameroun Republic.

Cameroun Republic is guilty of violating the fundamental principle of uti possidetis juris. That principle ordains that colonized territories become independent within their colonial boundaries, forfeiting any historical claim they might aspire to regarding territories now held within the old colonial boundaries of others. The principle implies the continuity ipso jure of boundary and territorial treaties. It freezes the territorial titles thereby delimiting the newly independent state’s entitlement to territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.

2. ‘Colonization by consent’

A hackneyed line of argument repeated ad nauseam by Cameroun Republic as claimed justification for grabbing erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is that the people of the territory voted at both the 1961 UN-sponsored plebiscite and at the 1972 ‘referendum’ (a pretended referendum) for the complete fusion of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons into Cameroun Republic and that the latter thereby acquired title and sovereignty over the former. The argument lacks merit and is not borne out by the evidence. In fact the argument makes a complete nonsense of Cameroun Republic’s own earlier argument that it merely recovered the Southern Cameroons as part of its lost territory returned to it.

In the first place, the plebiscite vote construed purposely and in the spirit of the exercise of the right to self-determination, was primarily a vote to achieve independence. Association with Cameroun Republic was a possible secondary outcome of the vote. That secondary outcome was anticipated in an expression of intent, evidenced by signed pre-plebiscite agreements, to associate in a federal union of two states, equal in legal and political status, if the vote went in favour of the proposition for ‘joining’ Cameroun Republic. Even after a vote in favour of that proposition, certain legal procedures had perforce to be followed and duly attested for the envisaged union to be legally valid and binding. Domestically, the agreement by both parties on a federal form of association had to be finalized; a draft federal constitution had to be produced and signed by both parties; and the draft federal constitution had to be submitted by each side to its parliament or its people to pronounce itself on it. Internationally, a union treaty would then have had to be concluded and a copy of the same deposited with the United Nations Secretary General consistently with Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations. General Assembly Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961 set 1 October 1961 as the expected date of ‘joining’. But that ‘joining’ was conditional and the date set was merely recommendatory. At any rate, there was enough time between 21st April and 30th September 1961 during which all the processes just indicated could have been finalized had Cameroun Republic and the Administering Authority chosen to act in good faith in this matter.

Clearly, the people of British Southern Cameroons did not vote and could not possibly have voted for the extinguishment of the personality and identity of their territory and for the subjection of themselves to colonial rule by Cameroun Republic. No people ever voted to be dominated by another people, to become the slaves of another people. Nothing can possibly be gained by any such vote. People vote for a beneficial, never for a detrimental, change in their situation. If in October 1961 the UK Government transferred British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic, apparently with the complicity of the United Nations, it would mean the UK and the UN acted in breach of international law since their obligation under the Charter of the United Nations was to lead the territory to self-government or independence, rather than to lead it to annexation by a third state. The inescapable implication of such a transfer would be that erstwhile British Southern Cameroons remains a classic colonial territory still to be de-colonized.

Secondly, the 1972 so-called ‘referendum’ was an exercise in futility. Recourse to the ploy of a ‘referendum’ for the purpose of enabling the abolition of the ‘federation’ offended against the ‘federal constitution’, which hermetically protected the federal character of the political association between Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic, however informal the association. Furthermore, the actual organization and conduct of the ‘referendum’ did not meet international election standards. There was no list of eligible voters. The electorate was not presented with a choice between alternatives: there was no choice at all to be made. There was no secret ballot. The ballot was neither free nor fair nor safe. The outcome was clearly pre-determined as attested by the 99.999% score so familiar in one-party authoritarian States where choreographed so-called elections are staged to rubber-stamp the wish of the despot and to hoodwink the rest of the world. The ‘referendum’ was not confined to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons as ought to have been the case since the 1961 plebiscite on ‘joining’ was confined to that territory, there having been no electoral consultation on that issue in Cameroun Republic. The Yaounde despot chose to make the pretended referendum a federation-wide affair knowing that Cameroun Republic was four times demographically bigger than erstwhile British Southern Cameroons. This ploy was additional insurance cover meant to ensure that Cameroun Republic used its crude majoritarian vote to impose its will on the Southern Cameroons. The 1972 so-called ‘referendum’ was thus an invalid poll, a legal fraud, a parody of the ballot box, an exercise in self-deception by Cameroun Republic, and a huge political and historical swindle. In Cameroun Republic’s relentless systematic deception of the international community, that ‘referendum’, was a theatrical attempt to legitimize its annexation of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons.

3. The secessionist propaganda

Cameroun Republic habitually makes the claim that the on-going self-determination struggle by the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is a bid at secession from Cameroun Republic and that international law forbids secession and authorizes the use of force to suppress it. This claim lacks legal merit. It is a bogy conjured by expansionist Cameroun Republic in its pathetic attempt to silence on-going legitimate internal challenge and lawful external scrutiny of its colonization of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons. The secessionist rhetoric is deeply flawed in other ways.

Erstwhile British Southern Cameroons has never legally been part of French Cameroun either before or after its independence from France in 1960. Southern Cameroons’ legitimate and lawful struggle for statehood makes no claim to a single native, or to an inch of the territory, of Cameroun Republic. Southern Cameroons’ statehood does not in any way affect the spatial configuration of Cameroun Republic as it stood on the date of its attainment of independence from France on 1 January 1960, which is the only legal territorial framework Cameroun Republic is entitled to claim and to defend under international law consistently with the principle uti possidetis juris. The righteous assertion of Southern Cameroons statehood does not therefore result in any dismemberment of the territory of Cameroun Republic or any impairment of its territorial integrity. Analytically, the on-going struggle for independence by the people of Southern Cameroons is a case of revolt against annexation and colonial rule by Cameroun Republic. It hardly qualifies as a secessionist struggle. The Declaration on Friendly Relations adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 states that a colonial territory has a separate and distinct identity and status from that of the colonizing state.

Even if, for the purpose of argument and without conceding the point, it were to be supposed that Southern Cameroons is part of Cameroun Republic seeking to secede that aspiration and effort would not offend against international law. The contention that international law forbids secession is misconceived. That law is neutral in the matter of secession. It neither concedes nor denies a right to secede. But once the reality of secession has occurred and been made effective, international law has always eventually recognized that fact. This is so because secession per se, as distinct from unlawful means to bring it about, cannot be illegal and is indeed politically possible. State frontiers are not sacrosanct. They may be altered consistently with the law of nations. Historically, state formation and transformation have occurred, and, it is submitted, will continue to occur, through fission or fusion. In the contemporary world the process has been more of fission than fusion. Most of today’s 193-odd states came into existence through a process of state fission, that is, by seceding from an existing power, colonial or non-colonial.

In fact, there is, arguably, a ‘right’ of secession derivable from two sources: the natural right of all peoples to free themselves from subjugation by another people; and the right of self-determination, a norm of jus cogens. Firstly, the law of nature concedes to all peoples, whether or not in a colonial context, the natural or inherent right to liberate themselves from domination, oppression, subjugation or exploitation by another people, or to remedy a grave historical injustice of which they are collectively victims. The acknowledged legitimacy of national liberation movements proceeds precisely from the fact that wars of independence are just wars based on the natural law doctrine of the inherent right of peoples to free themselves from oppression or subjugation. Secondly, under contemporary international law, self-determination has evolved from a mere process used in de-colonization to a human rights norm, a continuing right of peoples exercisable in a colonial or non-colonial context. The legitimacy of the right of self-determination implies that any use of violence to suppress its exercise would constitute a forbidden use of force under international law and would, arguably, also qualify as aggression. Any retaliatory action by a colonized people to repel such aggressive force by the colonizing state would be a permissive measure of self-defence. The people fighting for their liberation may seek outside assistance to that end. It is so provided in Article 20 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and in Principle 5, paragraph 5 of the UN 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations.


The United Nations and the UK Government failed to honour their legal, political and moral obligations to the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons who had put so much faith in them. Both that Organization and that Power thereby violated the inalienable right of the people of the territory to be free from colonial bondage by freely choosing to establish a sovereign independent state like other peoples of the world.

British Southern Cameroons either achieved independence or it did not. If it did not, that would mean the plebiscite was a pretended de-colonization exercise and a gigantic political fraud by the UN; it would also mean the territory remains technically a trust territory, a non-self-governing territory, still to be de-colonized. On the other hand, if the British Southern Cameroons achieved independence it cannot be contended that it was fused or that it became incorporated into Cameroun Republic, for history affords not a single example of an independent state voluntarily fused into another. If the British Southern Cameroons did achieve independence there is today not a vestige of that independence enjoyed by the territory. The absence of evidence of enjoyment of that independence is the clearest proof of its wanton suppression by Cameroun Republic, a state in armed occupation of the territory and exercising a colonial sovereignty over it. Indeed, the evidence shows that erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is a colonially occupied territory and a victim of Cameroun Republic’s expansionism.

As already shown the territorial claim of Cameroun Republic to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is farcical and denuded of any legal basis. By annexing British Southern Cameroons and therefore suppressing its independence, Cameroun Republic is in breach of applicable UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting territorial expansion. It is also in breach of the principle of uti possidetis juris. It is further in breach of the principle of equal rights of all peoples. It is again in breach of the right of all peoples to freedom from domination by another people. Further still, Cameroun Republic is in violation of the unquestionable right of the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons to self-determination, to identity and nationality, to sovereign control over their wealth and natural resources, and to psychological integrity and mental health.

The evidence shows that the Southern Cameroons sovereignty question is a national liberation struggle for independence, a struggle firmly anchored in international and human rights law. It is not an inter-ethnic conflict. It is not a civil rights conflict. It is not a political transition conflict. Its solution cannot therefore lie in discourse on anti-corruption, transparency, democracy and good governance. It cannot lie in advocacy for participation and power-sharing within the colonizing state of Cameroun Republic. A colonized people seek freedom from colonial bondage, not participation in the affairs of the colonizing power. Would the conflict be resolved if Cameroun Republic were to renounce its unjust and illegal territorial pretensions to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons and accept and implement a two-state federal arrangement as conceived and agreed upon by the two parties before the plebiscite? That is doubtful to the extreme because in such a scenario the autonomy and status of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons would be by permission of, and will depend on, the continued goodwill (extremely doubtful) of Cameroun Republic. The Southern Cameroons would in effect still remain a dependency of Cameroun Republic with no water-tight guarantees whatsoever that Cameroun Republic will never again relapse into its congenital bad behaviour and colonize the Southern Cameroons yet again. The experience of the past half century teaches conclusively that Cameroun Republic lacks integrity and can never be trusted in any manner of dealing and under any circumstances. The only viable and lasting solution dictated by international and human rights law and consistent with the self-evident yearning of the people of the Southern Cameroons, is de-colonization of the territory and its emergence into sovereign statehood.

The above paper was presented by the author at the 21st Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies on the theme ‘Re-examining Human Rights’, Marian College of Fond du Lac, University of Wisconsin, 3-5 November, 2005.