I'm a lawyer. I studied in Cameroon, Nigeria and the U.S. I was called to the bar in 1996. I have been practising law. I worked in the UN as legal adviser to the international criminal tribunal. I then worked as a human rights adviser with the UN mission in Afghanistan. I moved to the Congo as legal adviser to the UN police in the DRC, and then came back to Afghanistan as a legal adviser to the UN mission.
Three years ago I decided to come back to Cameroon because I felt a need to see how I could contribute to the democratic process. During my stay in the U.S. in 2005, a group of African students were doing their LLM in international human rights and criminal law. We founded an organization called the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, with headquarters in Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Kenya. I happen to be executive director and founding president. When I came back, I started running the organization whilst also having a law firm.
It wasn't enough to just to be a lawyer and to have a human rights organization. Being activists, we decided to come together with other lawyers to create the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, of which I was the first president. It was the consortium that reawakened an anglophone conscientiousness and nationalism and patriotism. Over time, people had been complaining, but they needed a movement. They needed leaders who could be courageous enough to raise the issues with government.
As a result, we started a peaceful protest, but we have a government that really doesn't respond. Lawyers had written about four memorandums to the state documenting the problems that they faced, but unfortunately nobody responded to them. Nobody even acknowledged receipt of these documents.
So in 2016 they decided to have a sit-in strike action. For one month, the Minister of Justice.... Nobody responded to them. Then we decided that we would march in the street with our wigs and gowns to call the attention of the government. If they were really sleeping, they would realize that we mean business. But the lawyers were brutalized. They were beaten. They were dragged in the mud. Their wigs and gowns were seized. As a result of that, teachers and students had to join them in protest. These were peaceful protests.
Unfortunately, on January 17, the Internet was disconnected in the English-speaking part of the country for three months. I don't know whether you can really figure out what it means for the Internet to be disconnected in a part of the country for three months. That was a kind of collective punishment. We'd had the war in the north with Boko Haram, which had been going on for more than a year, and at no point in time was the Internet cut off.
Because of the protests in English-speaking Cameroon, the Internet was cut off for three months. We were arrested, blindfolded and cuffed. They drove us for close to 10 hours, locked up in very dehumanizing conditions, and we were charged in front of a miliary tribunal. During this period, when they had taken out the moderate leaders, the movement morphed into other groupings that had been existing but didn't have the voice, so a platform was created.
The young people in anglophone Cameroon who wanted change had created that platform, which we were fortunate to be the leaders of. But when we left...and because of the treatment they had given to those who were clamouring just for federation and a better living condition in the legal and educational system. Most people would argue that if you were preaching for federation and were facing the death penalty, they would rather preach secession and suppression and face the same death penalty. That is how positions hardened, because of the way people were killed, the way people were arrested. That is how positions hardened to now having a separatist movement.
The government had an opportunity to find a solution. It was still easy for them to at least try to address the problem, but at no point have they attempted to find a solution to the crisis. When they released us on August 31, it was a golden opportunity to release all those who were detained, but they chose to release only three. Justice Ayah, who used to be a sitting Supreme Court justice, was arrested and detained for seven months without any trial. They released some of us, and left the others in jail.
All these have been imposed in such a way that if you talk to the average person in anglophone Cameroon, separation is now in vogue. Now the majority of the people would not settle for anything less than separation. They are asking for a referendum for them to determine their fate, but we still believe that something can be done. Notwithstanding the situation, we can at least have a dialogue, a negotiated settlement. The diaspora living in Canada also would have a role to play because they are very influential. They have money, they have a voice. We can involve them in trying to see how we can find a holistic solution. The problem cannot just be solved internally without including the diaspora.
I'll give you an example. Cameroon has a way of blacklisting Cameroonians by birth who are out of the country. Yes, some of them might have dual nationality, but we have Cameroonians who have arrived at the airport with a visa and were sent back because they encouraged dissent abroad.
We cannot solve the problems in Cameroon without addressing the issue of the diaspora. We need to find a way to grant amnesty or clemency to those who are living abroad who have not been convicted but who have been blacklisted by the government. They are people who have parents in Cameroon. Their parents die, and they cannot come to Cameroon for fear of being arrested.
If these people cannot come to Cameroon, we know they would prefer to come to Ambazonia. We believe that the Government of Canada can do a lot in trying to create an enabling environment and putting pressure on the government to call for a dialogue, and at best, ask the people of Cameroon, ask the government to organize a referendum.