African colonization remains the second phase of the dehumanization of the black continent after slave trade. European capitalists in the confines of their sofas in 1885/85 in Berlin, Germany, sliced the continent into spheres of influence amongst themselves, with no regard to religious or ethnic affinities. Some locals were even forced to fight against their kindred on the other side of the newly-created European borders during WW I.
Following independence in the 60s, these new African countries accepted these European-imposed boundaries not because they made sense but because they guaranteed relative stability. Despite the almost absence of inter-state rivalry since independence, subterranean religious and ethnic agitations continue to rumble. Democracy has done little to forge a true sense of national pride void of ethnic and religious loyalties.
The British experiment of Nigeria with more than 250 ethnic groups, with two powerful religious blocs present the miniature picture of what the new concept of nation-state in Africa entails. In just 55 years of independence, the country has witnessed two presidential assassinations, six military coups, three domestic insurgents and a full blown civil war. These all point to how complicated it is to forge a true national identity from a heterogeneous origin. These mostly religious and ethnic agitations have failed to garner sustained international endorsements, hence no serious challenge to the fragile nation-states.
Agitations for new nations or territories is not peculiar to Nigeria. Today Africa boast of more than 21 separatist movements that continue to challenge the concept of a nation-state in which they belong. The Cabinda region in Angola, the Casamance in Senegal, the Ambazonia Republic in Cameroon, the Mombasa Republican Council in Kenya, Azawad in Mali, the Lunda Tchokwe Kingdom in Angola and others continue to question their sense of belonging in a European machination that robbed them of their ethnic unity and pride. Few of these groups have had success and might never for many reasons.
First some of these groups and their movements astride these European-fabricated boundaries, compounding unity. A case here is the Lunda Tchokwe ethnic group. The group is found in the DRC, Angola, Zambia and Namibia. The United Kingdom of Tchokwe Liberation Movement in Angola alone is (507,922 km 2) almost the size of Spain (505,992 km 2). An ethnic group which in itself would have constituted a country, if the European colonizers had bothered about traditional and cultural heritage of the colonists. Secondly, the states these groups are trying to challenge are too powerful and very unlikely to let go any part of their dominion without a real fight. There is equally little appetite in the international community for new nations based solely on ethnic and religious agitations.
The division of Sudan in 2011 however, shows just how much flexibility the international community is willing to go when it comes to abiding to senseless and insensitive colonial patchwork. The histories of new nations in Africa and other former colonies elsewhere show that these new countries have largely emerged from earlier European boundaries rather than ethnic or religious configurations. This thus points to the fact that the former colonial zealots are willing to right some of the wrongs of the Berlin follies, by allowing room for well-articulated self-determination causes embedded in history, and sustained through blood and treasure (war) for a while, and not just on the force of the arguments.
The mother countries on their part have been very insensitive to the contentious regions, often responding to legitimate demands with brute force and intimidation, with no room for dialogue. Some have most often been derogatorily labelled communists, terrorists, rebels etc. depending on the epoch.
New Countries in Africa since 1990
The former Italian colony of Eritrea as a British protectorate, and federated as an autonomous region to Ethiopia in 1952, saw the autonomy abolished and later annexed by Ethiopia under Haile Selassie, 10 years later. The result was a 32-year armed struggle in which about 570,000 people lost their lives. A 1993 referendum saw 99.7% Eritreans voting for independence from Ethiopia.
In the case of South Sudan, until 1946, the British and Egyptian governments (under a condominium governing arrangement) governed north and South Sudan as separate regions until independence in 1956. The fragile unity between the distinct Christian south and Muslim north, was shattered in 1983, when the president of Sudan Gaafar Nimeiry, declared the entire country an Islāmic state under sharia, negating the beliefs of the southerners. The move thus abolished the south’s autonomy earlier negotiated in 1972, in Addis Ababa, after the end of the first Sudanese civil war. The result was a 25-year long second Sudanese civil war led by John Garang, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, paving the way for a 2005 comprehensive peace agreement, with a provision for independence which finally happened in 2011. About 2.5 million people lost their lives in the fighting.
Nigeria and its North East
As indicated earlier, new nations in Africa have largely emerged from colonial boundaries, and not religious or ethnic configurations. Nigeria after independence in 1960, saw its territory increased by almost 17, 500 square miles, when the former UN Trust territory of Northern Cameroon voted to join her following a contentious U.N sponsored plebiscite in 1961. The former German colony of Kamerun was captured by the British and French armies in 1916, and later partitioned between the two countries with Britain attaching its 20% to its West African colony of Nigeria for easy administration.
The British further divided their part into two regions namely Southern and Northern Cameroons. The Northern Cameroons was made up of two discontinuous zones separated by tiny strips of Nigerian territory around Yola. The region was administratively divided into three provinces namely Bornu (with divisions and districts such as Gwoza, Bama, and Dikwa among others.), Adamawa and Benue Provinces. These regions together were named Saudauna province when they joined Nigeria in 1961, in remembrance of the Saudauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, who despite losing a referendum on bringing the northern Cameroons into Nigeria in 1959, lobbied for a second referendum in 1961, which finally saw the region joining Nigeria (as Saudauna province with its capital in Mubi). The region today is enmeshed in Bornu, Adamawa and Taraba States in Nigeria.
The southern Cameroons, an area of 16,581 sq. miles, on its part was divided into six divisions namely Nkambe, Wum, Bamenda, Mamfe, Victoria, and Kumba. The area was administered as part of Eastern Nigeria in Enugu. In the 1961 plebiscite, the region voted to join french Cameroun Republic as a Federated State, with its capital in Buea, the erstwhile capital of German Kamerun.
Social and Economics
According to the national Bureau of statistics in Nigeria (2010), about 112.5 million Nigerians were living in poverty (out of a population of 170 million). The evidence equally show that the North West and North East of the country had the highest rate of poverty with 77.7 % and 76.3 %. The region no doubt felt abandoned by the Nigerian State, with limited infrastructure and no opportunities.
The anger is rife within the region called Saudauna province that voted to join Nigeria, with calls for a new state called Mubi the erstwhile capital of the province. In a 2014, article by an elite of the region, Mr. Aminu Babagali, titled, “Frustration in Cameroon’s former Saudauna Province”, enumerated the neglect of the region from non-appointment of elite, lack of basic infrastructure like roads etc. “…..Since that time when the trusteeship merged with the country, Nigeria, all the promises made have not been kept. A trunk ‘A’ road was to be constructed from Mubi, the capital to Maiduguri and another trunk ‘A’ from Mubi to Yola, hospitals…” he wrote.
In Gembu, the head quarter of Saudauna local council in Taraba state, closest to Nkambe, in North West Cameroon, the anti-Nigeria sentiments is palpable, “ some of our people are quickly shifting loyalties and going back to Cameroon, we do not have a single tarred road nor is there even one bridge across the rivers in this area. We may be left with no other option than to go to Cameroon which we had earlier refused” lamented Jauro Abubakar Usmanu, village head of Mbamnga in the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper.
Similar Sentiments in the Former Southern Cameroons
The same frustration with the 1961 arrangement are clear in the Southern Cameroons that joined the Republic of Cameroon. Since 1990, indigenes and factious pressure groups in the region that forms about 20% of the country have been calling for a reversal of the 1961 plebiscite. The indigenes point to the abandonment of major infrastructural projects in the region, annihilation of the region’s distinct legal, educational and traditional systems. Victoria division before the unification they say had a natural seaport that was used to export the region’s products. Today, the port is in ruins in favor of an estuary port in Douala, French zone, which cost millions of dollars yearly to dredge.
Same like South Sudan and Eritrea, the region’s autonomy, as a federated state agreed in 1961, was abolished in 1972, in a referendum that involved the entire country. Activists point to the fact that instead of asking the same region (British Southern Cameroons) alone to decide whether they wanted to keep up the two-state federation, the French dominated government instead posed the question to the entire country. The result was that an overwhelming French majority virtually eclipsed the opinions of the English zone, with a YES vote against the two-state federation, thereby abolishing their autonomy. Speaking to one of Cameroon’s English Language newspapers – Cameroon Journal, June 28, 2015, a prominent Catholic critic of the 32-year rule of Mr. Paul Biya, Cardinal Christian Tumi, said if given another referendum, the region will not hesitate to leave the Republic of Cameroon. The Cardinal points to numerous frustrations of the English-speaking zones such as the absence of basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals and the non-appointment of sons and daughters of the region to certain positions such as ministers of Finance, defense among others. He equally pointed to the 1992 stolen presidential victory of a son of the region, Fru Ndi, overwhelmingly elected president by the entire country.
Just like in Sudan, and Eritrea, the Cameroon government under Paul Biya has vehemently rejected the existence of an Anglophone problem in the country. Calls for dialogue from personalities such as the former UN secretary General Kofi Annan, have fallen on deaf ears instead, systematic militarization of the English zones, torture, and intimidation of activists persist. These have failed to quash pro-autonomy sentiments from citizens of the former British Southern Cameroons. Although factious in their struggle, they seem united in their goal for a new nation.
Enter Boko Haram
To be continued…