Corrigendum for Herman Cohen: The Root Cause of the Ambazonia Conflict is not the Ahidjo Referendum of 1972

Corrigendum for Herman Cohen: The Root Cause of the Ambazonia Conflict is not the Ahidjo Referendum of 1972

Corrigendum for Herman Cohen: The Root Cause of the Ambazonia Conflict is not the Ahidjo Referendum of 1972

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Herman Jay “Hank” Cohen served as United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1989 to 1993. He brokered an end to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War in 1991, and conflicts in Angola and Mozambique.

By Monica C. Nkenganyi AmbaNews24 Correspondent – New York, USA

Ambassador Herman J. Cohen, a former USA Assistant
Secretary of State for African Affairs has claimed in an interview to the BBC
on October 2, 2019 that the root cause of the Ambazonia liberation struggle is
a referendum that Ahmadou Ahidjo, then President of the Republic of Cameroon
conducted in 1972.

Cohen explained that in 1961, the UN Trust Territory of
the Southern Cameroons voted in to achieve independence from Britain by joining
the then independent “Republic of Cameroon,” under a federal form of state. Cohen
claims that this vote was the “choice” of the people of Southern Cameroons. In
this federation, the French speaking people that made up the “Republic of
Cameroon” then became “East Cameroon” federated state, and the English speaking
people of the Southern Cameroons became the “West Cameroon” federated state.  In 1972, Ahidjo conducted a referendum, which
Cohen described in the interview as “illegal.” In this referendum, a majority
French speaking “East Cameroun” population voted, and thus overshadowed the
minority English Speaking “West Cameroon” population. This referendum abolished
the federal system, which the people of Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia) had
voted in the 1961 plesbiscite to achieve independence from Britain by joining
the Republic of Cameroon under. This, to Cohen, is the root cause of the ongoing
Ambazonia conflict, and restoring this federation is the solution to the
conflict.

While Cohen’s narration of historical events is generally
correct, his claim that the events he narrated, precisely the Ahidjo 1972
referendum constitute the root cause of the current Ambazonia independence
revolution is FALSE and must be corrected in the service of justice and truth
to the people of Ambazonia and the world at large.

First, the United Nation’s organized plebiscite
of February 11, 1961 was unnecessary and
based on falsehood from Britain
. The UN Trust territory of
the Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia) under British administration was a Class
B Mandate territory just as the French Cameroon territory under France
administration was. This French Cameroon did not go through a plebiscite to
become independent and sovereign from France. As a UN Class B Mandate
territory, French Cameroon deserved to be independent and sovereign, and so
became. It would be appropriate for Amb. Cohen to ask himself why the same did
not apply to the Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia) that was also a UN Class B
Mandate Trust Territory. In the case of the Southern Cameroons, Britain was
untruthful to the United Nations that the Southern Cameroons was economically
unviable to become sovereign, and masterminded a grand fraudulent scheme in the
UN system, in connivance with France to deny the Ambazonian people their
attainment of independence from Britain as a sovereign country.

Second, the UN organized 1961 plebiscite was not
a “choice” of the people of the Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia). Rather, it
was imposed by
the United Nations following the above-mentioned British falsehood, and
Britain’s abdication of its responsibility to ensure that the Trust Territory
of the Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia) became independent and sovereign. If
it were a matter of choice that fully respected the self-determination right of
the Ambazonian people, then the option of achieving independence from Britain
as a sovereign country would have been included on the ballot box as the people
demanded. Such was not the case! The only options that were imposed by the
United Nations in this unnecessary plebiscite was a moronic concept of
“independence by joining” French Cameroon or Nigeria. Thus, the people of the
Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia) were forced by the binary option in the plebiscite
“to achieve independence by joining” either Cameroon or Nigeria; they had no
free choice to become a sovereign country!

Lastly, and this is the most important point,
this imposed binary option plebiscite of 11 February 1961 was illegal because it violated the UN
General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 on the “Declaration
on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”  This Resolution states: “all peoples have an inalienable right to complete
freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national
territory.” By this Resolution, the people of Southern Cameroons (now
Ambazonia) had and still have the right “to complete freedom,” which implies it
was illegal to force them through a dubious plebiscite to be subjugated under
Cameroon or Nigeria. It further implies that the people of Southern Cameroons
(now Ambazonia) had and still have the “inalienable right” to “the exercise of
their sovereignty” – in other words, to be sovereign, and not be forced to be associated
with, or “join” Cameroon or Nigeria in any form of a state, whether federation,
regional autonomy, or whatsoever. It also implies that the people of Southern
Cameroons (now Ambazonia) had and still have the inalienable right to the
integrity of their territory – in this regard, their territory could not be and
cannot be swallowed up into or under some form of “pan-Cameroon” as projected
by the Cameroon government today.

This violation of the inalienable right of the people of
Southern Cameroons (now Ambazonia) to sovereignty and their territorial integrity
by imposing on them a binary choice that forced them to either be subjugated
under Cameroon or Nigeria is the root cause of the current Ambazonia conflict
and liberation struggle.
In this regard, the
Ahidjo’s referendum of 1972 was only a consequence of a root cause. In other
words, this Ahidjo’s referendum itself was even possible only because UN
General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 had been violated.

As US Undersecretary for African
Affairs, Cohen was very involved in the Eritrean liberation struggle. Eritrea was made
a British Protectorate from the end of World War II until 1951. The British wanted
Eritrea divided along religious lines with the Christians to Ethiopia and the
Muslims to Sudan. This caused great controversy. Then, in 1952, the UN in
committing the same error it later committed with the people of Southern
Cameroons (now Ambazonia) decided to federate Eritrea to Ethiopia, hoping to
reconcile Ethiopian claims of sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for
independence. About nine years later, in 1960, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved
the federation and annexed Eritrea, triggering a thirty-year armed liberation
struggle in Eritrea.

Amb. Herman J. Cohen pictured with Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isayas Afwerki of Eritrea brokering peace. (Herman J. Cohen)

Ambassador Cohen will certainly admit that insistence throughout this war that Eritrea simply return to a federation with Ethiopia was part of the reasons Haile Selassie continued with the war, believing he had both Russian and American support. This led to the death of over 200,000 people on both sides – these deaths being unnecessary as Eritrea still ended up sovereign. The USA changed its position when Russia sought USA assistance to end the conflict, having realized how much resources it had wasted supporting Ethiopia, and when Amb. Cohen asked Isaias Afewerki of the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) in his office at the State Department in Washington DC whether the EPLF had the capacity and planned to attack Ethiopia inside Addis Ababa. When Afewerki told Cohen that the EPLF had such capacity and had only been delaying taking such action, Cohen’s position changed. It became necessary to recognize the sovereignty of Eritrea in order to prevent the EPLF from attacking Ethiopia if the war continued for many more years.

Today,
more than 3,000 people on both sides have already died in the Ambazonia
liberation armed conflict that is affecting more than half a million people,
and per United Nation’s records has displaced over 350,000 people and caused
about 30,000 to become refugees. As one who was also involved in the
independence and transitions of power in South Africa and Namibia, and helped
end the conflicts in Angola and Mozambique, Amb. Cohen will know that it is
unnecessary absolutely to maintain the call for a return to a federation that
was illegal and imposed on the Ambazonian people. It is time to recognize that
the people of Ambazonia are determined absolutely to defend their inalienable
right to complete freedom, sovereignty and their territorial integrity as
provided in UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14. Dec. 1960.
International recognition of this right and of the sovereignty of the
Ambazonian people is the only solution that shall quicken an end to the
conflict, bring peace and stability, promote respect for human rights, foster
economic development, and terminate the unnecessary waste of more human lives
on both sides.

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