CORRECTION NEEDED: Non-Participation in Cameroonian Elections is a Principled Resistance Tactic

We reject the racist and ignorant portrayal of the Ambazonian fighters as interrupting “democracy” in their call for non-participation in Sunday’s elections.

As anyone following news about Cameroon knows, today is another so-called election in the longest running dictatorship on Earth. If you take the Western press at face value, you’d believe that it is Ambazonians who are standing in the way of democracy in Cameroon (e.g. this article from The nonprofit industrial complex has also been propagating the narrative that the “separatist movement” is creating “chaos” and pressuring people not to vote. This portrayal is shamefully ignorant of the most basic facts of recent Cameroonian political history, and racist in its infantilization of Ambazonian resistance movement.

The Ambazonian movement has called for non-participation in Cameroonian elections ever since 1996 on the grounds that these elections are deeply corrupt and there is no chance of building power through participation. The call for non-participation is not and has never been based on some ideological opposition to elections, nor some proclivity to oppose democracy.

To the contrary, Ambazonians have been proactive in building democratic systems for decades. In 1954, Ambazonia (then the UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons) held elections that led to the first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected government to another in Africa. This widely celebrated feat was just the most obvious fruit of an intentional effort to return power to the people and cultivate democratic practices that took place during the later years of the UN Trust Territory era.

By contrast, not a single election in the French neocolonial regime of Cameroon has ever been declared to be free and fair by international observers. For today’s election, neither the US nor the European Union, nor any other entity that has a track record of serious election monitoring that actually opposes corruption, is sending monitors. In hearings held in June 2018, the US Under Secretary for African Affairs stated that they are not funding monitors for the election because the Cameroonian government has refused to carry out clearly needed electoral reforms that have been repeatedly called for the US and international parties.

This extreme situation might be hard to understand for those who are humoring the myth that Cameroon is just another normal country. But Cameroon is a neocolonial puppet dictatorship controlled by France. This is not an ideological statement; it is a statement that is logically necessary for anyone looking squarely at the history. For the first three decades of its so-called independence, Cameroon had no elections. The fact that it has elections at all now is largely due to the agitation of the Ambazonian people.

In 1961, following the UN-administered plebiscite that approved a proposal for the creation of a confederacy between the two countries, Ambazonian political parties continued to function for over a decade despite the assassination of many of its elected leaders including the Prime Minister Ngom Jua, which was part of the illegal seizure of federal power by the French neocolonial regime of Cameroon. During this decade, no elections were held.

In 1972, the French Cameroon regime forcefully disbanded and banned all Ambazonian political parties. For the next 20 years, Ambazonians focused on organizing in other spheres of civil society, most notably by pushing for educational rights.

In 1990, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) was founded with the grievances of Ambazonians as its primary organizing plank and Ambazonians making up the majority of the party membership and leadership. They formed as a party even though there was no way for them to participate in elections at that time. At the party’s launch, the French Cameroon military opened fire into the crowd of unarmed supporters, killing six people. This heinous act led to an uprising in political action and agitation, all completely nonviolent and calling for basic democratic rights. In response to this sharp upturn in dissent, President Paul Biya acquiesced and announced that he would allow for the formation of opposition parties.

For the next few months, all of the Ambazonian movement’s power was focused on that election. After the much-anticipated day drew to a close, initial numbers indicated that the SDF candidate John Fru Ndi defeated Paul Biya and won the presidency. But instead of accepting this, the French Cameroon regime placed Fru Ndi under house arrest and declared a state of emergency in the city of Bamenda where he lived. Several days later, they reported a total different set of numbers that showed Biya winning with a clear margin.

From this moment forward, Ambazonian leaders have called for non-participation in elections. Initially, the SDF itself boycotted the elections. However, as they were gradually incorporated into the French Cameroonian political culture, they eventually began to participate, a process which coincided with the sidelining of the grievances of Ambazonians, their original majority base.

The Biya regime then shifted its attention to developing ways to appear to international observers to be supporting multi-party system, while undermining it through backroom corruption and coordinated ballot box stuffing.

Even after the SDF began to participate in elections, the main organs of Ambazonian resistance, such as the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), continued to call for non-participation for the decades that followed based on the clear fact that there is no way to build power through these elections.

This year, the big difference between previous years is that the movement’s armed wing has the capacity to enforce the non-participation call. The enforcement need not be directed at the imagined throngs of regular Ambazonians pining to participate in the electoral democracy. These people don’t exist, because the electoral process has no legitimacy.

Rather, the enforcement has and will likely be directed at making it impossible for the government to use the fake election as an international PR project. As an example of this, just three days ago, President Biya cancelled a campaign tour to Ambazonia Capital City Buea. This is because of the widespread movement that exists both in French Cameroon and Ambazonia to “chase him out” (Chassement).

Informed members of both countries are fully aware of the farcical nature of these elections, and uninterested in legitimating them. Insofar as press and nonprofits are speaking differently, they are under the sway of a highly intentional, decades-old PR campaign run by the longest running dictatorship on Earth.

For more information, see this article from a French-language in-depth article on the elections written collaboratively by a group of serious on-the-ground organizers.

IMAGE: A photo circulating in a What’s App forum depicts ballots found unpacked in a home before the election, contrary to legal procedure.

A photo circulating in a What’s App forum depicts ballots found unpacked in a home before the election, contrary to legal procedure.