In the past year, certain prominent NGOs have been peddling the impression that the violence taking place right now in Ambazonia is a conflict between two sparing parties. Invoking the value of political neutrality, they rush to always address what "both sides" are doing in "equal measure."
This is equivalent to narrating the David and Goliath fight as a "fair match".
In fact, the reality is more like a conflict between ten Goliaths who have each been given training and supplies by some of the biggest armies in the world (France, the US and Israel), and one David with a single slingshot. Any reasonable person can see that actual neutrality in narrating this conflict would be proportional attention to the harm being wrecked by this Goliath Army vs. by David's slingshot. The politically biased behavior is to narrate the conflict as though there is a parity, when there quite clearly is not.
As we pointed out in our critique of Amnesty International's June 2018 report on Cameroon, when US President Trump tried to say that there was “violence on both sides” during the August 2017 neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, VA, a broad-based chorus of press and humanitarian voices unilaterally rejected this narrative wholesale, and correctly so. In the same way, we unilaterally reject this false equivalency between the Ambazonian resistance and the Cameroon military that the NGO-industrial complex is peddling.
What is the political motive to this distortion? While some people repeating this narrative may not be aware of it, the main function of this distortion is to distract people from the power dynamics at play, and to discourage attention to the actual political demands of the aggrieved party.
In the 1990s, the same sort of “equal violence on both sides,” narrative destroyed the international solidarity network that had formed around the pro-democracy movement in CongoDRC started by the Union for Democracy & Social Progress (UDPS).
Founded in 1982, UDPS introduced the continent of Africa anew to the General Strike, or “Operation Ghost Town” as it would soon become known all over the continent. With the power of this tool of mass nonviolent resistance, UDPS forced the national conference to revise the constitution, ushering in democratic reforms on the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Across Africa, others copied the Ghost Town tactic, introducing multiparty politics in Cameroon, bringing about the fall of the dictator in Congo-Brazzaville, and launching a wave of democratic reforms across the continent.
Then some regime holdouts in CongoDRC started instigating attacks and trying to stoke inter-communal violence in certain parts of the country. As some communities responded in self-defense, a group of mostly international NGOs and media outlets started in with the “equal violence on both sides” narrative. Soon international solidarity for the cause of the UDPS collapsed and all discussion shifted to these "violent parties" who had imposed themselves on the body politics of the CongoDRC, and how to help the "poor victims caught in the middle." Everyone stopped talking about the actual grievances and demands of the UDPS. And the rest is history.
That is just one example. Below is a partial list of other examples where large human rights NGOs rushed to introduce “both sides / equivalency” narratives in situations of vastly unequal power.
+ Rwanda: Deliver Justice for Victims of Both Sides
+ South Sudan: New Abuse of Civilians by Both Sides
+ Ivory Coast: Both Sides Responsible for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (Compare with this documentary from Italian Public TV)
+ Libya: Amnesty finds abuses on both sides
+ Eastern Ukraine: Tortured by Both Sides
+ Philippines: Both Sides in Marawi Siege Committed Abuses (also here & here)
+ Yemen: Both Sides Committing Abuses; No Justice for War Crimes
You’ll notice that most of these examples are in Africa!
That is why APOCS Network will not allow anybody to peddle the “equal violence on both sides” narrative on our just struggle. It is true that some communities did resort to the use of force to defend themselves following the cold-blooded massacre of peaceful protesters with helicopter gunship on October 1, 2017. But these actions, which came after 56 years of completely nonviolent resistance, are like David slinging a rock at a Goliath Army of bulletproof tanks. And the crushing lethal crackdown by the Cameroon regime in response is no more justified than if a gang of fully-armed Goliaths were to accost their tiny foe with the full force of their weaponry just because he managed to hit one of them with a single rock.
More importantly, our community's use of force in self-defense is not more important than the REASONS our people are struggling in the first place. Any presentation that erases the actual grievances when narrating particular actions is participating in the process of erasing what is actually going on, which is a decades-long-in-coming uprising against an excessively unjust situation.
Another reason that respected NGOs are participating in this distorting narrative is that it plays into a longstanding racist idea that Africans are just particularly prone to fighting with each other. Perhaps some individuals propagating this narrative are not aware, but they are drawing from an old and powerful stereotype that has been used repeatedly to dumb down discussion of the specific drivers of conflicts in Africa.
The subtext is that African conflicts do not deserve to be narrated using serious political analysis that delves into the history, geopolitics and economics underlying them — which would require that Global North-dominated NGOs and policy makers put time and expertise to understand these complexities. Instead, African conflicts can just be narrated like a sports game, since what can you expect anyway when dealing with these inherently violence-prone Africans.
In this instance, when APOCS Network has introduce historical context and political-economic motives into the discussion, we have been repeatedly told "we aren't interested in the content underlying the conflict."
Of course this narrative helps the powerful party in the conflict! It does so by shifting attention away from the actual abuses they have inflicted that have led to the resistance. In most cases, that powerful party is a neocolonial dictator, or mercenaries recruited by European mining interest as was the case in CongoDRC. in this way, the "equal violence on both sides" narratives actively uphold the status quo of white supremacist control of Africa's resources.
This is why we will fact check every report on our struggle no matter the reputation of the entity producing the report. Any entity or individual who actually cares about African liberation should take these critiques in stride and respond in good faith.
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