- The Southern Cameroons, an Eternally Dependent Territory
The termination of UN trusteeship over the British Southern Cameroons was, to say the least, controversial, and did not result in the ‘self-government or independence’ for the territory promised in Article 76 b of the Charter of the UN. When what took place is intelligently analyzed it is clear that there was simply a succession of colonialists. Cameroun Republic succeeded to the UK as the new colonial authority in the Southern Cameroons.
The territory therefore simply moved from being a dependency of one power, Britain, far away across the seas and tired of administering the territory. It became a dependency of another power, Cameroun Republic, next door, lately de-colonized by France and eager to add to its tiny and limited maritime coast by grabbing new territory that gave it enormous natural resources as well as greater and better access to the sea. British Southern Cameroons moved from internationally supervised British colonial rule to brutal colonial rule by Cameroun Republic, a political, economic and cultural colonialism that is far more dehumanizing and exploitative. That colonialism remains unchecked on account of the fact that it is not subject to any organized international scrutiny.
- Evidence of continuing colonial subjugation
As a territory under international tutelage British Southern Cameroons had international status. Its international boundaries are well attested by boundary treaties to the west with Nigeria and to the east with Cameroun Republic.
The territory achieved a measure of self-government in 1954. It became fully self-governing from 1958 to 1961, except in matters of defence and foreign affairs over which Britain still exercised control. It was endowed with a constitution in 1960. It had fully functional governmental institutions with a ministerial system of government. All that remained was for the territory’s colonial status to be formally ended for it to assert itself internationally as a sovereign independent state. The march towards statehood seemed inexorable.
The political leaders appeared prepared and ready to govern, whatever limitations they may have had. The people had legitimate expectations to take control over their own destiny and to fashion their own way of life. Then the unthinkable happened! Independence was not granted, quite unlike what was happening in other and even similarly circumstanced colonial territories in Africa at the time. Statehood did not materialize. Even the self-government status and autonomy which the British Southern Cameroons enjoyed from 1954 to 1961, and the limited autonomy it enjoyed up to 1971 was forcibly suppressed by Cameroun Republic in 1972.
- British transfer of the territory to a successor colonialist
The British Government actively and unjustifiably opposed independence for British Southern Cameroons. The spurious claim was the claimed economic non-viability of the territory. The egoistic reasoning was that Britain had nothing to gain from an independent Southern Cameroons. The selfish reasoning was that an independent Southern Cameroons would depend on Britain for developmental aid. So reasoning Britain propounded and acted on the shameful policy that the British Southern Cameroons and its people were undoubtedly expendable. The UK Government therefore spared no efforts at the UN and within the colonial administration in the Southern Cameroons to deflect any move that had the potential to result in independence for the territory.
The UK Government was eager to hand over the British Southern Cameroons to what it called “a foster mother”. So it contrived to transfer the territory, acting without any colour of right whatsoever, to Cameroun Republic. Excited, French President Charles de Gaulle is reported to have said British Southern Cameroons was “un petit cadeau de la reine d’Angleterre.” In de Gaulle’s eyes France, via Cameroun Republic which remains French in all but name, had gained a piece of ‘British territory’ to compensate for the British acquisition in the 18th century of Quebec, a ‘piece of French territory’.
The UK purported transfer of British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic was clearly legally invalid. The territory was not a classic colonial possession that was transferable, as when Britain traded parts of northern Nigeria with the French for fishing rights off Newfoundland. British Southern Cameroons could therefore not be transferred to another power. Britain was the administering, not the sovereign, authority in the British Southern Cameroons. The trust concept meant that administration of the territory was limited in time and that sovereignty over the territory continued to lie with the people of the territory, though for the time being they could not, on account of the trusteeship, exercise it. Legally, during the trusteeship period that sovereignty lies in abeyance and resurfaces at the moment of termination of trusteeship.
What the UK Government should have done on the termination of trusteeship on 1 October 1961 would have been to transfer the instruments of power to the political leaders of the British Southern Cameroons. At one and same time the territory would have become independent and sovereign. It would then have been up to it to freely enter into political associate with any other country desiring the same. The UK Government was alive to this correct process but decided to act differently.
At no time therefore did the UK Government hand over the reins of power in respect of the British Southern Cameroons to the political leaders of the territory. Such a handover, had it taken place, would have formed a solid basis for the contention that the territory achieved independence, however brief its duration.
The sovereignty that Britain had and exercised over the Southern Cameroons could only have been a colonial sovereignty. And since no one can give what he does not have the sovereignty Britain purported to have transferred to Cameroun Republic could only have been a colonial sovereignty. It follows that the sovereignty exercisable by Cameroun Republic over the Southern Cameroons is a derivative sovereignty and that that sovereignty has always been a colonial sovereignty. The position of Cameroun Republic vis-à-vis erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is accordingly that of successor colonialist.