Cameroon’s Ambazonia and Jamaica’s Maroons want their independence to be recognised
As the UK celebrates Black History month, two separate Wakanda wannabes, scarcely ever in international news, have got media coverage in the UK this week.
The two areas both consider themselves to be independent, both speak English and both have populations made up from people of West African origin. And both are not considered to be independent by the country that they are a part of.
But the two areas are otherwise very different – they are 9700 kilometres apart from each other, one has a population of about 5 million people and one barely enough to make a village — and their histories are very different – though both have strong roots in British colonialism.
The first is Ambazonia which today is celebrating its independence day – and which is the English-speaking region of French-speaking Cameroon in West Africa. About five million people live in the area.
The second is a little more complicated, as it is made of two completely different sections and as neither one of them really has a unique country-sounding name. But the people are called Maroons, and they have two regions in the Caribbean island of Jamaica. The area that Maroons in the west of the island live is often referred to as Accompong, while the area in the East of the island has the less exotic name of Moore Town. One estimate of number of Maroons living in the two areas is probably less than 2,000 people, though many others may live in other parts of the island.
Today The Telegraph ran a story on Ambazonia titled: ”The Cameroonians determined to keep a corner of their homeland forever English-speaking”
The story focussed on demonstrations that Ambazonia supporters held outside Downing Street in London today, waving a flag that few people would recognize.
“At a rally outside Downing Street on Friday October 1, Robert Tamanji and his fellow activists will raise a flag in honour of a proud, English-speaking land in a far-off corner of Africa. Yet when they unfurl the blue and white flag of Ambazonia, they don’t expect passers-by to recognise it. Although hundreds of people have died in Ambazonia’s name in recent years, officially it does not exist” the story said.
“Our people are being slaughtered on a daily basis just for speaking English,” says Tamanji, 46. “All we want is our own independent homeland.”
“Amba-where? The promised land that Tamanji dreams of is officially part of south-west Cameroon, which he fled in the 1990s after being arrested and tortured. His crime? To demand greater rights for Cameroon’s English-speaking minority, who complain of being treated as second-class citizens in a French-dominated land.”
This section of Cameroon was ruled by Britain up to 1961, when the people were given the option of becoming part of a newly independent (and English speaking) Nigeria or as part of French-speaking Cameroon. They chose Cameroon, but many now would have preferred a third choice – independence for themselves.
As the relationship with the rest of Cameroon has deteriorated – the country declared its independence on October 1, 2017 – not that anyone else took notice. And now some supporters want the UK to step up and support Ambazonia.
“The UK has a moral obligation to restore the wrongs of the past,” Tamanji told The Telegraph. “If other countries can be given independence, why not us?”
Meanwhile, Jamaica’s Maroon’s had their own story in The Spectator magazine, titled “The indomitable Maroons” with the subheading, “Does Jamaica’s government have plans for this state within a state?”
The Maroons may be miniscule in comparison to the size of the Ambazonians – but their history of independence is long and uninterrupted. Maroons trace their origins in Jamaica to African slaves who were brought to the island by the Spaniards, before the British arrived in 1655.
They continued to fight the British even after the Spaniards fled to Cuba – and weary of the guerrilla warfare, the British eventually signed a treaty with the Maroons in both the east and west sections of the island, granting them a level of independence – provided that they would return escaped slaves to the plantations. They agreed – making them one of the earliest free people in the Western Hemisphere – but simultaneously earning them the resentment of much of the black population, which continues up to today.
The Spectator story speaks about a recent altercation between the state and Accompong, when Jamaican police tried to destroy illegal ganja (marijuana) crops on Maroon lands and the response of the Accompong Maroon leader Richard Currie.
“This is a gross disrespect and violation of Maroon territorial jurisdiction” The Spectator reported Currie saying.
“A breathless profile in the Jamaica Gleaner refers to him as being a cross between the hero and villain in Marvel’s Black Panther, but Accompong with its 788 inhabitants is no Wakanda,” The Spectator says.
“For nearly 300 years it has been more like Asterix’s village in Gaul holding out against a hostile Empire” it says.
Currie has been getting a lot of media coverage recently, thanks to his use of social media, his good looks and his courting and challenging of public opinion.
But the article actually focusses on his fellow Maroon chief of Moore Town, several hours drive away in the east of the island – Colonel Wallace Sterling, who has held that position since 1995. Sterling is less confrontational than Currie and is not as strident in his demands that Maroon independence be recognised.
“He’s more of an elder statesman than Colonel Currie, more of a diplomat,” The Spectator said.
On whether he was a head of state, Sterling said: “In a sense, because the Maroon community is a state by itself, in one aspect, as some people would want to look at it.” Later he added” Our fore-parents were independent long before the signing of the treaty – some even before the British arrived.”
Whether the Maroons will coalesce around the in-your-face tactics of Colonel Currie or stick with the more the don’t-rock-the-boat attitude of Colonel Sterling remains to be seen.
In the meantime, maybe Ambazonia and Jamaica’s Maroons could find common ground as they seek British help in having their independence recognised.