The leader of a secessionist-minded movement from the western African nation of Cameroon is in Washington to drum up support for yet another state on the crowded continent.
“I am here to seek the help of African ambassadors and others in a just cause,” Fongum Gorji-Dinka said in a recent interview.
He and Cameroonians who live in the United States have made the case for a new state of Ambazonia on moral and legal grounds.
They argue that the inhabitants of the breakaway region, a German colony until Kaiser Wilhelm II’s empire was defeated in World War I, became a British colony while the larger portion of the German territories went to France and became the current state of Cameroon.
“We were passed around like a football by the international community until we decided that enough is enough,” said Edwin Ngang, who has long acted in the United States as a self-appointed spokesman for independence by the territory known, if at all, outside the region as Southern Cameroon.
Mr. Ngang was referring to a train of events in which the region became a League of Nations mandate, a United Nations trust territory, an integral part of neighboring Nigeria, and then a component of a Federal Republic of Cameroon. President Paul Biya, acting after an uprising, did away with the federation and proclaimed a unitary state in 1984, including the territory.
The secessionists argue that because the federation was done away with, Cameroon has no legal claim to rule the former British colony.
“Since a federal republic no longer exists in Cameroon, that land should be a part of Ambazonia,” Mr. Ngang said.
A similar argument formed the basis of a ruling by the International Court of Justice in a dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula, a promontory of eastern Nigeria’s Calabar region. The court handed the peninsula to Cameroon. and Nigeria did not challenge the ruling.
Bakassi is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, and the Gulf of Guinea generally is rich in oil reserves, where Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are all scrambling to produce more oil.
The arguments for a separate state in Southern Cameroon are similar to the one that led to the creation of Africa’s newest state, Eritrea.
Eritrea was an Italian colony from 1890, but neighboring Ethiopia, an independent monarchy, was conquered only in 1935 by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. After Italy was defeated in World War II, the unified territory came under British administration. A U.N. vote placed Eritrea under an Ethiopian federation with a separate parliament in 1950. In 1961, however, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I dissolved the federation and absorbed Eritrea into Ethiopia, leading to a 30-year insurgency that resulted in independence in 1993.
Unlike Eritrea, however, Southern Cameroon has no army, no insurgent force and no known overseas source of funding to create a viable state. Thus, it remains a movement without international recognition of its separatist aspirations.