In an extraordinary speech to the nation on September 10, 2019, Paul Biya, President of Cameroon since November 1982, announced the organization of a “Major National Dialogue” for the end of September 2019. He said the dialogue was chiefly meant to address the violent conflict in Cameroon’s two mainly English-speaking regions of the North West (NWR) and the South West (SWR).
The dialogue started on September 30, 2019, to last till October 4, 2019. The dialogue is organized around 8 commissions. One of these Commissions was on reconstruction. This commission is certainly meant to make proposals on how to address post-conflict reconstruction and development. But can Cameroon pull such a stunt? DC argues that thinking that Cameroon can possibly carry out post-conflict reconstruction is wishful thinking.
Our argument is based on a number of things: Cameroon’s track record in terms of economic and infrastructural development; Cameroon’s characteristic bad governance; the state of Cameroon’s economy, and; the questionable commitment of its leadership to resolving the Anglophone conflict.
The scale of destruction
The conflict was sparked by State repression of peaceful protests that started in late 2016 over the “Frenchification” of the Anglophone sub-system of education and the Common Law system and the marginalization of Anglophones. The NWR and SWR were formerly the British Southern Cameroons which gained independence by joining the Republic of Cameroun (La Republic du Cameroun, LRC) on October 1, 1961. The union instead turned out to be a veiled preparatory stage for the total absorption of Southern Cameroons into LRC.
Unable to have their autonomy restored, Anglophones resorted to decrying attempts to wipe out their Anglo-Saxon identity. They were met with brutal repression. In October 2017, the crackdown instead led to a conflict outbreak. The regime responded to the conflict and growing dissent with even greater repression inclusive of the razing down of more than 200 villages by state forces in both scorched earth and punitive expedition measures. State forces also burnt down thousands of homes in other areas. This led to great population displacement and a large number of refugees of Southern Cameroonians or Anglophones fleeing to Nigeria.
What reconstruction entails
The reconstruction of more than 200 villages and several thousand houses means that the Cameroon government will have to muster huge human, material and above all financial resources to the tunes of several billions of Francs CFA in order to provide a home for each victim of its own repressive crackdown.
However, over the years, Cameroon has been unable to develop its basic infrastructure. It has a faltering electricity grid, rampant electricity cuts with whole regions going without electricity for days, water services that are largely absent with taps pumping out typhoid fever recipes and road infrastructure that has been destroyed by wear and tear or depreciation for which Cameroon is unable to provide proper maintenance.
One key reason for this state of affairs is that the successive governments under Biya have been very corrupt. State officials have enjoyed years of impunity, looting the state coffers at will. Money meant for infrastructural development has been siphoned into private bank accounts and the centralized and opaque system has enabled a total lack of accountability. As such, one can reasonably not expect that a state unable to develop basic infrastructure, largely due to its corrupt practices, in the last 37 years will be able to reconstruct over 200 villages and rebuild several thousand other homes it burnt down as a matter of policy.
Moreover, Cameroon has been in a perpetual economic crisis since 1986 and is an international borrower. The country borrows money from the IMF, the World Bank, France, South Korea, Japan and increasingly from China. A huge chunk of this money is again stolen. Cameroon is a heavily indebted poor country that does not have the money to reconstruct the 200 villages it burnt down.
Also, burning down these villages was a matter of policy. The regime’s commitment in the past several decades has been more towards assimilating and annexing Anglophones failing which it unleashed repression and punishment. There has been no real commitment to upholding the dignity and identity of Anglophones in Cameroon talk less of their right to self-rule. Cameroon’s organisation of the Major National Dialogue was more a result of international pressure. It is instead likely that the outcome of the dialogue will be the strengthening of the regime’s grip over power and its failed approach.
Only a wishful thinker would believe that there will be any real follow up to provide a roof over the heads of those the state views as terrorists. After burning the villages and homes, Cameroon engaged in funneling demeaning aid from crooked dictatorial regimes like China and other rather dark sources in the form of mattresses and rice to its victims.
The way forward
The conflict in the NWR and SWR is bound to persist because of the State’s behavior. Cameroon is acting as a rogue State with pure disregard for human life, especially Anglophone lives. Cameroon will not reconstruct 200 villages and will not rebuild homes it burnt to the ground. The reconstruction will be done through state propaganda.
In February 1961 the people of the erstwhile British Southern Cameroons peacefully and with all love towards their Francophone “brothers” voted to join LRC in a Federal Union in which their autonomy and right to independence would be respected. They had the option to go to Nigeria but they chose Cameroun and for 50 years millions of Anglophones have lost their lives to repression by the Francophone-led State of LRC whereas LRC cannot possibly provide a Treaty of Union between her and Southern Cameroons.
It is immoral for the world to keep allowing Cameroon, to continue playing with time and lives. The root causes of the conflict in the former British Southern Cameroons must be dealt with head-on. Do the Southern Cameroonians have a right to self-determination? It is agitations for self-rule that form the keystone of all Anglophone agitations in Cameroon. The United Nations must address this problem and come up with more concrete conflict resolution approaches. Only the UN and democratic powers like America, and Canada can address a sound reconstruction program. This can however only be done if the conflict in the erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is addressed.