Since 2017, Cameroon’s controversial State forces have been locked in a deadly conflict with separatists in the country’s English-speaking or Anglophone regions of the North West (NWR) and South West (SWR). Three years on, the State of Cameroon, run on an instrumentalist philosophy rather than a structuralist one, has failed to manage the conflict, talk less of resolving it.
The conflict has seen more than 3000 civilian deaths, one of the most disheartening being the recent evil and barbaric murder of prison wardress, Mme. Ayafor Florence, in the hands of so-called pro-independence fighters of “Ambazonia”.
In the memory of the victims of this senseless and completely avoidable war, notably in memory of Mme Ayafor, Democracy Chronicles (DC) is urging the United Nations (UN) to act now to end the senseless killings in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon!
International and national pressure forces Biya to organise “Major National Dialogue” (MND)
Following stiff international pressure, notably from the United States of America (USA), Germany and the European Union, and from voices from within Cameroon calling for an all-inclusive dialogue, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya reluctantly appeared to make a belated gesture in the right direction.
In an extraordinary speech on September 10, he called for a Major National Dialogue (MND) to find solutions to the conflict. The MND took place from September 30 to October 04, 2019 and was chaired by the country’s Prime Minister, Chief Dr. Dion Ngute, who is brazenly not a neutral partner.
Biya never showed up for the MND which was not attended by key separatist leaders, some of whom had been condemned to life sentences just weeks earlier. This meant the MND was not all-inclusive and while it was going on, the conflict was raging despite a bunch of alleged separatist ex-combatants paraded at the dialogue.
Main root cause of the conflict and proposals made by the MND
On October 1, 2019, some localities in the Anglophone regions witnessed separatists organizing independence day celebrations to commemorate the independence of the erstwhile British Southern Cameroons, coterminous with the contiguous NWR and SWR. The principal and the most crucial root cause of the conflict is connected to the decolonization of the Southern Cameroons which the separatists have renamed “Ambazonia”.
Notwithstanding, the MND did not address this concern. The “dialogue” ended up with a resolution calling for the establishment of a “special status” for the NWR and SWR. No one knows what that means but it is highly unlikely that this would solve the problem as it leaves the question of self-rule for the Southern Cameroons unsettled. Other resolutions included:
the restoration of the House of Traditional Chiefs
the election of local governors
the immediate relaunch of certain airport and seaport projects in the two regions
the rapid integration of ex-combatants into society
the name of the country be returned to former name, the United Republic of Cameroon (URC).
implement the law that government officials declare their assets, in order to tackle corruption
Moving around in circles
Underpinning the MND was the idea that the conflict is an internal affair and that solutions would come from Cameroonians making proposals to Biya on what can be done for peace in the NWR and SWR. The Southern Cameroons nationalist problem is clearly not a concern for the regime and talking to the separatists on equal footing is inconceivable for the government of Biya in the capital of Cameroon, Yaounde.
As such, the MND may well have been a public relations stunt for Biya as well as a strategy to delegitimize the separatists. It, therefore, turned out to be somewhat a stage-managed event which some Anglophones attended thinking that Federalism could be a possibility. Their suggestions for Federalism were heard but not considered. Biya had made it clear in his September 10 speech that decentralization was the only way forward, nothing else.
Then there is the proposal for the return to the URC. Killian Ngala stated that:
A return to the name [URC] is significant as it would go some way towards recognising the different histories of the different parts of the country. At independence, the Southern Cameroons (colonised by Britain) voted in a UN-organised plebiscite to be united with the Republic of Cameroon (formerly colonised by France). The new country the two entities created was called the Federal Republic of Cameroon. But the federation was scrapped in 1972 in a controversial referendum, giving rise to the [URC]. “It is the abolition of this federal structure that lies at the core of the Anglophone problem,” opposition leader John Fru Ndi told the BBC. In 1984, President Paul Biya worsened the situation by scrapping the word “united” from the name of the country, and it became known simply as the Republic of Cameroon, which was the same name given at independence to the part of Cameroon colonised by France. “What that meant was that the Anglophone entity had been annexed,” Mr Fru Ndi said.
As such, if Biya re-adopts the name “URC” it would be his tacit admission that he attempted to annex the Southern Cameroons in 1984. This can only justify a revisiting of the self-determination problem for the Southern Cameroons, meaning that it is a two-State federation re-negotiated with separatists on the table that best resolves the conflict in the NWR and SWR, not a “special status” for the NWR and SWR in a decentralized unitary State.
Barbarians who murdered Mme Ayafor must be brought to book
Following the MND, separatists instead vowed to ramp up arming fighters on the ground. Some of these separatists have been found guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity. This is seen in the unacceptable molestation and gruesome murder of a prison wardress, Mme Florence Ayafor. She was raped by a gang of so-called separatist fighters then dragged naked on the ground before being beheaded and her mortal remains mutilated. The images are so disturbing that DC will not grace the murder and its vile perpetrators with a link.
It is inconceivable that Anglophones would claim to fight for freedom and then be responsible for such behavior on their very own. Mme Ayafor deserved to be treated with dignity by her captors. The perpetrators of Mme Ayafor’s murder must be brought to book. State forces should arrest them or the separatists themselves, since they claim their cause is just, must track them down and hand them over the Cameroon authorities to be brought to justice.
The murder of Mme Ayafor shows the degeneration of the conflict. To make matters worse, in response to the October 1, 2019 commemorations, State forces unleashed another round of repression. Several scores of people have again lost their lives as the international community enjoys calling for an all-inclusive dialogue and doing nothing to coerce the parties to the conflict to such a dialogue.
The MND, the release of 333 Anglophone prisoners arrested during the conflict on misdemeanor charges and the release of key opposition leaders of Francophone extraction, while welcome, do not target the root causes of the conflict.
Appeal to the UN, Biya and the separatists: end this senseless war!
It is time to end these senseless murders in the erstwhile British Southern Cameroons. The United Nations has to step in to address the conflict and do what it was created for – ensure global peace and security! Let there be adjudication, through a special UN Commission on the question, on whether the Southern Cameroons is entitled to self-rule or not since the regime in Cameroon is adamant about not revisiting the question.
For the sake of those who have lost their lives in this war, especially Mme. Ayafor, and for the sake of peace and security, it is time to field a peace-enforcement force in the NWR and SWR and have Cameroon free key separatist leaders and sit and talk to them on neutral grounds to find a peaceful end to this senseless conflict.
Cameroon loses nothing in accepting to uphold the wish made by the people of the erstwhile British Southern Cameroons in the plebiscite of February 11, 1961, to join their “Francophone brothers” in a Federal Union as opposed to remaining within the Nigerian Federation. It was with love that the Southern Cameroonians voted to join the Republic of Cameroon in 1961. Why have they been met with such violence?