If indifference could address an issue, the Southern Cameroons crisis that has already lasted for more than two years and consumed close to 5,000 lives, would have been over a long time ago. But the more the government pretends to be busy with other things, the more the situation escalates.
The killing in the two English-speaking regions is still going on, with the government seeking to take the media’s focus off this ugly situation that has given the Yaounde government a very bad name.
More Southern Cameroonians are still dropping dead, as government troops pursue their “linguistic cleansing” in the region. In towns like Kumbo, Mamfe, Kumba and Muyuka, there have been running battles between government troops and Southern Cameroonian fighters.
Despite the government’s determination to mop up the region of the fighters, it is becoming obvious to many minds around the world that a military solution will be a distant tomorrow affair.
Though it is business as usual in French-speaking Cameroon, the fear of attacks by Southern Cameroonian fighters is ever present in many minds, especially in the regions bordering the English-speaking regions.
As the government pursues its scorch earth policy in the region, it is also creating more radicals and fighters. Despite the killing of young Southern Cameroonians in the months leading to the country’s presidential election, more young men and women have recently swollen up the ranks of the fighters, especially in places like Lebialem, where government military trucks were recently ambushed, resulting in the death of many army soldiers.
It is rare for government officials to talk about the number of army soldiers killed and even when they provide figures, they make sure the figures are too low in order not to shock the docile Francophone minority. But sources in the military hold that many army soldiers have met their death in Southern Cameroons and many cannot even be accounted for as they have been killed and their bodies dumped in shallow graves by Southern Cameroons fighters.
The Southern Cameroons crisis has been a millstone around the government’s neck and despite the economic and financial pressure that the conflict is generating, the government seems to be pretending that all is well.
All cannot be well with the country, given that the economy of the English-speaking region has collapsed. Southern Cameroons’ economy accounts for a huge percentage of the country’s GDP and, alone, it represents a huge source of foreign earnings for the country’s economy.
The disruption of major economic operations in the region has hit the country’s economy like a ton of bricks. Major state corporations like PAMOL and CDC have simply gone under and it will take tons of money for these companies to be revived. The government should be concerned about such disruptions and it should be doing all it can to ensure peace returns to this part of the country.
Rather than focus on the military component, it should be fostering peace through negotiations and dialogue and not through physical elimination and intimidation. It should even let the population understand that the fighting in that part of the country is seriously impacting the country and its economy.
But faithful to its philosophy of mystifying everything, the government has been working hard to disguise many things. The country’s president, Paul Biya, has been championing this unacceptable approach and it seems there is a code of silence that all government officials must comply with. It is hard for any government official to make mention of the crisis that is gradually killing the country.
While receiving diplomats on Wednesday in Yaounde, Mr. Biya surprised members of the diplomatic corps, as he spoke about other crises in the world without making mention of the huge crisis in his native Cameroon that has created a huge humanitarian disaster.
More than half a million Southern Cameroonians are currently internally displaced and a similar number is in neighbouring countries, especially in Nigeria, following the government’s brutal crack-down in the region which has not helped matters.
But members of the diplomatic corps did not hesitate to remind Mr. Biya that it is out of place for him to talk about other global crises that were half a world away from Cameroon while turning a blind eye to the Southern Cameroons crisis that has damaged the country’s economy and destabilized even Cameroon’s neighbours.
The dean of the diplomatic corps who hails from Gabon had to speak in English to remind the ageing Biya that his country was bilingual and that it is unfair for him to only speak in French. The Gabonese advised Mr. Biya that the world was prepared to help him when and if he decided to take the necessary steps to put an end to the military violence in his country.
It was a nail-biting experience for many government officials who were very ill at ease with the message of the diplomatic corps. But instead of being uncomfortable when Southern Cameroons is mention, the government should be looking at ways of addressing this issue that has made the government unpopular, especially the president who is being accused of being ineffective and blind to the suffering of the population.
The international community has already urged the government to initiate a long and inclusive dialogue that will help the Yaounde government to address those thorny issues that are pitting it against the country’s English-speaking minority.
Many experts argue that war has never addressed any issues and the Cameroon situation will not be an exception. They also contend that with the killings that have taken place in the country, negotiations will be challenging.
However, they are quick to point out that both sides will have to learn how to forgive if they want peace to reign. Southern Cameroonian fighters must understand that a military solution is not in the cards. They must also figure out that pushing the Yaounde government out of their territory is a very remote possibility.
The world has very little appetite for secession and Southern Cameroons has not received a lot of assistance from the international communities. Even Cameroon’s neighbours are against a secession in Cameroon as this might open the flood gates in their own countries, especially in Nigeria where the Biafra movement is very strong and is posing a huge threat to the country.
The Yaounde government, for its part, will have to understand that it cannot continue insisting on state authority. State authority does not imply killing all the citizens just because a point has to be proven. The Yaounde authorities must also understand that Cameroon will never be the same again and regardless of the solution that works out, the system must undergo many changes if Cameroon has to be one and indivisible.
By Kingsley Betek