With the year coming to an end, many Cameroonians are impatiently looking forward to the traditional end-of-year speech as they believe it could bear a special message of hope. The country has been wrapped up in conflict for over a year. There have been calls for inclusive dialogue, but the calls seem to have been falling on deaf ears as government extremists have opted for oppression and repression as the ideal tools for conflict resolution.
For more than a year, not even the country’s leader has addressed the nation. Many had hoped that in the face of such an escalating situation, the country’s authorities will instead tilt toward a strategy of winning hearts and minds, but their hard rethoric has always been accompanied by violent military action that has only made matters worse.
According to the International Crisis Group, more than sixty civilians have been killed, at least sixty government troops have also been killed and an indeterminate number of secessionist fighters have been sent to an early grave.
These statistics do not seem to convince the government that dialogue is the ideal way to stabilize the country. The Hawks in the regime are still beating their war drums even when the writing on the wall is visible and clearly indicates that the way forward must go through a negotiating table.
Though there are calls for inclusive dialogue, it must be acknowledged that it will be hard having the government and separatists around the same table. The anger is deep and the grievances are many and complex.
However, all hopes are not lost. While the above-mentioned groups could be diametrically opposed to each other and are even against dialogue, as their definitions of dialogue are different, there are third parties that have clearly indicated their willingness to act as mediators.
This is a conflict that will never have a clear winner. Even the government with its regular military has come to realize that declaring a war does not imply winning it. The numerous setbacks government troops have faced in Manyu Division clearly indicate that whenever there is war, the casualties will not only be on one side.
More than sixty army soldiers have been sent to an early grave and many more corpses are being picked up around the thick Manyu equatorial jungle. These lives could have been spared if dialogue had been engaged right from the beginning.
Yesterday, nine new military corpses were registered at the Mamfe Divisional mortuary and many more soldiers have been declared missing, with scores deserting for fear of death.
A young Manyu soldier’s corpse was taken to Limbe yesterday where his family lives. Though an Anglophone, he was killed by his own brothers in the jungle. He was considered an enemy just for wearing the military fatigue. A reminder that there are no brothers or sisters in situations of war.
Military authorities are clearly not giving a true picture of military casualties. Manyu Division has been a grave yard to these young and inexperience soldiers who do not understand the Manyu jungle.
This unfortunate situation should advise the government that it must pursue genuine and inclusive dialogue relentlessly. It is in the interest of all Cameroonians to work hard to ensure the government and Anglophones meet at the negotiating table to work out their differences.
But will this happen anytime soon? The end-of-year speech will be an occasion for the government to clearly articulate a message of hope and peace. Tricks have failed. Attrition has not worked. War has brought more pain and sorrows to both Anglophones and Francophones. A new strategy must be given a chance and that strategy must be predicated on peace.
However, in order not to be very disappointed, it’s better to expect nothing new. Cameroonians have seen lots of things go wrong in their country. The Anglophone crisis offers a clear manual on how a crisis should not be managed. The end-of-year speech may not bear the message many may want to hear. Expect less and the disappointment will be less.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey