Cameroon: What happened to wisdom?
Insanity is when we do things using the same methods and equipment which only deliver the same results which cause us to go around blaming external factors without seeking to know if new and innovative ways and tools can deliver better and more dependable results.
This is exactly what the Yaoundé government has been doing over the last five years. Despite expert advice that there will never be a military victory in the conflict that has pitted Cameroon’s English-speaking minority against the Yaounde government which erroneously thinks that everything is a nail because it holds a hammer.
The Yaoundé government has an outdated mentality that does not provide for dialogue or negotiations. It strongly holds that only military violence can bring about peace in the country even when experts around the world have clearly demonstrated that going to the negotiating table can silence the guns and hold the country together.
Its poorly planned war has already killed more than 15,000 Cameroonians with soldiers accounting for almost 30% of those who have been sent to an early grave by a war that could have been avoided through talks.
There is nothing wrong complaining and it usually behoves the leadership of a country to prove that the complainant is not necessarily right through sound development actions and cogent, but humbling logic.
In Cameroon, you get persecuted for complaining. You get killed for pointing out that something is hurting you. You get vilified for underscoring that things can be done in a different way.
Five years after this grievous mistake was made by the Yaoundé government, it is still promoting a strategy and logic that will never stand the test of time.
Over the last two weeks, the military has taken a beaten from Southern Cameroonian fighters who have become more sophisticated and are determined to prove that they can achieve their independence through military means.
The country’s English-speaking minority has been marginalized for decades to the point where young men and women are no longer scared of death. They now hold that theirs is a spiritual and religious obligation to save their country and people through the barrel of the gun and when young men reach such levels of thinking, they are bound to hold that laying down their lives is a national and religious duty.
With such a mentality, it is hard to beat them on the battlefield. Strangely, the government which is blinded by arrogance does not think that trying something new could be the relief and, even the cure, for this problem which is only festering as more people die.
This explains why yesterday, the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, declared in Bamenda that the military will change its strategy in order to minimize the casualties the military has taken over the years.
As soon as he made his pompous statement, military trucks started rolling into the Northwest region of the country where poorly trained Cameroon soldiers have been dropping down like flies. The pressure on these young soldiers is mounting and many of them are looking forward to the day the government and the various factions in the conflict can sink their pride and see the negotiating table as a lesser evil to the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the government has not yet realized that military tanks will not be the real game changers in this war that has already created many rivers of blood in the two English-speaking regions of the country. Southern Cameroonian fighters have found a way to counter the military’s superior fire power. The war, which in the beginning looked like a conventional war, has morphed into a guerrilla warfare where Southern Cameroonian fighters are making the most of their mastery of the terrain to inflict a lot of pain on the country’s sex-starved and alcohol-inflamed soldiers.
The old and outdated military tanks that were grudgingly making their way to the Northwest region will surely not be a march to the sophisticated IEDs which Southern Cameroonian fighters have been using over the last year to make mincemeat of the military’s strategy.
The Yaounde government wants to win the war to prove a point, but it is permanently resorting to old military strategies that have been retired by countries with massive military experience.
It is hard to beat a determined minority, especially when such a minority develops a military of its own that is capable of striking fear in the minds of regular army soldiers.
The examples of Eritrea, South Sudan and Timor Leste should be great lessons to those who really want to look into the mirror of history. The latest example is that of Tigray which has clearly demonstrated to the Ethiopian army that being small is not necessarily a disadvantage.
In modern times, holding a country together, especially a country with multiple linguistic groups, implies talking all the time. Switzerland has had its fair share of trouble with the various linguistic groups and the battle was won at the negotiating table.
Canada too has walked down that dangerous path when Quebecers felt they could walk the path to independence. English Canada felt a heavy hand could address the issue, but to its greatest dismay, the harder Quebecers were treated, the more radicalized they became.
Mass demonstrations on the streets of Montreal were their weapons of choice and these crowds gave the country a very bad name and Canada’s economy took real tough blows to the liver as protesters blocked roads and made it hard for foreign investors to come in to help the country’s economy grow.
Examples of minority disgruntlement are legion and it is up to the Cameroon government to learn the lessons of history. Even France, which is supporting the Yaounde government in its genocidal mission in Cameroon, did not address its problems with its minorities by investing in arms.
France chose the negotiating table and its various minorities are comfortably at home in a united and indivisible France. Why can Cameroonian authorities not learn from those who are willing to bankroll their irresponsible and genocidal mission?
Talking and negotiating are as old as man. Humans, who are supposed to be higher animals, are supposed to resort to arms only if and when all other means of conflict resolution have failed.
In the Southern Cameroons’ case, the government never employed any known conflict management and resolution tools to address the legitimate and genuine concerns of the English-speaking minority.
Right from the beginning, the government thought trickery could address the problems. Its pseudo-talks with teachers and lawyers when the conflict started five years ago only made things worse. Union leaders – Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla and Dr. Fontem Niba – were hastily arrested in Buea and hauled to Yaoundé, ending the pseudo-talks, something that resulted in the escalation of the conflict.
Despite the numerous deaths and the massive destruction to the two English-speaking regions of the country and the national economy, there is still room for talks. The government must come down its high horse to meet the various Southern Cameroonian factions in the war halfway so that some degree of calm can return to the country.
After five years, the government should realize that things will play out but not the way it wants. The time for change has come and it is time to consider other views. Insisting on killing the insurgency may only result in the balkanization of Cameroon.
Mistakes have already been made. Many young lives have been cut short. Does it make any sense to send more young men to an early grave just because the government finds it hard to come back on the statement the country’s president, Paul Biya, made in 2016 to the effect that the form of the state was non-negotiable?
Don’t wise people understand that only fools never have a change of heart? If the country’s president has to be classified as a wise man, he must, at this juncture, understand that Cameroon’s integrity and unity cannot be guaranteed under the current political dispensation.
A brighter and more peaceful future for Cameroon will only be guaranteed if and only if a new way is charted and this will require a change of mind on the president’s part and a change of the democratic system which is spreading more pain and chaos in the country; a system that will be marked by a devolution of power and the empowerment of grassroots communities.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai