October 4 marks a year since Cameroon held its Major National Dialogue to solve the Anglophone separatist crisis that has killed at least 3,000 people in four years. Cameroonians and some participants at the dialogue say that fighting has continued unabated and that most parts of the English-speaking regions are ungovernable, an indication the event was a failure, but the government maintains it was successful.
Eric Tataw, a U.S.-based Anglophone activist says the National Dialogue organized by Cameroon president Paul Biya a year ago to solve the separatist crisis has failed woefully. Tataw says for peace to return to the restive English-speaking regions the international community should force Cameroon to organize what he calls true dialogue in another country.
“The Grand National Dialogue was a publicity theater by the Cameroonian authorities to please the international community. Any such discussion will be done on an international scene with Cameroon and Ambazonia as equal parties, where we will decide peacefully on the separation of these two countries,” he said.
Ambazonia is the English-speaking state that rebels want to form. Tataw said when the dialogue was held from September 30 to October 4, 2019, the U.N. was reporting 2,000 deaths in the then two-year conflict. Now, in the year since the dialogue ended, the U.N. is reporting an additional 1,000 deaths, indicating how tense the crisis is.
Former Cameroonian Prime Minister Philemon Yang says the fighting has been reduced but he says barbarism has continued because an insignificant minority of English speakers are using violence to try to split Cameroon. Yang says the government is determined to solve the crisis but will never allow Cameroon to be divided.
“On the part of the government the negotiations were very frank. The only thing which was raised which had nothing to do with the demands of the teachers and the lawyers is what has come to be called secession. I do not like that word, and most Cameroonians did not even want to hear that word. People love this country and at that dialogue we discovered that this country has more friends than enemies,” said Yang.
Yang said among the achievements of the dialogue was the liberation of prisoners in October 2019, the creation of assemblies of chiefs, regional assemblies and regional councils for the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions with each of the two regions having elected presidents, vice presidents, secretaries and public affairs management controllers. Yang said powers were also given to the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to give the same status to the English and French languages to reduce domination by the French-speaking majority.
The government also created demobilization centers where ex-fighters who surrender their guns are pardoned. A $163 million special fund for the reconstruction of the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions was launched by the government, as agreed to at the dialogue.
Paul Tasong, coordinator of special fund says fighting and limited resources have slowed the first phase of the reconstruction exercise.
“As of now we have close to 10% of the close to 90 billion CFA Francs [$163 million] which is expected to be spent on this first phase of the plan, which is a recovery phase,” he said. “We are looking forward to embarking on missions to our friendly countries to make sure that some of the promises that have been made are brought to maturity.”
The U.N. reports that the separatist war has forced more than 500,000 people to flee their homes since the conflict erupted in late 2017. Ongoing armed clashes, civilian casualties and the burning of houses, hospitals and other infrastructure are causing further displacement.
Michael Bibi, auxiliary administrator of the Catholic Diocese of the English-speaking southwestern town of Buea, who also took part at the dialogue, says Cameroon should negotiate a cease-fire for peace to return.
“If we have this fighting every day, it will be very difficult for us to do lots of things that can be done. That is our prayer and our wish that if there is a cease-fire and all the gunshots and all the fighting were to stop, it is going to be very helpful in order for peace to return in both [English speaking] regions,” he said.
Violence erupted in 2017 in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority. The military reacted with a crackdown and separatist groups took up weapons, claiming that they were protecting civilians.