A survey conducted by religious leaders ahead of Cameroon’s Sept. 30 – Oct. 4 “Major National Dialogue” has indicated the severity of the nation’s Anglophone crisis, according to the country’s sole Catholic cardinal.
Cardinal Christian Tumi, the emeritus Archbishop of Douala, and a delegation of religious leaders met with Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute – who is chairing the dialogue – on Sept. 18 with the 400-page results of a survey conducted in the country’s volatile Anglophone regions.
The “Anglophone Crisis” began in 2016, when demonstrations broke out in the English-speaking North West and South West regions after there were demands to use French in their common law courts and English-modeled schools. English speakers make up around 20 percent of the country’s population and have long complained about being marginalized by the French-speaking ruling class.
After Cameroon’s security forces’ heavy-handed response – including using live ammunition on demonstrators – rebel movements arose calling for the independence of Anglophone Cameroon, saying the new country would be called Ambazonia.
According to the UN, the ensuing fighting between the separatists and government forces has led to the deaths of at least 2,000 people, and the displacement of a further 500,000.
Tumi says over 1,000 Anglophones responded to the questionnaire, and that a vast majority – 69 percent – want to secede.
“In our questionnaire to Anglophones, we tried to influence the Anglophone opinion, but we did not succeed; therefore, it shows how deep the problem is… When we said, ‘what form of government do you think can solve this problem? Federation or decentralization…’ I think just about 4 or 5 people reacted out of a thousand. 69 percent said absolute separation,” Tumi told journalists shortly after his meeting with the prime minister.
The cardinal said the questionnaire did not even ask about the possibility of separation, only giving the option of federation or decentralization, but respondents used the space provided below the question for “other options” to write in “separation.”
”We drew the conclusion … that 69 percent of our respondents are convinced that if we want to love each other; that is to say, if the Anglophones and Francophones want to live as brothers and sisters, absolute separation…that is to say, secession, is important,” Tumi said.
The cardinal has been a long advocate of a federal system of government for Cameroon, but said that if Anglophones want separation, their wish should be granted.
“If they [the separatists] succeed in convincing everyone that separation is the only way forward, then it should be adopted. It is possible that he [Cameroonian President Paul Biya] accepts that he is human. He is not God. I think separation can resolve this problem,” Tumi said.
Biya has long ruled out separation as an option, insisting that Cameroon will remain “one and indivisible.”
Even when he called for the national dialogue, he reaffirmed his hard-line stance against the separatist rebels, insisting they lay down their arms.
Still, Tumi said the upcoming dialogue means that Cameroon is “gradually emerging from the Anglophone crisis.”
“The President of the Republic has decided that citizens must meet to see how to get out of the difficult situation. What the head of state has done is a very good thing; we are on the right path,” the cardinal said. “We are coming out of this unfortunate situation in the two English-speaking regions.”
A positive outcome to the dialogue will depend on the sincerity of those taking part. Tumi waved aside concerns that the prime minister, who once denied the existence of an Anglophone problem, is the wrong person to lead the dialogue.
“We will see on the ground what he will do before judging. There are people who automatically believe that since he is a member of the party in power, he would not be objective enough. We must instead look at his work. If he works in all objectivity, no one will have anything against him,” Tumi said.
Bishop Andrew Nkea of Mamfe, a major hotspot of separatist activity, said “dialogue is always the best way to solve problems.”
Speaking to Crux after the meeting with Ngute, the bishop said the dialogue “is a praiseworthy initiative.”
“Now it depends on what we do with the dialogue. The first thing is that we should be sincere. We should be able to talk what we feel, and we must look at what will better the situation on a permanent basis,” said Nkea.
“Let us not do cosmetic surgery. It will not help us. We say in Latin Sanatio in Radice – you heal from the roots. This is what will help this dialogue. If we do not go to the root to try to heal the problem from the roots, then we are only postponing the problem. The only way to heal from the roots is to be honest, sincere and not to fear to help our country,” he continued.
The bishop said the first item on the agenda must be: “Why are Anglophones angry?”
The answer is rooted in Cameroon’s past. Originally a German colony, the country was divided between France and Britain after Germany’s defeat in World War I.
When British Cameroon joined the already independent French Cameroon in 1961, it did so under a federal system that allowed both parts to practice the legal and educational systems inherited from their colonial powers.
But when the country’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, scrapped the federation in 1972 and introduced a unitary national government through a hastily organized referendum, it was clear that the minority English-speaking population would see its legal and educational systems chipped away.
In other words, the present crisis has been decades in the making.
Tumi understands the complexity of the problem, and said all participants of the dialogue must “speak with sincerity and honesty.”
The cardinal also said the country’s religious leaders must play a role.
“The men of God are obliged to do everything, even at the cost of our lives, so that peace returns to us here in Cameroon,” the cardinal said.