It will soon be five years since the government of Cameroon made a huge and costly mistake by thinking that all political issues must only be addressed through repression and oppression. It simply did not take a lot of things into consideration and was oblivious of the fact that the dynamics had changed and that a minority in terms of numbers did not imply a minority in terms of courage and determination.
The lion always thinks it can devour any other animal, but it has always found its match with the Tasmanian devil which is a very small animal that fights back and releases a pungent smell when attacked by the lion. That smell has always kept the lion away and the Tasmanian devil has been enjoying the peace no other animal species enjoy when the lion is around.
The government must learn from its calamity in the two English-speaking regions of the country which are clearly the Tasmanian devils that have refused to be devoured by a very hungry and desperate lion. Size is not always might and a huge weaponry does not always reflect how formidable an army may be.
The government’s declaration of war on its English-speaking citizens following the killing of some four gendarme officers in Agborkem German in the country’s Southwest region some five years ago, will go down in history as a faux pas which will haunt the country for a very long time. Thousands have been killed and maimed in a war very much driven by arrogance and ego, and many families will be entering the new year with a lot of pain in their minds.
The war itself was avoidable. There was no justification for a full-blown armed conflict in a country that is still at grips with massive and complicated development issues. Cameroon needs all its citizens to come together to give the country a shot in the arm, but the government does not seem to see things this way.
The government seems to be caught up in a spiral of ego that may take the country to the bottom of the abyss. Civilian lives are being lost every day and soldiers are losing sleep because of the fear of death in a region that has become a cemetery for the poorly trained Cameroon soldiers whose only reason of joining the military is to earn a salary and help their families.
The military is losing some of its best equipment to explosive devices that have changed the game in favor of the separatist fighters. The fighters, who started off with machetes and Dane guns, have morphed into major producers of deadly explosives which have brought death and destruction to the military and many families across the country, especially to the South and Center regions, where many young men have been fired up by the false belief that power belongs to them and that they must protect it at all cost, even if it means putting their youthful lives on the line.
On the economic front, many things have fallen apart, and more are still falling apart as the government continues to sport a tough guy’s appearance. The country’s economy is stuttering, and unemployment is sky-high, causing a lot of frustration and desperation among the youths.
A war the government thought it would wrap up in two weeks has ended up becoming a millstone around its neck. It is taking up huge financial and human resources which could have been deployed for development purposes.
Many companies in the conflict areas are struggling and those which shut down operations at the beginning of the war, are yet to resume activities and this is only prolonging the pain of those who used to work for such companies.
Traveling within the war zone is very demanding both mentally and financially. Passengers are permanently on edge as soldiers could open fire at any time. The war has turned army soldiers into monsters and shooting a civilian is no longer an issue to the soldiers who are supposed to be protecting civilians. The war itself has become an enterprise to the soldiers who are making hay while the sun shines and the war economy is growing by leaps and bounds.
Truth be told, separatist fighters are no saints in this regard. Their atrocities have transformed them into monsters, far from the saints they were at the beginning of the crisis. They are now dreaded by the population which is clearly showing signs of war fatigue as separatist leaders abroad squabble over money. They cannot contain their bloated egos, and this is putting many fighters on the ground at risk. Many people in the country’s two English-speaking regions hold that the fighters are as dangerous as army soldiers, and this has left them in a bind.
The population cannot betray the fighters for fear of reprisals, but they cannot also see the soldiers as protectors because the military is replete with rogues and rascals whose only concern is how to make money. Army soldiers are supposed to be winning hearts and minds as a way of bringing the war to an end, but their activities on the ground have made them to come down the people’s estimation. Many of them are reckless. They are alcohol-inflamed, sex-starved and trigger-happy. It is hard to trust a human being who is the epitome of negativity.
Intolerance has become the order of the day in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. Soldiers are not friendly, and they resort to under-the-belt methods to make money off the impoverished population. Today, there are thousands of young English-speaking Cameroonians languishing in jails in Yaounde and Douala just because they could not afford what army soldiers are asking them to pay. A military without a conscience is a danger onto its own people and this is exactly what is playing out in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions.
After five years of chaos, it is time for both parties to reflect on their actions. The government must change its strategy if its objective is to keep the country one and indivisible. The reckless killing of civilians by soldiers only underscores the fact that the English-speaking minority cannot live in peace with its neighbors who have embraced violence and chaos as the only way of addressing differences. Cameroon can be indivisible, but it can also be fundamentally federal. Both parties must meet each other halfway, as it is increasingly emerging that a military victory is not possible.
The government must use the various peace and negotiation frameworks available to it to bring back peace to a country which was once considered as an oasis of peace in a desert of destructive conflicts. The government must work through the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations (CDN) which offers a better framework for talks to bring the various factions to a common agreement so that a ceasefire can be declared.
Military action alone will not address any issues and getting more repressive only drives the fighters to more extreme views. The government has many avenues available to it to start frank and fruitful negotiations with its English-speaking minority. Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and the others captured in Nigeria almost three years ago are the people who can conveniently help to set the tone for real discussions.
The madness has lasted for too long and it is time for common-sense and wisdom to prevail. War has never addressed any issues. On the contrary, it generates more issues and makes existing problems more complicated.
Cameroonian leaders must take a long and hard look at their ways. Their ways are responsible for the mess that has resulted in the deaths of many young Cameroonians, and this has given the country a very bad name while making life terribly challenging for many citizens of the country.
Common-sense may be sense that may not be common, but it is available in Cameroon and there are many people around the world who have it and are willing to put that at the service of a country that is tearing itself apart.
After close to five years of fighting where the English-speaking part of the country has been transformed into a massive killing field, the Yaounde government, just like the fighters, must understand that a military solution to the issues is an impossibility. They must listen to wise counsel and should understand that there is no prize for killing each other. But will wisdom be given a chance to prevail?
By Joachim Arrey, Ph.D