This is the sixth year since an insurgency in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions hit the global stage and the killings and the resistance put up by separatist fighters has proven that the government cannot win this fight through military violence.
An ill-equipped, poorly armed, and badly organized group known as Amba fighters has been frustrating the government’s seasoned military for over five years and this should be a warning to the government. Military action alone will not always address all the issues which will come the government’s way.
Of the ten thousand people who have lost their lives in this uncalled-for conflict, four thousand have been government forces which are supposedly well-trained and well-equipped. Nobody had thought that the government would be losing sleep over a war wherein the enemy was little known and poorly equipped.
But due to the show put up by the ragtag group known as Amba fighters, Cameroon government officials have not had a good night’s sleep for more than five years. Soldiers who get sent to the warfront are permanently scared and constantly have butterflies in their stomachs. The Yaoundé hastily trained soldiers spend most of their time praying instead of seeking to challenge the real fighters who have, for more than five years, been comfortably living in the bushes and sometimes even head to Nigeria to enjoy their small but significant victories.
Videos and pictures of soldiers kidnapped, ambushed and even beheaded are online today, underscoring that Amba fighters can take on the country’s military which has been enjoying French military support for decades.
If after six years and after having spent millions of dollars in a war whose end is not in sight, it is obvious that only a negotiated peace settlement can deliver the results the world is looking forward to. Time and experience have proven that military action never addresses any issues. On the contrary, it only makes a bad situation worse, and it generates brand new problems.
The Cameroon government’s penchant for military brutality has not addressed the issues its English-speaking minority had submitted to it. On the contrary, military brutality has worsened relations between the government and the two English-speaking regions of the country.
Today, many English-speaking Cameroonians hold that they are being treated like second-class citizens in their own country. They are constantly being harassed by Francophone soldiers who have been sent to the two English-speaking regions to oppress the civilian population.
The soldiers and police officers are now using the chaos in those two regions to enrich themselves. Once arrested on mere suspicion, an English-speaking Cameroonian is made to pay over USD 500 for him to be released even when he has not committed any crime. All these crimes against humanity are being committed with the approval and assistance of senior military and police officers who take the lion’s share of the booty their subordinates bring to them.
Sometimes, innocent civilians are tortured and thrown in jail for months without any justification. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented many of these abuses, hoping that their reports might push the government into complying with its international obligations.
Unfortunately, their messages have all fallen on deaf ears, as the government still believes that only military action can bring about peace in a country that is already imploding.
In the past, it was just a feeling, but government actions and policies over the last six years have confirmed what many thought was simply a case of negligence and inadvertence. The marginalization of Cameroon’s English-speaking minority is real!
This feeling is buttressed by evidence on the ground. Instead of withdrawing Francophone teachers and magistrates from the two English-speaking regions of the country as requested, the government has been doubling down, hoping that time will address its issues on its behalf.
The government’s indifference to the suffering of the people in the two English-speaking regions and its mishandling of the situation are causing the conflict to protract. Its recent withdrawal from the Swiss Talks speaks to its arrogance and believe that time is on its side.
While the killings in the two English-speaking regions have reduced and some towns and cities in the regions are enjoying relative calm, there is abundant evidence that the storm is not yet over.
Last week, some Roman Catholic priests were kidnapped in Nchang, a small town some five kilometers from Mamfe town, the headquarters of Manyu Division. The little town’s church was set ablaze before the criminals left the location, and the priests are still being kept in Ambazonian “green jails”. A king’s ransom has been requested by the kidnappers, but the Catholic Church, which is also struggling financially, has said that it will not be able to pay USD 100,00 for the five kidnapped priests. The captives are therefore on their own.
The government, which is supposed to provide security for all those living within the geo-political entity known as Cameroon, is clearly missing in action. Indeed, the Yaoundé government is not in control of many parts of its territory, and this has made it possible for separatist fighters to operate freely in the rural areas of the two English-speaking regions of the country.
For more than five years, schools have been closed in those rural areas and the government has been unable to ensure that the rural kid goes to school like his counterpart in the towns and cities of Southern Cameroons. Many young girls have been impregnated by many predators, sometimes by the separatist fighters who claim they are fighting to protect the population.
There is no other place in the world where impregnating young and desperate girls can be seen as protection. Amba fighters are clearly providing a new meaning to the word protection. The country’s future, just like that of the rural kid, is clearly being compromised and this is not a major concern to the government and its officials who are too busy with feathering their nest at the expense of the ordinary Cameroonian.
In civilized environments, the government would be bending over backwards just to ensure its young and fragile citizens return to school as a means of ensuring that the country’s future is guaranteed.
If the government had to think beyond its own interest, it would find a reason to return to the negotiating table. Quitting the Swiss talks does not speak well of the Yaounde government which is known for its arrogance and ineptitude.
The government is clearly being deceived by the relative calm in the two English-speaking regions of the country. However, this could be the calm before a massive storm. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and even if there is some light, especially as life in the towns of Southern Cameroons is returning to normal, the light might be that of an oncoming train which might be bringing bad news to the entire country.
Going back to the negotiating table is the ideal way of dealing with this conflict which has lasted for too long and has not been neglected by the Yaounde government and the international community. Continuous dialogue and negotiations will surely bail the country out of its quagmire while indifference will only make matters worse. A word to the wise is enough!
By Dr. Joachim Arrey