For more than two months, many people around the world have been wondering about the whereabouts of the Southern Cameroonians abducted in Nigeria in January 2018 and extradited to Cameroon at the end of January. There have been lots of speculations, with many assuming that the Ambazonian president and his cabinet had been killed by the Yaounde government as the easiest way out of the conflict.
This has been pure speculation. The government of Cameroon through its spokesperson had made a commitment that those extradited to Cameroon would be given a fair trial. Though doubts exist, the international community is still holding the government to its words. Mr. Ayuk Tabe and his collaborators have not been granted access to a lawyer and this is in contravention of all legal rules in the country and around the world.
However, acknowledging that 47 Southern Cameroonians had been extradited meant that the government was telling the international community that it was prepared to follow global norms in the handling of such matters. The government knew and still knows that killing Mr. Ayuk Tabe will only make things worse. If his arrest resulted in the escalation of the crisis in the days that followed, then his killing would surely set Cameroon on fire.
But today, Cameroon Concord News Group, Southern Cameroons most read news platform, has finally established that Mr. Ayuk and his collaborators are in Yaounde at the Gendarmerie where they are being given VIP treatment contrary to fears that they are being molested and tortured.
According to a Cameroon Concord News Group source, last week Mr. Ayuk and a few of his collaborators were let out to have some fresh air. Our source said he saw him, but given the context and circumstance, he could not talk to him. He said he recognized him and was pleased to stand face to face to this man who has caused the Yaounde government to lose sleep.
He added that where the Southern Cameroonians are kept is not a place that is very exposed. They are kept at the extreme corner of the Gendarmerie, very close to the foyer of the Gendarmerie and this does not grant the detainees enough fresh air.
The Cameroon Concord News Group’s source has been keeping an eye on Mr. Ayuk Tabe and has said that Mr. Ayuk Tabe is healthy and in good spirit. He added that he was sure some good things would soon be happening as the head of state is also looking forward to a peaceful resolution as the international community continues to use back diplomatic channels to mount pressure on the government.
Since January 2018, Cameroon Concord News and Cameroon Intelligence Report have been working on this case and have used inside sources to gather information on this matter and these efforts have yielded some reassuring results. “Mr. Ayuk Tabe is being treated well in the hope that he could be used for future negotiations,” our source said.
“The government understands that only Mr. Ayuk Tabe and his collaborators can make meaningful decisions for the people of Southern Cameroons and if the killings and destruction playing out in the two English-speaking regions have to come to an end, Mr. Ayuk Tabe must be made to play a key role in the entire process,” our source added.
The government wants a speedy end to the problem, but cannot accept any rhetoric on secession. The government wants Mr. Ayuk Tabe who is the legitimate face of the struggle to walk away from his idea of splitting the country. He has been recognized as the poster child of the Southern Cameroons crisis that has put the country on the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Meanwhile, the American Embassy in Yaounde is seeking ways to bring Cameroonians to the negotiating table with a view to finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis that has torn the country apart.
The American Ambassador, Peter Henry Barlerin, yesterday brought together some civil society leaders, clergymen, political leaders, and representatives of human rights organizations, as well as a government representative who shared perspectives on the Southern Cameroons crisis in order to chart a path towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict that is clearly at a dead end.
Speaking during the occasion, Barrister Felix Agbor-Balla who stands for federalism and who had served some time in jail because of this crisis, stressed that the government’s failure to comply with provisions of the Foumban Conference was to blame for the crisis. He also pointed to the flagrant and extensive social exclusion, social and economic injustice, structural division and political discrimination as those issues that need to be promptly addressed if Cameroon had to remain one and indivisible.
He argued that to restore peace and to calm down tensions, Messieurs Mancho Bibixy, Terence Penn Khan and others facing trial at Military Courts in Yaounde must be released. He stressed that Mr. Ayuk Tabe Julius and 47 others arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon should be given access to their lawyers and offered amnesty to participate in any sincere and inclusive dialogue that would serve as the basis for the building of a modern and peaceful Cameroon.
He called for an immediate, inclusive and transparent dialogue that should be mediated by neutral parties as a means to guarantee compliance with any resolutions that will be made during the dialogue.
He stressed that ending the conflict through dialogue would speed up disarmament, a return of refugees and internally displaced, as well as a building of social and mutual trust.
“It is time to put a permanent end to killings on both sides, violence and suffering upon the innocent civilian population,” he stressed.
With such efforts, it is like Cameroonians will soon be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Cameroonians want peace. They want genuine and negotiated peace. They need an inclusive and a sincere dialogue that will lay to rest many of the issues that are hurting the country’s efforts to attain sustainable levels of development.
But these efforts will surely not be a panacea. Old ways will be difficult to address. People who have been having many benefits from the corrupt and highly centralized system are not yet ready to lose some of their benefits. To them, the country is theirs and changing the status quo will be like bending over backwards to please the masses who, in their view, do not matter.
The Southern Cameroons crisis will surely linger for a long time. The country’s economy has already taken a lot of punches and if care is not taken, it may bottom out. For now, the government has one objective. Pay civil service salaries in order to avoid a popular uprising.
The government understands that as long as the Francophone majority can put food on the table, it will never challenge the government. In this regard, it is working hard to keep Cameroonian mouths busy with food and it is ensuring that beer, its sedative of choice, makes it to the bars on a daily basis. The country’s breweries have been ordered to produce more beer brands so as to keep Cameroonians out of touch with the political and economic reality of their country.
According to an inside source, there are plans to reduce the price of beer in the two English-speaking regions of the country. This is intended to bring many Southern Cameroonians to the bars. By drinking heavily, they will be busy drowning their worries in alcohol and this will lead to a fizzling of the crisis that has given the government a bad name.
But the government seems to be forgetting that there is a huge external factor in this crisis – the Southern Cameroons Diaspora that is hell-bent on financing this crisis and possibly take the destruction to East Cameroon. Currently, there are many fund-raising efforts underway in many North American cities. These resource mobilization facilities are intended to purchase more arms so that the large willing pool of fighters back in Cameroon can be more equipped to wreak more havoc.
The Southern Cameroons Diaspora is wealthy. This is a Diaspora that has successfully transformed marginalization into an opportunity. If the government really wants an end to this conflict, then it must engage with the Southern Cameroons Diaspora, especially with Southern Cameroonians who are in the United States and Canada. Without that, the country will continue to be in total turbulence.
The Diaspora wants to play an important political and economic role in Cameroon. It wants old systems to be deleted. It wants the elimination of a market-dominant minority from the system. This minority seems to be the bane of the existence of most lives in Cameroon. The Diaspora wants an end to political tribalism that is ruining the country. If Cameroon has to walk away from its ugly past, then it must reengineer its systems. The current ones are outdated and inefficient. And this can only be achieved through meaningful, inclusive and sincere dialogue.
By Kingsley Betek, Rita Akana with contributions from Soter Agbaw-Ebai