Despite the press release issued by the country’s communication minister, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, Cameroonians are still hopeful that meaningful talks will soon take place after the first informal meeting between government representatives and Southern Cameroonian leaders in Yaounde.
After four years of bloodshed and a stressful existence, Cameroonians on both sides of the Mongo are now scanning the horizon for lasting peace. Last week’s meeting was, indeed, a silver lining on a huge dark cloud that has been hanging over the country for four years.
Cameroonians now know that without peace, economic development is a near impossibility. Even government officials who have been playing tough for a long time are now softening their stance and this is music to the ears of the international community that has been pushing for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
The Southern Cameroons crisis that started as a protest by teachers and lawyers rapidly morphed into a civil war that has hit the country’s economy where it hurts the most and consumed more than 5,000 lives. The economy is currently on its knees and the government has lost many income streams that were used for development purposes.
Current peace efforts are being promoted by the country’s Prime Minister, Dion Ngute, a native of the Southwest region where the scars of war are visible, and the economic impact will linger for a long time. Most state corporations that were in the region are simply out of business and thousands of south westerners are out of work, making it hard for their children to go back to school. Life is tough and the people are bleeding internally.
However, there is hope on the horizon, although the Yaounde government is divided over how to proceed. Mr. Rene Sadi’s press release is a clear indication of the divisions within the government. While moderates like the Prime Minister want to go the full distance, hardliners like the Secretary-General at the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, are still frozen in their positions, holding that Southern Cameroonians in jail are all terrorists and should be treated as such. A huge mistake that will haunt the country for a very long time.
Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh’s camp does not seem to know that the dynamics have changed, and that Cameroon will never be the same again. If the arms must be silenced, then the mentalities of the leaders must also keep pace with the changing times.
Southern Cameroonians will never be caged in silence. They may be frustrated, but they will never be intimidated, as they know that the government is a bully and must be challenged and confronted if things must evolve. Southern Cameroonians know how to kick against the pricks and their resistance of the government’s military onslaught for four years speaks volumes of their bravery and determination to bring about change in Cameroon.
However, with the international community breathing down the government’s throat, the reactionaries in the government are bound to change their position. The economy is ailing, and the coffers are empty. The government’s focus is now on paying the salaries of the civil servants as its liquidity issues continue to grow.
The government is currently having problems buying cars for Members of Parliament and it has clearly advised the Members of Parliament that the resources available are just for the payment of salaries. This is causing some pain among the Members of Parliament, most of whom are members of the ruling party who do not have a choice.
Regarding future peace talks, the road ahead is still long as government officials are still looking at the conditions put forward by the Southern Cameroonian leaders as preconditions for any frank and fruitful talks to take place. Southern Cameroonian leaders have clearly indicated that the government must call for a ceasefire which would require the military to return to its barracks, making it possible for Southern Cameroonians to go about their business without fear of military violence and aggression.
The country’s military is not professional and disciplined. Some of its rogue elements are still exploiting the population and they have turned the crisis into a money-making operation. On Monday, army soldiers in Mamfe invaded homes in Banya, a popular neighborhood in Mamfe, arresting any and everybody.
They usually pretend to check for national identity cards and in the process, they ask the poor civilians to give them money. They are not even ashamed to bother women and children who know nothing about the fighting that will not likely stop if these army soldiers do not change their ways. Their harassment of the population is revolting the fighters on the ground and this has resulted in attacks on military targets.
On July 1, 2020, Lieutenant Colonel Anaba was shot by unknown gunmen in Besongabang, a town some 3 km from Mamfe, where there is a military barracks while he was celebrating his promotion. Lieutenant Colonel Anaba is currently in Douala where he is fighting for life in a military hospital. For such attacks to stop, the military must learn how to win hearts and minds instead of fanning the embers of conflict by harassing the local population.
Southern Cameroonian leaders also called for the unconditional release of all those who have been detained and imprisoned as a result of the crisis, as well as a declaration of a general amnesty for all Southern Cameroonians in the Diaspora, making it possible for them to visit their homeland without any embarrassment from the Yaoundé authorities. They also called on the Yaoundé government to participate in a genuine, open and inclusive dialogue without preconditions, with a timetable and venue, in the presence of an independent and impartial mediator acceptable to both parties.
These conditions are still very challenging to a government that has misused its mouth by tagging all Southern Cameroonians as terrorists. It is always hard to walk backwards, but in this case, it will be more challenging for the government, as its hawks had said a lot of things that would be hard for them to take back.
But they must bend over backwards if they must have the support of development finance institutions which are still very reluctant to give Cameroon loans and grants because of the fighting in the two English-speaking regions of the country where some of the country’s most important projects like the ring road are located.
The ball is in the government’s court. Southern Cameroonians are ready. They have put their faith in their president, Julius Ayuk Tabe and his team, and they are prepared to talk with a view to bringing about peace in Cameroon. The government must come up with its own team, but with many cracks on the government’s wall, it will be hard for the talks to hold anytime soon. The Yaounde government must clean up its mess. It must place the country’s interest above any individual’s interest if it wants Cameroon to return to its former status as an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos. The world is watching, and it is running out of patience as more people get killed every day in Southern Cameroons.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai
Cameroon Concord News Group London