For almost two years, Southern Cameroons has been reduced to an abattoir with government troops killing innocent citizens as if they are not nationals of Cameroon. In many parts of Southern Cameroons, young men, many of whom are innocent and have nothing to do with the ugly fighting that is playing out over there, have been arrested and taken to unknown destinations. Many have been buried alive, while others have been used by the country’s sex-starved and alcohol-inflamed soldiers as shooting targets. The rule of law that is supposed to be upheld by the government is gradually becoming the rule of weapons where those with weapons dictate the rule and the country’s government is doing its best to encourage this form of lawlessness that is breeding hatred and feeding the circle of violence that is claiming many lives in Southern Cameroons.
A crisis that started as simple protests by lawyers, teachers and students in Buea and Bamenda has been allowed to metamorphose into a full blown armed conflict due to the government’s firm belief in tough and violent means to address issues. The government’s decision to slaughter hundreds of Southern Cameroonians on October 1, 2017, has turned out to be an unfortunate error of judgment. Many people around the world who have been watching Cameroon descend into chaos thought the country’s government would actually embrace peace. Many have been waiting for the government to lay the ground work for the much-touted inclusive dialogue that the country’s president, Paul Biya, has been talking about.
But time, a key factor in life, has revealed that Mr. Biya, who had declared at the United Nations in 2017 that “we all are hankering after peace”, has, all through, been paying lip-service to the notion of inclusive and sincere dialogue. Mr. Biya and his government see governance as a do or die affair and any dialogue that might minimize their power will never be their cup of tea. They have opted for self-destruction. They seem to be admiring the killings in their own country. Cameroon’s leaders are unfortunately encouraging a bloodbath in their own country.
To them, the atrocities being committed by government troops are simply war games worthy of their admiration. They seem to be deflecting public opinion from the fact that Southern Cameroonians, who have been victims of the government’s marginalization, simply want to be heard. They want years of injustice and disrespect to be addressed. But wont to violence and dictatorial ways of doing business, the government is unrelentingly pursuing its legendary policy of violence which has transformed an entire region into a massive killing field.
After October 1, 2017, a date many Southern Cameroonians consider as their independence day, the country has been pushed into an unprecedented spiral of violence. Government troops seem to be on a killing spree that is drawing a lot of admiration among government officials of Beti extraction. Mr. Joseph Beti Assomo, the country’s defense minister, is alleged to have boasted that by the time the conflict ends, there will be no Southern Cameroonians in the English-speaking regions. This testifies to the many claims of a government-sponsored genocide that are on social media.
Given such an attitude and the way many English-speaking Cameroonians have been rushed to an early grave by army soldiers, Southern Cameroonians hold that it behooves them to protect themselves as the government has decided to mow them down like unwanted ragweed. The government’s approach is creating more animosity and radicalizing even the most moderate, as Southern Cameroonians see their brothers being shot point blank by soldiers who are supposed to protect them.
Today, the radicalization has given birth to many armed groups in the two English-speaking regions of the country. The government too has stepped up its killing spree to prove that it is in control of the territory. Over the last four months, many innocent civilians have met their death as the government pursues its policy of collective punishment. Many civilians have seen their homes burnt down by government forces which have opted for a “scorch-earth” policy that is hurting many vulnerable people who have nothing to do with the conflict.
Schools and courts have remained closed in many parts of Southern Cameroons, though ghost town operations organized by angry English-speaking Cameroonians with the objective of bringing the government to the negotiating table are gradually fizzling out. The sticking point has been the government’s refusal to discuss the form of the state and this is causing the conflict to drag on and, in the process, it is taking forms that are too complicated even for the government to handle. The daily killings are resulting in moderate English-speaking Cameroonians seeing secession as the ultimate answer.
Today, the extrajudicial killings have become a daily affair and ordinary citizens are also killing and maiming soldiers in retaliation for the killing of many civilians. The arrest of secessionist leaders in Nigeria on January 5, 2018, and their illegal extradition to Yaoundé in late January have not helped matters. These leaders have been held incommunicado for almost two months and this is a concern to rights groups which hold that they deserve a fair trial and access to lawyers.
The abuses are ongoing and getting serious by the day. The international community is concerned about the government’s refusal to call for genuine and inclusive dialogue. And its approach to the resolution of this conflict has been criticized by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a rights group that has representatives on the ground who are collecting information and evidence of abuses. Though the ICG has been critical of the government, it still holds that dialogue is the ultimate answer to a crisis that is jeopardizing the country’s development prospects.
It should be recalled that dialogue is medication that soothes even the most violent mind. It sows peace and guarantees security for many generations. It is an effective political tool that has kept internal strife at bay in many countries such as Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Norway. If Canada, in particular, is today a huge attraction, it is because the country’s political leaders have embraced this philosophy and they sincerely think that the people’s wellbeing should be at the center of every political action and policy discourse. Cameroon stands to gain if it takes a long and an objective look at how the Canadian system functions.
It is a bilingual system that has stood the test of time. The country’s efforts are geared toward sustaining its bilingual and bi-jural system. While some issues linger, the federal and provincial governments are permanently locked in talks on how to keep the union going. This is how to deal with cultural differences and this is, without a doubt, the way forward for a country like Cameroon that currently has a huge crisis on its hands, as Southern Cameroonians pick up arms to rid themselves of a Francophone majority that has been indifferent to the injustice and centralization that have made life a living hell for many Cameroonians.
Southern Cameroonians are sick and tired of the referendum that was negotiated by John Ngu Foncha and his self-centered followers who were simply blinded by their own parochial interests. Southern Cameroonians have clearly demonstrated their disgust and frustration with a union that has robbed them of their dignity and happiness. They claim the government has been very indifferent to their plight. Years of marginalization have sent more than three million Southern Cameroonians abroad where they are today making the government to feel their ire. The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is hell-bent on destabilizing the country if the government does not introduce meaningful reforms, especially those that border on federalism as a system of governance that has spread wealth and prosperity in other parts of the world.
The Southern Cameroons crisis is clearly an outcome of the pent-up anger and frustration that have been ignored by the country’s government. Southern Cameroonians have a genuine problem. Their marginalization is not a myth. It is a reality that has been noticed by the international community and even the government can no longer deny it. The scars of marginalization are all over the place. The country’s English-speaking minority has been frustrated for decades and the current armed conflict only speaks to the pain Southern Cameroonians have endured for years.
Most of these fighters are simply calling for the world to listen to them. They want a righting of the wrongs of the past. The lawyers who started the demonstrations never talked about secession or independence. But the government’s high-handedness and its determination to play the ostrich have pushed the country to the brink of a bloody civil war. Southern Cameroonians have, over time, migrated from redress to federalism and as government officials like Fame Ndongo, Issa Tchiroma and Laurent Esso insist that there is no Anglophone problem in Cameroon, many Southern Cameroonians have simply felt that it is time to look at other options – those which will extricate them from the burden of over-centralization.
But the government has proven that it is not going to let its game plan be changed by external actors. In January 2017, it promptly arrested Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy and sent them to Yaoundé where they were kept in jail for more than seven months. Out of jail, Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla felt the population was still on the federalist train that had been stalled for more than seven months. He did not notice that the passengers on the train had all jumped onto the secessionist train while he was in jail. The arrest and detention of Southern Cameroonian leaders did not only change the trajectory of the struggle, it also changed the rhetoric and this has transformed the country into a fireball whose explosion might turn the entire sub-region into an inferno.
Today, as the country slides into one of the continent’s genocides, Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla has decided to use his knowledge of legal justice and politics to address human rights issues across the country. He has used many of such occasions to call for dialogue and the granting of amnesty to all those who have been arrested within the framework of the Southern Cameroons crisis. But the government is not listening to him. He seems to be walking a lonely path. His appears to be a voice in the wilderness, as many Southern Cameroonians are still on board the secessionist train.
This government’s decision to walk away from any inclusive dialogue initiative spells doom for a country that is already in the throes of a severe economic crisis. For some time now, the government has decided not to make any statements regarding the violent conflict in Southern Cameroons. This has been interpreted by many as a refusal by the country’s leaders to embrace dialogue that could spare the country lots of lives and money. Instead of providing real solutions to the issues that have been stalking Southern Cameroonians like stubborn shadows, the government is, as usual, proposing some Band-Aid solutions.
It has recently organized cosmetic senatorial elections in the country and many municipal councilors from the South West region were airlifted to other parts of the country for them to cast their votes. This is costly and proof that security, a sine qua non for sustainable development, is not available in that part of the country. Even the senators appointed by the government are people who have been rejected by the population. Another proof that the government is not willing to smoke the pipe of peace.
The government is unfortunately skirting around the issues. Instead of being realistic and taking the bull by the horn, it has decided to let the country bleed to death. Cameroon is suffering. Its leaders are failing the people. Their inefficiency and arrogance are killing Cameroonians. Instead of thinking that time will solve the problem; the country’s leaders must take the bull by the horn. The government’s old tactics will not yield the desired fruits. The problems are real and the solutions must be real and sustainable.
Despite the blood that has been shed, there is still room for dialogue. Dialogue is, undoubtedly, the road to that paradise all Cameroonians want. Southern Cameroonians simply need a new dispensation that will breed efficiency, confidence and peace. The unitary system has only succeeded to spread pain and suffering among the population. Even the much promised decentralization that has been put on hold for twenty-two years holds out no hope for a country wherein the laws are never very clear. It is time the government noticed that a return to the status quo ante is not possible.
Nobody will come out of this mess victorious. Times have changed and Southern Cameroonians have understood that they must get something out of this war that has been imposed on them. With support from the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora, the pool of willing fighters in the region is giving the government a run for its money. But the beauty is not in who kills the other. The noble thing will be who lays the groundwork for that dialogue that will pull Cameroon from the mess it has pushed itself into. It takes courage and wisdom to reach such a decision. It could sometimes be hard due to arrogance. But why are some people called leaders? They should be leaders because they have what others don’t have. The courage, humility and wisdom that can bring peace and prosperity to a people. Those are things that make great leaders. Cameroonian leaders should therefore be seeking these qualities so that their country can become a beacon of peace in the region.
It should be recalled that the victor in all of this will be a strong, united and federal Cameroon. Dialogue is an idea whose time has come. Let Cameroonians embrace it as other people in other parts of the world have; an action that has made their countries great and attractive. With dialogue, Cameroonians can conveniently retire their differences and live in a better Cameroon. It should also be recalled that no conflict has ended without sincere dialogue. Even the second world war that consumed many lives only ended with a series of conferences and meetings. Yalta and Potsdam are popular today because those where the locations for the peace talks that helped to put an end to the destructive Second World War that left Europe a poorer continent. It is time for the government of Cameroon to learn. If it looks into the mirror of history, it will find out that history is replete with stories of dialogue as a way out of conflicts. It stands to gain if it learns from the mistakes of other people. There is always room for inclusive and sincere dialogue. Let history be the teacher!
By Kingsley Betek and Ebot Etchi
Cameroon Concord News Group