“The Toronto Retreat is that bright spot which is telling Cameroonians that a solution to this senseless war is in the offing” Dr. Joachim Arrey
As the dust from the Toronto Meeting settles, the Cameroon Concord News Group’s Editor-in-Chief, Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai, decided to interview a key observer of the Cameroon political landscape, Dr. Joachim Arrey, the Executive Director of the Global Think Thank for Africa, a not-for-profit public relations firm, who was in Toronto at the time of the meeting and kept a special eye on the deliberations.
Cameroon Concord News: It is always a pleasure talking with you. You were in Toronto when the meeting went underway. How was the atmosphere out there?
Dr. Joachim Arrey: Thank you for granting me this opportunity to share my thoughts on the Toronto meeting which brought together key factions of the Southern Cameroons crisis that is in its fifth year and has been spreading death and destruction among the people of Southern Cameroons. Regarding the atmosphere in Toronto with regards to the meeting, thousands of Southern Cameroonians in Toronto have been looking forward to this meeting given that it will forever serve as the groundwork for further talks. I did speak with many Cameroonians and those with whom I met in affluent neighborhoods like Brampton, Mississauga, Caledon, Etobicoke, and others had one clear message – It is time to start talking if the Yaounde government is ready for frank and fruitful negotiations. Toronto has a huge rich Southern Cameroonian population which really wants the war to come to an end, but they want the war to come to an end not because they want to continue with the current political dispensation in the country which is predicated upon hyper-centralization and control, but because they want genuine political transformation in the country which will enable Cameroonians around the world to return home with their money with a view to giving the country’s ailing economy a shot in the arm. Cameroonians in Toronto may not belong to the same shade of political opinion, but they do agree that there will never be a military victory in Southern Cameroons. Some stand for secession and they are very vocal about it, while others hold that a federally united and indivisible Cameroon is possible and will very likely bring peace, stability, and prosperity to millions of Cameroonians if the government displays good faith and trust. However, despite the divergencies, there is a common thread that runs through these shades of opinion – war is not good for the country and peace through genuine talks is a huge possibility.
Cameroon Concord News: Once news of the meeting became public, many people, especially extremists who think that secession is the only answer, said it was being sponsored by the Yaounde government and that those who were attending the forum had been compromised. What is your view?
Dr. Joachim Arrey: I also read a lot on this on social media, but because I had details about the meeting which many of those contesting the holding of such a meeting did not have, I was indeed unfazed. I would like to let you know that whatever you want to do in life, go ahead and do it, especially if it will help humanity. Don’t forget that some people’s stock in trade is sabotage. Such people will even sabotage their own progress. Why would the Yaounde government which is facing mounting financial problems send people on a retreat to Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in the world? The quality of the countries and organizations involved in the preparation and implementation of the Toronto meeting speaks to the world’s determination to end this dirty war which is consuming youthful lives in a region of the continent which needs human and financial resources to give its development efforts a real boost. Some of the factions opted to boycott the event while others were deemed unfit to attend because of their uncompromising stance against the holding of any conference that might result in peace and security in Cameroon. It should be recalled that no war ends without talks and negotiations. The First World War ended with the Treaty of Versailles. The Second World War ended with the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements. Those who are against talks are clearly against peace and the people should consider them as enemies of peace. The meeting organizers included the U.S. State Department, the Vatican, Canada, Ireland, Britain, Switzerland, Norway, the United Nations, and Greenclee which negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. The quality of those who attended the meeting also inspires hope and I am confident that more of such conferences will be held and through such talks Cameroon will be pulled back from the brink of collapse. Let us not forget that for years Cameroonians across the globe have been scanning the horizon in search of hope and, based on what I know, the Toronto meeting is that bright spot which is telling Cameroonians that a solution to this senseless war is in the offing. There were informative and educative presentations by experienced Canadian conflict prevention and conflict management experts and discussions on the Irish experience regarding the liberation war involving the IRA and Sein Fein against the British were really edifying.
Cameroon Concord News: So, what was the objective of the Toronto meeting?
Dr. Joachim Arrey: The objective of the meeting was to help all the factions in the destructive war in Southern Cameroons to gain a better understanding of the situation and to ensure that the message of peace being promoted by internal and external stakeholders is clearly and fully understood by all the participants, including the Cameroon government which is using diplomatic channels to call for peace. All those who attended the meeting agreed that a military victory would be impossible in Southern Cameroons. If Southern Cameroonians need peace, they must be open to the idea of talks. No matter how hard the government and separatist fighters kill each other, they must know that they will at some point talk to each other to end the madness. As humans, we must rise above our egos if peace must return to the people of Southern Cameroons who have been suffering for five years because of a disagreement that could have been easily dealt with. There is nothing wrong in complaining. It was incumbent upon the government to listen to teachers and lawyers so as to better understand their needs. If the government had acted wisely, we would have avoided this situation which has unfortunately sent thousands of Cameroonians to an early grave. However, this is not the time to apportion blame. We should be forward-looking. The Toronto meeting has succeeded in its overall objective which was to bring together significant Southern Cameroonian groups in the Diaspora and on Ground Zero. I therefore think that there is hope on the horizon.
Cameroon Concord News: So, what next?
Dr. Joachim Arrey: The Toronto meeting is just the beginning of a long and bumpy journey which will surely lead to a peaceful resolution. It will take time, but like other countries, Cameroon will emerge from its own ruins. The mistakes of the past have been understood and the lessons of this war are staring us all in the eyes. There is no point pretending that it does not hurt. When we see the number of people who have died, we all should be ashamed of ourselves that we lacked the courage and political will to do the right thing. Disagreement is as old as man and the only and surest way to address any disagreement is for the parties to come together to work out a few things. In this regard, the government must show leadership. Over the last five years, the Yaounde government has failed in its duties. It should be the one urging Cameroonians to work together, but in the Southern Cameroonian case, it had to bring out weapons to kill its own people. I see many estimates of those killed because of this war and whether the estimates are small or big, one life is very important. Nobody should die because politicians think they can perpetuate themselves in power. We have lost thousands of our soldiers in a very short time, and many have been maimed and scarred for life. Is this war necessary? Similarly, all the other factions which did not participate in the Toronto meeting should join the train of peace. They must stop the grandstanding. Life hasn’t a duplicate and those who are dying in the killing fields of Southern Cameroons will not be returning anytime soon. We all must work towards the resolution of this problem which has become a millstone around the government’s neck.
Cameroon Concord News: Thank you, Dr. Joachim Arrey, for your insight.
Dr. Joachim Arrey: It is always a pleasure for me to share my thoughts with you.