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Anglophone Cameroonians Want Warring Parties, Int’l Community To Prioritise Conflict-Resolution

Nearly four years after what can today be termed the Anglophone separatist war in Cameroon, peace does not seem to be the main priority of the two sides in the conflict. Rather, most of what preoccupies the international community today is the atrocities being committed by both sides in the imbroglio.

However, peace remains the desire of the English speaking communities which have been torn apart with families separated and thrown into different parts of both the country and in the Diaspora.

Overall, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that as of January 2020, more than 679,393 people, including mostly women, children and the aged, had been displaced from the Northwest and Southwest regions with more than 3,000 so far killed as a result of the upheaval.

More people were displaced from the said regions following disturbances during the February 2020 municipal and legislative elections.

While the conflict continues, the belligerents as well as the national and international communities have been paying lip-service to peace while both sides continue to kill, maim and destroy properties, schools and public edifices in English speaking Cameroon.

In fact, there are virtually no economic structures left in the Northwest and Southwest regions where the separatist insurgency has been raging.

The two main economic structures in the Southwest Region, namely, the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) and Pamol Plantations have been almost completely ruined by separatists thus throwing thousands of English speaking Cameroonians out of jobs.

The Cameroon Development Corporation, it should be noted, was the second largest employer in the country after the state with about 16,000 workers. Today the corporation is a shadow of itself as workers have been forced to flee from the fields where they maintained and harvested from palm plantations as well as maintained and produced rubber from rubber plantations.

The workers were forced to flee from both their habitations and the plantations after separatists unleashed a reign of terror on the workers, killing some and maiming others by cutting their fingers, hands, feet etc.

The national army has on its part not been an example of a republican militarily committed to the protection of the lives and properties of the citizens.

The fighting going on in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon is a sort of asymmetric/guerilla war with separatist fighters striking at military emplacements as well as individual soldiers and disappearing into thin air. And once a locality is identified as harbouring some separatist fighters, the army descends on the area with a vengeance, killing, burning and carting away properties as war booty.

The same exercise is repeated by the separatists fighting for an Ambazonian nation, who in turn descend on the same village picking out villagers they accuse of giving information to the military when they visited the village. They would in their turn torture, maim and kill those they accuse of being “blacklegs”.

One of the notorious reminders to the world of the insurgency in Cameroon is the horrible photos and videos of heinous atrocities being carried out against citizens, whom both sides claim to be protecting.

Cameroonian soldiers have been seen gunning down women and children while Ambazonian/separatist fighters have been perceived in videos butchering and beheading other Anglophones they accuse of collaborating with the national army.

All these things happen, whilst the local communities as well as the national and international communities mock peace.

The two sides in the conflict have both been talking about wanting peace but no side seems to be serious about the peace. The both sides continue to talk about peace whilst giving pre-conditions that they know would not be accepted by the opposite side.

The Anglophone separatists give as pre-conditions for taking part in any peace talks, the release of all their leaders and English-speaking Cameroonians being held as a result of the conflict. They also demand for the withdrawal of all national army troops from the English-speaking regions. All these conditions have been rejected by the Cameroon government, or at least, the government has shown no sign of acceding to any of these pre-conditions.

On their own part, the Cameroon government insists the separatist fighters must first lay down their arms before any peace talks can begin. The Cameroon government also says the separatists are so divided and have constituted so many splinter groups that they don’t know whom to talk to.

In spite of these apparently insurmountable conditions, some talking seems to have been going on behind closed doors.

The Swiss government has been trying to broker a peace deal and a number of meetings have been held between representatives of some Anglophone separatist groups and the government.

Nothing has however come from the said meetings because the leaders of the some separatist groups have dissociated themselves from the said negotiations, branding those who attended them as traitors.

Another peace effort was led by Catholic prelate Cardinal Christian Tumi, but it died before it took off the ground because of suspicions among the Anglophones who accused Cardinal Tumi of being an agent of government while the government suspected he was siding with the separatists.

An impartial look at what may be impeding the arrival of peace right now seems to be the dishonesty of the central government which is dominated by French-speaking Cameroonians.

Professor Julius Ngoh, easily the leading historian in the country who currently is the President of the Catholic University Institute of Buea, is of the opinion that real peace can only return to Cameroon if and when the issues that brought about the current war are honestly addressed.

“What brought about the 2016 protests by teachers and lawyers was the marginalisation of the English system of life by the Francophone led government. English speaking Cameroonians have been angry because the government did not respect the terms of the reunification of English and French speaking Cameroons agreed to at the Foumban conference.

“When Ahidjo and Foncha met to discuss reunification, it was agreed that the two sides would merge at the centre but maintain their original ways of life and governance i.e. West Cameroon would maintain its system of education, its judiciary, House of Assembly, House of Chiefs and all aspects of governance that existed before the agreement to merge at the centre. East Cameroon was also going to maintain and continue to run its institutions as it had done before October 1, 1961” Professor Ngoh revealed.

Professor Ngoh says all what the government in Yaounde has been trying to do such as setting up the Bilingualism and Multiculturalism outfit is mere window dressing.

Most English speaking Cameroonians view some of the structures set up by the government after 2016 as mere provocation.

“Government’s attitude towards the English speaking Cameroonians has not changed. They still appoint French speaking judges and magistrates to courts in English speaking Cameroonian courts and appointments to senior government positions in all the ministries in the country do not take into consideration that there is an English speaking component in this country. When they continue to behave in that way, tell me how the separatists would take any declarations they make about peace serious”, declares Ajong Cornelius, a senior official of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, which is currently perceived as the leading opposition party in Cameroon.

Perhaps, one of the reasons why the fighting in Cameroon would not end any time soon is the fact that various interest groups on both sides of the divide benefit from continued hostilities.

“Senior military officers and top administrators in the various ministries have been feeding fat on budgetary allocations intended for the procurement of arms and ensuring the comfort of fighting soldiers and their families.

“For the first time in Cameroon’s history, soldiers were forced to march in the street of Yaounde protesting over the embezzlement of their combat allowances by their superiors in the army. Billions of FCFA are alleged to have been embezzled by senior military officers since the beginning of this war. Do you think those benefiting from the fighting would want it to end any time soon?” declared social scientist Gabriel Nkonyok in Douala.

To crown it all, in March last year, a former Minister of Armed Forces, Edgar Alain Mebe Ngoh, was arrested and is currently being detained on suspicion of having embezzled over 100 billion FCFA (about US$200 million) by way of kickbacks from arms purchases.

On the part of the separatists, the various splinter groups have been accusing each other of embezzling contributions by English speaking Cameroonians in the diaspora ostensibly intended for the procurement of arms as well as assistance to the populations in the two regions.

A recent audit of the activities of one of Anglophone splinter groups in the United States of America found that the said group had collected a total of US$1.3 million from compatriots for the war effort but could not satisfactorily account for the money.

“Various separatist groups have been coming up with schemes intended to raise money for the war effort but hardly any of this money is used for the purposes for which it is intended. I can hardly see these people, some of whom were unemployed and living in misery but today ply big cars, wanting this fighting to end”, declares a diplomat in Yaounde who did not want to be identified because of his diplomatic status.

The diplomat adds however that: “The world has known many wars over the centuries and history teaches us that all these wars ended through negotiations and peace talks. Whatever happens, the war will end one day and the two sides would eventually have to sit and talk the peace”.

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Chief Bisong Etahoben

Chief Bisong Etahoben is a Cameroonian investigative journalist and traditional ruler. He writes for international media and has participated in several transnational investigations. Etahoben won the first-ever Cameroon Investigative Journalist Award in 1992. He serves as a member of a number of international investigative journalism professional bodies including the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR). He is HumAngle's Francophone and Central Africa editor.

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