The formular adopted by the Cameroon government to obstruct the independence of the declared state of Ambazonia seems to be the wrong one.
Since 2017, Cameroon’s mainly English-speaking Northwest and Southwest Regions have been rocked by violence after separatists declared the independence of Ambazonia. The Cameroon government has created several commissions aimed at solving the crisis, yet there is no solution yet in sight to end the crisis. Of recent, the government has created the commission in charge of the presidential plan for the reconstruction of the Northwest and the Southwest yet just like that for the promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, Disarmament and Demobilization and reintegration of separatist’s fighters, the war has continued. The near four years conflict has come with a lot of untold misery in all walks of life.
Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions remain in the grip of a seemingly never-ending crisis, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. International observers are increasing their calls to cease the violence, following reports of attacks and abductions of health workers.
The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, now four years old, started in 2016 when lawyers and teachers took to the streets of Buea and Bamenda to protest the domination of French in Anglophone courts and schools.
The strike action quickly gained public sympathy and, on November 21, a popular uprising dubbed « The Coffin Revolution » took place in Bamenda demanding political reforms.
The situation escalated on October 1, 2017, when militant secessionist groups, led by Julius Sisiku Ayuke Tabe, symbolically proclaimed the independence of a new nation — including the two Anglophone regions — called Ambazonia.
Clashes between the Cameroon military and separatist fighters have led to over 3,000 deaths and many displaced persons.
Peace efforts continue
Cameroon’s prime minister in 2019 organized a National Dialogue on behalf of the country’s government to seek solutions to the worsening crisis — yet hostilities have continued, despite a special status being granted to the two Anglophone regions.
The Archbishop of Bamenda, Andrew Nkea Fuanya, has now joined several organizations in calling for peace in Cameroon. Swiss Ambassador to Cameroon Pietro Lazzeri to Cameroon announced after an April 2019 audience granted by President Paul Biya that the Swiss Confederation had expressed its readiness to support national initiatives that can lead to lasting peace in the country.
The proposal was welcomed by the separatists. In a letter dated April 17, the archbishop challenged the warring parties to make the difficult decision to end the conflict, in the best interests of the people. The Catholic Church in Cameroon lost several worshippers and priests in the conflict.
Titled « Now is Time for Peace, » the letter reads: « Seeking peace or a ceasefire is not a sign of weakness or cowardice. On the contrary, it shows maturity and proper care for the fatherland and genuine love for others. »
Locals struggle to access food
Separatist fighters in Mamfe in the Southwest Region and Bali in the Northwest Region recently set up roadblocks, barring movement of people and goods from the two regions.
Commuters were stranded and goods in transit — especially perishables — quickly spoiled. Some families were forced to bury their loved ones in Mamfe because of the road blocks.
« I bought 50 bunches of plantains from mamfe to sell in Bamenda, » said Susana Timgum who explained how she almost lost her capital. « They were all tied up in the truck and we were forced to sleep on the way for weeks. Thank God I was able to sell two weeks after the roads were opened. »
Hanson Song, another victim of the road block, said he missed seeing his son immediately after delivery. »My wife was due delivery, I asked her to relocate to Bamenda because it’s safe. She was delivered of a baby boy and I only get to see my son three weeks after, » he said.
A local mayor was killed in Mamfe in April by suspected separatist fighters who later asked people not to attend his funeral. Six young men were later slaughtered for bypassing the separatist injunction order and attending the funeral. In Kumbo, Northwest Region, there are frequent gun battles between the military and separatists fighters.
Last week, 12 separatist fighters were killed in Jakiri and a separatist fighter died in Mbingo. In Mbangolan, Belo, Bafut, Kumba and Mamfe, unending gun battles have continued with fatalities on both sides.
Lockdowns force residents inside
One of the oldest forms of civil disobedience — adopted at the start of the Anglophone crisis — has remained. Ghost Town operations and lockdowns force locals in the two Regions to close their shops and remain indoors for days and even weeks at a time.
This usually happens every time a government organized event takes place. On Sunday June 21, all diaspora groups leading the separatist fighters on the ground called for a lockdown to disrupt a mobilization tour of the North West by Paul Tasong, the head of the government-created commission to reconstruct the two Anglophone Regions.
Hardships felt by all
The escalating conflict has brought untold misery to the population, according to Professor Tih Pius Muffi, director of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS). « Essential drugs have not been able to reach hospitals. Doctors’ have gone without routine support services and patients can’t access health centers and hospitals. Some of these patients have died in their homes and some have reached the hospital too late. »
Stacy Lawong, who fled from Kumbo to Bamenda, lost all her certificates. « Our house was burnt down while we were in the bush. We ran to Bamenda. I can’t find a job. I can’t move out because I do not have identification papers. We are surviving thanks to the benevolence of our neighbours and people of goodwill. Doing business in the two Anglophone regions has become difficult. »
In an effort to sabotage the economy of the Two Regions, separatists have also started to burn down power transmitters and cut down pylons, leaving the lone power supply company ENEO to ration electricity, further crippling businesses and startups.
No hope for a swift end
President Biya has called on separatist fighters to drop their guns and come out of the bush. But tensions remain high. He has addressed the Nation several times during the crisis. However separatists maintain that he must first call off the war and initiate meaningful dialogue with all sides.
But, despite a call from the UN secretary general at the dawn of the COVID-19 crisis for a ceasefire, nothing has changed in the two Anglophone Regions, where gun battles continue unabated.
Hopes for dialoague on condtion
Secret talks are holding between the Cameroon government and leaders of the Anglophone movement currently jailed at the Yaounde Nkondengui Maximum security prision. Eventhough government spokesperson and Communication Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi in a release refuted claims of negotiations, he did not deny the fact that underground talks are going on. The first meeting that held between both parties is said to have been in the presence of representatives for foreign embassies including the United States and the United Nations.
In a letter of July 8, 2020, some 42 Anglophone detainees aligned with the conditions for dialogue demanded by the Ambazonian leadership in prison led by Siseko Julius Ayuk Tabe.They want the withdrawal of troops stationed in the Anglophone North West and South West Regions; the unconditional release and general amnesty of all detained in relation to the crisis; amnesty to Anglophone activists in the Diaspora and the setting up of a timeframe for negotiations to be carried out by a third party and in a foreign country.
The Cameroon government have been insisting that the separatist should drop their arms and has expressed its readiness for dialogue that will see an end to the cankerworm that the Anglophone crisis has turned out to be.
Jean Marie Ngong Song