Cameroon is at war with itself since 2016/2017 as we speak. What began as a peaceful protest by lawyers and teachers, demanding simple sectoral reforms in education and the judiciary, soon turned into a full-blown war.
Rather than properly engaging in a genuine dialogue to resolve the grievances raised, the Biya regime chose a strongman’s approach of a heavy-handed military response. As years went by since 2016, a series of counterproductive measures were adopted, most of them either born-dead or were too late, thus, the war persists.
Conflict experts and political analysts now think that a golden opportunity to address the historical injustices and twisted history of the nation was mismanaged. To understand this assertion, it would be necessary to outline some important historical dates and main events.
Firstly, two separate territorial entities (La Republic of Cameroon and Southern Cameroons) came into a federal system of governance in 1961. The 1961 federation constitution stated clearly that, the form of the state should never be changed. This was violated in1972 by Amadou Ahidjo of Cameroun. The act of constitutional violation angered and still infuriates many ‘Southern Cameroonians’, ‘West Cameroonians’ or ‘Anglophones’, or Ambazonians; call them whatever name you want. Many including the famous Albert Mukong, Njoh Mola Litumbe, Justice Ebong, Ndop Albert, etc, protested the decision till death. Those who accepted, later on, declared publicly that, the way the country was being run, was not what they agreed. Foncha said so, in the 1990s. For those who still had some hope, those hopes were shattered by the single-handed change of name of the country by Biya in 1984. This gave birth to what is today known as Ambazonia.
This was seen by the aforementioned as La Republic du Cameroon quitting the Union. Fon Gorji Dinka is a living witness. Then came the 1996 constitution that guaranteed a united decentralized state as a means of quelling down tensions from AAC1 and AAC2, something that has never happened as we speak. So 1961, 1972, 1984 and 1996, are major historical dates that shaped the events culminating in the war we have today.
So in 2016, Cameroon missed an opportunity to genuinely engage in a meaningful dialogue to resolve these long-held grievances. When the crisis began, those who had been disgruntled but could not come public for fear of reprisal now had a voice. Everyone called for dialogue, suggesting and advising that the government should use it as a springboard to resolved the unsettled promises of 1961. They were ignored. The government instead embarked on a campaign of denial, arrogance, and deceit.
The first opportunity missed was the refusal to listen to consortium leaders. After publicly denying the existence of the problem as ministers Atanga Nji Paul and Issa Tchiroma Bakary did, the government went ahead to arrest and jail the consortium leaders and, outlawed the organization. This created a vacuum later on filled by a more radical mind-set, which began calling for a return to the 1961 federation. These too were not listened to. Instead, the arrogant rhetoric from the regime was that the form of the state is non-negotiable. This was myopic because laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged are they, must be reformed or abolished if they become unjust. Regime critics, exiled citizens, and those with disgruntled grievances since 1972 recuperated the movement. At that time, things went out of control. Allowing a historical injustice to spill over the shores of the nation was a big mistake.
Secondly, the regime then created a pointless Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, aka, the Musonge commission. This was still a misplaced commission because it had nothing to with the grievances raised. The intention here was an attempt to spin the grievances around a linguistic issue. This did not work because that wasn’t the issue.
The most controversial thing with the commission was that it was all led by former regime barons, all of whom were unelected and had lost touch with the population. The commission has done nothing to ease the tension or stop the war. Even official documents are still published in the French language.
Some people have tied the defeat of Cameroon in CHAN 2021 by the Moroccan team last week to the singing of the anthem in Limbe in French. Of course, that cannot be proven but goes ahead to show that, that commission has nothing to do with the crisis.
Several commissions have been sent to the field since 2016, all appointed, and most of them either regime supporters or denials of the existence of the problem. Former PM, Yang made several trips to Bamenda, but none to Buea, in their usual divide and rule tactic. Truth and justice are uncompromising virtues, so the masses saw this as a slap on the face.
The strange thing about these commissions is that none of them has ever presented a report of their findings. Even if they do, the reports are always inconsequential. Biya himself led a commission of inquiry into the very problem in the 1970s, together with Dorothy Limunga Njeoma, David ‘Aboem Achoi’, set up by the then-president Amadou Adhidjo.
Till today as we speak, no one knows what they found out or where the report is. So, creating more commissions and sending people to the field on a problem one is well-informed about was a waste of time and a misplaced opportunity.
Even the DDR that was created, following conflict resolution procedures, is the opposite. Such centers are created during negotiations or ceasefire. None of these has taken place, so it’s a mockery. Those who heeded the call are now on the streets protesting against the untrustworthiness of the regime.
Not only was the timing of the DDR wrong, but it also is not doing what it said it will do. One of the former fighters, Nambere has publicly regretted why he did so. The problem with the Biya regime has always been that of lack of trust and no respect for promises made.
Almost all well-intended Cameroonians told the government to dialogue because no country has ever won a war against its own people. They did not listen. Former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo opted for mediation, pointing out that longevity in power creates animosity and tensions, yet they did not listen. The American secretary of states for Africa, Tibor P. Nagy, told Cameroon to dialogue. Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, etc, said the same. They still didn’t listen.
The government later claimed that the 2018 elections would be the solution. Elections were then organized at gun-point in the war-torn area. Until today, neither the parliament nor the senate has ever put the issue on the table. Rather, a one-sided, stage-managed ‘Major national dialogue’ was organized with the participants, subject of discussion, and conclusions preselected. Many today are asking where the results of the national dialogue are.
There is one very important twist that the government needs to understand. That is, even though war should never be an option and we should all avoid it, the grievances of the people of former British Southern Cameroon are JUST. The fight for justice here is not an individual but, an idea and you cannot shoot an idea with a gun. That some people have not chosen the option of war does not mean that they have surrendered. It is, therefore, naïve and premature to claim victory in a war (as Atanga Nji did) generated by grievances dating back to 1961, when those very grievances have not been achieved.
The outside world as we now see with the USA and the Vatican is forced to come in because the regime has not only proven its unwillingness to resolve the crisis, it was also shown its out-of-date limits and incapacity. Those who argue that the solution will come from within like cardinal Tumi are not bringing back the lives, property, and livelihoods destroyed. That kind of argument helps to prolong the war as the people perish. After all, he tried with All Anglophone Conference and he knows how it was perceived and received.
The government has played for time for too long and it has not worked. Rather more lives, property, and resources have been wasted. They recently claimed that they have won the war, but a few days after, the envoy of the Pope came to Cameroon to offer its ability to mediate. This shows that it was not true and that their approach to the crisis is unacceptable even to those they call their partners. Even after the most vaunted epileptic ‘major national dialogue’, the EU and U.S. called for a genuine dialogue addressing the root causes.
Therefore, rather than chiseling cosmetic, counterproductive, and or too late solutions to the so-called ‘Anglophone problem’, the Cameroon government must urgently call for a candid dialogue with those it calls separatists or terrorists.