Cameroon: still no peace in English-speaking areas after national dialogue
More than two weeks after the holding of a major national dialogue in Yaoundé to resolve the bloody crisis in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, the return of peace on the ground still seems far from being achieved .
In the northwestern and southwestern regions, the army and separatists have clashed for two years almost daily, taking the population in pincers. More than 3,000 people have already died in this conflict, according to NGOs .
Under pressure from the international community, the government resolved to hold a dialogue that was held from September 30 to October 4, resulting in the adoption of dozens of recommendations to allow a quick return to peace. On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is in Cameroon for a two-day visit, where he will “encourage” President Paul Biya “in pursuit of this dynamic.”
Because on the ground, “the security situation remains precarious,” reports Blaise Chamango, a civil society player based in Buea, capital of the Southwest. “People in crisis areas are still facing the same realities that prevailed before the dialogue,” he says.
Schools in some localities “remain closed and inaccessible”, he explains. The days of dead cities, imposed each Monday by the separatists to the inhabitants of these regions are continuing, according to him.
In recent days, several attacks by armed separatists have been reported by local media, particularly in the North-West region, deemed more rebellious. “The atrocities take again more beautiful in Bamenda”, its chief town, was for example worried on Tuesday the state radio Cameroon.
“There are people who still have guns, who are still in camps,” says George Ewane, spokesman for the national dialogue. However, “we do not necessarily have to deal with secessionists but groups of bandits who take advantage of this situation,” he adds.
Fifty-eight fighters have laid down their weapons last week in the Southwest, according to him. “The situation is improving day by day,” he says, adding “the great dialogue has brought a lot of comfort to the hearts”.
After five days of work, this dialogue, boycotted by most separatist leaders, but involving more than 1,000 participants, led to the creation of a “special status” for North West and South West, where most of the English-speaking minority lives (16%), who feels victim of “stigmatization” and crushed by a strongly centralized power.
At the end of the dialogue, Mr Biya had described these resolutions as “rich and varied” and assured that they would be “the subject of a careful and diligent examination with a view to their implementation”.
A team of experts is currently working on “the content of the special status”, and a draft law on this status is being prepared at the government level, says Ewane.
“We hope that the bill will be submitted to Parliament in the next parliamentary session,” he said, in November.
But on the ground, the populations remain “rather skeptical”, argues Mr. Chamango, “because they no longer trust the government”.
In addition, these recommendations were immediately rejected by separatist leaders based abroad.
In the course of this great dialogue, however, President Biya, who was absent from the proceedings, had created a surprise by ordering the release of 333 prisoners linked to the Anglophone crisis, as well as that of 102 opponents arrested after peaceful protests contesting his re-election. in the presidential election of 2018.
A sustainable solution?
Among them, the president of the Movement for the rebirth of Cameroon ( MRC ), Maurice Kamto, unfortunate presidential candidate, who had found freedom after eight months behind bars.
“The great national dialogue does not seem to have brought a new and lasting solution to the claims of Anglophones on the form of the state,” said the opposition leader on his release from prison. According to him, peace will return with the opening of “direct talks with the political representatives of the armed groups who control the field”.
In late August, the most influential separatist leader, Julius Ayuk Tabe, was sentenced to life with nine of his supporters by a Yaoundé military court. Since his imprisonment, he described this great dialogue as a “non-event”.
“We do not foresee a more inclusive dialogue than the one (…) that has just taken place in Yaoundé,” government spokesman René Emmanuel Sadi said last week in the official media.