President Paul Biya’s announcement of the
National Dialogue on the 10th of September in Cameroon to address the Anglophone crisis is really important. On the ground it has been very difficult to
reduce the violence between the army and the armed separatists, and lots of people are
suffering. A massive humanitarian crisis has developed. Last time I went to Cameroon, I actually felt that this conflict is having a very strong negative
impact on the livelihoods of people on the ground. For example, I tried to go to Kumba.
Kumba is in the Southwest region. It is one of the major towns in Anglophone Cameroon.
But the separatists had declared a lockdown. These lockdowns are enforced long-term
ghost towns. And it was impossible for people to leave Buea, which is the capital
of the Southwest region and to go into Kumba just at the beginning of September.
These are massive disruptions in the lives of people, massive economic downturns in those regions. Ordinary people are afraid of being attacked by the army and of being attacked by the separatists. and it’s very very difficult. Now this national dialogue is a start. It
is a recognition that there is a problem which needs to be looked into. And that the military
response [alone] is not going to be sufficient but that they need to actually talk among
Cameroonians and among Anglophones. But there have been concerns about those who
are taking part in this dialogue. People have pointed out that the real protagonists, those who hold massive sway in the Anglophone regions are not yet involved in this dialogue.
The Cameroon dialogue is something which several partners in the country have called for, including
the Catholic church, and Cardinal Tumi with his Anglophone General Conference initiative.
Now, we think it is important for the government to give more time for the Anglophone General Conference (AGC), to meet and consolidate positions among all Anglophones so that people
can have the confidence that their views are being taken into account.
And when the AGC meets it is probably going to silence a bit of the more radical voices
and give room for people to really express themselves and for the government to have
more certainty about what Anglophones in their majority are really willing to accept as a
way forward in this crisis. Now, on the agenda, there is a great demand
for some form of autonomy which President Biya himself has recognised. They need to
look at the form of the state. How resources are managed, development issues
of grassroot democracy, representation. How the law and education is managed and run in
the Anglophone regions. These are some of the things that will make real sense to the
people. But now you also have things which have been
created by the crisis. You have combatants, you have militants, rebels. They also need to
think carefully about Anglophone leaders who are in prison, and those who are in the diaspora,
how do they get access to the country Some of the people who are still agitating on the ground are protesting that it will be difficult for them to give up the fight. Given that some of the
leaders are now incarcerated and others are unable to come into the country. Without finding
some sort of resolution and closure for these people, it might be increasingly difficult
to get this sorted.