Any farmer or individual who has tended land will tell you that simply cutting weeds is pointless. It is necessary to dig up the roots of the weed. In essence, in order to effectively weed one’s field, it is necessary to go to the root or else the weed will grow back. The same analogy is applicable to the Anglophone Crisis facing Cameroon today. In order to effectively address the crisis and attempt to bring peace to the two regions that have now suffered from war for several years it is imperative to address the crisis at its root. Anything short of that would fail to resolve the Anglophone Crisis and would see the millions of people who reside in the Northwest and Southwest continue to suffer. In light of the National Dialogue, it is imperative to examine the root causes of the Anglophone Crisis and if the national dialogue will address them.
The historical origins of the Anglophone Crisis can be traced back to the colonial period, and more recently to the abolishment of a federation in 1972. However, the current crisis can be seen as directly springing from the demonstrations for Anglophone rights in 2016. These demonstrations were legitimate, as the recognition of English as a minority language in Cameroon had been systematically eroded for decades. This only added to the frustration and resentment that many people felt due to the discrimination and marginalization that the Anglophone minority across Cameroon had been suffering. In short, this tension, anger, and frustration that had been building up underneath the surface for decades reached a boiling point in 2016, and allowed the crisis to deteriorate in a way that would be unimaginable to many only a few years ago. Therefore, in order to attempt and resolve the Anglophone Crisis it is imperative to address the deep-seated, and at times systematic discrimination against Cameroon’s Anglophone minority that has been taking place long before the formal outbreak of the Anglophone Crisis in 2016.
The National Dialogue, which was announced by President Paul Biya and spearheaded by Prime Minister Dion Ngute is apparently designed to resolve the Anglophone Crisis. It is centred upon eight commissions focused on the following topic areas: bilingualism, the education system, the judicial system, decentralization, reconstruction, refugees/ internally displaced persons, disarmament, and the role of the diaspora. It is true that these are all issues of importance, not only in regard to the Anglophone Crisis but to people living in all 10 of Cameroon’s regions. However, these are merely symptoms that have emerged due to the fact that Anglophones have been systematically marginalized and have felt a deep sense of injustice for decades. Not a singly one of these commissions addresses this, and to return to the farming analogy is attempting to cut down the weeds without digging them up at their roots.
Moreover, the commissions established do not even address the main issues that are at the forefront of the Anglophone Crisis. For instance, while education and the judicial system were at the forefront of the crisis in 2016, they are now back thoughts. Further, it is pointless to discuss the return of refugees and internally displaced persons when conflict continues on a daily basis. Also, a commission for disarmament exists when the government has already tried and failed to disarm the Ambazonian fighters. In reality, the strength of the Ambazonians is growing and they continue to raise money overseas. Therefore, such a disarmament initiative is a joke. Finally, there is a commission on decentralization, saying that the government has already made up its mind on the issues of a form of state.
In essence, it is clear that President Biya, his government, and the CPDM are attempting to use this dialogue to fool people into believing they are serious about resolving the Anglophone Crisis. In reality, it is simply a plot to buy time that will not address the root causes of the Anglophone Crisis or do anything to bring peace to the people of Anglophone Cameroon. If the President and his government were serious about ending the conflict, they would engage in direct dialogue with the secessionists’ leaders in a third country, not hold a façade dialogue that is increasingly appearing to be a CPDM monologue.
R. Maxwell Bone is Vice President at the International Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Progress. He lives in Washington D.C. Follow him on twitter @maxbone55.
Akem Kelvin Nkwain is a Human Rights Officer at the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, and an LL.M research fellow at the University of Buea. He has conducted fieldwork across Anglophone Cameroon and lives in Buea. Follow him on Twitter @NkwainAkem