A Special Report
It is exactly three years since the historic Major National Dialogue took successfully took place in Yaounde.
Cameroon as a nation has since the Dialogue which spanned September 30 to October 4, 2019 been undergoing several changes. These changes are as a result of the deep reflections that characterised that dialogue. The impact of the dialogue three years after observers have said remains largely immeasurable given the gains made especially in tackling the crisis in the North West and South West regions. They also say the demand for more power at the base to enhance local development nationwide has been government’s priority since that gathering.
The august event which rallied the sons and daughters of the nation from all the ten regions paved a way for landmark actions. The benefits today are there for everyone to see.
It charted a formidable path towards building a resolute and fraternal republic bound by nature to harbour a bi-jural, bilingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic fabric.
The outcome of the come-together is what has redefined the strength and capacity of the people of the English-speaking regions now experiencing economic revival, social growth, and educational and cultural rejuvenation.
Commissions Of Dialogue
The different commissions that guided discussions at the dialogue are; Bilingualism, Cultural Diversity and Social Cohesion; Educational System; Judicial System; Assistance To Returning Refugees and Displaced Persons; Reconstruction and Development of Regions Affected by Crisis ; Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reinsertion of Ex-combatants; Role of the Diaspora in the crisis and Contribution to the country’s Development and Decentralisation and Local Development
For five days, delegates who belonged to these commissions brainstormed and adopted a blueprint which has since been guiding the development vision and ambition of government in this part of the country.
Recommendations arrived at during that historic dialogue have remained the guiding instrument of government’s fresh local development policy, peace drive and the need to build a just society for all Cameroonians.
Biya Ensuring Follow Up, Implementation Of Recommendations
To make a point and show good faith, the convenor of the Major National Dialogue, President Paul Biya, has remained active in ensuring that what was discussed is being implemented.
On March 23, 2020, in order to ensure that words were rightly matched with concrete actions, Biya created the committee to follow up the implementation of the recommendations of the Major National Dialogue.
The Prime Minister, Head of Government and Chairman of the Major National Dialogue was appointed President of this committee. To keep the President’s decision alive and real, the Committee met for its fourth session Thursday August 4, 2022.
The composition of the committee represents the ambitious intention of the government to respect the wishes of hundreds of Cameroonians who sacrificed their time to think and rebuild the North West and South West regions in particular and Cameroon as a whole.
Signature Tune of Major National Dialogue
The Special Status accorded the North West and South West regions today stands out among other towering gains of the Major National Dialogue.
It is one of the recommendations of the dialogue that has seen the English-speaking regions today having Regional Assemblies and Houses of Chiefs.
Even as analysts are saying, the take-off of the implementation can only be measured differently based on the level of implementation of the recommendations arrived at, more and more Cameroonians have continued to take delight in the road covered this far.
Prior to the convening of the Major National Dialogue, the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, had signed Decree N°2019/3178/PM of September 2, 2019 to specify the procedures for implementing the status of economic disaster areas. He also outlined conditions for related tax benefits provided for by the provisions of articles 121 and 121a of the General Tax Code.
Eight days later, the President of the Republic, Paul Biya, convened the Major National Dialogue.
From this deduction, the stage was already set to fully engage all economic forces and attract vital investments to the North West and South West regions plagued by a crisis.
Between 2018 and 2019, most markets across the two regions were grounded. Several business activities were punctured due to recurrent ghost towns and lockdowns. Life was almost miserable for thousands. Farm to market produce became scarce. The usual hustling and bustling in rural markets in the North West and South West regions with traders pouring in from Douala and other neighbouring countries suffered a setback.
The second largest employer after the State, the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC was almost grounded following repeated attacks on its workers and equipment. The PAMOL Plantations in the Ndian division also suffered same. Activities of the South West and North West Development Authorities were affected. Thousands of workers in some public and private companies lost their jobs or were sent on technical leave.
But since government began implementing the recommendations of the Major National Dialogue, the situation began improving. The momentum has even increased in this year, so far. Three years after the dialogue, many say the results are worth celebrating.
In 2021, when the population realised how much time was wasted on nothing, they started drifting from supporting people whom they perceived as liberators, but who were actually oppressors and now focused on reviving their lives.
Between 2021 and 2022, the situation of economic activities across the two regions has greatly improved. Markets and other social ventures are now operational in the 13 divisions of the two English-speaking regions. The tone for this was set at the Major National Dialogue.
The Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, has resumed activities in most of its plantations. This has started placing the country’s Banana production capacity to what it used to obtain.
The central bank of the Central African Economic Community, BEAC, had in one of its recent reports stated that: “Banana production is expected to increase in the second quarter of 2022, benefiting mainly from the maturation of plantations in 2021, and to a lesser extent, the resumption of activities in some plantations of the CDC that stopped working last year due to the Anglophone crisis”.
In 2021, when activities fully resumed, CDC rehabilitated 520 hectares of plantations it had abandoned due to the armed conflict in the English-speaking regions.
This led to an increase of Banana exports in Cameroon by 4.8% in early 2022.
PAMOL has also resumed activities. Several workers have regained their jobs despite sporadic separatist incursions.
Kumba, the commercial capital of the South West Region has fully regained steam with businessmen driving in from Douala and beyond to continue business as it was before.
Almost all villages now enjoy the traditional market days as it obtained before the armed conflict.
Another clear socio economic indicator is the fact that farmers now feel confident, safe and are engaged in farming more than ever before.
Return of IDPs
One of the key points highlighted during the Major National Dialogue was the quest for peace to return to the troubled North West and South West regions.
The return of peace, the commission tasked to profile the situation of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs had indicated would pave way for the return of those who were forced to move out of their communities.
The early signs of Major National Dialogue impact was visible when some internally displaced persons decided to return home early last year. Not long, before the end of 2021, a good number of IDPs had taken back residence in their villages.
The return of refugees and IDPs was the task of commission number six at the Major National Dialogue. This commission proposed ways and methods which could accelerate normalcy and cause the return of IDPs and refugees.
Today, the talk about IDPs is fading away. The return of refugees has been gradual. But reports say, the deception and manipulation from the Diaspora is a deterrent on the will of some refugees in Nigeria to come back home.
President Paul Biya, however, has remained committed to address the hurdle. In 2021, the Head of State sent a special consignment of relief material to refugees of the crisis in Nigeria.
Sociocultural and Sports Animation
Another indicator that the situation is improving in the North West and South West regions is the organisation of social gatherings, cultural festivals and manifestations and sporting activities.
Before January 2021, it was a tough condition organising any cultural or sporting activity in the most parts of the English-speaking regions of the country.
But since 2021, there has been a significant increase in the number of cultural and sports events. The Coronation of the Fon of Oku, Nkambe, Mankon, Bamendankwe, Kumba, Limbe, Mankon and a host of others across the interiors of the North West and South West regions speak volumes of how fast the social climate in these two regions is improving.
Not only were such events attended by home-based people only, but many traveled from around and out of the country to live the great moments of communion with their ancestors.
Since 2021, the sensation and spirit of village sporting competitions rekindled. Holiday football inter-quarter competitions have been taking place in most areas which used to be dreaded yesterday, but are calm today.
The usual excitement during holidays in the village shown at football tournaments is gradually bouncing back.
The most outstanding moment now in the North West and South West regions is the resistance most communities have been putting up against Amba fighters. Places like Mbalangi in the South West Region, Oku in the North West Region are among several villages to have openly said NO to the atrocities of Amba boys and drove them out of their communities.
Thousands of Children Returning To School
One of the key sectors which made the North West and South West regions proud was the rare educational structures and value they attached to education.
Since the holding of the historic Major National Dialogue, there is no contradiction that, education which is popularly known as the multibillion industry of the North West and South West regions is inching back to its glory days.
The glaring proof is the thousands of candidates in the two regions who have been sitting in for exams organised by the General Certificate of Education, GCE Board.
When the armed conflict reached crescendo, education establishments were main targets.
Apart from the usual ghost towns and lockdowns which grounded smooth academic years, recurrent arson attacks on school campuses caused many to shut down. But since after the MND, many positive changes are visible on ground.
The committee on education at the Major National Dialogue recommended that the two subsystems of education be prioritised to the fullest. This has been already a matter of action in the two regional Assemblies of the North West and South West regions carved out within the context of the special status.
In 2017, effective school enrolment in the North West Region stood at 220,000. This number dropped to 45,000 in 2018 (or 20, 51%) and 24,350 representing 11, 67% in 2019. As at date, 2022, enrolment has risen to 60,462.
Denominational Activities Booming
The activities of denominational establishments have resumed fully in most areas of the two regions. These institutions came under life threats and intimidation from Amba fighters. Due to sustained collaboration and support of the Recovery Plan borne after the Major National Dialogue, these denominations have benefitted through several reconstruction works and rehabilitation of some health and educational infrastructures.
The Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the North West and South West region, PPRD-NW/SW afoot today is a product of the MN.
The United Nations Development Programme, UNPD is the implementing partner of this project already recording huge successes across communities in the North West and South West regions.
The plan has started touching on the afflicted fabric in the two English-speaking regions in dire need of reconstruction.
Through the plan, in just 18 months, 19 water points have been rehabilitated thereby enabling over 174,000 people to have access to potable water. At a recent meeting, the National Coordinator of the PPRD-NW/SW, Minister Paul Tasong talked of 16 health centres rehabilitated now providing healthcare to 5,451 persons; over 7000 students and teachers now have access to good learning space with some 22 schools rehabilitated.
Within the same scheme, over 48,000 persons now being serviced by four bridges also rehabilitated; 8000 lost documents recovered; over 60 insider mediators have been trained to enhance community peace; 12 social and cultural festivals and events staged to revive social cohesion across the North West and South West regions; over 126,500 persons have benefitted from some five community centres already renewed. The figures presented also talked of over 2,402 farmers who have received farm equipment and tools; 40 greenhouses erected to boost food production; 53 stores transformed to revive economic activities; 120 young start-uppers trained, mentored and given funding. He also talked of 47 cooperatives that have received intensive support to enhance agricultural production.
Fresh Local Development Drive
A defining gain from the Major National Dialogue is the fresh impetus Cameroon has had it is local development drive. First, it was the putting in place of a new law on Regional and Local Collectivities that was put in place in December 2019, weeks after the dialogue. From that Dialogue, the country orgnised its first regional election on December 6, 2020.
Today, the eight French-speaking regions of the country have Regional Councils with autonomous powers to pilot local development. In the English-speaking North West and South West regions, there are Regional Assemblies with powers that touch on same. A unique additive here is the putting in place of Houses of Chiefs unique to what obtained in the former West Cameroon. The North West and South West regions to now have Public Independent Conciliators who are charged with handling conflicts arising from local collectivities. With the achievements this far, many are of the opinion that, the recommendations of the MND are being implemented by the powers that be without reservation.
Experts have said and rightly so, that, for the impact of the Major National Dialogue to be fully attained, the Anglophone community must accept and embrace the recommendations of the historic gathering.
This, a school of thought believes, would spark spontaneous action and collective support for the implementation of these far reaching recommendations expected to transform lives and villages across the English speaking regions.
Selfishness, Quest For Money Killing Tearing Separatists
Another major setback to the return to peace in the two English-speaking regions is greed and quest for quick wealth by self-proclaimed leaders of the amba struggle.
These individuals have carved a niche to create wealth on innocent blood of Anglophones and are rather interested in this gain than the interest of the population.
All attempts to reach amicable discussion have failed because any solution that ends the crisis today means they’re out of business.
Diaspora’s Delay to Embrace Peace Blamed on Ego
Another strategic negative point is the internal wrangling and ego to use the word Anglophone to appear relevant across the globe. It should be noted that, no one ever mandated these leaders to champion the killing and kidnapping of Anglophones in the name of independence.
Their egos have plunged the entire English-speaking regions into untold suffering and damage.