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A Major National Dialogue is underway in Cameroon’s political capital, Yaoundé, aimed at resolving the three-year conflict in the Anglophone regions of the country. The dialogue, which opened on Monday, 30 September, saw the absence of key political players from the Anglophone community, especially separatist fighters.
Opening the meeting, Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Joseph Dion Ngute challenged the thousands of delegates gathered at the Yaoundé conference centre to make history by being peace-makers. Speaking earlier on, an alleged former fighter told the PM and delegates from the country’s eight Francophone regions and two Anglophone regions as well as the diaspora that they (Anglophones) took up arms against the government because successive pro-francophone regimes of the country have persistently marginalized them, reducing them to second-class citizens in their own country.
The absence of representatives of separatist fighters has cast doubts over the success of the dialogue. Key separatist figures rejected the government’s invitation on grounds that they would be arrested if they step foot on Yaoundé. They challenged the government to show good faith by releasing the leader of the Anglophone movement Ambazonia, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, who has been jailed at the Yaoundé Principal Prison since January 2018, and arranging the meeting on neutral grounds with third party mediators.
Other political parties including the Cameroon Renaissance Movement of Maurice Kamto, who was officially declared second in the October 7, 2018 presidential election, have also turned down the invitation to participate, asking the government to release all political prisoners including the leader of their party who has been jailed since January 2019. In a telephone interview with Peace and Development Expert, Wanah Immanuel, he said the convening of the dialogue is an attempt by President Paul Biya to satisfy the international community especially at a time when the UN General Assembly is meeting.
Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Yaoundé has also expressed reservations about the dialogue, noting that it is only taking part as an observer. In a public statement, it still reminded the government of Cameroon and armed groups of the need for dialogue without preconditions. Some prominent opposition politicians who were present at the start of the dialogue also left the hall citing irregularities.
According to former Transparency International President, Barrister Akere Muna, his decision to walk out of the dialogue is based on the fact that the viewpoints of participants were not taken into consideration in the drafting of the commissions and the PM has already conditioned the length, breadth and topics to be discussed which to him would yield no better outcome.
However, many other participants remained upbeat, saying it is the first step towards the return of peace in Cameroon’s restive regions. The conflict in the Anglophone regions was in the limelight in late 2016 when Lawyers and Teachers of English expression staged a series of pacific strike actions to criticize the overbearing influence of French and French Judges and Instructors in courts and classrooms in Anglophone Cameroon.
After a year of violent crackdown by the state, the movement was transformed into an armed conflict between government forces and those who are calling for a separate Anglophone state called Ambazonia. International rights groups put the number of deaths at 2,000 even though local NGOs say at least 5,000 have been killed with more than half a million displaced.
In a rare outing on September 10, President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982 convened a National Dialogue to solve the Anglophone conflict but rejected calls to release separatist leaders arrested in the course of the conflict. Many have criticized the dialogue with some calling it a “monologue” as the venue, date, participants and topics were all decided by the government without the accord of separatists.
In the meantime, the government of Cameroon bears a special reputation for satisfying the international community. The international community can use this leverage to bring more pressure on the Biya regime so as to open direct dialogue with separatist leaders who are more respected and followed among Anglophone communities than the Yaoundé central government. These leaders, some jailed, others in exile have direct command over the armed civilians and can easily call for a ceasefire. Moreover, any negotiated settlement with their stamp would be easily followed by the Anglophone minority community in Cameroon. As discussions unfold in Yaoundé without these leaders violence is ongoing on the ground with daily clashes and killings.