On September 10th, the president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, gave a speech that Cameroonians expected would finally address the Anglophone crisis occurring throughout the northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon. Given that public addresses by Biya are rare, the announcement was a surprising development and raised questions about whether the president’s speech would present a unifying message that acknowledged the plights of civilians living in Anglophone regions or downplay the crisis and eliminate any hope for true reconciliation. Biya’s message to the separatists was: surrender and be forgiven or be met with military force.
During his speech, Biya called for a “national dialogue” as a means of addressing the crises facing the country including the Anglophone crisis that has plagued the nation since 2016. The conflict erupted when teachers and lawyers in English-speaking regions spoke out against the marginalization they felt in Cameroon as the minority in a predominantly French-speaking country. The crisis was then exacerbated with the government declaring war on separatists. The BBC reports that the conflict has resulted in heavy militarization of these English-speaking regions and an ongoing education ban, intensified by the government increasing use of the French language in official capacities in 2016. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire and have been forced to escape to Nigeria as refugees.
However, many also hoped during the speech that the president would agree to release the separatist leader Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and other members of the movement that were recently sentenced to life in prison and be open to a cease-fire for the sake of restoring peace to these regions. Some made observations that he gave the entire speech in French, despite making claims that marginalization of Anglophone regions was nonexistent. As members of the separatist movement in the region consider Ambazonia went unmentioned explicitly, it is unclear whether or not Anglophone activists and members of the Ambazonia separatist movement would be included in these talks. Members of Cameroon’s opposition political party the United Socialist Democratic Party are calling for amnesty for the separatist movement leaders who have been jailed before this national dialogue can begin.
The government needs to take concrete steps to end this conflict, begin bringing the country together, and restore security in Anglophone regions. If the “national dialogue” is to be taken seriously, the government must acknowledge the crisis and the plight of civilians residing in these English-speaking regions who want peace and security. As Al Jazeera highlights in its reporting, it is unclear what this “national dialogue will look like and who will be included in the process. Although it is too early to tell if the discourse will be productive and lead to tangible solutions, acknowledging the refugee crisis, Anglophone marginalization, and the necessity in reach across the political spectrum to find solutions will be critical to calming tensions and restoring peace.
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