By Atia Tilarious Azohnwi
The Anglophone General Conference that was supposed to hold in Buea from November 21-22, 2018 has been postponed to a later date, the organisers have said.
The Conference Organizing Committee, COC, of the Anglophone General Conference made the announcement on Monday, November 19 but did not advance reasons for their decision.
“While waiting for the State to formally approve our application for authorization of the conference, the COC is calling on all Cameroonians of goodwill and also the international community to continue lending support to this initiative,” the organising committee said in a statement.
In a press conference Tuesday November 20 at the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Douala, the lead convener of the AGC clarified public opinion on why they had to postpone the conference.
The Emeritus Archbishop of the Douala Archdiocese, Cardinal Tumi debunked claims that government had banned the conference. He said the AGC was postponed to give them time to mobilise resources and create awareness.
“We applied for an authorisation following due process. We have neither received an authorisation nor has the conference been banned by government. In the absence of a formal authorisation, we decided to postpone the conference,” Lasha Kingsly, Head of Communication for the AGC told The SUN.
Tumi insists that the AGC must take an ecumenical character, one that does not appear to be wrestling with government.
Trusted sources say government is suggesting that the conference be held late in December or in January given that they are yet to recover from the post-electoral period.
UN throws weight behind AGC
The United Nations has through the voice of her resident coordinator given its support for the AGC. Ms. Allegra Maria Del Pilar Baiocchi, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations system, UNDP Resident Representative, Humanitarian Coordinator in Cameroon said:
“The UN, along with most of the international community, has asked for dialogue, it has encouraged dialogue. If this is an initiative that will start dialogue and initiate dialogue, then yes, we are going to support it.
“But to work, it needs to have the support of all the parties. If it is done in isolation, if it doesn’t have the encouragement either of the government or secessionists, then it will not go very far. But as I said before, the voices of Cameroonians need to start being heard more.
“Beyond the politics, I think we need to hear the people talking. I refer to the initiative of the women because I think we need to hear the voices of the people saying we’ve had enough and we want solutions.
“It shouldn’t only be the UN saying it or the ambassadors. We need confidence building measures. We need the population to trust the administration and be able to go back. I think we need peace. By peace, eventually we would want to see the demilitarisation.
“With peace, we should be seeing less military on the ground. We should be seeing life going back to normal. When we met with the minister of defence, we actually asked about working on the confidence the population should have in those regions.
“They should be comfortable going back to their villages and they should be comfortable with relating to the authorities. So, I think the government has the responsibility to rebuild that relationship.”
The International Crisis Group
The International Crisis Group in a September 17, 2018 statement commends the initiative of four religious leaders (from the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Central Mosques of Bamenda and Buea) to organise an Anglophone General Conference in Buea, a city in Cameroon’s Southwest region.
“In April 2018, Crisis Group proposed the Catholic Church as a potential mediator in the ongoing conflict in the Anglophone regions (Northwest and Southwest). On 25 July, Cardinal emeritus Christian Tumi announced that this conference would take place on 29 and 30 August 2018. The organisers later postponed it to 21 and 22 November. This delay is welcome as it allows for better preparation and could help ensure that all parties concerned participate.
The ICG says International actors should exert pressure on the government and separatists in equal measure, insisting that the conference may allow the government to identify credible interlocutors for a national dialogue on the Anglophone question after the election.
For the conference to take place successfully, the government and separatist leaders must first moderate their positions.
The conference organisers should immediately start direct negotiations with the government, separatist groups and other Anglophone activists. If possible, they should involve Cameroon’s international partners. Cardinal Tumi and his team should make arrangements for the various parties to attend, for example, by ensuring that representatives of Anglophone activists in the diaspora can return to Cameroon. They should also involve the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon and Anglophone bishops throughout the process.
Secondly, if the government authorises the conference, the organisers will need to prepare a format that enables productive discussions. Their plan to involve all components of Anglophone society is commendable in that it would give more legitimacy to the conference’s resolutions and to the individuals chosen to represent Anglophones at a prospective national dialogue. But organisers should factor in that broad participation will complicate decision-making and create space for smaller group discussions in order to reach consensus on key issues.
The conference is an opportunity for Anglophone civil society, elected representatives, pro-federalism leaders and proponents of decentralisation to be heard. Although most of them favour the conference, they have yet to express strong support. They should assume greater responsibility for mobilising the Anglophone population to promote the conference.
Anglophone elected representatives, government officials and members of the National Commission on the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (created in January 2018 by President Biya in response to the Anglophone crisis) should also lobby the president in favour of this conference. This would help them regain credibility among Anglophones, many of whom view them as allies of Francophone domination rather than defenders of their community. Likewise, Francophone opposition and civil society leaders should support the actions of their Anglophone counterparts.
Cameroon’s international partners, notably the U.S., France, the European Union, the Vatican and the African Union, should support the conference as a potential first step toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict. To this end, they could clearly state that any obstruction or refusal to participate in the conference could lead to sanctions against any individuals hindering peace, whether government or separatist, and a reappraisal of security cooperation with Cameroon. Such measures would in any case already be justified by the abuses both sides have committed against civilians.
Government may be with the impression that they are winning, reason why it has a lukewarm attitude towards the AGC. With the population returning home after the October 7 polls, government sees a return to normalcy, hence no need to engage dialogue.
The infighting within the separatist camp at home and abroad may be playing in favour of a robust military strategy. The killing of ‘General’ Amigo, a separatist strongman in Belo among others might have come to strengthen government’s position to smoke the guns, rather than talk the talk.
Unfortunately, a new wave of kidnappings has further plunged the population into fear. The population in both regions is being pushed to breaking point, a situation further compounded by days of ghost towns and movement difficulties.
The recent call for a five-day lockdown by Chris Anu of the separatist bench almost showed their dislike for dialogue. His peers were quick to call him to order and the instructions reversed.
US diplomat, Herman Cohen says the war is unwinnable
Herman Jay “Hank” Cohen, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs twitted on Tuesday, November 19 that the conflict in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions is unwinnable by both parties.
“The #Cameroon civil conflict is unwinnable by either side. I recommend that @AsstSecStateAF, Ambassador Tibor Nagy, be asked by the protagonists to begin a mediation process,” he twitted.
Cohen brokered an end to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War in 1991, and conflicts in Angola and Mozambique.