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Cameroon is still a far cry from peace

Kate Hairsine AFP
October 31, 2019

Fighting has intensified one month after Cameroon's government called a National Dialogue to try to end the bloody secessionist crisis in the Anglophone regions. Many separatist leaders have shunned the talks.

Police patrol in Buea, Cameroon (file 2018)
Police patrol the markeplace in Buea, the capital of Cameroon's Southwest region (File: 2018)Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Longari

Anglophone fighters have clashed with government security forces almost daily in the past two years of the conflict in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, a mostly Francophone country.

A month after the government called a five-day National Dialogue to try to stop the violence, it appears the violence is intensifying rather than abating.

"Just this week, there were several accounts of attacks on government installations and police and soldiers being killed by 'Ambazonia' fighters," reported DW journalist Eyong Blaise, referring to the Anglophone seccessionist forces named after their self-proclaimed independent state, Ambazonia.

Blaise also said, there were reports of Cameroonian soldiers burning homes and villages in the Northwest region.

"In terms of security, from both the side of the government forces and the Ambazonian fighters, nothing has changed since the dialogue ended," Blaise said on the phone from Buea, the capital of the Southwest region.  

Talks fails to deliver

The government of President Paul Biya invited more than 1,000 participants, including lawmakers, priests, teachers and civil society, to a National Dialogue held between September 30 and October 4.

Dozens of recommendations were adopted.

However, rebel leaders have criticized the resolutions as being decided without the presence of key stakeholders. Anglophone separatist leaders living outside of Cameroon refused to attend the talks amid fears they would be arrested on terrorism charges if they entered the country. They had called for such negotiations to be held in a foreign country with UN mediators.

"At the end of the day, [the National Dialogue] was more of a smokescreen gathering put together by members of the [CPDM] ruling party and it did not represent the aspirations of the people on the ground," journalist and political analyst Fah Elvis Tayong told DW on the phone from Douala, Cameroon's commercial capital.

Although the government has said it is working on implementing the resolutions to restore peace, nothing concrete has yet been announced. 

Suffering population

"Before the dialogue, people on the ground — taxi drivers, shopkeepers and market women — thought it was going to be a platform where change was going to come. ... But it hasn't profited them so far," DW journalist Blaise said.

The Anglophone population has been suffering the brunt of the conflict.

Around a third of the Anglophone population need urgent humanitarian assistance and a tenth (some 536,000 people) have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations, since the violence erupted in late 2017.

80% of schools are still shuttered as a result of a ban on education imposed by militia groups and an estimated 40% of health care centers in the Southwest region aren't functioning.

Attacked for going to school

Desperate to leave

Cameroon has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of people asking for passports.

According to the Delegate General for National Security, Martin Mbarga Nguele, so many people are applying for the document that processing time has soared from one week to one to two months.

Foreign embassies in the country are also being overwhelmed by Anglophone Cameroonians requesting visas.

The ambassador of France to Cameroon, Christophe Guilhou, for example, recently told journalists that in the past five months, visa applications had soared from several hundred a month to several thousand.

One of the some 300 people waiting outside the German embassy in Yaounde this week, 41-year-old Damian Che says he wants to leave Cameroon because he doesn't believe the separatist crisis will end soon.

Che's wife and two daughters were killed in the conflict and his compound was burnt down by the military.

Children sit in front of a house without a door or window planes
Tens of thousands of Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria to escape the violence in the English speaking regionsImage: DW/Katrin Gänsler

He says people were "so happy" when President Biya first announced the dialogue because they hoped it would bring an end to the war.

"But unfortunately, the dialogue did not yield fruits," he told DW.

For some, the situation is so bad they are even considering attempting the dangerous trek to Europe and enter illegally.

"If you are a detained in Europe, you are better off than someone who in the Southwest or Northwest regions of Cameroon because you can be killed there at any moment," 19-year old Sylvie Kalga told DW. "So I prefer to take the chance to go to Europe and be detained rather than to stay in Cameroon and be killed."

The numbers of those fleeing over the border to Nigeria to seek refuge have also jumped with UNCHR counting 42,600 refugees there.

Release of detainees

Photo of Cameroon's President Paul Biya sitting on an ornate chair
Cameroon President Paul Biya, the world's longest serving elected leader, spends months at a time vacationing in SwitzerlandImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Lintao Zhang

Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for 37 years, has struggled to contain the conflict. The 86-year-old rarely speaks in public or meets his government and spends months each year retreating and living in the luxury five-star Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland.

Absent from the dialogue amid talk of his failing health, Biya announced during the talks that 333 detainees arrested in connection with the crisis would be released.

Analyst Fah Elvis Tayong dismissed the announcement as a "cosmetic solution, which is far from resolving the conflict."

He said Biya's government currently needed to release hundreds of others held in prison,including 10 leaders who were sentenced in August to life in prison on terrorism charges,  Biya should also create an environment where Anglophone diaspora leaders are able to attend talks.

"A proper dialogue still needs to take place if the government wants to bring an end to the bloodshed," he said.

Edwin Moki Kindzeka in Yaounde contributed to this article.

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