The crisis in Cameroon can still be resolved peacefully

Here is how we, an anglophone and a francophone, see the solution to Cameroon’s violent crisis.

Cameroonian elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) members patrol the abandoned village of Elona near Buea in the anglophone southwest region, Cameroon on October 4, 2018 [Reuters/Zohra Bensemra]

Speaking recently on the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention Adama Dieng said, “there is always a solution when people accept genuinely to sit together and discuss in good faith.”

We agree. This is why we, a Francophone daughter and anglophone son of Cameroon, have come together on the eve of our country’s presidential elections to urge the government and Anglophone separatist leaders to urgently engage in a mediated dialogue to find a peaceful way out of the crisis that has taken the lives of hundreds of our brothers and sisters.  

Anglophone Cameroonians in the country’s northwest and southwest regions have been discriminated, marginalised, assimilated, and persecuted by the majority francophone population and the government. They have felt like second-class citizens in their own country: kept out of jobs and educational opportunities, politically and economically discriminated against, culturally ignored.  

The present crisis, stemming from events in late 2016, is akin to a pot long overboiling with water. Anglophone teachers and lawyers peacefully demonstrated for education reform, for having common law-trained judges in the courts in the Anglophone regions, and to have judges who speak English. The government responded harshly, leading some Anglophones to call not just for more autonomy but for independence from Francophone Cameroon.

The Cameroonian government must address the demands of the Anglophone community, but the way in which it has done so is wrong. Arresting thousands of peaceful protesters and imprisoning many in inhuman and degrading conditions is not right. Manipulating our country’s media to discredit human rights defenders is wrong. And most of all, killing hundreds of Anglophone Cameroonians, abusing and raping women, setting fire to their villages, is an abomination of the highest order, and must be forcefully condemned by all Cameroonians.  

Similarly, the cause of the Anglophone community is right, but the way in which its leaders fight for their cause is not. Setting fire to schools and attacking teachers and students is not right. Killing government soldiers is wrong. Taking an eye for an eye is never right – it will make us all go blind.

Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Anglophone separatist leaders must heed Adama Dieng’s advice. Dialogue may seem more painful than violence to some, because it often reopens memories and acrimony. But what is the alternative? Shall we continue killing each other until no one is left?

Cameroon’s future will be destroyed for Anglophones and Francophones alike if we do not sit together to acknowledge our painful past, bind the wounds that divide us, and forge ahead in a shared path that is more peaceful, just, and fair for all Cameroonians.

The steps to take are simple. What is hardest is to find the courage to take them. Yet in these times, we must all find courage; there is no other way. 

Firstly, Cameroonian President Paul Biya must rein in government security forces from violently repressing civilians. He must demilitarise the anglophone regions and order government forces to respect the right of Cameroonians to peacefully express themselves and assemble. Crucially, he must guarantee that justice is delivered to anyone who has committed violence and atrocities.  

Secondly, President Biya must publicly commit to engaging in a mediated dialogue with Anglophone leaders to find a peaceful way out of the present crisis. He must allow Anglophone leaders from the diaspora to travel to Cameroon to participate in an Anglophone General Conference, as proposed by Cardinal Christian Tumi.

A dialogue won’t be possible without involving Anglophone leaders because they are influential, and their participation is crucial for the success of any peace initiative. These leaders should be granted immunity from arrest and a general amnesty should be granted to those who are imprisoned.

Thirdly, Anglophone leaders must commit to using nonviolence to fight for their cause. Leaders in the diaspora must order their followers in Cameroon to stop attacking schools, villages, and government forces. The right way to advance their cause is to convene together, commit to a ceasefire, and to make concrete proposals that can form a sound basis for a mediated dialogue with the government.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, international community leaders must support efforts for a mediated dialogue. They can do this by publicly calling for it and using their leverage to compel Cameroonian government and anglophone leaders to mediation.

The United Nations must continue offering mediation support and so must the United States and France. Both are heavily invested in the fight against Boko Haram; it is not within their for instability in Cameroon to disrupt these efforts and turn the country into a safe space for extremist armed groups.

France, whose legacy in Cameroon extends to colonial times, must insist with President Biya that he accept mediation efforts; the US government must press anglophone diaspora leaders living there to engage in a dialogue.

We understand that our country’s divisions cannot be healed overnight. There is no magic solution for the wounds that been inflicted on us by colonialism, wounds that have deepened since our independence in 1961 and since the establishing of a unified federal government in 1972. It is only through an all-inclusive dialogue, between us Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians, that a solution can be reached. We have more we that we share than that divides us.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.