The opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), destabilised by the mass exodus of its militants, most of whom have become the target of separatist militias, is divided over its participation in the local elections of 9 February.
Cameroon: “We cannot establish a dialogue in a country at war”
Leader of the Now! political party, Akere Muna, explains the reasons for his departure, and the poor chances of success of President Paul Biya's 'Grand Dialogue', which aims to put an end to the crisis in the English-speaking regions.
On the second day of Cameroon’s National Dialogue — talks to end fighting between government forces and militia in the North West and South West Regions — several members of the Cameroonian political class walked out.
- Alice Sadio, Jean Jacques Ekindi and Celestin Bedzigui have added their names to the list of those who slammed the door on the National Dialogue.
- The day before, Muna, a candidate in the 2018 presidential election before withdrawing his candidacy in favour of Maurice Kamto, was the first to announce his final departure from the Palais des Congrès, after having tried in vain to have the question of the structure of the State included on the agenda.
- Muna, who is also chair of the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), has been reported as saying that federalism needed to be discussed during the dialogue. But since the talks were announced, the country’s Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute said that Biya was against discussing the idea of separatism.
Many feel that the views opposed to those of the government have not been taken into account.
This observation is not shared by the Secretary General of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), Gregoire Owona, who said that these politicians “believed they could take the dialogue hostage”. “Let them let us work quietly for peace,” he said.
The chances of success of the dialogue remain a thorny issue, especially since hordes of secessionists paraded in some English-speaking villages to celebrate the proclaimed independence of Ambazonia on Tuesday, October 1. Ambazonia is what separatists would name Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in the event of a split.
According to corroborating sources, warlord Lekeaka Oliver, popularly known as “Field Marshall”, reappeared in his village in Azi, in the North West.
But for Muna, it is necessary to “resume this dialogue on a new basis”, to give peace a chance.
Why did you decide to leave the work of the National Dialogue?
Akere Muna: First of all, I think it was with great reluctance that I was called to this meeting. I am not a neophyte of this type of event either, but I wanted to go there to find out what was going on. I therefore found myself in the plenary session after the opening ceremony. Only, it was completely tied up in advance. The speakers were already designated, there was no question-and-answer session, no spontaneous participation was possible.
In other words, there was a list of speakers, they were called to the desk, they delivered their speeches, the chairs of the committees were appointed, and that was the end of the work. There was no room for manoeuvre. I didn’t see myself sitting with pre-determined speakers without being able to say what I think.
You submitted your contribution to the Prime Minister on September 24 to give your point of view on the English-speaking crisis. Were you not informed of these conditions at that time?
Not at all. The only thing I was informed of the day before was that eight commissions were going to be created, all chosen by the President of the Republic. Once there, everything was prepared in advance.
When we talk about dialogue, we assume that we will talk to each other. In his opening speech to the plenary session, the Prime Minister also announced that a list would be made available to the audience in order to expand the interventions. But that has never been the case.
What were your proposals for resolving this crisis?
There is a debate in the North West and South West, and you have to be blind not to see it: it is the form of the State. This debate began in 1964, with Dr. [Bernard] Fonlon’s memorandum to President Ahmadou Ahidjo, in which he already called for a permanent dialogue between Anglophones and Francophones.
With the advent of multiparty politics in 1992, the demands came to a halt because Anglophones felt that the democratic path could solve the problems of inequity and injustice. But the management of this election made it clear to Anglophones that one of their own would never be president in this country.
In 1996, the adoption of a new Constitution with the empowerment of the regions brought new hope. But in 2004, the law guiding this decentralisation was once again disappointing, as it became clear that the central administration still controlled everything. Until this issue is debated, the problem will remain.
You are pushing for federalism. However, Yaoundé seems willing to accelerate decentralisation and the transfer of power to local communities…
Decentralisation was adopted in 1996, but it was only 23 years later that it was debated. I am not sure that this shows a willingness to apply it.
According to the 1961 Constitution, the foundations of the federal state were not those of a rapprochement between the governed and the rulers, but rather of the union of two territories: the British Southern Cameroons and the Republic that had become independent. The foundations of this federation were more political and were defined according to the formula “one country, two systems”.
This system is flouted and justifies complaints from Anglophones. The case of the translation into English of the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) Code, which was one of their claims, illustrates that the first language in Cameroon is French and that English is relegated to the background. Decentralisation can never take the view that there are two systems, and therefore the problem can never be solved.
Does the National Dialogue have no chance of putting an end to the violence?
This dialogue is as likely to succeed as giving the malaria drug to someone suffering from another disease. This type of event requires that you, the participants, have agreed on the prerequisites, and that they go there to discuss the execution of the resolutions.
We cannot establish a dialogue in a country at war, where thousands of people are refugees, with political prisoners, without a ceasefire, etc. We can’t walk in the same direction if we haven’t reconciled with ourselves yet.
How to save this dialogue?
It must be restarted on a new basis, held elsewhere, and another mediator appointed. I am called a “harmful” person because I give my point of view. Sultan Mbombo Njoya [a member of the ruling CPDM] also made a proposal for a mandate limitation, before being immediately silenced despite the whole room applauding him. We have cultivated intolerance and a very incestuous political system, in which no other dialogue is allowed.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique