By Boris Esono Nwenfor
A four-day high-level leadership retreat bringing together all armed separatist groups, the Anglophone Civil Society, women leaders, religious and cultural leaders gets underway in Toronto, Canada with the goal of seeking a framework for collaborative actions towards a peaceful settlement of the five-year civil war in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
The closed-door event will run from 29th October to 1st November and is organized by the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations, an international non-governmental organization of Southern Cameroonians that seeks to find a pathway to credible, mediated negotiations to end the spiraling conflict.
For the first time since the start of this conflict a cross-section and diverse group of Anglophone leaders from Cameroon and the diaspora will sit together to assess the conflict, attempt to build consensus on how to engage all Southern Cameroonians towards a common pathway to peace. A tentative program seen by Pan African Visions indicates they will seek ways to advance negotiations to end the conflict, how to ensure access to humanitarian aid and how to ensure that basic human rights are upheld in the conflict-affected areas.
Speaking to Pan African Visions by phone to better understand the expectations of the Retreat Dr. Denis Foretia, Co-Chair of the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations noted that “Everyone knows that there is no military solution to this war. The government cannot win militarily. We must find all ways to bring peace and that is only possible when there is a broad consensus on the process to achieve a mediated settlement. This retreat will help Southern Cameroonian leaders and other key stakeholders define that pathway.”
Since 2017, a war of secession has seen deadly fighting between government forces and separatists. Both sides have committed widespread atrocities, leading to thousands of deaths and the displacement of approximately half a million people, either internally or as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Despite the holding of the Major National Dialogue by the government, a dialogue that many found wanting, the fighting ongoing in the North West and South West Regions of the country has not slowed down but instead intensified in recent months and this has hampered joint engagement toward dialogue to end the civil war.
In its latest report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, highlighted the impact the violence has had on education: “Since the beginning of the crisis in 2016, education has been highly affected. Many schools have closed to avoid frequent attacks against education facilities. Teachers and students have been attacked, kidnapped, threatened and killed. In 2021, more than 700, 000 children are deprived of education in the South West and North West Regions.”
It should be noted that the various armed separatist groups have at times fought each other both on social media as well as on the ground with some deadly consequences. Some armed groups have been accused of inflicting harm on the population and many have complained that lockdowns imposed by some separatist groups further exacerbates the precarious conditions in the English-speaking regions. This retreat, it is hoped, will be a new beginning towards more collaboration.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic across the world, only participants who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter Canada and show no signs or symptoms of COVID-19. Participants and observers will have to show proof of vaccination in the “AriveCAN App” and also meet all the entry requirements.
An estimated 100 Southern Cameroonian leaders from Cameroon and around the world are expected to participate in the retreat. Those attending the retreat include women’s groups from Cameroon, religious leaders from the Anglophone regions, leaders of youth groups, armed separatist leaders based in the diaspora, non-armed separatist groups, leaders of humanitarian and civil society organizations, traditional leaders from Cameroon and members of the Council of Elders.
More than 30 groups will be represented. Some foreign governments supportive of efforts towards peace are expected to participate as observers. This Leadership Retreat builds on last year’s Virtual International Conference also organized by the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations. It may just be the type of constructive action everyone is looking to see. Only time will tell.
About the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations
The Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations, CDN is an international non-governmental organization with the specific goal of facilitating dialogue and negotiation towards ending the war in Anglophone Southern Cameroons. CDN is made of professionals from all works of life and over 20 partner organizations worldwide advocating for an end to the war. CDN members work with its partners to strengthen international involvement in resolving the conflict and building durable peace in the conflict-affected territories.