Cameroon: Mixed Reactions as President Biya calls for National Dialogue

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

President Paul Biya addressed the Nation in an unprecedented State of the Nation's Address, September 10, 2019 in Yaounde
President Paul Biya addressed the Nation in an unprecedented State of the Nation’s Address, September 10, 2019 in Yaounde

The President of the Republic of Cameroon Paul Biya has called for a national dialogue by the end of this month in a bid to bring an end to the present upheavals in the North West and South West Regions. In an unprecedented address to the nation on September 10, 2019, the Head of State indicated that all stakeholders will be invited for the dialogue-something which has been called for by many.

Before Biya’s address late on Tuesday, there were the expectations that the president might grant amnesty to arrest separatists and political leaders as a way to bring peace to the country.

Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute will chair the dialogue which would bring together governmental officials, and representatives of armed separatist groups. “The dialogue to be presided over by the prime minister will bring together all Cameroonians, especially traditional rulers, lawmakers, the clergy and all elected officials,” Biya said.

Without naming the countries, the president said the armed separatists were “mainly inspired from abroad,” and the solution to the crisis “lies within our Republic.” “Cameroon will remain one and indivisible,” Biya said at the end of the speech.

The Head of State equally indicated that great efforts have been made to solve the crisis and denied any marginalization of the English-speaking regions, saying he has always appointed ministers from there. “We should all know that we are Cameroonians, appointed to serve Cameroon, not our tribes or linguistic groups,” Biya said.

Nkongho Agbor Balla, an Anglophone activist, told Al Jazeera that “the call for an all-inclusive dialogue is very appreciated”, saying the announcement “should signal the end of arrests of Anglophones for their political ideas.”

“Whilst my expectations were not fully met in the speech, we should give peace a chance by supporting the dialogue process. I urge those who will be attending the national dialogue to call for the release of all those detained in connection with the crisis, the need for constitutional amendment and also to ensure that the form of the state is equally discussed at the dialogue table,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also welcomed the announcement. His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement that Guterres “encourages the government of Cameroon to ensure that the process is inclusive” and “calls on all Cameroonian stakeholders, including the Diaspora, to participate in this effort.”

Much information but little substance-MRC official

Though many received the message from the head of state with so much joy, others say the president should put more substance in what he has said. Speaking to the Secretary General of the MRC Party, Barrister Ndong Christopher, he said, “the president has done a good thing by calling for a national dialogue. However, one would have thought him would have granted amnesty to all who are in prison in connection to the crisis.”

“The speech fell short of so many things” he said while indicating that “We expected that he will have granted general amnesty to those of the Diaspora and anybody in prison in the cause of the crisis. You cannot be calling Cameroonians to come from the Diaspora when amnesty has not been granted-it is a legal document to guarantee that those who ran away even if they come for the dialogue, nothing will happen to them.”

“We also expected him to grant pardon to all those political prisoners, and their militants who were locked up. I already see a CPDM dialogue issue as main people who should constitute the dialogue team are not present.” “We are waiting to see how the dialogue will be implemented but it is dead upon arrival because people like Ayuk Tabe and the Nera 10 are in prison for life, Kamto and his collaborators are in prison, honestly there is a problem. The Head of state has yet to demilitarize the North West and South West, he has not granted a general amnesty which is something which is prerequisite for dialogue.”

The MRC official has raised scepticism on the Prime Minister being charged with selecting those to be present for the dialogue. He said, “… The Prime Minister is there, and we all know it will be a CPDM affair. If Kamto, Ayuk Tabe and their collaborators are in prison, who then are those to dialogue with. The people they shall call are not the people who started the problem. Before you dialogue, you do so with the man who is giving you headache, not the man that is comfortable.”

The Anglophone crisis which has been going on for more than Two years now has seen many killed, displaced or become refugees in neighboring Nigeria. Attacks by both sides have left 1,850 dead, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, while the UN says 530,000 people have fled their homes. According to UN aid officials, more than one in six people in Cameroon-4.3 million need humanitarian aid, an increase of 30 percent from 2018.


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