By Amos Fofung and Ajong Mbapndah L
A few weeks shy of one year since the Major National Dialogue touted by the Yaoundé regime as a panacea to the myriad of problems facing the country, Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme of the Cameroon Federalist Society says the forum was a colossal failure of historic proportions. The USA based medical Doctor who honored an invitation to be at the Dialogue, says Yaoundé has not shown any modicum of good faith and seriousness when it comes to resolving the crisis in the English-speaking parts of the country.
Describing the National Dialogue as a drama, written, directed, and produced by the Cameroon government, Dr Eseme says it was a waste of time, opportunity, and resources for a charade designed to impress the international community.
“There is a reason the people are angry. That reason is not a military one. Therefore, the solution cannot be military. It is the responsible of the government to protect people and property, but it is also their responsibility to ensure justice and fairness reigns,” Eseme says as he urged the government to put country and people above politics .
“There is something fundamentally wrong and sad when a people are pushed to the wall. This is what has happened to us. I am however very optimistic about our future. I have no doubt in my mind that future includes a form of federalism,” says Dr Eseme.
On the way forward, Eseme opined that it was imperative for Anglophones to meet under a broad umbrella that accommodates all views before any future moves to negotiate with the government. Though no details were given, Dr Eseme said there was movement towards this.
Dr Eseme could we start this interview by getting some background information on the Cameroon Federalist Society that you lead?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I want to start by thanking Pan African Visions for this opportunity to share our vision with the public. The Cameroon Federalist Movement (CFM) is a body of Cameroonians who believe a Federal system of government is best to ensure Justice and Fairness in Cameroon. We have a global membership and are headquartered in the United States of America. Membership is open to all Cameroonians. CFM had its Constitutive General Assembly on October 27, 2018 in Bowie, Maryland. We have released a document called Blueprint to Federalism which we have published extensively in the local media in Cameroon. In recognition of the important role we play, 6 of our members were invited to take part in the Major National Dialogue that took place in Yaoundé from September 30 to October 4, 2019.
How do you situate the relevance of the Federalist Society and what it stands and advocate for in the present political context in Cameroon?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I believe CFM continues to remain a major stakeholder in the political future of Cameroon. We believe our vision is consistent with that of most Cameroonians. We are not radical, and we think our position is sound, just and fair. If you were to take a well-designed survey of Cameroonians, I have no doubt most will agree with our ideology. Cameroon is an idea and whatever we choose to make of this idea is up to us, but one thing remains indisputable. This idea called Cameroon belongs to all of us, without exception. It does not belong to one man, one tribe or one region. Unfortunately, we have a Head of State who is not only out of sight but out of touch as well, with his citizens. So far, he seems to have succeeded in dividing us but as the saying goes, you can fool some of the people all the time; you can even fool all of the people some time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The Cameroon government has behaved like an Ostrich with its head buried underground for so long that it is not sustainable. Sooner than later, even the Ostrich will have to raise its head to breathe. We believe that time is closer than we all think.
Last year you participated at the Major National Dialogue, could you tell us how the Federalist Society obtained this invitation, and in accepting to honor it, what were your expectations?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: Indeed, six of our members, including myself were invited by the Head of State to participate in the Major National Dialogue. Our invitations were without any lobbying on our part. We believe it was in recognition of the force of our activism. On this note therefore, I have to appreciate the openness of the Head of State to have extended those invitations knowing our established position. Initially, there was no consensus among our leadership regarding our attendance. Eventually, we decided to attend, not because we were expecting the old dog to learn new tricks, but out of a sense of patriotic duty.
At the National Dialogue proper, how active were you in the deliberations, and did you get the impression that the proposals you brought or that the Society had in mind towards the resolution of the political crisis in Cameroon were given due consideration?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: On day one, the proverbial handwriting was already on the wall. The Prime Minister, who played the role of Conference organizer, handpicked all the Commission members with a majority of them drawn from hardliners. At that point we knew it was fixed but we decided to stay to fight because when you believe in something, you don’t give up. You might have seen the interview I gave to CRTV on the first day. I made it known in very strong language how disappointed we were. Interestingly, CRTV who had solicited my interview on the first day, did everything to avoid me the next day. I think they received a warning from the government not to grant me any further interviews. I was part of the Commission on decentralization which was chaired by Mr. Ngole Philip Ngwese who pretended to be fair but was so glaringly biased. On day one, he allowed Professor Joseph Owona, who had no business being there, to speak uninterrupted for about 30 minutes while I was limited to only 3 minutes. It was a shame and a sham.
Was it of concern to you that organizations and leaders with known separatist sentiments were not invited to the National Dialogue?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: To be fair to the government, separatist leaders were also invited. I saw their invites. I am not sure what difference it would have made though, given the tight manner in which they controlled the deliberations.
A year after the dialogue, what would you say has changed from Cameroon, is there any tangible progress that you can point to as a fallout of that forum?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I am going to very clear here so that I am not misinterpreted or misquoted. In my humble opinion and by any metric measure, The Major National Dialogue was a colossal failure of historic proportions. It was a waste of time, opportunity and resources. The government was never serious. They did it for show and to impress the international community. As I was leaving Yaoundé on October 4, I could not help but realize I had just taken part in a drama, written, directed and produced by the Cameroon government.
In lieu of the Federation that you and many others saw as a solution, the government opted for a special status and for a year now there has not been much progress on that, what is your take on this?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: The Special Status idea was proposed by Mr. Edward Akame Mfoumou, who is by any measure not a proponent for change. So right there I had my suspicions but because they were in charge of everything, they made it seem as if it was a consensus decision. It was not. There is no need for a Special Status for Anglophones. A Special Status is what you give to someone who otherwise does not deserve or qualify for that status. In other words, it is an accommodation. An example would be to grant special seating arrangements or parking to the disabled.
Anglophones are neither disabled nor begging for what is rightfully theirs. I am not surprised the Special Status was not enthusiastically received and has not been the panacea they thought it would be. The letter behind it was wrong but more importantly the spirit behind the idea was very disingenuous.
As we do this interview, Bamenda in the NW region is literally under siege, what message do you have for the Cameroon government which seems resolute on using force to stop the crisis?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: My message to the Cameroon government is to put Country above politics and people before party. There is a reason the people are angry. That reason is not a military one. Therefore, the solution cannot be military. It is the responsible of the government to protect people and property, but it is also their responsibility to ensure justice and fairness reigns. The problem with our government is that they don’t always believe that the authority and power they have, must be balanced by accountability and responsibility.
With everything that has been going on, the human right abuses, the characteristic bad faith of the government, the general insensitivity to the plight of people in the NW and SW regions, how hard is it for you and members of your group to sell the federal option to those who see no future with Cameroon?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I would be lying if I told you it was easy. The longer this fight goes on, the more desperate people are going to become. Desperate people are going to do desperate things. There is something fundamentally wrong and sad when a people are pushed to the wall. This is what has happened to us. I am however very optimistic about our future. I have no doubt in my mind that future includes a form of federalism.
Based on your experience at the National Dialogue, if the Government decides to hold another forum, under what conditions will you and the Federalist Society consider participation?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: Fool me once, shame unto you. Fool me twice, shame unto me. We have learned a bitter lesson, unfortunately, a very costly one too. Too many lives have been lost. Lives that could have been spared. There is only one condition under which we can discuss again with the government. Anglophones must first meet under a large enough umbrella to accommodate all views. Only after this has been done, can we move to negotiate with the government. I am pleased to inform the public there is some movement toward this end.
We end with a word on the way forward, what recommendations do you have for the government and for the actors from the North West and South West with diverse positions and approaches?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: My final word is a reminder of what this is all about. It is about the future of our nation. I would advise those supporting the Head of State in his misguided approach to solve this problem militarily, that Mr. Biya is not the future. He is the past. I would also advise my brothers and sisters who are armed and fighting, to drop their arms. Mr. Biya is not a hill worth dying on. Our future is bright, very bright and it is without Mr. Biya.
Thanks for answering our questions
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: You bet!