By Andrew Nsoseka
Another year is fading out, yet the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions remains in a stalemate, with no feasible solution in sight, while young people in their numbers continue to have their dreams, and in the worst-case scenario, their lives snuffed out.
The crisis that has dragged on for four years running, is showing no signs of taking a logical end much-desired by those trapped in the conflict. The stalemate has left many confused and frustrated as they live not knowing what could happen in the next minute or day.
The year 2020 in Cameroon, has largely been preoccupied with the supposed implementation of a 24-year-old constitutional provision of decentralisation, largely described as a sham by many. There has also been much talked about implementing the Special Status granted the Northwest and Southwest regions where separatist campaigns have been going on for over four years. The Special status for the two English speaking regions has generally been very unpopular, especially as it was a result of 2019’s Major National Dialogue mostly attended by the ruling CPDM’s bigwigs and a few opposition leaders. Separatist fighters and activists who were expected to be the main party dialoguing with the government bench, and reaching a compromise were absent, thus making the much-trumpeted national dialogue seem like a monologue among flunkeys. In the end, it was just a constitutional clause from the country’s constitution that was reactivated to confer on the crisis regions, a special status, whose substance many still largely describe as inadequate for a people who are seeking greater autonomy and a say in matters that concern them.
In 2020, the Cameroon government rather focused its attention on organising local elections, for municipal and parliamentary seats. The elections were greatly mired in malpractices amidst a historic low voter turnout. The ruling CPDM largely ‘won’ the elections, even in some hotspots like in the Anglophone zones, where their militants mostly tiptoed in, using armoured cars, and then dashed out in like manner. Some of the supposedly elected officials are operating in regional headquarters and abhor the idea of staying within their constituencies to serve those who supposedly elected them.
Most of those who turned out to vote massively, were security and defence forces, who in some cases were accused of moving around and voting severally, especially as their names did not feature on the electoral registers. Most of them were from different regions, but were allowed to vote local representatives and councillors for communities they do not belong to. Court cases filed regarding the issue were simply thrown out in their multitudes on the guise that the servicemen had a right to vote, even when they do not know the candidates and did not belong to the community whose leaders they voted.
The issue of elections has dragged on, with the governing CPDM party making complete and total gains from it. In the regional elections, the CPDM is running unopposed in several regions, as those to vote, are councillors and traditional rulers who in their overwhelming numbers, are CPDM militants or flunkeys. With the exhibited mistrust for the electoral process in Cameroon, and corresponding voter apathy, the ruling CPDM has in its scramble, secured a sickening obese number of seats in councils, and well as parliament, that are not a sign of any healthy democratic society. They are expected to control all regional councils too. The country now rather looks like the days of the one-party system.
A government of hardliners and side-lined pacifists
In mid-2020, some government representatives met with leaders of the separatist movement for the first time, to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire. The meeting which held outside the prison premises was the first of its kind, and thus gave a feeling hope especially in the Anglophone zone where hope has been sapped away by the four-year and running conflict.
The sigh of relief was rather short-lived when the hard-line faction of the Cameroon government rose against holding peace talks with the separatists. Following the meeting, information filtered out that the first talks have been held with the separatist leaders serving life sentences. The information would later be confirmed by Separatists’ leader, Julius Ayuk Tabe, who affirmed that talks were held, to discuss a possible ceasefire. He also told his followers and believers in the Ambazonia dream that they are resolute and will not settle for anything short of complete independence for the two regions.
Shortly after, the hardliners in the Biya regime who were seemingly blindsided on the underground talks came up strongly against the move. The disagreement was publicly manifested when the Minister of Communication, Mr Emmanuel Rene Sadi was asked to produce a public note, disclaiming the meeting with separatist leaders. In his statement, the Minister craftily stated that news of the talks, was not consistent with the reality. The Minister, however, did not categorically state that the meeting did not hold.
It is alleged that the government, is operating in two camps, with one faction, extremely invested in the military option, while the other with people like Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, favours talks with the separatists as the best option to a lasting peace deal. The disagreement within the government bench in Cameroon lead to the crumbling of the glimmer of hope people had, when news broke out that talks were ongoing between the government and separatist leaders.
The year 2020 will again, like other years, end in a deadlock for the Anglophone crisis, which is steadily and gradually taking new dangerous twists. In 2020, several reports of explosives going off in the regions, as well as the economic and political capitals of the country have become too frequent. Such explosive attacks have largely been blamed or attributed to separatist activities.
In 2020, the country too has been dragged down by several other conflicts, especially protests from one of Cameroon’s political parties, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, of Prof. Maurice Kamto. A protest to oust the Biya regime organised on September 22 led to the brutal crackdown and arrest of protesters. The leader of the CRM has equally been placed on house arrest since then. Some women who protested half-naked demanding the release of Prof. Kamto were also arrested, before later released.
Towards the end of the year, lawyers too got into another fracas with the government, when an issue in court deteriorated and the police used teargas, and also brutally subdued lawyers. The issue also degenerated as lawyers were arrested, before later been slammed suspended sentences and fines. Due to the treatment meted out on lawyers, they announced a nationwide protest from November 30, to December 4.
President Biya- the ever missing leader
Meanwhile as the country is chocked in a stalemate in its most serious conflict that threatens Cameroon’s territorial integrity as the world knows it, the President, Mr Paul Biya has played the absentee landlord. With Several things going on, the president has used his traditional silent tactic to rule from the shadows.
Throughout 2020, there have been widespread rumours that the President has died. In his characteristic manner, the president who is seemingly unaccountable to anyone, and whose schedule is an issue of privacy is rarely seen or even heard from. As such Cameroonians only hear through rumours, or gossip what their president is up to. On rare occasions, the president is only spotted on photographs granting audiences or receiving a few diplomats at the Unity Palace in Etoudi, Yaounde.
Even Cameroon’ opposition Maurice Kamto, sometime seemed to have believed that the President was truly dead. In one of his outings, the CRM leader threatened that if President Biya does not show a sign that he was alive, then he, Kamto, was going to assume duty as the President of the republic. The outing by Kamto did not go well with CPDM Members. Kamto also expressed fears that there was an underground ploy for Biya to be succeeded by his son, Frank Biya. The rumours went wild, for quite a long time, then the President appeared receiving the French Ambassador to Cameroon, Christophe Guilhou.
While Biya remains as President, he is generally judged as been tired after almost four decades in office, as the President. The President who cannot keep up with the daily activities of the state as its president, had earlier delegated his signature to Ferdinand Ngo Ngo, a loyalist who is also much liked by the First Lady, Chantal Biya.
President Biya’s constitutional successor, is the President of the Senate, Marcel Niat Njifenji. Niat himself is aged out, and has spent much time abroad, where he receives medical attention. Many have also joked about the idea of Niat taking over the management of state affairs when he too appears to be more sapped of energy and strength like President Biya.