By Andrew Nsoseka
On January 4, 2019, President Paul Biya appointed Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute as Cameroon’s Prime Minister, replacing Philemon Yang. PM Dion Ngute’s appointment was particularly unique in that he came into office, at a time the country was going through its greatest challenge since independence and reunification.
Thus, since his taking over as head of the Biya led government regime, he has principally shouldered the responsibility to fight for a return to normalcy in the face of the Anglophone crisis and the Maurice Kamto-led civil disobedience, revive the economy, make Cameroonians to believe in the system, – all these which he does from within a government he heads, but not without stiff resistance from some ministers and members of the CPDM regime. Particularly, the handling of the country’s Anglophone crisis, that has created factions within the government, at various extreme ends.
The appointment of Dion Ngute, a diplomat who in his person, carries a charisma, and a diplomatic smile that enables him to relate and discuss almost with anyone- even perceived regime staunch enemies, gave some hope that some of the dire problems faced by the government could as well be in their last days.
There was hope, particularly in Anglophone regions, which were immediately toured by the new PM, with a message of hope, from President Paul Biya. As he toured the crisis-ridden regions, PM Dion Ngute held consultative talks with locals and groups. He promised that his new government was this time around, committed to solving the Anglophone crisis. He promised those he spoke to, that their views and demands, as well as opinions on how to solve the crisis will be presented to President Paul Biya for prompt action.
Organisation of Major National Dialogue
After his tours, the PM’s promises seemed to be taking shape. A Major National Dialogue was announced by President Paul Biya, principally to handle the Anglophone Crisis. The new PM was assigned to organise and chair the dialogue process, where the general expectation was that separatists who were the principal actors were going to take part in the process, in order to bring forth a lasting solution agreed on by both parties.
Invitations were dispatched to various separatists’ leaders who immediately picked holes in the process. Many asked for guarantee that they would not be arrested on arrival and imprison. Many demanded that the arrested leadership in Kondengui Prison in Yaounde, be released and dialogued with. Others also demanded that the dialogue be organised in a neutral territory where both parties will feel free to express their opinions. Most demands of separatists were not factored in.
Also, a clause that doused off the aspirations of many, was that noting that delegates were to discuss on any subject, but the form of state was not up for discussion.
The PM finally chaired the dialogue process, boycotted by main actors, and attended by political parties, and regime flunkeys. Many rather described it as a monologue. The main outcome was the conference of a ‘special status’ on the crisis-ridden Anglophone regions.
Tabs On The PM Begin
Tabs on PM Dion Ngute are said to have started when he was appointed to chair the Major National Dialogue. Before canvassing and securing the idea of handling the crisis through a dialogue, PM Dion Ngute was aware of the extremists in the regime, who did not appreciate the idea of dialoguing with separatists. It is reported that the Secretary-General at the presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh lurked around, to keep tabs on what was going on. He reportedly placed people around, to closely monitor what was done.
The PM was thus in a tight spot, to execute the mission given him, and at the same time, please all, especially those within the regime, who barely respect the Prime Ministry as head of governance. The extremists within the regime, particularly form walls to ward off what they consider to be against their interests. Many have blamed extremists in government for fighting against a peaceful end to the crisis. Many had hoped that PM Dion Ngute, as he promised, will deliver a peaceful deal, to quell the crisis in the Anglophone regions.
Critics have faulted a group of ministers and regime bigwigs for only supporting the use of the military option in solving the Anglophone crisis. They have also been accusations of many benefitting from the war situation, and as such, fighting any initiative to peacefully resolve the crisis.
Regime Extremists Again Frustrate Move To End Crisis
In the first week of July 2020, representatives of Cameroon’s government held their first direct talks with separatist leaders serving life jail terms at the Kondengui Central Prison. The talks were the closest thing the government and separatists have come to addressing their differences, since the crisis started in 2017.
News of the talks was received with joy throughout the country, and particularly in the Anglophone regions. People who had been frustrated by the war were relieved, hoping that the talks could yield fruits, after the much trumpeted Major National Dialogue failed to deter the determination of separatists who boycotted.
Information of the talks was confirmed by Julius Ayuk Tabe, the leader of the separatists serving a life jail term alongside many others. He said the talks were geared towards a possible ceasefire. He assured his followers that their goal of independence still stands. The talks were held out of the prison facility, in a neutral place, a Bishop’s house where both parties could express their views freely. Government representatives left the meeting, promising to get back to the leaders, after forwarding their demands to government’s high command.
Regime Extremists Botch Plan
Hopes of those who welcomed the talks, were again dampened when the extremists in government and the CPDM party who oppose the dialogue option of the crisis launched frantic efforts to discredit the move spearheaded by PM Chief Dr Dion Ngute. The group, led by the Secretary-General at the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, after learning of the underground talks immediately tried to sabotage the talks.
Ngoh Ngoh who favours the failed Swiss mediated talks that had mainly targeted less influential separatists abroad saw the talks as being against their interest, especially as he was not consulted. The direct talks with the incarcerated leaders were viewed both by those who favoured the seemingly sluggish and unproductive Swiss-mediated talks, as well as those who favoured just the military option as posing a great danger to their interests. Again Dion Ngute’s initiative was sabotaged.
Days after the first meeting, the anti-talks faction in government strong-armed the Minister of Communication and government spokesperson, Emmanuel Rene Sadi to issue a press statement to discredit the talks. Sadi went on to issue a statement saying that information circulating about underground talks with imprisoned separatist leaders was not “consistent with reality”. The statement was then touted around by extremists in government as a win against the pro-dialogue faction led by PM Dion Ngute. The move killed the euphoria that was created when news of the talks filtered out.
Dion Ngute though open minded principally failed in finding a solution to the Anglophone crisis through the Major National Dialogue, probably because of the restrictions placed on discussion topics, and the lack of political will to make the talks open enough for the main actors, separatists to attend.
He, however, through tact, made a few to believe in the system, though somewhere along the line, they were seemingly let down, especially by actions that were beyond the PM’s competence, especially as not all government members submit to him as head of government.
Though the crises facing the country have dominated what Dion Ngute can be evaluated on, he has also succeeded in some areas, like the encouragement of local production of essential goods, dousing off of some anti-government feelings, he has equally tried to promote the idea of attracting foreign investments in Cameroon, though it is particularly difficult due to the hostile political climate. In the domain of infrastructural development, especially as the Country planned to host major African football tournaments, the Dion Ngute led government has given some towns face lifts, though the construction or maintenance of some roads, and even the construction or renovation of some football infrastructure.