By Boris Esono Nwenfor
With the huge international involvement in the Retreat by some G-7 countries and the participation of the Swiss Government, the Coalition for Dialogue and negotiation, CDN, hopes that this retreat would lead to a broader international mediation of the conflict (Swiss 2.0) – which ties with the aspirations of many Southern Cameroonians, as expressed in different surveys.
A CDN 2020 survey showed that more than 80% of Southern Cameroonians are in support of a multi-country international mediation of the conflict. The retreat organized by CDN ran from Thursday, Oct 28, 2021, through Monday, November 1, 2002, in Toronto, Canada.
The high-level leadership retreat brought together a very diverse group of Southern Cameroonian leaders across religious, traditional authorities, civil society, Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs), women’s and youths’ groups.
High profile attendees among Cameroonian civil society included: Prof Carlson Anyangwe who been one of the most articulate voices of the Southern Cameroons case across generations, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon Rt Rev Fonki Samuel, the Arch Bishop Emeritus Esua, Barrister Agbor Balla of CHRDA, the US-based US Institute of Peace (USIP) Award-winning Peace Crusader, Esther Omam, former SDF MP for Boyo Paulinus Jua amongst others.
The Ambazonian NSAGs attendees included: AGOVC Vice-chair, Dr Julius Nyih; IG-Care (of Sisiku AyukTabe) by its Vice President, Yerima Yapney; Consortium leader, John Mbah Akuroh; amongst others, while representatives from three G-7 Countries, including Switzerland and officials involved in the Swiss-led-Mediation- Process participated from the international community.
Panelists on the retreat include leading peace and conflict resolution practitioners from renowned institutions in Ireland (they prefer not to be named), Canadian and U.S. Universities.
According to sources, the Retreat followed Chatham house rules, with participants able to freely express themselves without fear or intimidation. “The starting building block of the retreat was building trust amongst Southern Cameroonians and it started by asking the question: what is the problem that is dividing us? Among the range of answers proposed is the necessity of having more of these face-to-face encounters among Southern Cameroonian leaders so they can better understand each other even in their differences; unity in diversity,” a source told PAV.
Participants at the retreat enthused on the need to cultivate and begin nurturing trust among the Southern Cameroonian leaders across religious, traditional, civil society and NSAGs lines. Also in focus were animated discussions on a framework to enhance access to education, humanitarian aid and to uphold human rights and key principles and fundamentals to guide mediation and negotiations
Speaking about the expectations of the Retreat Dr Denis Foretia, Co-Chair of the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations (CDN) 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.”
The Ambazonian Coalition Team (ACT) which has been claiming a monopoly of access to the Swiss mediation process was amongst the high profile absentee at the Southern Cameroons Leadership Retreat. It is, however, unclear how the post-retreat environment would work for ACT considering that the Swiss Government and officials of the Swiss mediation process were in attendance in Toronto but ACT was absent.
The Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiation is, however, determined to ensure an inclusive Southern Cameroonian side for negotiations and is scheduled to pursue conversations with the ACT team post-retreat to get them to work together with the other NSAGs.
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.”
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.