By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Southern Cameroonians from all backgrounds have adopted wide-ranging recommendations as efforts continue in finding a way forward to resolving the crisis in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions that have been on for the past five years.
From October 29 to November 1, 2021, in Toronto, Canada, leaders assembled for a retreat wherein the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiation (CDN) facilitated and provided a conducive platform for Southern Cameroons leaders and other major stakeholders to deeply introspect on their roles and genuinely engage with each other in finding a way forward against the apparent divisiveness and stalemate in the leadership and peace process.
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, with panellists included leading peace and conflict resolution practitioners.
In a communique titled the “Toronto Declaration,” the various Southern Cameroonian personalities and groups condemned in the strongest terms the horrendous killing of a 5-year old, Carolouise Ndialle, on Thursday, October 14th, 2021 in Buea on her way to school, killed by a gendarme officer.
“The incident, like others that have preceded it, demonstrate a pattern of how Government of Cameroon (GoC) forces take up arms against armless civilians especially children. This brutal killing in Buea of young Carolouise Ndialle is not an isolated case and follows similar cases in Kumba (October 24, 2020) and in Ngarbuh (February 14, 2020). Also, condemn the many other killings and massacres of an estimated 5000 to 27,500 Southern Cameroonians and over 500 villages burned down since the beginning of the conflict in October 2016,” the communique read in part.
The leaders also strongly condemned the arbitrary arrests, extortions, illegal detention, torture, extra-judicial killings, and imprisonment of over 2,000 Southern Cameroonians, including the Nera 10 and a host of others for expressing their universally enshrined rights to self-determination and the urgent need to release them unconditionally while denouncing the Cameroon Government’s culture of impunity and censorship that have bred violence and inhumane treatment of Southern Cameroonians.
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.
The leaders went on to acknowledge the international stakeholders, including governments and international organizations from the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland, the United States, Germany, Norway, Ireland, Uganda, and the World Council of Churches for witnessing the proceedings of the retreat.
On Dialogue and Collaboration within the Leadership of the Struggle
Agreed to henceforth work together to build trust, respect, tolerance and courtesy as we work with humility towards consensus during this first stage of the internal dialogue and negotiations; to unify our efforts for the defence of the legitimate rights and aspirations of the people of the Southern Cameroons;
Commit to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Communications etiquette and the use of social media that would be elaborated on and undertake more information and awareness activities; to minimize the use of aggressive, confrontational, hostile and discourteous language amongst ourselves and Southern Cameroonians, and strive to use language that builds on the gains we have made;
To promote team and trust-building efforts that seek to bring us together to foster the aspirations of the people of the Southern Cameroons; to set up frameworks and metrics for collaboration among ourselves; to use all appropriate means recognized under international law to pursue the self-determination quest for our people;
To set up a Working Platform supported and facilitated by the CDN where the Leadership meets periodically to share views, information and to address disagreements.
On Education, Access to Humanitarian Aid and Human Rights Protection
Recognizing that over 700,000 children are out of school and less than 30% of schools, especially in rural communities are not operational and that the quest for freedom, the right to life, and the right to education, access to humanitarian aid, and human rights are inalienable,
We agreed to; promote the rights of children to education, especially through community schools; Encourage parents to consider safety and security conditions in making educational choices for school children; Support provision of access for humanitarian workers and assistance to all victims of the armed conflict and call on aid workers to abide by international humanitarian law, especially in armed conflicts;
Safeguard the rights and dignity of all Southern Cameroonians, especial children and women; Meet to elaborate a detailed framework and metrics to enhance the education, humanitarian access, collaboration, and rights of all Southern Cameroonians.
On Guiding Principles for Negotiations
Understanding that our common goal and approaches should be synchronized to effectively engage in any negotiations to ensure justice for our people,
We agreed to; Recognize the importance of collective engagement in matters of negotiations founded on trust; Explore and enhance avenues to build a team for internal and external negotiations;
Create space to build from our different strategies to engage in external negotiations as one entity, representing the people of the Southern Cameroons and their ultimate interest;
Put the Southern Cameroonian people at the centre of our engagement within and outside the Southern Cameroons, including any international entity(s); Harmonize and standardize strategies for negotiation with the Republic of Cameroon;
Leverage Southern Cameroonian and external expertise through a process designed and adopted by the stakeholders of the struggle; Support and strengthen our platform to enhance collaboration, inclusivity and to defend our shared demands.
On Framework for International Mediation
We discussed the ongoing Switzerland facilitation process and the lack of progress and commitment from the Republic of Cameroon and agreed to: Work together to ensure international mediations are credible and meet internationally recognized standards;
Engage to improve the internationally facilitated process by the Government of Switzerland and commit to a multilateral mediation process as a viable way to achieve a genuine resolution of the conflict; Open communication with officials of the Swiss facilitation team and other international parties;
Collectively ensure credible guarantors for mediated negotiations with the Republic of Cameroon; Engage to build a framework for international mediation to guide our collective and individual engagements in mediated negotiations; Reconvene to reassess progress in alignment with the collective aspirations of the people of the Southern Cameroons.
We agreed that the Coalition for Dialogue and Negotiations (CDN) should be the platform used to: Facilitate the implementation of these agreements and to lay out a progressive and inclusive plan to build on the gains from Toronto 2021; Facilitate internal meetings between Southern Cameroons leaders and groups and Facilitate external meetings between Southern Cameroonian leaders/groups and international stakeholders.