-The parties have also agreed to form technical committees to begin work on confidence-building measures.
By Joseph Besong
After six years of fighting in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions, with tens of thousands killed and displaced, the bloodshed may soon be coming to an end after the Cameroon government and separatist factions agreed to enter into a process to be facilitated by the government of Canada.
“Canada welcomes the agreement by the parties to enter a process to reach a comprehensive, peaceful and political resolution of the conflict. The parties have also agreed to form technical committees to begin work on confidence-building measures,” The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on January 20.
“The agreement to enter a formal process is a critical first step toward peace and a safer, more inclusive and prosperous future for civilians affected by the conflict.”
In an amorphous conflict, estimates of exactly how many fighters are involved are equally slippery. A recent report from the International Crisis Group estimates that there are somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 fighters attempting to take Ambazonia from concept to reality. However, separatist leaders themselves claim there are far more people who have taken up the fight—and an even greater number willing to do so.
“Civilians are bearing the brunt of the ongoing crisis in Cameroon, with more than 6,000 people lost their lives since 2017. In addition, nearly 800,000 people have been displaced as a result of this crisis, and 600,000 children do not have full access to education,” The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said.
As the fighting continues, civilians are being pushed into Nigeria by the tens of thousands. And violence from the separatists and the army they are fighting is displacing Anglophone communities—depopulating swathes of the Anglophone regions and bringing the fight closer to urban areas.
“We commend all parties for engaging in substantive dialogue. We encourage all stakeholders to support and work with the parties to advance and contribute to an inclusive process to reach a lasting and sustainable political settlement,” The Honourable Mélanie Joly added.
“Canada has accepted the mandate to facilitate this process, as part of our commitment to promote peace and security and advance support for democracy and human rights. Our role also reflects Canada’s engagement to work with our African partners to build a better future for everyone.”
This is the first “meaningful” process that will be held since the crisis broke out with the Major National Dialogue held by the government in 2019 failing to attract the key separatist groups and officials. According to the Canadian authorities, this peace process will include the Republic of Cameroon, the Ambazonia Governing Council and the Ambazonia Defence Force, the African People’s Liberation Movement and the Southern Cameroons Defence Force, the Interim Government, and the Ambazonia Coalition Team. The parties further express the hope that other groups will join the process.
With many displaced people lacking documentation and out of the reach of aid organizations, the hardships of life in the bush have been unbearable to many. With official estimates that 530,000 people are currently internally displaced, the present peace initiative to be brokered by Canada is a welcome sign.
“I want to appreciate the move by the Republic of Cameroon, AGC, ADF, APLM, IG, ACT, SOCADEF, for accepting to engage on a peace process,” Barrister Felix Nkongho, founder of CHRDA tweeted. “It is also imperative for other stakeholders to join and support the process. I also laud Canada for stepping in and I wish the process a success.”
“In the past four months, delegates of the Republic of Cameroon and the former United Nations Trust Territory of the British Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) have been holding pre-talks as first steps towards comprehensively addressing the root causes of the Ambazonia Liberation War. In the presence of the United Nations as observer, both parties have signed a Joint Declaration of commitment, committing to a negotiated Process from which a Comprehensive Negotiated Settlement shall emanate and mandated Canada as facilitator of this process,” a press release from some of the “Ambazonian” leaders read.
Dubbed communique by Ambazonia on the Initiation of Talks towards a negotiated settlement, and signed by Dr. Lucas Cho Ayaba of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC/ADF), Dr. Ebenezer E. Akwanga of African People’s Liberation Movement (APLM/SOCADEF) , Dabney Yerima of the Interim Government (IG), and Dr. Emmanuel J. Taylor of Ambazonia Coalition Team (ACT), the statement says the parties agreed to discuss Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to build trust.
“Ambazonia will engage in this process cautiously given the history of the Cameroon government’s stance since 1961 towards the former United Nations Trust Territory of the British Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia). It is in this light that we express our deep concern about the references in a statement made by the government of Canada that undermines the spirit and letter of the signed commitment between both parties,” the statement read.
The Interim Government led by Chris Anu has promised to issue its own formal statement on the talks in the days ahead. While the Canadian mediation remains the most high-profile initiative taken by a credible world power since the crisis started, observers are keen to see the reaction of the Cameroon on the talks.