Giving the opportunity to the population of the Anglophone regions of Cameroon to choose the form of state they want to be administered through a referendum is a gracious means to seeking solutions to the Anglophone problem. The form of state and administration is crucial and is historic as far as the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon is concern if we seek the concern of the people. The Anglophone problem started when the Southern Cameroons got her independents by joining La Republic du Cameroon on the 1st of October 1961 and aggravated in 1972 when the government abolish the two state federal system of government with equal status and introduce a unitary system. The advice to the government of Cameroon is that they should quickly go back to the original agreements of 1961 where the Anglophones and the government will sit on the table as equal parties and live together as it was in 1961
Below is the full proposal to the prime minister of Cameroon copied from CHRDA’s Website, www.chrda.org
On September 10, 2019 President Biya announced the convening of a “Grand Dialogue National” to ‘[meet] the aspirations of the people of the North-West and South-West Regions’ and seek solutions to the crisis affecting these two regions. While the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) welcomes this long overdue call for an all-inclusive dialogue to address what is commonly referred to as the “Anglophone Crisis,” we nonetheless share widespread concerns that the current dialogue structure and process do not reflect the aspirations of a majority of the Anglophone minorities in Cameroon; neither do they carry the seeds of a fair and permanent solution to the crisis.
We thank the Prime Minister for inviting us to present our suggestions for resolving the current crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. It is in this context that CHRDA – as a human rights organization makes the following suggestions.
- Purpose, Themes and Format of the National Dialogue
The origin of this crisis can be traced back to grievances around the form of the state, particularly its overcentralized/unitary structure that stripped minority Anglophones off the autonomy that they benefitted under the federal form of government from 1961 to 1972. It is therefore imperative that one of the conference themes be about the form of state that provides the most appropriate constitutional protections to Cameroon’s bicultural heritage while addressing calls by separatists for the establishment of a separate state for Anglophone Cameroon.
CHRDA strongly believes that the form of state is central to the current conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. We, therefore, strongly recommend that the form of state be placed on the agenda of deliberations at these talks, and that the views of minority Anglophones on this issue not be overshadowed by the government party or by stakeholders from outside both regions.
Economic, political and cultural rights are key components of human rights regimes across the world. The demands of minority Anglophones reflect strong historically rooted demands for autonomy. Economic, social, cultural and political rights are extremely important for the developmental aspirations of minority groups like the Anglophone minority in Cameroon.
Given that the current crisis started because of the mismanagement of major concerns raised by Anglophone lawyers’ and teachers’ unions, we strongly suggest that the management of this crisis at its initial stages be reviewed with a view to help avoid similar errors going forward. A review of the government’s response to the demands of lawyers and teachers of the Anglophone sub-system will be critical in providing context to deliberations during these talks.
- Conference Management
CHRDA calls on government to ensure that the conference secretariat includes translation and language professionals to ensure that all conference materials and proceedings are accurately transmitted in both languages so as to avoid a repeat of the current situation where many pre-dialogue documents issued by the government are poorly translated and riddled with errors – a situation that increases Anglophone suspicion that the national dialogue is more of a window dressing exercise.
- Deficit of Legitimacy
Given that the people of the NW and SW Regions will be primarily represented at the dialogue by representatives selected by government, we strongly recommend that resolutions on the form of the state be submitted to the people for a vote via a referendum. International partners can help provide resources for such a democratic process. This is potentially a critical confidence-building measure.
- Representation and Double Voice Issues
Given that the government has not offered concrete guarantees that leaders of armed separatist groups in Cameroon and the Diaspora can attend the national dialogue unharmed or without being arrested, we recommend that the government makes a clear and visible effort to reach out to separatist groups that still embrace nonviolence so that the restorationist view be part and parcel of the search for a long-lasting solution to the current conflict.
CHRDA calls for equity in representation. Overrepresentation of any party or key stakeholder to these talks could result in a breakdown of the talks. Pro-government bias in the selection process should be avoided. It is our view that bias in representation will disproportionately increase the number of government voices on the table and create another basis for mistrust and conflict.
- Goodwill Gestures and Amnesty
During his September 10, 2019 speech, President Biya admitted that “in the context of a dialogue, a peace process or national reconciliation, the possibility of pardon may be considered, under certain conditions” and conceded that the constitution empowers him to exercise the right of pardon. The “Grand Dialogue National” is in dire need of a goodwill gesture from government to ease tensions and reduce suspicion between all parties. This will create an enabling environment for the talks. To this end the CHRDA recommends that the president exercise his constitutional prerogative to pardon and release jailed political and separatist leaders. Goodwill gestures by the government including amnesty, liberation of political leaders and cessation of hostilities will go a long way to create an enabling environment for the talks to take place and to deliver expected results.
- Human Rights and Impunity
We strongly request an independent investigation into the atrocities and crimes that have been committed during this conflict. The transparent prosecution of those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity is key to regaining the population’s trust and improving the human rights situation in both regions. The putting in place of an independent tribunal to this effect will be a welcome initiative. Support from Cameroon’s international (bilateral and multilateral) partners in helping achieve this will be critical. Government support for such an initiative will help restore peace and build trust in the Anglophone regions.
Emergency referral pathways to ensure the rights of IDPs and affected populations are protected is critical. The breakdown in service delivery by the government in several areas in the NW and SW regions has rendered the enforcement of human rights protections very challenging. Populations whose rights are abused by parties to the conflict usually do not have any reliable structure to go to for support and assistance.
Our recent full human rights report on the anglophone crisis titled Cameroon’s Unfolding Crisis: Evidence of Human Rights Violations and Crimes Against Humanity is available as supporting conference material during these talks.
The CHRDA thanks the Prime Minister for giving us this opportunity to present our views during the pre-dialogue phase of these talks. It is our hope that the conference resolutions will be actionable and implemented within a clearly defined time frame.
Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor
Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa
P.O. Box 524 Buea