Can Paul Biya restore peace to Cameroon before quitting the stage? 0

Can President Paul Biya restore peace to Cameroon before quitting the stage or is he on an elusive peace mission.

These are some of the questions analysts are asking as the embattled president plans to inaugurate a body to organise a national dialogue to resolve the crisis facing the country. The body address all the grievances and government policies that led to the crisis.

Biya had on Tuesday announced plans to commence talks to resolve the crisis. The president said a body will be set up to organise a national dialogue and it would commence work at the end of this month.

With no few than 1,800 killed and 500,000 displaced within a period of two years, any talk on restoring peace in Cameroon must be pursued with vigour, sincerity and commitment by all parties concerned. The political leaders on both sides of the divide must demonstrate the political will to surmount the challenge and save the country from the violence threatening its unity. Blood has been flowing across the land since some of the separatist seeking the creation of Ambazonia nation in the English-speaking region resorted to ‘guerrilla’ warfare to tackle to the government’s security agents high handedness including alleged extra-judicial killings in the bid to  quell protests across the region.

Analysts blame the government for what they describe as poor handling of situation. They believe the impatience of the government and the brute force its security agents deployed was the last straw that break the camel’s back and the consequent anarchy tearing across the country.

Undoubtedly, the tough stance of the government against the protest leaders hardened their supporters just as it made them to win the overwhelming support of the people of the region.

Of course, it is not surprising that the president has come out publicly to announce he was ready to search for peace. The government may have realised that its ‘carrot and stick’ tactics has failed and dialogue was the best option to resolving a national crisis.

Even then, how sincere is the president. Would his decision to convoke a national dialogue mark the beginning of a new era in the history of a country he has ruled for almost 37 years amid political crisis? When constituted, would the peace committee be able to stop the country from collapse? And would the peace plan succeed. Again, these are some of the questions analysts are seeking answers to.

Biya’s U-turn should be seen as a demonstration of statesmanship. At 86 and as president, he is the undisputed father of the nation. He needs the support of all to successfully play the role of a father at all times. But he must earn that support of the citizens by living above board in the discharge of his responsibilities. Biya can restore peace to Cameroon if only he chose to listen to good advice.

Though the president may be sincere and committed to ending the crisis, the willingness of all aggrieves parties to embrace the peace dialogue is also crucial. Therefore, the government has a task to assure all aggrieved parties, particularly the Anglophone separatists, of its good intentions.

Already, the integrity of the president is at stake. Therefore, the dialogue must be guided by the principles of negotiation and win-win.  Though Biya’s U-turn is a welcome development, it may not have inspired the separatists to believing that they are safe to come to a round-table with government officials.

They fear that ‘overzealous’ actors within the Presidency, who are benefiting from the crisis may want to impose unacceptable condition on them. This thinking is informed by the history of the crisis. They argue that the protests that eventually turned bloody were fuelled by wrong government policies and the imposition of the French language on the region, among others.

The president aptly said his focus is: peace, security, national unity and peace. He has also said the dialogue “will rally sons and daughters of Cameroon to reflect the values of our country” and “bring together a wide range of people to seek ways to end violence.” Traditional rulers, the clergy and elected official will be members of the dialogue committee.

Now is the opportunity for Biya not only to prove his critics wrong but also to leave behind a legacy for which his name would be written in gold. The octogenarian president must see this as a challenge he must defeat.

Biya must go beyond rhetoric and create an enabling environment that would allow all the stakeholders to embrace dialogue. Since the crisis started, the government has repeatedly asked the separatists “to surrender and be forgiven or face military action.”The president and the leaders of the separatists must be told in unequivocal terms that negotiating peace does not require threats or songs of war. Restoring peace to the country is in the interest of all, including generations yet unborn. They must bear in mind, always, that Cameroon is a strategic country in Africa that should not be allowed to collapse.

The government cannot pretend not to know the grievances of the region. The government had always denied the allegation of marginalisation of the region.  In the statement announcing the planned dialogue, the president dismissed the allegation by saying people of the region are being appointed ministers.

But the issue of marginalisation goes beyond political appointments. It must be noted that the crisis has both remote and immediate causes. The grievances of yesteryears that were not addressed properly cannot be forgotten. This is the time for frank talks and the opportunity provided by the president’s U-turn must not be jettisoned.

In his statement on Tuesday, the president tried to find excuse for the inability of the government to hold talks with the separatists. He said “it is difficult to know who to talk to as those claiming to be leaders are only visible on social media, where they preach violence.”

But reactions from the region have faulted the statement. They say the president was being economical with the truth because some of their leaders were arrested and jailed for life. Indeed, they are not amused by the president’s peace gesture.

That is because at the beginning of the crisis in late 2017, Biya refused to listen to their grievances, believing that the security forces were up to the task of silencing them. The government resort to the use of full force turned out to be a grievous miscalculation.

But what are the fears of the separatists? Several people from the region who commented on the president’s call for dialogue say the president must do the ‘right’ thing. Asked what the ‘right’ thing is, they say the dialogue must be moderated by neutral persons in a neutral ground outside Cameroon. It must not be dominated by members of the president’s party or government officials.

Interestingly, the president’s nominee to preside over the dialogue is unacceptable to the separatists. Biya had said Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute will preside over the dialogue. It is instructive to note that Ngute is from the Anglophone region. But the separatists say he is Biya’s stooge. They have argued that he became prime minister by appointment and not through democratic election. “He who pays the piper dictates the tune,” said a separatist who is vehemently opposed to the role the president has assigned the prime minister.

Those opposed to Biya also say the president has been using “divide and rule” tactics to destabilize the region to the advantage of the Francophone region. They are opposed to the participation of people they believe are ‘traitors.’Ngute is in this group. But will Biya accept such hard posture against the nomination of Ngute as the presiding officer? This may be a hard question for both parties.

However, this can be resolved through negotiation. Analysts are not in doubt that Ngute will be willing to make sacrifice and allow the dialogue to hold without him. As prime minister, he cannot be happy that his home region is in turmoil and lives and property are being destroyed daily.

Another issue raised by the separatists is the method of nominating participants. They want the president to announce publicly the core issues to be discussed and how the delegates will be nominated including the people they will be representing. They want to know what qualifies a person to be nominated as a delegate.

Two other conditions the separatists consider crucial to their acceptance to participate in the dialogue are the assurance of the safety of their delegates and the release of their 10 leaders jailed for life by a military tribunal. Those who commented on the life sentence handed their leaders and followers reminded Biya that the matter is still in court following an appeal.

They wonder how the president will be talking about peace dialogue when their leaders are serving life sentence and the case is still pending in court. Asked what should be done, the answer was: “the president knows what to do.”

Whatever be the fears of the separatists on the one hand and the government on the other hand, what is crucial now is how to unite the country and promote development and growth. Armed separatists must lay down their arms, government security agents must stop the killings and the Presidency must come out clean and provide an enabling environment for the dialogue to hold successfully.

Cameroon needs the support and assistance of the Economic Community of West Africa States, the African Union, the European Union, France, the United States, the United Nations and the goodwill of peace lovers to restore an enduring peace, security and stability. The international community must not fold its arms and watch. It must be actively involved in the dialogue for it to succeed.

Culled from