There is a raging conflict in Cameroon that the world seems to have forgotten about. The Central African nation, also known as “Africa in miniature” due to its diversity, has seen long-running tensions, pitting the French-speaking and English-speaking parts of the country against each other. On October 1, 2017, activists in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon made a symbolic declaration of independence, and announced the creation of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia.
On Sunday, September 30, even Church services were cancelled after authorities imposed a 48-hour curfew in the restive regions. Northwest Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique issued a statement to limit travel and public gatherings. “Public gatherings and assembly of more than four persons shall be strictly forbidden,” said part of his order. An Australian friend, Andre van Eymeren, who was in the country for meetings, vividly described the situation on his blog: “The French-speaking Cameroonian government decided to ban all vehicle movement in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon. Fleeing from Limbe we encountered numerous roadblocks where the military stood somewhat menacingly with machine guns at the ready. At each stop, our skillful negotiators talked our way through till we reached the border of the French-speaking part of Cameroon.”
Prior to the country’s independence from France in 1961, the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon were under British control, before their incorporation with Francophone Cameroon in 1961. In the 1990s, a secessionist movement emerged, which the government promptly banned. Lawyers, teachers, and civil society groups organized demonstrations in 2016, protesting what they claimed was the marginalization of the English-speaking regions. Security forces responded heavy-handedly, shooting protesters and arresting activists, further fueling secessionist calls in the region, and what gradually became a violent rebellion. Since then, curfews, mass arrests, and roadblocks have become the standard operating procedure of the security forces, as they battle the Ambazonia Defence Forces, the outfit leading the armed resistance. The humanitarian crisis continues to escalate as refugees flee across the border into Nigeria, abandoning their homes and farms, which are often set on fire by security forces. Reports of military excesses manifested through summary executions and extra-judicial killings have also surfaced, mainly through videos shared on social media.
In the meantime, the Church in Cameroon is leading mediation efforts. Archbishop Emeritus of Douala, Cardinal Christian Tumi, is heading up an inter-religious initiative, bringing together the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Central Mosques of Bamenda and Buea. The idea is to organize an Anglophone General Conference in the city of Buea in the Southwest region, November 21-22, 2018. The conference would help gather different Anglophone movements to forge a common position, and thus set the stage for substantive national dialogue to find a solution to the crisis. Various Anglophone groups have different stances. Some favor secession, while others are proponents of federalism and a form of decentralization.
“We as pastors want to speak and propose to the Anglophone Cameroonians and to all Cameroonians, what we think should be done to cease the violence that is taking place now in the country,” said Cardinal Tumi in an interview. He further called on the Cameroonian government to allow Anglophone activists who are in exile to return freely to the country to participate in the talks. “If it is legally possible, free those who are prison, so that they will participate, either personally or by delegation in this meeting, because we call it inclusive,” pleaded Cardinal Tumi. Asked what would be different from previous conferences, he replied, “This initiative is taken by religious leaders. We have a pastoral approach. We have no arms, but we talk about love, forgiveness…these are the virtues we will be insisting on. Objectivity and truth…this is not political language. So this is what makes the whole difference in our approach.” He further reiterated that his intervention in the political situation in the country was borne out of a personal desire to help the nation break through the crisis. “I have a gift which God has given me…I am never afraid to say directly and clearly and distinctly what my conviction is, as concerns the running of affairs in Cameroon,” adding that he had no interest in becoming president of Cameroon.
The president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, Archbishop Samuel Kleda, issued a letter in May 2018, in which the Cameroonian bishops sounded a distress cry. “In the name of God the Almighty Father, we address this cry of distress to all Cameroonians: Let us put an end to all forms of violence and stop killing one another! We are all brothers and sisters; let us retrace the path of dialogue, reconciliation, justice, and peace.”