In Cameroon: increased violence despite Special Status announced
Increased violence amidst controversy over “Special Status” for the Anglophone regions of Cameroon
The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon has brought a lot of untold suffering to the people of the North West and southwest regions in particular and the state in general for close to four (4) years.
Due to the continuous call by both International and National communities for the president to convene a dialogue to resolve the crisis, the president yielded to these calls on the 10th of September 2019 when he called for a Major National Dialogue.
The dialogue which was aimed at putting a stop to the crisis which has paralyzed the economy of the two regions was headed by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute. Eight commissions were created to handle different core issues of the crisis excluding the form of the state which was the main expectation of the Anglophones.
The dialogue ended up with recommendations that have been criticized by many citizens who see it as a failure. It was supposed to yield resolutions, not recommendations as is the case.
The Undefined Special Status
Special Status was one amongst the other recommendations which were brought up as a result of the dialogue.
The government’s failure to define the special status has left many Cameroonians with mixed feelings as to what it could be.
The granting of civil status to regions is enshrined in Article 62 (2) of the 1996 Cameroon Constitution which states that “Without prejudice to the provisions of this part, the law may take into consideration the specificities of certain regions with regards to their organization and functioning.”
Most Cameroonians have considered the constitution to be very weak, based on its vague and undefined terms.
The uncertainty hovering around the concept of special status has caused many political and opinion leaders to issue their proposals as to what and how it should be applied to the North West and South West regions.
Cameroon trying to practice the special status will not be an innovation to the world because there are countries such as Canada and Italy who are experiencing special status. In Canada, Quebec has been practicing the special status since the 1960s.
This is the system recommended by the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party, as the best for the Anglophone regions. Some Italian regions including Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol and Friuli-Venezia Guilia, enjoy some legislative, administrative and financial powers which were granted to them as Special Status and protected by Article 116 of the Italian constitution.
According to David Abouem Achoche, one-time governor of the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, what is important is not the name but the need to bring the administration closer to the people and make them responsible for their development.
Minister Gregoire Owona considers the Special Status to be the placing of the two English regions under the general regime of the state but is given other prerogatives because of their unique Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Government and Separatists on extremist positions
The North West and South West regions after the Major National Dialogue continue to witness more and even worse human rights violations, with rampant cases of beheadings.
The two extremists are the separatists and the government who still believe so much in the use of hostility in resolving the crisis.
The former has committed atrocities in the course of striving for the “independence” of the Former British Southern Cameroons which they refer to as “Ambazonia.”
The latter on its part is also guilty of atrocities perpetrated on mostly the civilian population as a means of intimidation and/or a way to get information.
The government forces have continuously destroyed properties of the civilian population with an increase in the burning of houses, looting as major crimes aside from the indiscriminate shooting of persons.
The civilian population of these two regions tends to suffer the wrath of both forces. This has led to the displacement of persons from these two regions to other parts of the country where they are subjected to unfavorable living conditions.
The more vulnerable group of persons is the girls. When they happen to be victims of displacement and cannot get jobs, they tend to be sex workers as is the case with most girls who have moved to the Littoral, West, Center, and other regions.
The actions taken by both the government and the separatists, makes the victims of this circumstance to know that the solution to the crisis is far-fetched.
The government believes in its dominant military power to combat the separatists and their activities, while the separatist also believes that they are “defending” their territory with the use of force to counter all military presence in the regions.
This has left many civilians as casualties and while both sides continuously record number of fallen soldiers/fighters including repentant separatists.
The Separatists, who were invited for the dialogue, did not turn out because it was presided over by the Prime minister who happens to be an actor in the crisis because it is a crisis of separatist against government.
The least they would have accepted was the Swizz mediation initiative or equivalence. separatists believe that any talks without an international third party is a cosmetic act by the regime in power, thus, they consider not being credible.
The international society which was the prior focus/hope of support for the separatists to attain their aim or get the crisis resolved has proven abortive. This has caused all the separatists to concentrate on “self-defense” by raising finances to equip their fighters on the ground.
The grandeur which was seen in some parts of the North West and South West regions on 1st October 2019 which separatists celebrated as the day the Southern Cameroons gained independence shows that the government is gradually losing control over some areas of the country.
Though the Special status seems to bring hope to some, the separatist leaders and fighters consider it as an irrelevant solution to the crisis.
They intensify their attacks and counter-attacks on state officials and state forces respectively. A case in hand was that of Governor Adolf Lele L’Afrique of the North West region whose convoy was attacked by separatist fighters in the month of October.
Until the government withdraws its troops from the regions and the separatists drop their weapons, both sit on a generally acceptable dialogue table and reach solutions to this crisis.
Till then, the human rights situation in the regions will increasingly deteriorate on a daily basis.
By Enowbachem Agbor