Major National Dialogue: After Shadow-chasing Moves, Biya Saddles PM With Preaching Unpopular Special Status

By Joe Dinga Pefok

Prime Minister Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute spent most of last week in Buea, Southwest Regional headquarters, where he chaired a session of the Follow – up Committee of the so-called Major National Dialogue, MND, which took place in Yaounde from September 30 – October 4, 2019.

Sources close to the PM’s Office in Yaounde say Dion Ngute will also travel to Bamenda, Northwest Regional Headquarters, for the same mission. The tentative date for his arrival in Bamenda is Tuesday, October 5, 2021.

Purported Package From MND

The MND follow-up session, held in Buea last week, was officially meant for Government to unveil to the Southwest population the package of the fallouts of the MND to the two Anglophone Regions. The most important item contained in the package is what the Government calls a Special Status for the two Anglophone Regions.

The special status to the Anglophone regions was the Biya regime’s way of responding to dissenting voices in Anglophone Cameroon, since 2016, when people protested against the marginalisation of Anglophones in their political union with French Cameroon. The crisis later morphed into an armed struggle, with separatist fighters seeking to restore the defunct Southern Cameroons, or create a state called Ambazonia.

A Non-Inclusive Dialogue

It is worth recalling that the main objective of the MND was to adopt measures that would bring a lasting solution to the Anglophone Crisis.  The first major target of the MND was thus supposed measures to end the armed conflict that has led to the death and displacement of thousands.

Unfortunately, the Biya Government held what they claimed was an MND in the absence of representatives of the separatist movements. Thus the so – called MND was in reality everything but a national dialogue. It is thus no surprise that, two years after, the armed conflict is still raging unabated in Anglophone Cameroon.

Talking With The Wrong People

At the end of the MND on Friday, October 4, 2019, the Biya Government and elite of the ruling CPDM party said they all expected the armed conflict in the two Anglophone Regions to end immediately. The Deputy Secretary-General of the CPDM, Grégoire Owona, declared over Canal 2 International on Sunday, October 6, 2019, that, following the MND and the adoption of a resolution for a Special Status for Anglophones, he expected all separatist fighters to drop their guns, and end the ghost town operations. The next day was a Monday, a traditional ghost town day in the English-speaking regions.

It is difficult to understand how it expected that separatist movements will immediately stop their activities following the so-called MND in which they did not participate in.

The Government claimed that invitations were sent to leaders of the separatist movements in the Diaspora to attend the Major National Dialogue. But, then, at the same time, President Biya did not sign a general amnesty to guarantee that the separatist leaders would not be arrested when they get to Cameroon.

It would be recalled that, before the supposed MND, PM Dion Ngute received several groups including traditional rulers, political parties, and civil society organisations for consultations on how to end the Anglophone Crisis. The separatist movements were left out. Groups that met the PM were mostly CPDM affiliates. They were also those who attended the MND.

Again, when the PM travelled to Buea last week, he received in audience the same categories of people. He called on the traditional rulers and the people of the region as a whole, to go to the bushes and urge their subjects or children, the separatist fighters, to drop their guns.

Of course it is certain that none of those people would dare to try such a move, even if they all promised the PM to do so. The main interest of the chiefs and other groups of persons that the PM received in audience, was definitely to grab envelopes.

Many chiefs and elites have ran away from their villages for fear of the separatist fighters, and most of them are taking refuge in the Francophone parts of the country, and the PM is telling the same people to go to the bush and urge the same Amba boys that they so much dread, to drop their guns!

Terrorists Or Secessionists?

The Biya Government has also been sending conflicting and confusing signals as to whether they are prepared to dialogue with separatist leaders. Today some members of Government will term the separatist leaders as terrorists, and declare that the Government does not negotiate with terrorists. Tomorrow some other members of Government will claim that the Government does not know who to dialogue with, because the separatist leaders are so divided.

But the international community believes that the Biya regime is running away from dialoguing to end the armed conflict but rather prefers the military option to resolve the Anglophone Crisis which is a socio-political issue.

For example, the Swiss Initiative for a dialogue between the Cameroon Government and the separatist leaders received wide International support, including the support of the UN Secretary General. But then, the Biya Government would neither openly say yes or no to the Swiss Initiative. Until today, the position of the Cameroon Government is not clear.

The Government has also not accepted any other initiative or proposal for a mediation in the conflict.

Special Status

The Biya Government has been making a lot of noise about the so – called Special Status that was adopted for Anglophone regions at the MND. But, two years later, the exact  content  of the Special Status is not known even to Anglophone CPDM elite, who have been tacitly charged by the ruling CPDM Government to sell the apparently empty shell to the Anglophone people.

That aside, there is a major question as to whether Anglophones demanded for a Special Status. Political observers would agree that there is no evidence or indication anywhere that Anglophone Cameroonians, many of whom now prefer to call themselves Southern Cameroonians, have ever asked for a special status.

Rather, the moderate Anglophone requested a return to the federal structure of the country, as was the case during the reunification of East and West Cameroons.

PM Dion Ngute in Buea

 Federal Republic Of Cameroon

It would be recalled that the Constitution that was adopted in 1961 to unify Southern Cameroons and ‘La Republique du Cameroun’  (French Cameroon), made it very  clear that the new country born out of the union, was the Federal Republic of Cameroon, and that the form of State, that is federation, was never to be changed.

However, in 1972, the then President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, Amado Ahidjo, flagrantly  violated the 1961  agreement,  by organising a highly controversial referendum that ended the federal  form of Government. It should be noted that Paul Biya was then a senior member of the Ahidjo regime, and so was part of the regime that flagrantly violated the terms of the 1961 unification agreement between Southern Cameroons and ‘La Republique du Cameroun’, as contained in the 1961 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

Marginalisation Of Anglophones

The violation of the Federal Constitution opened the way to the gross marginalisation, and even attempted assimilation of the minority Anglophone population by the French-dominated regime and population.  This led to what became known as the Anglophone Problem. The Anglophones repeatedly asked for a return to federalism as was agreed at the unification in 1961, but the Biya regime spitefully ignored the calls.

The Anglophone Crisis

Suffice to say the persistent and spiteful refusal by the Biya Government to resolve the Anglophone Problem, degenerated to the Anglophone Crisis that sparked off in late 2016. The Anglophone Consortium of civil societies and trade unions that was created, headed by Barrister Agbor Balla, presented the main demands of ‘Southern Cameroonians’ to the Biya Government. It was a demand to a return to the two – State Federation, or better still, a return to federalism.

But unfortunately, the Biya Government instead arrested the leadership of the Consortium and dumped them at the Yaounde Central Prison commonly known as Kondengui Prison.

Since then, the continuous demand by ‘Southern Cameroonians’ for a return to federation, has always met with the arrogant statement that the form of state is not negotiable.

How Gov’t’s Intransigence Opened Door To Secessionists

Meanwhile the flagrant and arrogant marginalisation Anglophones by the successive Francophone dominated regimes, had led to the emergence of secessionist movements in Anglophone Cameroon, with the most popular being the Southern Cameroon National Council, SCNC. However the secessionists for many years remained in the minority.

With the outbreak of the Anglophone Crisis and  Government’s controversial arrest of leaders of the Consortium, there was a void in the leadership of the Anglophones, and secessionists in the Diaspora rapidly jumped into the void with their agenda to create an independent State  known as  the “Federal Republic of Ambazonia”.

Thus it was the intransigence of the Biya Government to the demand for federalism that opened the gate for secessionist leaders in the Diaspora to step in and start calling the shots.

The US, International Community’s Position

Like the international community, the United States has been calling for an inclusive dialogue to resolve the Anglophone Crisis.

The US Administration, especially through former outspoken Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, repeatedly asserted the fact that the Anglophone Crisis is a political issue, and that only a genuine and inclusive dialogue can effectively put an end to the crisis. The United States has thus repeatedly cautioned the Cameroon Government that there can be no military solution to the Anglophone Crisis.

But, unfortunately the Biya regime has continued to ignore all the advices from friendly countries.

Members of government and pro Biya regime supporters rather blame the US and other Western Countries where some separatist leaders reside, for not arresting and extraditing them to Cameroon, like Nigeria did.

Diplomatic sources in Yaounde explain that if the Cameroon Government accepted  the organisation of a genuine  inclusive dialogue and a resolution adopted for a return to a federation as demanded by a majority of Anglophones, the US and other countries hosting the separatist leaders, would then be able to pressurised them to respect the decision of the majority adopted at an inclusive dialogue. 

Playing The Game For Secessionists

Meanwhile many political observers and analysts, agree that by persistently refusing the demand by a majority of Anglophones for a return of the country to a Federal Republic as before, the Biya Government is ironically playing a game to the advantage of separatists, and to the disadvantage of federalists in Anglophone Cameroon. This is the case, even though the Government is doing so unintentionally.

In fact, the separatists are known to have been keeping their fingers crossed, that the Biya Government should not accept a return to federalism, as that will likely weaken their cause.

 Dion Ngute Knows What Anglophones Want

Meanwhile Prime Minister Dion Ngute who is now going around desperately trying to persuade Anglophones to accept the unwanted Special Status and decentralisation, knows very well what Anglophones want. He is an Anglophone himself.

Dion Ngute has definitely not forgotten that during his first official outing as Prime Minister to the two Anglophone Regions, he was much warmly received by the population, as he announced that “Papa Paul Biya” was prepared to discuss everything except secession. Many Anglophones and Cameroonians understood it to mean that President Biya was prepared to put Federation on the table for discussion at the MND. SDF that also stands for federation, jubilated.

When the Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji, contradicted the Prime Minister over France 24 by saying that the form of State will not be on the dialogue table, many Cameroonians lashed out at him, but when the MND happened, Minister Atanga Nji was vindicated as the form of State was not up for discussion. In another country, the PM would have resigned. Dion Ngute did not. Though his message of hope fell short of its promises, Biya again appointed Dion Ngute to chair the MND, though his message that gave hope to many was ridiculed at the end. To find fertile ground for the unpopular Special Status, the task has again been dumped on PM Dion Ngute.

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