YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Catholic bishop in Cameroon says the U.S. State Department’s sanctions on those responsible for undermining the country’s peace process as merely “cosmetic.”
On June 7, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken announced visa restrictions on “individuals who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.”
“The United States is deeply concerned by the continued violence in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. We continue to call for both the Cameroonian government and separatist armed groups to end the violence and engage in a dialogue without preconditions to peacefully resolve the crisis. It is important that children can attend school and that humanitarian aid can be delivered. We urge all relevant stakeholders in Cameroon and in the diaspora to engage constructively and seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis,” Blinken said.
Nearly five years ago, English-speaking lawyers and teachers began striking over efforts to change the common law legal system and British-based schooling system Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions inherited from the colonial era.
The protests were violently suppressed by the majority French-speaking central government, leading to a separatist insurgency intent on establishing an independent country called “Ambazonia.”
The fighting has killed at least 3,500 people and forced more than a million from their homes, according to the United Nations. The separatists have also enforced a school boycott in the two provinces, keeping children from receiving an education for years.
In a telephone interview with Crux, Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo questioned the relevance of visa restrictions.
“They are imposing visa bans: Visa bans for whom? Is it only for people who are in Cameroon or people who are out of Cameroon, because there are people in Cameroon who are involved and there are people out of Cameroon who are fanning this crisis,” he said.
“There are people in the United States who are on a daily basis not only fanning this crisis, they are also sponsoring it. So if the ban is on people who are in Cameroon, how does it affect people who are in the United States who are sponsoring this crisis?” Nkuo said.
Many members of the Ambazonian leadership are based in the United States, where much of the propaganda supporting the Anglophone rebels is produced.
Nkuo said the U.S. State Department will have little effect on bringing an end to the conflict.
“These are cosmetic solutions I think, maybe they are important but I don’t know how long it will take for them to come to a final, definitive solution to this crisis that we have. I don’t know how they will really help us bring an end to this violence that we are experiencing every day,” the bishop said.
“I think there are people in the international community who can call all those involved in this matter to sit down and address the issues and come out with a solution. Everybody should be involved,” he added.
The bishop also pointed to Blinken’s call for a dialogue without preconditions as inadequate.
“What moves are we taking to make sure that that dialogue takes place? I’m concerned. We who are on the ground want this problem resolved. It’s a cry of despair from the people. We have had more than enough,” he said.
“The superpowers can invite the parties that are at war. They have the power to do that. They can increase pressure, maybe sanctions. If they are really interested in resolving this problem, it will be done,” Nkuo continued.
“If the international community really wants to help us, let them find a way by which they can put the cards on the table and say this is where we are in Cameroon with the violence, with the killings so that we can look for a way forward,” he told Crux.
“When we see the international community reacting in certain regions of the world, why are they not reacting to our own situation? Is it because they don’t have any particular interest? Why can’t they do what I see them do in other places? I appreciate their effort, but I think they could go an extra mile to help us to resolve this issue,” the bishop said.