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YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda has insisted that in order to effectively fight for justice, peace has to return to Cameroon’s troubled English-speaking regions.

“Time is coming, and I think it would be soon when we can be able to say we can live peacefully again,” Nkea said on local radio June 19, and added that “people should not mistake the peace we are talking about from the struggle for justice.”

Cameroon has been experiencing a conflict in its anglophone North West and South West Regions for nearly six years. It began when teachers and lawyers protested the imposition of French in the two regions’ British-based school systems and common law courts, which stem from when the two regions were ruled by the United Kingdom.

The rest of Cameroon had been ruled by France, and about 80 percent of the population is French speaking. English-speakers have long complained about discrimination and marginalization by the central government.

The 2016 protests were met violently by Cameroon’s military, sparking a secessionist revolt.

The United Nations estimates that at least 4,000 people have been killed in the ensuing fighting, with over a million others forced to flee from their homes. At least 70,000 have sought refuge in Nigeria.

Nkea insists that peace is a prerequisite for justice.

“The United States has grave situations of injustices, the United Kingdom has grave situations of injustices but they are not killing each other. We need peace to be able to continue fighting for justice positively. To take a gun and be fighting for justice is barbarism. And therefore, we agree that there are many situations of injustices in Cameroon but the way to solve these injustices is not by taking guns and killing each other, taking cutlasses and cutting the heads off each other. We need peace,” the prelate said.

“We must continue propagating peace as what brings people together and makes them live in harmony. Whether people agree or not, we must insist on it. I don’t need anybody to agree with me that I am a preacher of peace. I don’t need people to thank me that I am an ambassador of peace. By my very calling as a priest, my work is to preach peace because my boss is the prince of peace – Jesus Christ. And so what people are talking about – ‘Ooh you are preaching peace, you are not preaching injustice.’ That is not my issue. My issue is that for me to reach justice I need to pass through peace and the fight for justice can never be achieved with the gun or by violence,” Nkea explained.

The archbishop said some of those involved in the fighting, particularly the separatist fighters, have been brainwashed and can’t even give a reason for the conflict.

“Brainwashing is a very bad thing. Sometimes when you sit with some of these boys and you speak with them heart to heart, the boys start crying, because they have been involved in a situation they themselves cannot explain,” Nkea said.

He said some of them “regret what they are doing,” and cautioned against seeing separatists as terrorists or secessionists.

“See them as Cameroonians who are frustrated” and who need help, the archbishop said.

He added that restoring peace would be difficult, because some have become personally invested in the conflict.

“The first fruit of every war is anarchy. Everybody becomes a boss. Then people begin to use the war as a means of income and it has nothing to do with the war, but becomes part of their trade and their job to use the war, to enrich themselves,” Nkea said.

“This becomes very difficult to stop. Because stopping the war, is not just those who had grievances, who sat around the table, but now, other stakeholders who have come into play, who have absolutely no interest in the political issue that was at stake at the time the war started. This is why I say, it is very difficult to stop the war,” he continued.

“Look at our young people, those who have guns in their hands and in one day they can get 30 to 40 million in their phones or in cash through kidnapping, etc. How do you convince them that they should stop this? They would rather die enriching themselves than come back and live as poor people? So, that’s why I say it’s very difficult to stop the war,” he told the radio program.

Nkea said the church will continue to do its duty by God’s people in the effort to restore peace to Cameroon. And this will be done through the formation of consciences.

“We relate with all classes of people. We speak to government people at all levels, and we make them see the shortcomings of the system. We speak with the boys [separatists], we speak to some of them in the diaspora, and make them see that violence is not the answer to this problem,” he said.