YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic Bishops in Cameroon are calling on President Paul Biya to begin a dialogue to find a sustainable solution to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon.
Since 2016, English speakers in the Central African country have been protesting against what they say is gross marginalization by the Francophone-dominated administration. They have also been complaining about the use of French in Common Law courts and Anglophone schools.
The two English-speaking regions – in the northwest and southwest of the country – constitute 20 percent of Cameroon’s over 24 million people. The Catholic Church is the largest religious group in the country, representing about 40 percent of all Cameroonians.
At the 43rd plenary meeting of the national episcopal conference, the bishops said the president in his capacity as “father of the nation” holds the keys to the speedy resolution of the crisis, and it is through “an inclusive dialogue” that the solution will come.
“If the head of state decides today that there will be a meeting with all those spear-heading the Anglophone crisis, there will be dialogue,” said Bishop Michael Bibi, the auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Bamenda, which is located in the English-speaking part of the country.
“Those who are in prison can be granted clemency and freed. Those who are out of the country and who are engineering these problems can be called back home. Those who are back home but who are not in jail but are sympathetic to the Anglophone crisis should be invited to the discussion table…religious leaders, administrative authorities, the civil society, opinion leaders, Anglophone secessionist leaders…In fact the various stakeholders should be brought to the discussion table…let this dialogue take place so that together, we can find solutions to the crisis,” Bibi told Crux.
Noting that the search for peace had become a national emergency, Archbishop Jean Mbarga of Yaoundé told Crux the bishops had decided to organize “Novenas for Peace” in the days leading up to the celebration of Cameroon’s National Day, May 20.
But the deputy Secretary General of the National Episcopal Conference, Msgr. Jervis Kebei said that peace will only come if it is accompanied by justice.
“We all want peace, but there can be no peace without justice, there can be no peace without reconciliation,” Kebbei told Crux.
He said the government had taken a number of measures to resolve the crisis.
These include the creation of a National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multi-culturalism; the creation of a Common Law Bench at the Supreme Court; the deployment of English-speaking lawyers and teachers to Anglophone schools and courts; and the appointment – for the first time since independence – of Anglophones to head the Ministries of Territorial Administration and Secondary Education.
But these measures are seen by many in the Anglophone regions as “too little, too late.”
“If all the measures taken by the government are not helping out the situation, if they are instead making young people to be more radicalized, it means that there is something more fundamental that the government has to do,” Kebei said.
The monsignor said only an inclusive dialogue can help Cameroon go “to the root cause of the problem,” noting that understanding the problem could provide important indications on how a solution can be found.
No talks with separatists, says government
Despite the plea of the bishops for an all-inclusive dialogue, the government has made it clear that there will be no discussion whatsoever with separatists.
Paul Atanga Nji, the first-ever Anglophone to head the Ministry of Territorial Administration, said on state media that “everything we do must be done within constitutional order.”
“Those who wish to operate outside that order can expect nothing else than to be dealt with firmly. We shall not entertain any language, we shall not entertain any action that either threatens territorial integrity of our nation or threatens life,” he said.
He said however that government was ready for dialogue “with those who seek the oneness of Cameroon.”
But the stance has been criticized by the bishops, since it would exclude those advocating independence for “Ambazonia,” what they call the Anglophone regions.
A surge in violence
Meanwhile, the crisis has continued to escalate. Local media continue to file daily reports of fighting between security forces and “Ambazonian” fighters.
The bi-weekly newspaper The Voice reported that on April 11 a police commissioner was killed in the locality of Kom in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, allegedly by separatist forces. In response, the military killed 18 civilians.
Kebei told Crux that the bishops “strongly deplore the insecurity that is going on, perpetrated by people who are angry and – most often – by the military that goes reckless and on the rampage.”
“The military men are still being killed. In retaliation, the military kill the civilians and destroy property, and I think that it has reached a stage that the Head of State… (should) bring all together for an inclusive dialogue… and if a solution can not be reached then it means there is something fundamental that still needs to be done,” Kebei told Crux.
The monsignor said such dialogue must be accompanied by faith in God. He said the power of the Gospel can be employed to resolve the problem.
“Christ’s message is the Word, and if this is applied to the existing situation, it will touch on people’s consciences.”