By Arrey Obenson*
Identifying the root cause of a conflict and addressing the underlying issues is the most effective way of resolving a crisis. When a patient visits a dentist with a toothache, it does not suffice to be given painkillers. The dentist identifies the cause of the toothache and provides a treatment plan to ensure that pain in the tooth does not come back.
After two years of civil strife since the emergence of what has come to be known as the Anglophone Crisis, the government of Cameroon has attempted to arrest the crisis rather than address the root cause. Government effort has only perpetuated the crisis, leading to more radicalization of the moderates, loss of life, limbs and property. In an attempt to crush a peaceful revolution, the government has, perhaps unwittingly, created an armed resistance. The government unlike the dentist has been trying to kill the pain rather identifying the cause of the pain and developing a treatment plan. In other words, the government of Cameroon has unquestionably failed to find a solution to the prevailing crisis.
At the risk of being chastised by the government and by those who demand separation, we the people have a responsibility to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Cameroon. A responsibility that has haunted me and many since the beginning of the crisis. Like many we have shared ideas and urged the government privately and publicly to find a path to a solution to the crisis. Much to my chagrin and that of many others, the government has not heeded to these calls and the measures it has implemented so far have only been half-measures, to say the least.
Now we must take our solutions to the people and urge you the people of Cameroon to demand action from your government; not half measures, but a clear plan to resolve the crisis.
If there is a want of ideas, which is doubtful, herewith a proposed plan that the government of Cameroon can adopt today and put this country on a path to resolve the crisis, restore the dignity of our brothers and sisters and establish peace and prosperity that we all wish for.
A Plan for Peaceful Co-existence:
1. Immediate Relief:
The President of the Republic must address the nation specifically acknowledging the Anglophone Crisis not as a threat to the nation but as an opportunity to right the wrongs of our past. He must acknowledge that there are challenges in nation building and that identifying and resolving the Anglophone crisis is one of those challenges. He must demonstrate good faith in addressing this problem by granting amnesty to and ordering the unconditional release of all those arrested, detained and/or sentenced. He should also create an independent commission in style of the truth and reconciliation committee in South Africa to establish a record of lives lost, property damaged, and incidents of torture not with a goal to punish the perpetrators but to hold the nation accountable to a past that must never repeat itself. The independence of this committee shall be primordial. Finally, the President should, on behalf of the people of Cameroon, call for an inclusive dialogue expressing his willingness to be involved in said dialogue and desire to engage all interested parties – these parties must not be the governing elite but must include the Anglophone civil society.
2. All Anglophone Conference:
To create a path for genuine dialogue, the government should call for and fund an All Anglophone Conference in the like of the All Anglophone Conferences that took place in the 90s. This conference, which must take place in an Anglophone region of Cameroon, should be a forum for the Anglophone Cameroonians to lay down the framework of their demands for constitutional reform. Participants at this conference should include the Anglophone civil society – representatives of Professional Associations, Trade Unions, Non-Governmental Organizations, Political Party Leaders, Youth Associations, Women Groups, Community Leaders, Chiefs/Fons, Diaspora Influencers, Anglophone Activists, Past Students’ Associations, Freed Detainees, and Returning Refugee Leaders. Government representatives should be invited as observers to the Conference and other independent parties like the African Union should be invited as observers. The outcome of this conference should lead to a referendum to be held in the English-Speaking Regions of Cameroon to determine what form of government they will prefer in the union.
3. Constitutional Reform Conference:
The President should convene a constitutional reform conference within 60 days of the referendum that must address the outcome of the referendum and put in place safeguards that will prevent a crisis like this in future or trigger a specified way of resolving such a crisis in the future in the event that it resurfaces. Following the elaboration of the constitution, the people of Cameroon must be granted the opportunity by way of referendum to adopt the new constitution. There will be an Independent Constitutional Reform Council that will be appointed by the President, tasked with the elaboration and implementation of the constitutional reforms with a five-year mandate, that is non-renewable. This Committee shall have equal representation of Anglophones and Francophones.
The constitutional reforms must address the following: power sharing structure between Anglophones and Francophones, the form of the State, (a federation or a confederation) and must reflect the desire of the people, particularly the Anglophones to be more autonomous. It must address the management of resources between the States, the separation of states and the dignity of the people.
4. A Transition Government:
To demonstrate good faith, the President should take action to create an environment that inspires trust and enhanced transparency by taking the following actions:
a. Work with the legislative arm of the government to suspend all elections until the new constitution is adopted.
b. Create a transition government that will include the opposition and independent activists to pilot the reforms and ensure the smooth running of the country through the reforms that should ultimately lead to free and fair elections.
c. Create an Independent Electoral Commission that will replace the existing ELECAM with clear mandate to manage all elections in the country.
c.Refrain from running for another term of office at the end of the constitutional reforms which must not go beyond August 2019.
5. Nationwide Civil Society Education and Engagement Campaign:
There Government, with help of experts, should launch a nationwide campaign to accomplish the following;
a.) Reintegration and rehabilitation of displaced citizens.
b.) Engagement with armed groups and buying back of arms in circulation.
c.) Creation of a vision for a Cameroon that is united, diversified and yet with respect of the cultural heritage of the people.
d.) Education and Engagement in the electoral process to include registrations to vote, establishment of documents for eligibility to vote and a census. This campaign which should also seek to raise and increase grassroots engagement in the political process must be independent serving no other purpose than the interest of the people.
These are five proposals that could help salvage the union. These steps are necessary to restore the trust of the Anglophones in the union. The root cause of the Anglophone Crisis is one of perceived marginalization and only a demonstration of a strong commitment to embrace the Anglophones as equal will this conflict be resolved.
As the Anglophone Crisis ensues and as we seek solutions, we must understand government action alone will not resolve the crisis. It will take commitment and courage of all stakeholders to make these or any other initiatives works. Taking up arms to express grievances, regardless of how legitimate they are is always counter-productive. Taking a look at the prevailing situation the armed resistance has only led to increased devastation and irreparable repercussions such as the cost in human life and property, economic and social consequences. I urge all stakeholder to exercise restraint and work towards a peaceful solution of the crisis.
Every day that goes by without a clear path to a solution to this crisis only radicalizes the Anglophones and makes peace unattainable.
With this proposal representing broad strokes of vision for the future of Cameroon, I am mindful of the significant work that must go into its implementation. I am also mindful that it takes magnanimity and selfless leadership to implement but I am however conscious that where there is a will there is a way.
It is an African saying that “no matter how long the night lasts the sun will rise”. Let us make this challenge an opportunity for Cameroon.
Arrey Obenson, JCI Secretary General
For and on behalf of
I Am Cameroon (Founder)