Embrace Humanity Even in War, Archbishop Appeals to Warring Forces in Cameroon

Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Cameroon’s Bamenda Archdiocese has called upon warring forces in the Central African country to be more humane towards each other even as they seek a lasting solution to the country’s protracted Anglophone crisis.

Archbishop Nkea who has been actively involved in campaigning for peace between the separatists in the Anglophone territories of the South West Region and the Cameroonian government has, in a Wednesday, January 5 report, noted that both government soldiers and armed separatist groups have violently affected the civilian population on a daily basis and that he has been asking both sides to be more humane as they fight.

“We have tried to talk to the soldiers: don’t treat the population as if they were a foreign and conquered people. After this thing is over, we are going to sit down again as brothers and sisters as we were,” he says in the Crux report published Wednesday, January 5.

On the other hand, he continues in reference to the over four-year-old crisis, “we are saying to the boys (separatist fighters), don’t go targeting soldiers and killing them and making them to unleash their venom on the population.”

Two English speaking regions of Cameroon, North-west and South-west, have been experiencing violence since 2016 after Francophone teachers and judges were sent to work in the historically marginalized Anglophone region.

Schools in the Anglophone regions of the Central African nation have been closed due to the protracted skirmishes. 

During the over four years of fighting, at least 3,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations, and over a million forced from their homes. In addition, several villages have been totally destroyed.

In one of the attacks that attracted global condemnation last October, gunmen opened fire on students at Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, leaving seven children dead in the wake of the attack.

In the January 5 report, Archbishop Nkea says that Cameroon’s long-running Anglophone crisis could continue for decades and calls upon the people in the country to be patient as they wait for the resolution of the conflict.

“Look at Ethiopia and Eritrea. It took at least forty years of fighting and talking before they came to a conclusion. For South Sudan, it was 48 years of fighting and talking before they came to a conclusion. I don’t understand what is wrong with Cameroonians. You start a fight, and you want results the next day,” the Archbishop is quoted as saying.

He adds, “Whoever started this war has plunged our country into something that the effects will follow us for at least 50 years.”

Last year, the government organized what it called a “Major National Dialogue” to try finding solutions to the crisis.

The meeting, which caught Pope Francis’ attention, proposed several recommendations, including the adoption of a special status for the two Anglophone regions, the restoration of the House of Traditional Chiefs, the election of local governors, the immediate reinstatement of certain airport and seaport projects in the two regions, and the rapid integration of ex-combatants into society.

However, Nkea observed that the Major National Dialogue, in which he took part, was a charade, saying, “The people’s hope is in dialogue.”

Catholic Church leaders had wanted a neutral entity including Western countries and the United Nations, to oversee talks. Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua of Cameroon’s Bamenda Archdiocese told ACI Africa in an October interview that he “was disappointed and indeed not satisfied with the way this dialogue was carried out.”

In the January 5 report, Archbishop Nkea says, “What we did last year, if the government considers that that was dialogue, then the government does not understand dialogue. And if the boys who were fighting considered that that was dialogue, it means they do not understand dialogue.”

Archbishop Nkea explains, “Dialogue is a discussion between a small group of people, opposing parties who look at the things that divide them and look for common ground. You cannot do this with a thousand people.”

The Archbishop who has been commissioned by the government to go to Cameroon’s South West Region to explain what that Major National Dialogue was and what it could achieve has since been criticized by separatists who claim he was compromised by the agreement, an accusation he refutes, saying his only mandate was to preach peace.

“If I don’t talk peace, what will I talk on earth? I better resign; until my last breath, I will talk about peace,” the 55-year-old Cameroonian Archbishop says.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]