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Catholic Peace Entity Calls for Change in Tact in Addressing Cameroon’s Crisis

Demonstrations have become common on the streets in Cameroon. Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

Catholic peace entity, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has maintained its call for an alternative approach in the ongoing crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking region, saying that the military tactic that the government is insisting upon is costing lives of many fighters on the side of the government.

Fr. Ngenge Godlove Bong-aba who previously served as Parish Priest of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Cameroon's Bamenda Archdiocese and is now attached to DHPI recounts the many instances that the Cameroonian military has lost to rebels in the country and urges the government to find a different way to end the five-year-old conflict.

“With the failure of the military solution to the crisis, it is about time the government used a different method to end it,” Fr. Godlove tells ACI Africa in a Monday, July 26 interview.

The Catholic Priest makes reference to a July 18 attack in Bali Nyongha subdivision of Mezam Division of the Northwest region in which five Cameroonian policemen were killed, adding that the rebels belonging to the Ambazonia Restoration Forces (ARFs) have improved their tactics in their confrontation with the military.

“The five deceased officers were on patrol in their police truck when the ARFs detonated an IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), which immobilized the vehicle. Subsequently, a sustained shootout erupted between the ARFs and the occupants of the military vehicle that resulted in the death of the five officers,” he says.

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He adds, “The government has maintained her characteristic silence following the death of these members of her armed forces. However, our source in the police force who works in the health sector and who opted for anonymity confirmed to us that the corpses of the five police officers were brought to the military hospital and prepared and sent to Yaounde, the Capital of Cameroon.” 

Fr. Godlove, who has suffered in the hands of ARFs and the Cameroonian military says that following the introduction of the IEDs in the armed conflict in NoSo (the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon), the government continues to lose a considerable number of her troops on a weekly basis “but still chooses to stay on the military option in resolving the conflict.”

He recounts that the armed conflict in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon which has claimed the lives of over 6,000 and displaced over a million people internally and externally, started with peaceful protests by lawyers and teachers respectively over the increasing use of the French language in the courts and schools in the predominantly English-speaking part of the Central African nation in October 2016.

The government used the police to suppress the protests, Fr. Godlove recalls, adding that some lawyers sustained injuries from the protests they staged.

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“A series of incidents quickly followed the protests, significant of which was the hoisting of a new white and blue striped flag all over the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country on 1 October 2017 declaring the independence of Ambazonia, with Sissiku Julius Ayuk Tabe as the President of the breakaway state of Ambazonia,” the Priest narrates.

He adds, “The military shot dead 17 people on this day, and this led to the formation of a rebel group of secessionists who started targeting the military.”

He further recounts that on 30 November 2017, President Paul Biya declared war on the separatist fighters following the killing of four military men and two police officers by ordering the deployment of troops in the hotspots of the conflict in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

“The government has consistently termed the separatists as terrorists and persisted in the use of military force to solve an internal socio-political issue, and defied all calls to engage in dialogue and negotiation with the secessionists,” Fr. Godlove says.

According to the member of the Clergy of Cameroon’s Bamenda Archdiocese, persistence on the military approach has exacerbated the conflict.

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Additionally, he says, the civilian population of the two English-speaking regions have borne the brunt of the war so far with schools shut down in most of the regions and what he refers to as a near complete collapse of the country’s economic life.

“The international community has repeatedly called for a ceasefire and proposed to broker peace between the government and the secessionists, notably a Swiss-based NGO known as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. However, the government of Cameroon has maintained a military stance resulting in a stalemate to this day,” Fr. Godlove bemoans. 

To end the violence, the Catholic Priest volunteering for DHPI, the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), suggests that the Cameroonian government engages rebels in dialogue.

“The government must release all those languishing in maximum-security prison arrested in relation to this crisis, grant amnesty to activists in the diaspora, and send condolence messages to the embittered population of the Northwest and Southwest regions, especially those who have lost relatives and property,” he says.

The Priest further appeals to the Cameroonian government to restrict troops to the barracks and to only keep police for internal peace and order.

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Additionally, he calls on the President Paul Biya-led government to agree to an all-inclusive dialogue mediated by a third and neutral party “in which no subject is taboo.”

To work towards conflict resolution in the country, the volunteer with DHPI also urges the government to organize a referendum in which the mass voices of the English-speaking regions will be heard on whether they want a federation, confederation or total independence.

“DHPI is engaged in working towards the alternative approach to the conflict, which is negotiation and dialogue by exposing the crimes against humanity committed by both parties and ensuring that International Humanitarian Law is respected in the course of the conflict,” Fr. Godlove notes.