“Am I a promoter, accomplice of tribal hatred?” Cameroon Bishops Probe Amid Ethnic Rivalry

Bishops in Cameroon Pose with Faithful at the end of their 44th Plenary Assembly in Yaounde, in May, 2019

The renewed ethnic rivalry in Cameroon pitting, on one hand the Bamilieke who control a great deal of the country’s economy and, on the other hand the Bulu-Beti axis who have controlled the political space for decades, has caught the attention of the Catholic leaders in the Central African nation with Bishops, through a collective message, decrying tribalism and calling for “an examination of conscience” over acts of discrimination on the basis of “tribe or region.”

“Each one is called to make an examination of conscience, ask him/herself the following questions: Am I not, in my thoughts, my words (in the family, work, in Church and in any other place), in my publications in social networks, in my interventions in the media and my daily behaviour, a promoter or an accomplice of tribal hatred in my country?” Bishops in Cameroon challenged citizens in a Tuesday, December 10 statement availed to ACI Africa.

In the three-page statement, the Church leaders have further probed in reference to the state of things in their country, “Do I accept collaboration and coexistence with those who have different thoughts and ideologies or are from divergent cultures? Do I pray and participate in the happiness and fulfillment of others, regardless of their tribal affiliation?”

The ethnically-diverse country has been experiencing tension based on ethnic differences since the October 7, 2018 presidential election that pitted candidates with support from the two ethnically-aligned political groups: the Francophone Bulu-Beti axis, which occupies the central and south regions of the country and the Anglophone  Bamilieke, which is concentrated in the west.

Aligned to Bulu-Beti axis, the incumbent President Paul Biya won the election against his closest rival Maurice Kamto, who had the backing of the Bamilieke and who has since been incarcerated.


Speaking collectively under their umbrella body, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC), the Catholic Bishops have criticized politicians and opinion leaders who “sow disorder and confusion in the minds of citizens, stigmatize and call for the rejection or even the extermination of others, whose only crime is their belonging to a certain tribe or region.”

Terming such acts of discrimination “fruit of selfishness, greed and the thirst for power to conquer or to hoard authority as was the case with King Herod,” the Prelates have chastised leaders who have used the tribal tag to mislead citizens.

“It is clear that the main root of tribalism in our country is bogged down in the political interests of some unscrupulous citizens who instrumentalize and worsen the tribal feelings of the weak in order to control power,” the Bishops stated in their collective message.

They have explained, “It is, therefore, not about love of the tribe or protection of the group to which they belong, but the desire to use trickery to create a diversion and then put themselves in key positions while the poor and the vulnerable fight among themselves.”

Referencing their 1996 pastoral letter on tribalism in which they identified the “scourge” as a cause for “disintegration of the fabric of our society,” the Bishops have reminded the country’s citizens of the consequences of tribalism.

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In their considered view, tribalism creates an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and fear, especially among the vulnerable in society; threatens peace and gives rise to insecurity, disrupting individual standard; weakens the business climate and inevitably costs the national economy.

Affirming that “respect for the dignity of the human person is, and remains, a nonnegotiable prerequisite,” the Prelates have urged various stakeholders to work towards eliminating the tribal animosity, which they warn could escalate to a civil war.

“In view of the above, your pastors put before you these words of exhortation to pastoral agents: priests, religious, catechists and committed laypeople, without forgetting ourselves – Bishops; we reiterate our call of Pentecost not hesitate to highlight the beauty and the grandeur of the Church as Family,” the Bishops appealed in the statement signed on their behalf by the President of NECC, Bishop Abraham Kome.

Addressing themselves to public authorities and leaders of civil and political society, the Bishops who represent the country’s 26 dioceses urged, “May opinion leaders avoid hate speech, discriminatory comments about other individuals and groups! May they adopt a language of respect for life, reconciliation and the building of unity.”

They appealed to citizens of the Central African nation saying, “And all of you, sons and daughters of Cameroon, whose beauty is so often exalted but is now put to the test by our selfishness, the time of awakening and re-awakening, commitment and reconstruction has come! Above all, it is up to us to return to the school of openness to differences, to hospitality, and mutual acceptance.”


Making reference to the destruction of Cameroonian embassies in Berlin and Paris following the declaration of the defiant 85-year-old President Paul Biya as the winner of the election, the Bishops have urged Cameroonians in the diaspora to desist from violent acts.

“May acts of aggression and violence against persons and their property (Exodus 20:13), as well as against patrimony belonging to the institutions of the Republic of Cameroon, cease,” the Bishops stated pointing to Cameroonians in diaspora.

Noting that the media and social networks are being used with “unprecedented speed and efficiency” by the various actors in the crisis, the Prelates have appealed to media industry players to “show greater charity and a sense of responsibility” and to “work towards the preservation and fruitfulness of socio-political, economic and institutional wellbeing, with a view to a calm move towards development and genuine national integration.”

The Church leaders have also addressed parents as the first educators of their children and as having the responsibility of inculcating fundamental values in children telling the parents, “Do everything to sow in their hearts the virtues of sharing, tolerance and honesty. Plant in them the sense of human brotherliness without discrimination. With them, fight against any form of stigmatization that excludes and objectifies the neighbour, who is not of the same language, the same tribe or the same religion.”

They urged young people to “fight against laziness, lies, covetousness, the search for cheap gain, the culture of distraction that makes young people spend precious time in doing things that are not useful.”

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“Cultivate the culture of hard work; think about what you want to do with your life and commit yourself to work and pray to achieve it,” the Bishops addressed themselves to the youth in Cameroon.

“Before God and in conscience, each of us (and in particular a Christian) must deeply examine him/herself, acknowledge and turn away from his/her sins, be reconciled to God and his/her neighbour,” the Bishops said and added, “For Catholic Christians, this process must end in the Sacrament of Reconciliation with the grace of a profound conversion.”