, 29 February, 2020 / 2:00 AM
Members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Africa have, in a statement, expressed their concerns about the violence and loss of innocent lives in the Central African nation of Cameroon and proposed “inclusive dialogue involving Anglophone separatists” as the only appropriate solution to the protracted crisis.
“We, the Jesuit Superiors of Africa, representing all Jesuits in Africa, are deeply concerned about the violence and the loss of human life in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon,” reads part of the statement by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), the body that brings together Jesuit Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar.
In the statement dated February 27, the Jesuit Superiors on the continent express their solidarity with the Catholic Bishops in Cameroon and across the world, human rights groups and other concerned bodies and individuals “in condemning the Cameroonian government’s continuous use of force as well as the violence perpetrated by militia groups that has led to loss of innocent lives.”
The concerns of the leadership of the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar are being expressed against the backdrop of a recent military invasion of Ngarbuh, a village in the Catholic diocese of Kumbo, that left 24 civilians dead and hundreds displaced.
“On Friday 14th February 2020, the military invaded Ngarbuh at 4 a.m. and we are told that twenty-four (24) people were killed among whom were pregnant women and little children,” Bishop George Nkuo of Cameroon’s Kumbo diocese recounted in his February 18 letter.
Last week, four senior UN officials issued a joint statement decrying human rights abuses on civilians including children and women in Anglophone Cameroon.
“The four officials deplored continued reports of attacks against civilians including extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and property destruction, as well as retaliatory attacks, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, disproportionately affecting women and children in the south-west and north-west regions of Cameroon and forcing many to flee their homes,” the February 21Press Statement issued by the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict reads in part.
The UN body decries that in Cameroon, “children continue to be particularly affected by the crisis with reports of attacks on schools, extensive school closures in the affected regions and thousands of children out of school.”
“Information received on the recruitment and use of children by armed actors and the detention of children for their actual or alleged association with armed actors raise further protection concerns,” the four senior UN officials decry in their collective statement.
On their part, the leadership of the Nairobi-based Jesuits in Africa also make reference to the February 14 attack and term it as “heartbreaking” and “disheartening” in their collective statement signed by JCAM President, Nigerian-born Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator.
“This, unfortunately, is only another blot in the litany of killings and torching of villages that have been going on unabated in Cameroon since the recent crisis began in 2016,” the leadership of the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar bemoan in their statement sent to ACI Africa February 28.
To put an end to the Anglophone crisis, the Jesuit Superiors in Africa have in their two-page statement called on Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya and his government “to go beyond repressive measures and take responsibility in order to find more lasting solutions to the crisis through mediated talks.”
“Inclusive dialogue involving Anglophone separatists is the only sustainable solution to the violence causing the unacceptable loss of innocent lives in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon,” the Jesuit leaders in Africa and Madagascar have stated.
In their collective statement, the Jesuits have highlighted the Swiss-led peace talks initiative supported by a group of Catholic Bishops from around the world as “one such opportunity for genuine dialogue” as it “seeks to include separatists groups for a lasting solution to the crisis.”
“We highly urge all parties to take part in these talks to give a chance to lasting peace,” the continental Jesuit leaders have said and appealed, “We further call on the Government of Cameroon to ensure the respect of human rights and freedom of expression and manifestation.”
“We insist with Pope Francis that the humiliation, trauma and injustice suffered by innocent victims in war cannot end when the search for peace is fueled by ‘fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation,’” JCAM members affirm in their collective statement.
Still citing Pope Francis, the leadership team of the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar agree with the Holy Father who stated that “peace can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow.”
The members of the 485-year-old Catholic global institution in Africa and Madagascar also hail the African Union’s “Silencing the Guns in Africa” initiative, which seeks to achieve a conflict-free continent by of 2020 and term the initiative “gratifying”.
The Church leaders reveal that their collective body “is looking for ways to collaborate intimately with these efforts by the AU in order to accelerate action for peace and justice all across Africa” through its Pan-African Justice and Ecology Network.
With 80 percent French speakers and 20 percent English speakers, Cameroon has been experiencing violence since 2016 after Francophone judges and teachers were sent to the historically marginalized Anglophone region.
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