Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly has insisted that the Cameroon government requested her country to mediate in the protracted conflict taking place in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions.
The conflict now in its sixth year has left at least 6000 people dead, according to the International Crisis Group. More than 700,000 have been forced to flee from their homes, with over 70,000 fleeing across the border to Nigeria as refugees. And the United Nations says more than 2.2 million people in the English-speaking regions now need humanitarian assistance.
“We were approached by the Cameroon government, and we also had a UN representative present during the mediation,” Joly said Tuesday, January 24.
“Peace processes are always messy and take time, and this is a conflict that has been going for 40 years,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a cabinet retreat in Hamilton.
“The agreement to enter a formal process is a critical first step toward peace and a safer, more inclusive and prosperous future for civilians affected by the conflict,” the Canadian official said.
“Our goal is to be patient and to take a deep breath,” she added.
That “deep breath” follows a claim by Cameroon’s Communication Minister, Rene Emmanuel Sadi that Cameroon never sought Canada’s help in peace talks.
In a release Monday, January 23, Sadi said that Cameroon “has not entrusted any foreign country or external entity with any role of mediator or facilitator to settle the crisis.”
Instead, Mr. Sadi exalted the United States for arresting “perpetrators” of deadly attacks and destruction and urged “friendly countries to track down and bring to justice those who, from abroad are financing and encouraging violence in the country.”
He re-echoed what is now known as the “peace offers of the President of the Republic” to members of armed groups asking them to drop weapons in order to obtain state pardon.
The government’s denial of Canada’s involvement in the effort to broker the peace came on the heels of Joly’s announcement on January 20 that parties to the conflict had agreed “to enter a process to reach a comprehensive, peaceful and political resolution of the conflict.”
It was an announcement broadly welcomed by people from all casts of society in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, including core separatists.
A spokesperson of the Ambazonia Governing Council said he was gladdened by the development and noted that it could pave the way for justice to be rendered and facilitate a return to peace and normalcy in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons.
He, however, cautioned self-defence forces on the ground against dropping their weapons because the military is still very much present on the ground.
“This is not the end of the war but just the beginning of hope that the war can end. We still have the military on our streets, and we must keep resisting until it is settled”.
Faith leaders in the two English-speaking regions have also welcomed the prospects of a Canadian-brokered peace process.
In a statement Tuesday, January 24, Religious leaders in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions urged the parties in conflict in the embattled region in Cameroon to pursue negotiations in “honesty”.
“Having been firsthand witnesses to the ravages of war and the evils that have come with the armed struggle in these two Regions of Cameroon and as frontline advocates of peace, we, the Religious leaders of the North West and South West Regions welcome this statement as a major step towards the search for true, sustainable, and lasting peace in these two Regions,” the religious leaders said.
They added, “This has been our prayer and we are thankful to God that a hopeful corridor is beginning to open for inclusive dialogue that should usher in a peaceful resolution of the distressful socio-political crisis in the English-speaking Regions of Cameroon.”
But Sadi’s outing is casting doubts anything will come out of the process. It’s put the government in a very negative light, casting a shadow of sincerity on a government known for its historical capacity to deceive.