Eminent World Figures Challenge Cameroon’s Military, Separatists to Drop Arms amid Coronavirus Spread

The Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon  has challenged the Cameroon government and armed groups to declare a ceasefire and allow health workers tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The global campaign is an informal group of academics, activists, journalists, lawyers, students, and other concerned citizens around the world.

The June 22 “ceasefire challenge”, signed amongst others by five Nobel Peace Prize winners; the Right Honourable Joe Clark (Former Prime Minister of Canada) the Honourable Ricardo Lagos (Former President of Chile) two former US Ambassadors to Cameroon and two UK Members of Parliament, notes that Coronavirus infection rate in Cameroon is among the highest in Africa, and emphasizes that “Covid-19 cases cannot be reduced while infrastructure is being attacked, populations are harmed and displaced, and medical and humanitarian aid cannot reach all parts of the North-West and South-West regions.”

Cameroon already counts over 12,000 confirmed cases and more than 300 deaths. The campaign calls on all parties “to put the people’s immediate health, lives and livelihoods ahead of military objectives” and   challenges the warring parties in the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon “ to bravely and publicly declare a humanitarian ceasefire”.

Muyenge in Southern-Cameroons completely devastated and burnt down by the Cameroon Military (C) Cameroon Intelligence Report

The campaign says the ceasefire is necessary to “protect human life, health workers, patients, health facilities, and ambulances and to allow unfettered access of humanitarian aid to the North-West and South-West regions.”

The signatories also call on the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General, the African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Commonwealth, and La Francophonie “to urge the Republic of Cameroon to call a Covid-19 ceasefire,” and to ensure that Cameroon’s Anglophone conflict is on the agenda of the forthcoming UN Security Council meeting and all UNOCA sessions before the UNSC.

The campaign’s call for a ceasefire re-echoes a March 23, 2020 call for a global ceasefire by UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres in which he urged  warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against  Covid-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind. 

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, Guterres said..  “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

One of the separatist groups in Cameroon followed the UN call. The Southern Cameroons Defense Forces, SOCADEF said in March that its militia would put down their weapons as “a gesture of good will.”

Ebenezer Akwanga, Commander in Chief of SOCADEF (C) Teitter

But in a conflict in which at least 15 different militias operate, that lead was never followed by everyone.

“There shall not be a unilateral ceasefire in the Ambazonia war of independence because of Covid-19 pandemic," said a statement by the Ambazonia Governing Council, one of the English-speaking separatist groups to have self-declared independence. 

“To permit such unilateral action will be to provide Cameroun unhindered access to everywhere in our towns and villages,” added the communique signed by Julius Nyih Awung, Vice President of the Ambazonia Governing Council. 

“We will continue to work with and provide humanitarian corridors with the international organizations on the ground that that have been vetted by us,” Nyih Awung told RFI by telephone.

The Anglophone conflict, now in its fourth year has left about 12,000 people dead and over 1,5 million forced from their homes, according to multiple sources, although separatists estimate the number of deaths at over 15,000.

What began in 2016 as peaceful protests by Anglophone lawyers and teachers against the central government’s use of French in English-speaking courts and schools, including a systematic erosion of the Common Law procedures of the once independent state of Southern Cameroons, morphed into violent conflict when the government took a hard line.