(Ottawa) The first groundwork for a possible peace agreement in Cameroon has just been laid and plans are being drawn up in Canada.
Posted 4:06pm Updated 4:59pm
According to our information, the Central African country appealed to the Canadian government last summer to invite it to play the role of mediator in the dispute between the Cameroonian government and English-speaking separatists.
Secret meetings were held in Montebello, Mont-Tremblant and Toronto to allow the parties to negotiate, confirmed a Canadian government source, who requested anonymity and was not authorized to discuss the files publicly.
The meetings made it possible to draw up a roadmap for a possible peace agreement and a set of confidence-building measures; The role that Canada will play as arbitrator throughout the process has also been formalized, according to another federal source in Ottawa.
“This role also demonstrates Canada’s determination to work with its African partners to build a better future for all,” Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement on Friday.
Switzerland had already tried to play a mediating role, but the approach had not borne fruit. “Everything is standing still,” we read in an article published in Geneva-based daily Le Temps in July 2021, in which we also mentioned an urging from the Canadian government.
“On the other side of the Atlantic, Canada, which is funding the mission with Switzerland […] up to around 800,000 Swiss francs [près de 1,2 million de dollars canadiens]and the United States is keen for Swiss relief to continue […] ‘ we read there.
“A Silent Disaster”
Historic tensions in the English-speaking Southwest and Northwest regions escalated in 2017 into armed conflict between government forces and the movement seeking independence for the “Federal Republic of Ambazonia”.
Armed separatist groups abduct, terrorize and kill civilians, commit rapes, burn down schools or order them closed, Human Rights Watch condemned last June.
The conflict left more than 6,000 dead and 765,000 displaced, of whom 70,000 found refuge in Nigeria; According to the International Crisis Group, more than 600,000 children are no longer able to go to school.
“We can say that it’s kind of a silent disaster because it’s not made very publicly,” argues Mamoudou Gazibo, a professor in the University of Montreal’s Department of Political Science.
The conflict stems from colonization – in 1961 the English-speaking regions that should have gone to Nigeria were joined with the French-speaking part to form Cameroon; Anglophones feel a “form of exclusion,” says the political scientist.
And President Paul Biya, 89, who came to power in 1982, looks helpless. “It is often said that he is in Switzerland six months a year to get treatment. We really wonder how the country is holding up,” adds Mr Gazibo.
The Boko Haram Factor
To make matters worse, Cameroon is also struggling with “the repercussions of the emergence of the Boko Haram group,” notes Marie-Joëlle Zahar, a researcher at the University of Montreal’s Center for International Studies and Research (CERIUM).
The presence of the terrorist organization that originated in neighboring Nigeria “complicates the conflict because it has given the government an additional argument for a response that is essentially security,” she explains.
This factor should be taken into account up front rather than afterwards, says the man who is also director of the Peace Operations Research Network.
The question of Sudan arose. We later said to ourselves that perhaps we made the mistake of focusing on the conflict with the south, without understanding that there are very strong connections to what is happening in Darfur and other regions.
Marie-Joëlle Zahar, researcher at the Center for International Studies and Research at the University of Montreal
“I think we have a similar problem,” says Ms. Zahar.
The parties to the agreement are the Republic of Cameroon, the Ambazonia Governing Council and Defense Forces, the People’s Liberation Movement of Africa and the Southern Cameroons Defense Forces, the Interim Government and the Ambazonia Coalition Team.