FILE - President of Cameroon Paul Biya with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) attend a signing ceremony at The Great Hall Of The People in Beijing, China, March 22, 2018.
FILE - Cameroon President Paul Biya, March 22, 2018.

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - In a rare address to his nation, Cameroon President Paul Biya said he has ordered the country’s prime minister to engage in an inclusive dialogue to discuss problems that are tearing the central African state apart, including violence that has killed more than 2,000 people in the troubled Anglophone regions.

Biya also called on foreign nations to help him stop Cameroonians in the diaspora from sponsoring violence back at home.

The president said that after all the efforts he has put in place to solve the separatist crisis in the restive English-speaking regions, fighters benefiting from the financial support of Cameroonians in the diaspora have continued to break up his county.

He says that despite attempts masterminded by his country’s diaspora to destabilize Cameroon, he is happy that the country’s defense forces have fought hard, and peace is gradually returning to the restive regions. He says all countries of the world should help him by stopping Cameroonians in the diaspora from sponsoring rebellions back at home.

Humanitarian assistance

Biya said he had given firm instructions that people suffering as a result of the crisis should be given humanitarian assistance both in and out of Cameroon and that talks about the marginalization of Anglophones were unfounded. He said since English-speaking lawyers and teachers started protesting in 2016 in what they called the domination of the French over the English language, he has recruited more English-speaking teachers and created an English department at the supreme court to attend to English speakers.

Biya says all Cameroonians should know they are appointed to serve their fatherland, not their tribes or linguistic groups, so should be ready to serve wherever they are, irrespective of tribe and linguistic background.

The president said it was difficult to know who to talk to, as people claiming to be separatist leaders hid behind social media platforms to preach violence. He said he had ordered a national dialogue to be presided over by the prime minister with all Cameroonian political leaders, traditional rulers, lawmakers, the clergy and all elected officials, not only on the Anglophone crisis but on all the crises facing Cameroon.

He was referring to the political crises that occurred after the 2018 presidential election in which opposition leader Maurice Kamto proclaimed himself the winner; the Boko Haram insurgency on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria; the spillover of the crisis in the Central African Republic; and insecurity characterized by the proliferation of weapons.

Surrender and be forgiven

Biya called on all fighters in the English-speaking regions to surrender and be forgiven, or face his military.

Cameroonians had expected Biya to grant amnesty to arrested separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe, who with nine of his collaborators were given life prison sentences two weeks ago, provoking attacks on public edifices in the English-speaking regions and a mass exodus of people.

Separatist fighters had vowed to make the regions ungovernable and stop schools from reopening last September until their leaders were unconditionally released.

Cameroonians also expected all political leaders, including Kamto and about 200 of his supporters, arrested for protesting what they called their stolen victory and charged with crimes, including terrorism, to be freed.

Political analyst Emmanuel Mbafor says Biya, by refusing to address the challenges Cameroon faces as expected, had simply indicated to the world that he is not ready for a peaceful solution to the crises.

“He has proven to us that he can be very, very unpredictable,” Mbafor said. “Everybody thought he would come and declare something soft. Rather, he came and said it does not mean anything.”

Cameroonians had expected their president to grant amnesty to return peace to the troubled country.