By Ndi Eugene Ndi
Experienced British diplomat and conflict expert, Dr Christian Dennys-McClure, has been designated as British High Commissioner to Cameroon.
His appointment comes at a time pressure is mounting on the international scene for major world powers and international organisations to take urgent action to end the armed conflict in the North West and South West regions.
The conflict which started in 2016 as peaceful demonstrations by English-speaking lawyers and teachers in the former British Southern Cameroons over perceived and real marginalisation by the Francophone-dominated government has claimed the lives of at least 3,000 persons. This is according to early 2020 United Nations estimates which categorise those killed into civilians, soldiers and separatist fighters.
The North West and South West regions were prior to independence administered as part of Nigeria as a UN trust territory under British control.
Dr Dennys-McClure’s appointment as head of London’s diplomacy in the country comes amidst mounting international pressure for major powers and international bodies to intervene and put an end to the bloody war which has for two consecutive years been ranked top of Norwegian Refugee Council’s classification of the world’s most neglected displacement crisis.
Since the escalation of violence in the former British Southern Cameroons, the UK has not gone beyond issuing statements, according to Tilarious Atia, a Cameroonian PhD scholar in International Relations and Political Science at Istanbul University.
UK has in the statements often called on the government of Cameroon and the Non-State Armed Groups and their promoters/supporters to dialogue and address the root causes of the problem.
“The root causes of the problem cannot be fully explained without mention of the role of the British,” Atia said.
In 2018, a British lawmaker raised the issue in parliament. Jessica Morden, Labour Party member for Newport East, questioned British minister for Africa on what the UK was doing towards “a meaningful process to address the issue and to end the violence.”
Atia explained that the international community has repeatedly called on the belligerents to create conditions to restore confidence, avoid provocative rhetoric and acts, and ensure any action by security forces is proportionate, fully respecting human rights, and in the best interests of protecting people and property. “They have gone ahead to encourage the parties to reject violence, embrace dialogue, and urgently take action to implement solutions that address the root causes and grievances being raised.”
Yet, the deadlock has persisted with no glimmer of hope for an avenue for discussions between the parties.
The appointment of the conflict expert as British High Commissioner to Cameroon has thus been interpreted by many as one that may give an added push to unlock the deadlock surrounding the armed conflict.
“The appointment of Dr Christian Dennys-McClure, a conflict, stability and security expert as British High Commissioner to the Republic of Cameroon is an indication that the British government seeks to change its stance on the crisis. The new British diplomat may provide good offices for parties to get to talks,” Atia opined.
As if to corroborate those who share this idea, the UK High Commissioner-designate has seemingly adopted the Pidgin English, a lingua franca in the country which is highly spoken in the two troubled regions, as his language of communication.
His first tweet following his designation was in Pidgin English. In the tweet however, the new British envoy to Yaounde did not say anything in relation to the lingering armed conflict in the former British Southern Cameroons, but expressed delight with his appointment.
Dr Dennys-McClure, who replaces Rowan James Laxton, will also serve as Queen Elizabeth’s non-resident Ambassador to neighbouring Equatorial Guinea when he takes up his appointment next month.
The UK High Commissioner-designate to Cameroon is an experienced British diplomat who has held varied offices within the UK’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, (CSSF) – a body that works to tackle and prevent conflictsthat threaten UK interests.
He was head of the fund’s cabinet secretariat from 2017 until his appointment on March 4. He had also previously served as Deputy Head at the National Security Secretariat in the UK for one year eight months. Prior to becoming Deputy Head, he had served as Conflict Advisor at same institution for over a year.
The holder of a PhD in Stability and Stabilisation from the University of Cranfield in the UK Defence Academy is also known for his extensive knowledge and experience working with NGO sector for Oxfam and Amnesty International. He is married and father of two children.
At the time of this report, the UK Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office (FDCO) was yet to reply our mail of inquiry on the choice of a conflict expert as High Commissioner to conflict-plagued Cameroon.