By Ndi Eugene Ndi
UK Minister for Africa with President Biya during audience at Unity Palace
Britain has become the latest global voice to join fresh calls for an inclusive dialogue as the only path to end the Anglophone crisis.
The United Kingdom, (UK), Minister for Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), James Duddridge, echoed his country’s position on the way out of the crisis during a recent visit to Yaounde.
The call came weeks after French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean Yves LeDrian, made public a similar call on behalf of his country.
In a recent tweet after his visit to Cameroon, Duddridge said: “Inclusive dialogue is key to resolving the crisis,” He added that “the United Kingdom reaffirms its support to resolving the crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon”.
While in Cameroon, he met with some members of the civil society, humanitarian organisations and religious leaders who shared their experiences of the crisis.
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. Some local organisations put the number of casualties at over 5000.
The North West and South West regions were prior to independence administered as part of Nigeria as a UN trust territory under British control.
Inclusive dialogue, key to resolve crisis
In another audience with the Prime Minister and Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, the UK Minister for Africa said besides the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, (COVAX) initiative and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP26), they also discussed the Anglophone crisis.
Minister Duddridge further tweeted that “the United Kingdom is sharing expertise on conflict resolution and peacebuilding initiatives.”
On Thursday March 25, the UK Minister for Africa was received in audience by President Paul Biya at the Unity Palace. Minister Duddridge later expressed delight meeting with the Head of State. He tweeted that they discussed the UK’s relationship with Cameroon.
“I highlighted UK support to COVAX, our aspiration to increase trade and investment, & climate action ahead of COP26. I also reaffirmed UK support to help resolve the ongoing North West and South West crisis,” the UK Minister for Africa tweeted after his meeting with Biya.
Biya tweets without mentioning Anglophone crisis
In his own tweet after discussing with Duddridge however, President Biya did not mention the aspect of the Anglophone crisis.
He tweeted: “Delighted to discuss trade, investment opportunities, COP26 and COVAX with James Duddridge, UK Minister for Africa.”
Critics of the long serving President have since been interpreting the fact that Biya did not mention the crisis in his tweet to mean he is less interested in seeking a lasting solution to the problem.
Mixed feelings over inclusive dialogue call
The call for inclusive dialogue has however been received with mixed feelings. While some have applauded the announcement made by the UK Minister for Africa, others have blasted, terming it another loud sounding declaration that would not be materialized.
“We are tired of words and no action. The UK continues to sign deals with a government that is not ready for peace talks, insists on military solution as atrocities being committed against Anglophones,” Judith Nwana, strong human rights advocate and Steering Committee member of Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative (CHRI), tweeted in reaction to Minister Duddridge’s declaration. She urged the UK to move from words and “act to end the Anglophone crisis.”
The call by the UK for an inclusive dialogue to resolve the conflict in the Anglophone regions comes weeks after the appointment of conflict expert, Dr Christian Dennys-McClure as new British High Commissioner to Cameroon.
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,” according to Tilarious Atia, a Cameroonian PhD scholar in International Relations and Political Science at Istanbul University.
Dr Christian Dennys-McClure who is also Queen Elizabeth’s non-resident Ambassador to neighbouring Equatorial Guinea is expected in Yaounde this week.
France on inclusive dialogue
Before the UK, Cameroon’s former colonial master, France, made a similar appeal.
In a recent letter to addressed to vocal French Member of Parliament, Sebastien Nadot, who has been keen on the crisis, French Foreign Minister, Yves LeDrian reiterated the urgent need for a political solution through inclusive dialogue.
“France is convinced that the solution to the crisis in the North West and South West regions can only be political,” LeDrian wrote in the letter dated March 4, but which only emerged recently.
The French Minister said the political solution must also pass through an inclusive dialogue involving members of separatists group. He said Emmanuel Macron’s country has been closely following the over four-year conflict and remains sensitive to human rights violations.
LeDrian said France “is deeply concerned about the growing human rights violations in the crisis-hit English-speaking regions. On several occasions, France has made known to authorities in Cameroon the need to carry out independent and impartial investigations on acts committed and so that those responsible to face justice.”
Strengthening UK, Cameroon ties
The UK Minister for Africa’s stay in Cameroon last month also took him to Douala where he visited and met a British business at the Guinness Cameroun Factory. He said United Kingdom investment in Cameroon creates jobs, stimulates growth and contributes major tax revenues for the Government.
Minister Druddridge also relaunched the UK-Cameroon Chamber of Commerce in the economic first city, saying “the Chamber will strengthen our bilateral commercial ties and help United Kingdom companies do business in Cameroon.”
The visit to Cameroon came weeks after the country announced it had signed a new Economic Partnership Agreement with the UK. The trade deal signed on Tuesday March 9 in London is expected to support jobs and build future prosperity, according to the UK Department for International Trade, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development.