Revelations on Why Cameroon’s Swiss Facilitation Process Died

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By Charles Nwoleza and Rose W. Enanga Geneva, Switzerland

It has been two years and two months, and the Swiss process has left Limbo to the grave! Why? New revelations from Geneva show that the answer lies in what happened in Douala in September 2019!

Three months before September 2019, precisely in June 2019, the Swiss hurriedly announced to the world that they had secured the consent of the parties to facilitate an end to the Ambazonian independence conflict in a place that the Swiss Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) called, “the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon.” It turned out that the Swiss neither had the consent of the Cameroon government nor of the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), which the credible Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project has described as, “the largest Ambazonian separatist group” to mediate in the conflict. The ADF is the military wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council headed by Dr. Cho Lucas Ayaba.

This lack of consent from the two most influential parties has often been mistaken as the leading cause of the death of the Swiss process. However, in several social media postings, speeches and official correspondences, the Ambazonia Governing Council has stated that it is not outright against the “Swiss process” – rather, it demands that it at a minimum, the negotiations be multilateral and be held under the auspices of the United Nations. Günther Bächler whom the Swiss appointed to lead the process has not denied this framework.  In fact, in multiple correspondences to the Ambazonia Governing Council, the Swiss HD admitted that this framework was most appropriate to give the process credibility.

Therefore, the failure of the talks does not lie in the position of the Ambazonia Governing Council.

Why then have the talks not started for more than two years? Why have they failed?

The Cameroon government is an autocratic regime. Autocrats never succumb to negotiations with opponents unless they are forced to. The Swiss process totally lacks muscles! The Swiss failed to activate strategically powerful nations such as the USA that had supported the process to tactically pressure the Cameroun government to the negotiation table, contrary to the wisdom and experience of the Norwegians who used the Bush administration to pressure Omar al-Bashir of Sudan’s autocratic government into negotiations with the South Sudanese. 

Why the Swiss failed to give the stillbirth process muscles lies in its economic interest in Cameroon. On September 12, 2019, four days before the Port Autonome de Douala (PAD) was scheduled to announce that Terminal Investment Limited (TIL), an Italian-Swiss subsidiary of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), would take over the management of the Douala Seaport, Cyrille Bolloré, the then new CEO of the French company, Bolloré Transport & Logistics (BTL) wrote to Paul Biya, President of Cameroon. Cyrille asked for Biya’s intervention against the Swiss TIL. A French vs. Swiss war over the management of the Douala port began.

The TIL was going to replace Douala International Terminal (DIT), jointly owned by Bolloré Transport & Logistics and APM Terminals that had managed the Douala seaport since 2005. Unless Biya intervened, Bolloré, which the Swiss TIL had competed against in the concession bid was going to secure the contract and begin operations in January 2020.

Jean-Yves Le Drain, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs hurried to Yaoundé and met with Biya on behalf of Bolloré that wanted to maintain its contract against the Swiss TIL over the seaport. In October 2019, the very next month after that meeting, Biya intervened. Cameroon’s Minister of State and Secretary General at the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, ordered Cyrus Ngo’o, the General Manager of the Douala Port to immediately “suspend works for the finalization of the terms of Terminal Investment Limited (TIL) concession contract until definitive conclusions by the Littoral Administrative Tribunal in Douala on the case of APM Terminals and Bolloré SA against the Port Authority of Douala.” 

It is common knowledge in Cameroon that no court dares Mr. Biya! Orders from the Presidency to Biya’s appointed judges are case judgements. Biya ordered the judiciary system to rule in favor of the French Bolloré, despite the far juicier tender from the Swiss. The Swiss TIL lost the contract that was already being finalized. Not even the multiple diplomatic appeals of the Swiss Ambassador in Cameroon to Biya changed the mind of the leader of the jungle State.

By losing the Douala Seaport concession contract within six months of announcing their interest in the Ambazonia conflict, the Swiss realized that all their economic interest in Cameroon was at risk. Switzerland had to make a choice between protecting its own economic interest and pushing for international mediation as the Ambazonian groups that signed up to the “process” had wanted. For Switzerland, it was a choice between its own financial gains in Cameroon on the one hand, and the Ambazonian people on the other hand.

As rational choice theorists would guess, the Swiss opted for their own economic interest, and pulled back from mounting any pressure on the Cameroon government to consent to the “Swiss facilitation process”! That put the nail on the coffin of the “Swiss-process”!

The Swiss HD has, however, maintained its involvement in the facilitation of the conflict simply as a face-saving measure. It has tactically done this by giving money from the Canadians to Ikome Sako and Chris Anu to drum the “Swiss-process” as though it were alive, strong and active! No, it died at the shores of Douala.

Switzerland’s Antoine de Saint-Afrique recieves a golden statue from Paul Biya in May 2019

Switzerland does not want to admit that it failed, and step aside for a credible process to arise – a process under another mediator that will galvanize the world and pressure Cameroon to the negotiation table! Unfortunately, in saving their own face and delaying the potential rise of such alternative process, the Swiss are extending the number of days in which the cherished blood of Ambazonian women and children is being spilled by Cameroon. The Swiss have opted to sacrifice Ambazonian children on the altar of their own economic interest!

The only way the “miscarriage” Swiss-process can be resurrected from the grave is for Switzerland to officially bring in muscles from powerful nations to influence Biya! The path to doing that goes through Oslo (we shall explain another day)!