Monica C. Nkenganyi
AmbaNews24 – New York, USA
Since President Paul Biya of Cameroon received in audience the Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation to Cameroon, Pietro Lazzeri on May 22nd, 2019, the Swiss government has been on a dialogue hunt for those it believes are Ambazonian leaders keeping the resistance against Cameroon going.
At that meeting in the Cameroon Presidency was Antione de Saint-Afrique, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the Barry Callebaut food processing company. The chocolate producing company stroke a deal with the Yaoundé regime to become the biggest exporter of cocoa from Cameroon in exchange for bringing normalcy in Ambazonia. For the deal to become effective, however, the liberation struggle in Ambazonia must end because 60% of the total Cameroon’s export volume of cocoa comes from Ambazonia territory. With the ongoing armed liberation struggle, cocoa production and exportation from Ambazonia has almost ceased.
AmbaNews24 has learned from a source at the Swiss Embassy in Yaoundé that in the last months of 2018 when the Swiss Ambassador asked for audience to meet with President Paul Biya, he had outlined the issues he wanted to discuss including the very thorny subject of dialogue. The Yaoundé Presidency, our source said, conditioned the request by making it abundantly clear in its response that it was ready to discuss only the “One Cameroon decentralization” agenda and nothing else. This posture by the Yaoundé dictatorship was a direct rebuke to the US government and other international stakeholders interested in this conflict who have asked for the holding of an inclusive and unconditional dialogue with all the parties to tackle the root causes of the conflict.
Thus, before heading to meet with Biya in May 2019, the Barry Callebaut company contacted the Swiss Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) to play a ring role in its mission. The company would get the Biya regime to commit to the cocoa exportation deal in exchange for Swiss government helping Cameroon to terminate the Ambazonia liberation struggle and restore normalcy in the restive “northwest and south west region.” The HD, which is a private diplomacy organization in Switzerland that specializes in mediation between conflicting parties to prevent and end armed conflicts would be the company’s agent to secure its economic interest in Ambazonia under the Cameroun government by getting Ambazonia leaders to commit and cause a ceasefire through “dialogue”.
By the end of 2018, HD began contacting Ambazonia liberation movements and pushing for dialogue with Cameroun. The contacts intensified in February and March 2019. AmbaNews24 has not ascertained whether such contacts played a role in pushing and hastening the creation of the Southern Cameroons Liberation Council (SCLC) on March 28, 2019. However, keen observers raised eyebrows when on June 6, 2019 the newly created SCLC published Press Statement No. 010/SCLC/06, in which it spoke of itself as the platform through which all “interactions with international partners shall be channeled.”
AmbaNews24 has confirmed from the same source at the Swiss Embassy in Yaoundé that the Ambazonia Governing Council under the leadership of Dr. Cho Ayaba refused the courtship of the Swiss Humanitarian Dialogue center, stating that its mission is to free Ambazonia from colonial rule by Cameroon and to achieve full sovereignty and total independence for the Ambazonian people. The Governing Council of Ambazonia leadership, our source emphasized, therefore was not interested in any dialogue that seeks to break the back of the Ambazonia liberation struggle and maintain Cameroon’s rule over Ambazonia. AmbaNews24 filed an inquiry with the Ambazonia Governing Council on this on June 12, 2019 but has not received a response by press time.
This Swiss intrigue caught the attention of other stakeholders, who have started drawing the alarm bells. On May 2, 2019, for example, the International Crisis Group pointed out the possible danger to the Ambazonian people who seek their freedom from Cameroon’s rule when it wrote on page 19 of its Report No.272 on Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talk?: “Switzerland has not taken an open position since the beginning of the crisis, but is apparently pushing in private for regionalism. Since late 2018, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (a Swiss NGO) increased its engagement with Anglophones federalist leaders and some separatist groups in order to move towards dialogue between them and the Cameroon government.” Cameroon’s principal administrative units are called “regions.” Advocacy for regionalism is the equivalence of standing for the status quo where Ambazonia remains an occupied territory of Cameroon.
While the International Crisis Group does not list the “separatist groups” that HD has engaged, AmbaNews24 has learnt that Ebenezar Akwanga championed a mission from June 18 to 19, 2019, that included Boh Herbert, Kizito Elad representing the Ikome Sako IG faction, Dr. Bernadette Ategha representing the Sisiku Ayuk Tabe IG faction, and Elvis Kometa to a meeting with the Swiss Center for Humanitarian Dialogue. It should be noted that on February 1, 2019, John Mbah Akuroh in a YouTube video had fore-blown the whistle on such a meeting when he said: “A cable has been leaked to us, which indicates that in the days or weeks ahead the Swiss government is going to organize a retreat for some Southern Cameroonians that they are going to be preparing – that they will come out and declare eventually that they are talking on our behalf, so that they will be the people that France will push across the world that should be used for negotiations concerning the ongoing conflict in Southern Cameroons. And the objective is mainly to ensure that all our years of suffering, that the sacrifices we have made this far, that every dream that we have will be crashed . . . ”
AmbaNews24 also learned that the Ambazonia Governing Council was conspicuously absent at the Switzerland retreat as Dr. Cho Ayaba insisted the Council will not get involved in dialogue matters organized to bid for Cameroon directly or indirectly.
AmbaNews24 caught up with Mr. Frank Ngoh, the Chairman of the National Council of Representatives in the Ambazonia Governing Council to understand why the Governing Council has been cautious about hurrying to the negotiation table. The Council of Representatives deliberates and adopts policy and legal matters. Mr. Ngoh asserted that entering any form of dialogue or negotiation on the matters of liberation, independence and sovereignty of Ambazonia is too serious an issue to be taken lightly because as he puts it, “the lives of 8million people are on the line; the future of yet to be born thousands of generations of Ambazonians is on the line and must be given the seriousness it deserves.” He further cautioned about the disaster of rushing to the negotiation table unprepared, whether for personal relevance or any other reason, emphasizing that such a decision will be catastrophic to the future of Ambazonia and will be in total disregard for all the thousands of lives that have been lost. He stressed that the willingness to attain a political solution to this Ambazonia independence war should not be confused with the readiness at this moment to talk with Cameroon while it still holds guns on the heads of Ambazonians with no intention to stand down.
The National Council Chairman added that there is a resolution currently under drafting in the National Council that will focus on the negotiation agenda. He insisted that, “We cannot get to any table when we do not have an independence negotiation framework ready.” He further called on the Ambazonian people not to shy away from demanding that anyone going to the dialogue or negotiation table on behalf of Ambazonia must present to the Ambazonian public, at a minimum, what are the essential policy positions they will be taking on key issues. He outlined the following eleven key issues: humanitarian aid intervention, ceasefire, fundamental principles, transitional governance, land border with Cameroun Republic (with copies of maps and historical treaties), maritime borders with Cameroun Republic (with copies of maps based on international maritime border laws), sovereign assets, sovereign liabilities, retirement security (pension investments by Ambazonian citizens under the Cameroon government), citizenship matters, currency (will the colonial French cfa be maintained or phased out, and after what duration?), and corporate agreements (what are the basic policy positions on agreements that Cameroon has entered into with corporations located in Ambazonia?).
While it is not clear whether those clamoring for quick dialogue have established position papers on these critical matters, it is fair to say that none of them has presented to the Ambazonian people what their essential policy positions on such matters are.
On another note, many Ambazonians do not believe that Switzerland can be an impartial and fair mediator in a Cameroon – Ambazonia conflict. The blood of Ambazonians cannot be wasted on the altar of regionalism to satisfy the economic interest of a chocolate company in Switzerland and cooperate allies in France, while a future government of a sovereign Ambazonia will be capable of entering into favorable agreements with corporations, and will use the revenue to actually develop Ambazonian villages, towns and cities. Many high-ranking Cameroonian government officials and politicians have stolen funds related to Ambazonian resources and banked them in Switzerland. Furthermore, Switzerland is a member of the Francophonie, within which it maintains good relations for its interest and that of Cameroon. Ambazonia cannot expect a Francophonie country to be neutral, not to speak of advocating for Ambazonia’s interest at a negotiation table. Lastly, leaders of the Union du Population Camerounaise (UPC) such as Félix-Roland Moumié were assassinated by the SDECE (French secret service) with thallium in Geneva in 1960. The Swiss government has never opened a high-level investigation into his death and has never published an official criminal report of findings, nor prosecuted his killers. Many UPC leaders, it should be recalled, were granted asylum in the Southern Cameroons by the government of John Ngu Foncha when they were chased out of Cameroon for demanding the immediate independence of Cameroon from France.