Solange M. Ashu AmbaNews24 – Madrid, Spain
The Swiss Foreign Ministry has appointed a 66 years old Swiss diplomat, Günther Baechler to lead the Swiss effort to mediate an end to the Ambazonia Independence Cause. AmbaNews24 has confirmed this appointment from diplomatic circles in Yaoundé and Switzerland.
Baechler studied history and political science at the Free University of Bern with interest in international relations, arms control, conflict research, security policy and the communist East vs. capitalist West political economy. He obtained a doctorate at the University of Bremen in Dieter Senghaas, and then taught peace and conflict studies at the University of Bern in Switzerland from 1997 to 2003.
From 1988 to 2000, Baechler was director of the Swiss Peace Foundation in Bern. In January 2001, he headed the Department of Conflict Prevention and Transformation in the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). From April 2004, the Swiss government dispatched him to Nepal and to Sudan (Darfur) as a peace mediator. The end of the civil war in Nepal in 2006 was a huge success for Swiss peace policy, but dealing with Darfur has become a mission impossible.
In August 2010, Baechler became Extraordinary Ambassador of Switzerland to Georgia. In 2016, he was Special Envoy for the South Caucuses, and in 2017 and 2018 he had the same responsibility for the OSCE Chairman of Austria and Italy.
Amb. Baechler is a senior diplomat and scholar. Despite his background in matters of diplomacy and theoretical elements of peace and conflict studies, he is assuming a role in the resolution of the Cameroon-Ambazonia conflict with significant challenges from different perspectives: (1) his limited practical background in leading self-determination negotiations in Africa; (2) the current nuance position of the Cameroon government that is still to give a mandate to the Swiss; (3) the current weaknesses in the anticipated Swiss-led process, and (4) foreign powers interest in which Switzerland itself is not exempted.
Limited Practical Experience in leading Self-Determination Negotiations in Africa
Amb. Baechler is not new to Africa, but being the leader of a negotiation process in a matter of sovereignty and external self-determination that he is about to embark on is a different game. In Sudan, he was not the negotiation lead. The IGAD-led negotiation process was supported by a Troika, which was a partnership Norway forged between the USA and Britain to revive and push the Sudan peace talks. The focal person in the Troika was Norwegian Hilde Frafjord Johnson accompanied by America’s John Danforth. Baechler’s sit was at the rear as the Swiss Sudan Envoy was the ambitious Ambassador Joseph Bucher who was successful in negotiating a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains at the behest of the USA. However, the Troika waived the Swiss “goodbye” as the already multinational process that had U.S, Norway, United Nations, African Union, Italy, IGAD countries, etc could not be expanded indefinitely.
In 1993, Amb. Baechler was commissioned by the Swiss Foreign Ministry to oversee the referendum in Eritrea. However, that was at a time the Eritreans had already achieved outright victory against Ethiopia in an almost twenty six years (26yrs) independence war, taken control of the capital city of Asmara, and then set up their interim government. Eritreans did not achieve independence through mediated negotiations with Ethiopia. The referendum was simply a United Nations formality for international recognition. In 1994, Amb. Baechler was an elections observer of the first free elections in South Africa – but comparing elections observation with leading mediation matters on sovereignty and creation of a new country as the Ambazonian people desire is like comparing apples and oranges.
On another note, there isn’t visible evidence that Amb. Baechler is fully versed on the history, legality and other underpinnings of the Ambazonia liberation struggle. He will have to learn on the job. And when he publishes a book at the end of the process as he is good at, he may have to quote from pages written by Pr. Carlson Anyangwe and speeches delivered by Dr. Cho Lucas Ayaba.
Position of Cameroon Government: No Mandate
There can be no negotiations or mediations or facilitations (the Swiss are still unclear on which of these they want to embark on) without the consent and mandate of the parties. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has not only hitherto failed to clearly and publicly identify the parties to its engagement, but has not received the mandate from Cameroon. All that has been happening between some Ambazonians and the Swiss Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has been capacity building sessions in which HD has been teaching those Ambazonians what third party international negotiations entail – if they ever get there!
The Biya’s regime in Yaoundé believes that the ongoing armed liberation conflict in Ambazonia that has claimed the lives of over 5,000 people on both sides, has affected more than 3.5million people and forced over 450,000 to become internally displaced while more than 35,000 have become registered refugees in Nigeria – is simply a Cameroon internal issue that no foreign nation should intervene in. Its policy position at this time is that it shall embrace only home grown solutions. When the Cameroon delegation met with Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth and the Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab, UK Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on September 26, 2019, the delegation told both foreign dignitaries that the Cameroon government was only open to “home-grown peace initiatives” that could contribute to ending the Ambazonia Conflict, and that the Cameroon government was capable of managing the conflict itself to a successful end. In fact, Cameroon went as far as threatening the Commonwealth before Ambassador Monica Juma, Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, stating that if the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group dared to take up the Cameroon-Ambazonia conflict, other international organizations to which Cameroon is a member – such as Francophonie – will fight the Commonwealth.
With this home-grown solution policy position, Cameroon has denied giving the Swiss a formal and official mandate to resolve the ongoing conflict. Without a mandate from Cameroon, the proposed Swiss-led process will remain on paper and news articles. In fact, SCCOP – irrespective of its degree of importance and influence – already rescinded its mandate to Switzerland because the Swiss failed to show proof that they had received formal mandate from Cameroon as they had claimed.
So, one of Amb. Baechler’s first mission will be the daunting task of convincing Cameroon that it cannot end the Ambazonia War of Independence through internal mechanisms as the recent failed Major National Dialogue or the government’s self-conceived so called “special status” to the “Anglophone regions”. Only by convincing Cameroon as such, and maybe through more international pressure using sanctions can he hope to then secure a formal mandate from the Cameroon government. The credibility of Switzerland is on the line after it claimed it had received a mandate from both sides, when it had not formally received one from the Cameroon government. Baechler must now rescue the international image of his country, knowing that tyrants such as Biya never back down when faced with mere talks; they must face heavy pressure in which they see the risk of their personal wealth and power disappearing before they can succumb to anything.
Current Weaknesses in the Envisaged Swiss-led Process
The proposed Swiss-led process – whatever it is going to be if and when it effectively starts – is already facing self-inflicted wounds. The Swiss are canvassing and hoping that significant Ambazonian liberation movements such as the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC) led by Dr. Cho Ayaba can sign up to the process. The AGovC, the Sisiku Ayuk led IG faction, the Consortium under John Mbah Akuroh and other groups have not given the Swiss a facilitation, mediation, or negotiation mandate because of real and perceived concerns of neutrality, etc.
The above liberation entities were shocked by Switzerland’s press statement in July that the Swiss will be facilitating dialogue “between Cameroon and the political parties of Cameroon.” Identifying Ambazonian liberation movements as “political parties of Cameroon” in a conscious effort not to use the word “Ambazonia” that may annoy Cameroon was not only abusive to these movements and the Ambazonian people who proudly identify themselves as “Ambazonians,” it also raised significant concerns of Swiss neutrality. The Consortium rightly emphasized the need for Switzerland to obtain internationally backed immunity for Ambazonian negotiators.
In addition to requesting evidence of a mandate from the Cameroon government as the other party to the conflict, the Ambazonia Governing Council also demanded that Switzerland opens up the process to other nations such as the USA, and Norway, and seek an empowering UN Resolution and the appointment of a UN Special Envoy to the negotiations to give the process the credibility it requires. The Swiss have failed to respond to this call officially, thus making the Ambazonian movements wonder what the Swiss are hiding that they do not want the United Nations and other countries that these movements have proposed to become part of the conflict resolution team. Furthermore, the Swiss have said that they cannot guarantee the implementation of any agreement arrived at. It is frivolous then that Switzerland is not open to the involvement of other countries that can guarantee the implementation of negotiated agreement between Cameroon and Ambazonia.
Amb. Baechler has the task of saving the envisaged Swiss-led process by effectively engaging these Ambazonian movements that have not given the Swiss a mandate, listening to their concerns, and working with them to develop and provide a satisfactory solution to the issues raised. Considering the state of the Ambazonian liberation struggle, it will be a mission in futility for him to think that he can achieve a ceasefire on the ground or effectively mediate an end to this conflict in a way that satisfies both sides without engaging the collaboration network that exist between the IG-faction under Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the Ambazonia Governing Council with its vast international mobilization network and ground combat capacity under the leadership of Dr. Cho Ayaba.
To make matters worse, credible evidence recently emerged of Swiss government officials contacting Ambazonian independence fighters directly without consulting their chain of command, and luring them to drop their guns. The Ambazonian people were recently shocked to see pictures of Swiss representatives meeting with some Ambazonian independence fighters. There are unverified claims that the Swiss asked those fighters to stop their Ambazonia liberation efforts.
Furthermore, actual negotiations are the least worries of the Ambazonian people at this time. Their greatest priority is unilateral, bilateral or multilateral peace mission that will halt Cameroon soldiers’ random killing of Ambazonian civilians in line with the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, and humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees. This can happen before actual negotiations begin, especially as Cameroon is not willing to commit to an international negotiation framework that will likely involve consent to such interventions by both sides.
Foreign Powers Interest in Which Switzerland Itself is Wrapped In
Switzerland has a lot of economic interest in Cameroon that does not only raise concerns of neutrality to the Ambazonian people, but wrap Switzerland in a conflict of interest mess that other partners of Cameroon are exploiting to challenge the envisaged Swiss-led process and give the Cameroon government reason not to commit to it formally. The Swiss company, Terminal Investment Limited (TIL), for example, is fighting tooth and nail against the French corporation, Bollore Group, to secure concessions in the Douala seaport. TIL had been chosen by the Seaport Authority, but Bollore Group filed a lawsuit against the bids award process and got the endorsement of Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya. The Biya’s government is siding with the French! Biya also has the backing of the Chinese to whom he gives almost every major construction project in the country, and from whom he has borrowed trillions of FCFA.
Amb. Baechler will have to navigate the international system of self-interest actors, including his own country, even as he tries to present the proposed Swiss-led negotiation process as neutral and credible. There doesn’t seem to be yet an Ambazonia-Cameroon Strategy in Switzerland. What Matthias Daum wrote about Swiss Confederation’s engagement in Darfur in 2009 as Gunther Baechler was trying to negotiate peace for the refugees in Sudan can be repeated today of Switzerland’s engagement in the Ambazonia Conflict: “Her commitment on the ground is patchwork.”