Solange M. Ashu 
AmbaNews24 – Madrid, Spain

On June 27, 2019, attendees from a section of the Ambazonia liberation spectrum at a session organized by the Switzerland Foreign Ministry released a statement to the public on their mission to Switzerland.

Some attendees of the Swiss-led negotiation session

Those who signed the Press Statement were from the FSCWO of Sally Likowo, APLM of Ebenezer Akwanga, MoRISC of Boh Herbert, the SCNC of Dr. Nfoh Ngalla Nfoh who is in jail in Cameroon but often represented by Elvis Kometa, AIPC led by Bernadette  Ategha, the Sako Ikome IG faction, SCOOP of Milan Atam, and RoAN of Njoh Marc Chebs. Others who attended the event but refused to sign the Press Statement include the Republic of Ambazonia of Fon Godji Dinka.

At the end of the three days session, from June 25th to June 27th, some of the attendees best described their mission in the press statement as a “leap in the dark to demonstrate good faith.” It is not clear, however, whether this “good faith” is directed to Cameroon or to the Swiss government that invited the attendees. It is also not evident whether the “good faith” is to the international community that has generally called for “inclusive dialogue without any preconditions” but which none has ever stated openly that the Ambazonian people have a right to external self-determination under international law. Also, it is not clear whether it is “good faith” to some Ambazonians who seem very desperate for anything that apparently gives them a spark of hope, even if it is a spark at the bottom of the deepest and darkest pit.

Conspicuously absent, avoiding the experiment of jumping into the said dark hole, and preferring to “look before you leap” as the adage goes were the Ambazonia Governing Council led by Dr. Cho Lucas Ayaba, the Consortium of John Mbah Akuroh, the IG faction of Seseku Ayuk Tabe who is also in Cameroon’s prison dungeon and often represented in any gathering by his Vice, Debney Yerima, and Ambazonia People Restoration Movement (APERM) of Edwin Ngang.

One of the participants at the sessions described it to AmbaNews24 as “a classroom teaching men with beards what negotiation is all about as if we could not read it in books or watch a YouTube video about negotiations,” while another said that it is not so clear whether they were in a capacity building session or in pre-negotiation talks.

Capacity building for negotiations generally involves an analysis of a party’s strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), and acquiring the knowledge, skills and coordination of human and material resources necessary to achieve a desired outcome in negotiations with another party. It often also elaborates on best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA), which is the most advantageous path that a party can take if negotiations fail; and its converse, WATNA (Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). Such alternatives may take advantage of a higher authority to seek and achieve the same results that were desired at the failed negotiation table.

Pre-negotiation talks, on the other hand, give parties the opportunity to manage significant issues in a conflict without risk of formal commitment. It allows parties to prepare themselves for possible negotiation without being bound to any decisions or actions. In this way, the parties can avoid formal negotiations that can be counterproductive or useless.

From the press statements that have been issued by the organizations that attended the sessions, it can be inferred that they were engaged in pre-negotiations; however, they have been quick in the same statements to bind themselves to the Swiss-led facilitations.

A third participant told AmbaNews24 that the Switzerland government brought in “experts” from the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) who spent time analyzing the Ambazonia nationalist position in the on-going conflict between Ambazonia and Cameroon. They focused on explaining the role the Swiss government will play, which will essentially be to provide a platform for communication between the parties. However, it was not very clear who the parties are or will be. In fact, in the Press Release from the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss government failed to clarify the identity of the parties in any eventual negotiations, preferring to identify the attendees at the session as “Cameroon opposition parties.”  The HD experts further explained the difference between dialogue and negotiations and advised on respective outcome positions that the attendees can take in the talks.

“Although we were there,” this third participant said, “I have my doubts whether we can speak for 8million Ambazonians. RoAN cannot boast of twenty members as an organization; I have learnt that AICP has only seventeen members; and SCAPO is a skeleton. I doubt whether even Akwanga’s APLM has a structure that can boast of fifty solid members. So, frankly, I have my doubts. If we get to the table with Cameroon and agree to a ceasefire, how can we implement that? The ADF that has most of the guns on the ground is controlled by the AGovC of Cho Ayaba, and they have formed a contender force alliance with The Tigers, the Swords of Ambazonia, ‘RK’, and the other groups that really control territory and the ground. Will Switzerland give Akwanga and Sako money to buy arms and try to take over the ground from them so we can enforce a ceasefire? I don’t know! So, it was good to be there, but I wonder how effective we can be in bringing any results, especially convincing Ambazonians if we agree to anything different from independence even in the interim. But let me say that Cameroon was not there, so we had no negotiations with anyone.”

Another attendee at the sessions has told AmbaNews24 that it was unclear whether Cameroon has mandated actually the Swiss government to play its facilitation role. “It seems so,” the attendee said, “but we were not shown any written document from the Cameroon government consenting to the process.”

Since the Swiss government put out a statement on Thursday, June 27 stating, “At the request of the parties [not named], Switzerland is acting as a facilitator in the crisis in north-western and south-western Cameroon,” the European Union, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs – Tibor Nagy, and the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres have put out statements welcoming the Swiss-led facilitation effort. However, the Cameroun government has maintained sealed lips, opting for the political calculation strategy of “watch and see”.

The Paul Biya regime of Cameroon’s approach to dealing with the conflict has been that it is an internal affair of Cameroon, and Cameroon should be left alone to deal with it. This approach has been strongly supported by France, China, Britain and Russia, who are four of the big five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Endorsing the involvement of the Swiss will be a significant change in the Biya regime’s policy approach to the conflict and a concession to its inability to resolve the conflict as a strictly Camerounese problem. 

In the Press Statement from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), The FDHA said, “Facilitation is an instrument of Switzerland’s traditional good offices. In this role, Switzerland can establish contacts and provide communication channels. Switzerland’s good offices are open to all concerned parties who wish to participate in facilitation processes. Switzerland adheres to the principles of strict neutrality and discretion.” One of the fathers of Ambazonian consciousness, Prof. Carlson Anyangwe has wondered aloud: ‘Is HD an operating arm of the Swiss government so that whatever they say or commit to engages the Swiss government? What exactly is the status of HD n this matter? Are the Swiss “honest brokers” or just mere facilitators? There is a world of difference between the two.”