By Ajong Mbapndah L
The crisis in Cameroon are growing from bad to worse with ordinary masses bearing the brunt, says Journalist Elie Smith. Echoing what others like Justice Ayah Paul have said, Elie Smith says without inclusive dialogue, Cameroon is on the highway to civil war. Known for his unbiased perspectives to national issues, Elie Smith says the government must come to terms with the fact that it is dealing with a new generation of Anglophones resolute in righting historic wrongs and injustices suffered for decades. The solution lies in a sincere dialogue with Anglophones of all sheds and stripes with no taboo subjects, says Smith.
PAV: Elie thanks again for accepting to shed light on the ongoing crisis, where do things stand at the moment with the crisis?
Elie Smith: The crisis is getting from bad to worst. But those who are the victims are first and foremost the ordinary masses in the two Anglophone regions otherwise known as Southern Cameroon’s. You have thousands internally displaced people, most of them are now living in the bushes and others have relocated to neighbouring Nigeria in camps run by the UNHCR and Nigerian states, while others are in towns and cities in Anglophone Cameroon and beyond that seems to have a semblance of peace and safety from the Cameroonian security forces, hitherto, the main causes of human rights abuses and lately from the jumble of armed Anglophone nationalist movements. In this crisis, very little is said about the fate of the elderly, women and children. Most girls are now out of schools and have become vulnerable to all kinds of abuses amongst which, rape is a major issue, sadly under reported.
PAV:There was a statement from one of the SDO from the North West and the fall of a locality under his command, though the statement was disputed, are there areas that the government has completely lost control of and if so which ones do you know from your findings?
Elie Smith: No territory is the under control of the various armed Anglophone nationalist movements. It is not that, they can’t capture and control large chunk of territory, is just that, they are multiple, disorganized and divided. In short, they are still a bunch of amateurs who are quickly honing their trade as we have noticed recently in direct warfare with regular forces. But what I have noticed is that, the morale of regular or government forces are down and secondly, in spite the divisions within the armed movements, they still command and lot of support because government forces are still committing human right abuses. The reality is that, any part of Anglophone Cameroon can be captured.
PAV: The bilingualism commission tabled a number of proposals to President Biya, what do you make of the discussions that took place during their meetings with people in the North West and South West, and how have people reacted to their recommendations in Cameroon?
Elie Smith: First there is nothing new. The creation of that commission is an admission of failure and given the fact that, it has only a consultative position, her recommendations however brilliant it might have been is a late recommendation to solve an old problem. They should stop wasting tax-payers monies. The government should have the courage to call a Foumban 2 conference to correct the historic wrongs of the first unification constitution and secure the future. Justice Ayah Paul has been advocating the need for a second Foumban conference as a panacea to solving the current crisis. If there is no “all inclusive dialogue”, we are on the highway to civil war. Even though I said before that the various armed groups are amateurs and under armed and disorganized, it is just a matter of time before they beef up their weaponry and start confronting the national army eyeball to eyeball. And when that, happens, they will control territory and I began to wonder how reconciliation will be possible at that stage. However, there is still time for things to be corrected.
PAV: We now see a growing number of kidnapped Police and military officials calling on the Biya government to rethink its strategy; do you see this having any impact?
Elie Smith: Of course the recent spats of kidnapping of Police and military men and women are having an impact on the government and also on the majority Francophones. For they had long been nourished about the invincibility of the Cameroonians army in general and its US trained elite unit, the BIRs or Rapid Intervention Brigade , in particular. They now have to rethink their strategy in Anglophone Cameroon because the current one of scorched earth policy has failed woefully.
PAV: Why was the government so rattled with statements from the American Ambassador Peter Balerin, what was the drama all about?
Elie Smith: I think the government never expected their friend, the United States to speak the way its ambassador spoke. Remember, the United States has always looked the other way while the government commits human rights abuses not only in Anglophone Cameroon, but first, its operations in the Far North. They have been embolden because, while the United States , especially under the Obama administration refused to cooperate with the Nigerian government by refusing to sell them weapons because of suspicions that, the Nigerian Army was committing human rights abuses, the same US government was training and arming Cameroon’s elite military force, known as the Rapid Intervention Brigades or the BIR. So, Yaoundé was like the spoiled child of Washington DC under Obama. Its security forces could kill and maim under the guise of fighting against terrorism and they received no rebukes. And since Frances Cook, all or most US ambassadors after her were kind of speaking from both sides of their mouths. Now, Yaoundé is shocked to find an outspoken ambassador and it is coming at a time when the regime is most vulnerable. Fanatics of the regime want Biya, who is 86, to run again in the upcoming presidential election, that is why, they were not happy with the declarations of Peter Bellerin. Remember, Washington DC was their moral support when the same US ambassador declared that, those fanning the crisis were the Anglophone Diaspora, they was ululation in Yaoundé, but now that, the same ambassador talks only about legacy, there is wailing in Yaoundé.
PAV: If the government could express such outrage on the Ambassador’s statements, why is it so hard for them to invest the same energy in trying to find solutions for the crisis or at least engaged in broad-based dialogue that many have called for?
Elie Smith: It is beyond comprehension why they will release such energy to denounce their erstwhile friend and not put such in seeking lasting solution to the current. But my humble opinion is that, they are not only overwhelmed but they have exhausted all the options that, they had. The only option that, they have now is to use violence and which is only going to fuel more discontent and also drive a wedge between Cameroonians along colonially inherited cultures.
PAV: The UK government has been conspicuously silent on the crisis, but a company from there recently signed a lucrative contract to process gas, your take on this.
Elie Smith: The United Kingdom has always stayed quiet. Remember, in 1992 when the US and Germany were banners upper for the stolen victory of John Fru Ndi to be upheld, the UK simply sent their spies here to find out whether the majority Francophones will accept Anglophone as their President. What I have just said is mentioned clearly in the book: “Dossier Noire sur le Cameroun”, written by Pierre Ella. The UK is still angry that, Southern Cameroon’s opted to join La Republique instead of doing what part of German Togoland did by joining Ghana. Well as for New Age, I don’t think Her Majesty’s government had anything thing to do with the company coming to Cameroon, especially in west Cameroon.
PAV: In the last couple of weeks, we have seen the major international media outlets like the Guardian and Economist in the UK, and the Washington Post in the USA reporting on the crisis, any comments?
Elie Smith: Well, it is normal. When it bleeds, it leads. The killings in Anglophone Cameroon have reached a point that can’t be hidden from the international community in spite all the gymnastics in denial put in place by the government.
PAV: Any word about Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and others arrested in Nigeria are there alive and if so why has the government continued to keep them incommunicado?
Elie Smith: They are alive. I have heard strange claims recently. It is left to the government to decide when to make them available. But your question is coming at a time when the government has decided that interrogations of 10 of the 47 arrested in Nigeria should start. It began on Monday June 25th. And I hear they all have the right to give the name of a person of their choice to visit them for a period of one month renewable. Now, it is left for the people of the Interim government to decide whether they want to have a formidable legal team that is free from their internal shenanigans, which will lead to the mitigation of their sentences or use them as a bargaining chip for their own political ambitions.
PAV: Taking the killings that took place in Menka as an example , one sees a wide gulf in the way the English media covered it, as opposed to the French media which largely relayed the government side of the story, as a media professional what do you make of this?
Elie Smith: Cameroon is officially a bilingual country with English and French, being its official languages, but in reality it is a French-speaking country and there are no other places to prove that, English is not an official language in this country than the judiciary and the Press. The judiciary is pure French-speaking and it will be demonstrated once again as the trial of the 47 starts. The other area is how this crisis is covered by the French language media. They are most supportive of the government partly because most French-speaking journalists and owners of French-language papers are sponsored by the government. And this is where the theory of ownership and control is put into practice. But, it is not a reflection of what most Francophones are thinking.
PAV: As the crisis rage on, so too are the elections approaching, if things continue this way, how will the situation in the North West and South West Regions impact on the elections? Will elections without these two regions be legitimate or will this just cement the broken bonds we see now?
Elie Smith: In my humble opinion elections, can’t take in both North West and south west regions anytime soon. Simply because, the government is not controlling those regions as they would want the world to think. Perhaps they are having control to a certain level of the following areas: Bamenda, Kumba, Buea and Victoria-Limbe. I say perhaps, because, when I am in the latter mentioned localities, you noticed that, there is a kind simmering tension and kind or unofficial cease fear. But if the government goes ahead and oragnises elections, then they will not only disenfranchising the people of both regions, they will be giving a legitimate arguments to secessionists or restorationists, that, both region variously known as former west Cameroon or former British Southern Cameroon’s is not an integral part of Cameroon. Remember, the argument that the most hardcore Anglophone nationalists have been floating is that, there is no treaty officialising the current Union, which has been trampled upon and strangely the government has never shown any official document that shows that, there was any official union between both Cameroons. Ideally, it would be best for negotiations to start first and concluded before any elections are organized in Cameroon. What I don’t seem understand is why are some candidates eager to run, when they know they won’t be able to campaign in some parts of the country and will be playing into the hands or to the advantage of the incumbent.
PAV: You have been on TV panels with Messanga Nyamding , what was he talking when he said Anglophones have a lower intelligence coefficient compared to Francophones, with friends like him and others, many are wondering if President Biya actually needs enemies Elie….
Elie Smith: Sincerely speaking, I don’t know what to say. I think Mr Nyamding can best answer this question. However, my interpretation is this and I have already told him in one of our debates. I think, it is his excessive love or desire to please the President of the Republic and the ruling CPDM that has made him and many other ordinarily brilliant people to ridicule themselves. I once told him in one of our debates on Balafon FM here in Douala, that his behavior was like that of a boy who loves a girl who doesn’t love him. He loves the CPDM, but the CPDM doesn’t love him. Beyond that, Mr Nyamding is a very good man.
PAV: Based on the situation on the ground as you see, how does this end, where do the solutions come from and who will the actors be?
Elie Smith: It will only get worse if the government refuses to see the reality and stop being arrogant and stupid. The government must understand that, they have for too wrong the Anglophones and now, the new generations who have nothing to lose won’t take what their parents took or accepted from the central government in Yaoundé. The solution lies in a sincere dialogue with Anglophones of all sheds and stripes and all subjects must be put on the table.
PAV:Thanks so much for granting this interview
Elie Smith: It is a pleasure to give me an opportunity to give my humble views on the current political situation prevailing in Cameroon.