ANGLOPHONE GENERAL CONFERENCE BUEA-2018- CONCEPT NOTE

  • INTRODUCTION

1. On 25 July 2018, prominent religious leaders of the Catholic, Presbyterian and Islamic denominations in Cameroon met in Douala at the invitation of His Eminence Christian Cardinal Tumi, Emeritus Archbishop of Douala, to reflect and pray over the political, social, economic and security situation prevailing in Anglophone Cameroon (Northwest and Southwest Regions). Apart from the Cardinal, they included the Synod Clerk representing the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon and the respective Imams of the Central Mosques of Buea (Southwest region) and Bamenda (Northwest region).

2. These religious leaders noted the enormous hardship suffered by the people of the two Anglophone regions in the nearly two years since the ‘Anglophone crisis’ erupted in October 2016. Affirming their belief that the moment had come to put an end to the conflict and suffering through a frank, inclusive and comprehensive national dialogue on the ‘Anglophone problem’, they fervently appealed to the Head of State to organize such a dialogue as soon as possible.

3. The religious leaders also recognized the absolute necessity for the people of the Southwest and Northwest Regions to meet in a preparatory conference at which they would agree on the issues to be addressed at the national dialogue on the Anglophone problem and freely designate their representatives at that dialogue. Driven by their moral responsibility to promote peace and harmony among all God’s children, these leaders freely constituted themselves into a ‘College of Conveners’to summon the desired preparatory conference of the people of the Southwest and Northwest regions. To this end, they convened an ‘Anglophone General Conference (AGC)’, to be held in Buea, capital of the Southwest region and historical capital of English-speaking Cameroon, on 29 and 30 August 2018. They also defined the categories of persons to take part in the conference, established a broad-based Committee to organize the conference and designated its Coordinator. At a subsequent meeting held in Douala on 8 August 2018, the Conveners decided to re-schedule the AGC in Buea to 21 and 22 November 2018.BACKGROUND

4. Since October 2016, the two Anglophone regions (Northwest and Southwest) of Cameroon have been gripped by a devastating socio-political crisis. In the two years since it erupted, this crisis has evolved from a dispute between the Government and Anglophone lawyers’ and teachers’ unions over professional and labour rights claims, through a peaceful demand for state reforms that would resolve the ‘Anglophone problem’,to a violent armed conflict between government forces and armed groups that claim to be fighting for the restoration of the independence of the territory of the Southwest and Northwest regions which would entail its separation from the rest of Cameroon and its re-naming as the ‘Federal Republic of Ambazonia’. The physical, social, economic, cultural and security impact of the armed conflict on the territory of the Northwest and Southwest regions and its civilian population has attained disturbing and deplorable heights. The extreme violence in the two regions is believed to have resulted, so far, in tens of thousands of refugees in Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons,thousands of people injured and maimed, hundreds killed and hundreds more in pre-trial or post-conviction custody in several prisons and special detention facilities located principally in Yaounde, but also in the Southwest, Northwest, West and Littoral regions.

5. A wide array of consequences of the conflict has been documented by various observers since the crisis began. For example, in a recent ‘Declaration of the Religious Leaders of Cameroon in the face of the Socio-political Crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions’, the leaders of the Protestant Council, the Islamic Supreme Council and the Catholic National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon listed several of these consequences, including the arbitrary and indiscriminate killing of Cameroonians; the physical, emotional and psychological attacks and abuses on the local populations; the looting and wanton destruction of public and private property; the forced displacement of individuals and families from their homes and curtailment of their sources of livelihood; rampant attacks on educational institutions and depriving children of their right to education; the intimidating presence of armed forces and their use of excessive force against unarmed civilian populations in the two regions; the threats, blackmail, kidnapping and extortions orchestrated by the ‘Amba Boys’ and other armed groups and individuals; the manipulation of youths by various persons and groups within Cameroon and the diaspora; the use and spread of ‘hate speech’ emanating from the diaspora that encourages violence among our people; the sacrifice of the lives of innocent Cameroonians on the altar of political and other agendas; and the sluggishness and inadequate methods with which the Government is acting to address the Anglophone problem. To these may be added the brutal disruption, for protracted periods, of economic, commercial, agricultural, social and cultural activities, with considerable loss of earnings for the populations of the affected regions.

6. The religious leaders believe that, after two years of intense conflict, the time has come to organize a national dialogue on the ‘Anglophone problem’ with a view to ending the multiple forms of suffering that a conflict which could have been avoided in the first place, and whose effects have begun to be felt in most of the other eight regions of Cameroon, has brought upon the people of the Southwest and Northwest regions. For their structured, focused, effective, constructive and consequential participation in the much-awaited national dialogue on the Anglophone problem, the people of the two Anglophone regions need to meet in a preparatory conference. The Anglophone General Conference convened by religious leaders offers these people the opportunity and the forum for this. It stands out as an initiative that may permit the guns to be silenced in the Northwest and Southwest regions in favor of dialogue and a negotiated end to the crisis. At a time when the voice of violence appears to be the loudest, this initiative provides a non-violent channel for the resolution of the crisis that is rocking the nation.

OBJECTIVES AND EXPECTED OUTCOME

7. The Anglophone General Conference aims to: ü Bring the different dynamics within the Anglophone community at home and in the diaspora to the dialogue table;ü Discuss the impact of the system of governance in Cameroon since reunification in 1961 on the Anglophone territory, population and heritage in various domains;ü Discuss the impact of the current crisis on the population in such areas as education, administration of justice, civil and social services delivery, commerce and transportation, agriculture, etc. and make proposals for adequate ways to deal with it;ü Develop a common agenda for addressing Anglophone grievances and adopt a strategy to convey, present and defend this agenda at a national dialogue;ü Designate representatives of the Anglophone population at home and in the diaspora at the national dialogue.

ECUMENISM & POLITICAL NEUTRALITY

8. The Anglophone General Conference (AGC) is a faith-based initiative founded on the principle of ecumenism and political neutrality. The Conveners are religious leaders drawn from various denominations either in their personal capacity or on the nomination of their respective religious organizations. The College of Conveners wishes to be as broad-based as possible while its membership remains strictly voluntary. The leadership of the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) that had been associated in the discussions leading up to the meeting of 25 July 2018 in Douala was eventually not able to attend that meeting. It is hoped that the CBC will take its seat in the College of Conveners in due course. It has also been the ardent wish of the Conveners to involve their brethren of the Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches in this initiative. The patent absence of a national hierarchical organization of these Churches made it impossible to identify and invite their representatives to the meeting in Douala of 25 July 2018 at which the convening of the AGC was formally announced. However, since then contacts have been made individually with leading Evangelical and Pentecostal Pastors with a view to their co-option either to the College of Conveners or to the Conference Organising Committee or to both.

9. Whether or not a religious body is represented in the College of Conveners or in the Conference Organising Committee, all qualified Anglophone men and women members of the religious body are eligible, as Anglophones, to attend the Anglophone General Conference in their personal capacity. They may, therefore, freely do so without any hindrance or impediment.

10. The Anglophone General Conference is politically neutral. The religious leaders who convened it are driven solely by their desire to see an end to the wide array of suffering noted at paragraph 5, above, that the Anglophone crisis is causing to the affected populations. All qualified Anglophones living in Cameroon or abroad are invited to take part in this Conference as individuals, not as organized political parties or groupings. In this regard, the Conveners of the Conference do not prefer or favor any political leaning within the Anglophone community over any other. They do not envisage any pre-ordained outcome of the deliberations that will be conducted at the Conference. They are aware that, among Anglophones today, there are advocates of a decentralized unitary state, advocates of federalism and advocates of separation. Adherents of all these three positions are invited to and welcome to attend, the Conference and to defend their respective positions in this open forum freely, without fear and without violence. The AGC is designed to be a forum for civilized dialogue among Anglophones. Any consensus resulting therefrom will emerge from participants’ deliberations and not be imposed by the Conveners or any other stakeholders.

PARTICIPANTS

11. The genesis of the long-standing Anglophone problem and of the current Anglophone crisis lies in the deep-seated feeling among the population of the territory of the former British-administered Southern Cameroons that, since the reunification on 1 October 1961 of their territory and that formerly administered by France to form a new country, the Federal Republic of Cameroon composed of two federated states of equal status, they have been dominated, marginalized and assimilated over the past half-century. This situation has left Cameroonians originating from the two Anglophone regions with a sense that they are second-class citizens in their own country. Although the country’s governing elites chose to deny its existence, this phenomenon intensified over the decades since 1961. Its impact is felt by Anglophones of all generations and in various domains. This explains the massive and spontaneous support that the striking teachers and lawyers, the molested students of the University of Buea and the initiators of the ‘coffin revolution’ in Bamenda received from the general population at the beginning of the crisis in October and November 2016. Since then, that support has remained constant. It is also on the territory of the Northwest and Southwest regions that the devastating effects of the crisis have been mostly felt.

12. Consequently, the Anglophone General Conference is intended for Cameroonians who originate from the territory of the former British Southern Cameroons. It is important to note that the connotation of the word ‘Anglophone’ in this context is not linguistic. It is territorial. In this context, the word denotes not Cameroonians who have mastered and are fluent in the English language, but those who originate from the territory of the two English-speaking regions of our country. Such persons are of two categories. The first concerns Cameroonians whose ancestral origins are in one of the thirteen divisions of the Northwest and Southwest regions. The second encompasses Cameroonians whose ancestral origins are not in any of these thirteen divisions but whose ancestors (parents, grandparents or great-grandparents) settled permanently in the territory of the British Southern Cameroons before 1 October 1961. These are the two categories of people who constitute ‘Anglophones’ for the purposes of this Conference and who have been invited to the AGC by its Conveners.

13. As earlier mentioned, the invitation to, and participation in, the Anglophone General Conference is on a personal and individual basis. It is not based on political, ideological or any other group affiliation. Plenary sessions of the Conference will be open to all qualified persons attending. However, should the number of participants prove to be too large for efficient and effective deliberations, the Conference organizers may ask that participants group themselves by administrative division constitute divisional delegations with due regard to the principles of equal representation of divisions, on the one hand, and of men and women on the other, as well as equitable representation of youths, in each divisional delegation. Thereafter, only members of accredited divisional delegations will be eligible to take part in deliberations of the Conference.

14. So far, women have provided leadership in relation to several aspects of the response to the Anglophone crisis. For example, women are at the forefront of various humanitarian initiatives in respect of which they coordinate with a variety of actors to ensure that the right form of assistance reaches IDPs in the right places. In this process, they often act as conciliators in tense contexts. The Conveners and Conference Organising Committee are committed to ensuring that women are parts of all key aspects of the Conference so as to benefit their accumulates wisdom skills and established relationships.

15. Women have also borne and continue to bear the worst consequences of the ongoing crisis, especially in its armed phase. They suffer the negative effects of the crisis as mothers, daughters, and wives. The same is true for children; their needs must be reflected on the agenda of the Conference. The involvement of women in the AGC needs to be commensurate with the burden of the conflict that they bear.

16. All the people of the Northwest and Southwest regions living at home and abroad are called upon to make the sacrifices necessary, even in these difficult times, to attend the Anglophone General Conference massively. By so doing, they would be contributing directly to our collective search for a final, lasting and satisfactory solution to the Anglophone problem and Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. Those living abroad who, for one reason or another, are unable to travel to Cameroon, should be offered the opportunity to participate via webcam and other links made available by modern communication technology. In this connection, it is worth noting that, on the invitation of the organisers, one member of the College of Conveners of the AGC (His Eminence Christian Cardinal Tumi) and two members of the Conference Organising Committee of the AGC (Dr. Simon Munzu and Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla) participated on 18 August 2018 from Cameroon, via webcam link, in the All Ambazonia Consultative Council meeting held in Washington DC, USA, from 18 to 20 August 2018. Similar facilities could be used for participation in the AGC from abroad, should this become necessary.

SPECIAL GUESTS AND WELL-WISHERS

17. The Conveners of the Anglophone General Conference are conscious that the ongoing Anglophone crisis, the long-standing Anglophone problem that underlies it and the wide array of political, social, economic and other consequences resulting therefrom, are of interest not only for the people of the Southwest and Northwest regions but also for the Government, the entire Cameroonian population and the international community. They know, also, that the outcome of the AGC is intended to feed into the much-awaited national dialogue on the Anglophone problem expected to be initiated by the Head of State. Consequently, without prejudice to the essentially ‘Anglophone’ character of the AGC, its Conveners envisage the attendance of parts of the Conference by some non-Anglophone Government officials and international actors as special guests and by some Francophone Cameroonians as well-wishers. Special guests and well-wishers will have the possibility to address goodwill messages to the Conference as appropriate and upon request.

BUDGET AND FUNDING

18. All persons attending the Anglophone General Conference will have to sponsor themselves. The Conference budget, estimated to amount to32,346,800 (thirty-two million three hundred and forty-six thousand eight hundred) FCFA, will not cater for transportation, lodging or feeding of participants. The heads of expenditure cover Planning and Logistics, Budget and Funding, Communication, Mobilisation, Conference Coordination, Security and Miscellaneous. A detailed breakdown of the budget is available upon request.

19. The funds for the Anglophone General Conference shall be mobilized following various modalities, including donations from individuals at home and abroad, national and international NGOs, faith-based organizations, diplomatic missions, and international development partners. No funds from any source shall be accepted if, in the judgment of the College of Conveners or of the Conference Organising Committee, accepting them would compromise the ecumenical character and political neutrality of the Conference and/or its Conveners.

ORGANIZATION

20. The organization of the Anglophone General Conference is assured by a national Conference Organising Committee (COC) under the overall guidance and supervision of a Coordinator designated by the College of Conveners on 25 July 2018, assisted by an Alternate Coordinator appointed by the College of Conveners at their meeting of 6 September 2018. The national COC comprises the following Sub-Committees: Planning and Logistics, Communication, Budget and Funding, Mobilisation and Security.

21. Regional AGC committees may be created within each region of Cameroon and local committees at the level of administrative divisions and sub-divisions. They may also be established in places of high concentration of Anglophone Cameroonians living outside Cameroon.

22. To the extent possible under prevailing circumstances, the establishment and functioning of national and local AGC committees must assure the equal representation and participation of men and women and the equitable representation and participation of youths.

POSSIBLE CHALLENGES

23. The prevailing insecurity and limitation of movement of persons in the Southwest and Northwest regions, the precarious environment prevailing in the many villages that have been razed to the ground, the staggering numbers of internally displaced persons, prisoners, detainees, refugees, and exiled citizens that have been generated by the ongoing conflict constitute possible challenges to the serene organisation and success of the Anglophone General Conference.

24. To mitigate these risks and threats, the Conveners of the Anglophone General Conference have called for the suspension of military hostilities in these two regions. They have prayed the Government of Cameroon to discontinue all unjustified criminal proceedings, to order the release of all persons currently detained unjustly in connection with the Anglophone crisis and to facilitate the return of persons who have been internally or externally displaced as a result of the Anglophone crisis since October 2016, including those in exile and refugees. Participants would need assurances that no person would be persecuted in any way for opinions expressed in the context of the Anglophone General Conference. The Conveners have urged the Government and leaders of armed groups to allow the peaceful holding of the Conference in Buea in conditions of safety for participants, special guests and well-wishers, national and international.

25. These measures that are authorized by the Constitution and by both the civilian and the military criminal procedure codes do not constitute pre-conditions for holding the Anglophone General Conference. When taken, they will help to create an enabling environment for the participation of all qualified individuals in the Anglophone General Conference, for finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the Anglophone problem and for ending the Anglophone crisis through dialogue.

For further information, please contact:

Mr. Elie Smith, Spokesperson of the College of Conveners and Coordinator of the Conference Organising Committee (E-mail: eliesmith@yahoo.com; Tel: +237 699 108 387)

Mr. Lasha Kingsly , Head of Communications Sub-committee (E-mail: lashaking@yahoo.com , Tel: +237 679334449)

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