In an interview with the newspaper Germinal on Monday, March 20, 2017, the Regional Director for Africa of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs also talks about alternating at the top of the state.
Germinal: The attention of Cameroonians has been captured for some time by what is commonly called ‘the English-speaking problem.’ What do you read about this situation and how do you live it?
Christopher Fomunyoh: This is a situation of historical latent incomprehension, the last of which is the crisis arising from the professional grievances of English-speaking lawyers and teachers, which has in the meantime turned into a crisis of confidence Governance in the two regions of the North-West and South-West. Four months after the first street demonstrations, we are confronted with a crisis of national scope that imposes on each one of us a deep introspection of the human and democratic values that animate us.
Personally, like the vast majority of my compatriots, I saw very badly and with great sadness this situation: first because I am a son of the Northwest and therefore English-speaking; And secondly because I am one of those who have always believed in the fairness and justice of the state. Today this confidence is greatly shaken by certain acts which can not be condemned. I would cite, among other things, the loss of life, the deceit of some demonstrators at the beginning of the crisis, the burning of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Bamenda, the gratuitous violence on students and lawyers who were demonstrating peacefully. Punishment or even collective humiliation on more than five million of our fellow citizens who have been denied access to the Internet and other means of communication for more than 60 days. How can we not share the consternation of this population which, let us not forget, alone exceeds by far the total population of the three neighboring countries which are Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo Brazzaville? Although there have been isolated acts of cybercrime at the onset of the crisis, there are several ways to counter these mostly minimal acts without chastising innocent people by depriving them of their basic freedom of access to ‘information. Moreover, this cut of the Internet has a negative cost on our economy, just as it seriously tarnishes the image of our country on the African and international scene. People talk about it all over the world; They are surprised at our inability to value the assets we have, and it hurts very much.
Today, therefore, the problem is not only English; It is national and even international when we see the images of compatriots demonstrating in front of our embassies and other institutions abroad.
Do you think that a definitive solution to this English or national problem will ever be found?
Yes, of course, a solution will be found, one day or another, since the grievances have been put on the public square. Moreover, we have no choice if we want to promote the conviviality between the different national communities. This also requires that grievances be taken into account and resolved, and that the structural problems relating to national, regional and local governance should be debated with honesty and calm and resolved in a consensual manner as soon as possible.
Among the solutions mentioned, some advocated decentralization, others federalism, and some secession. In which group do you find yourself?
As you know, as a convinced pan-Africanist, I have never advocated secession or any separation, and my position has not changed. At a time when large ensembles are forming everywhere else in the world, the fragmentation of African countries would be counterproductive for development and for national and continental integration. Since the constitution provides guarantees and protects fundamental rights, we must all work, the President of the Republic first, so that it is for the benefit of all citizens.
At the same time, I find that the decisive debate between decentralization and federalism is badly posed, because we must first create favorable conditions for an educated and constructive debate, a frank and sincere debate on the governance of our country . On the other hand, I am annoyed by the fact that this debate is taking place while those who originally raised the problem – and in the most civilized and peaceful way possible – are being held in Kondengui for trial. Let us avoid falling into a fixation of the form of the State which would be articulated only around decentralization or federalism. We must go beyond that. This means avoiding jumping on the streets like those compatriots who in 1990 marched in Yaoundé and other cities of the Republic against the multi-party system and democracy which they then defined as “imported values. We know the continuation: today, in the name of these “imported values” the same who had walked call themselves democrats and claim to have brought democracy to Cameroon.
In my opinion, we will have to diagnose the contract of confidence violated, the texts never applied, the unfulfilled promises and the failures observed during the last decades, before examining the new forms of governance and the reliable alternatives Orient us towards the ideal option for our country. Otherwise, a lasting solution can never be found. It is also necessary to take rapid measures of appeasement such as the immediate release of lawyers, teachers, civil society leaders and other arrested Anglophones; Restoring the Internet connection; The immediate cessation of arbitrary arrests of journalists and innocents – in order to create a climate conducive to a thorough and coherent reflection on ways out of the crisis.
I appeal to the authorities concerned and have the decision-making power to implement the measures mentioned above and to listen attentively to the grievances and cries of distress of the populations of the North-West and South-West; More generally Cameroonians. They must seek solutions to the problems faced by the various communities whose deterioration in living conditions is of great concern. I make a solemn appeal to the compatriots so that we, individually and collectively, take the commitment to raise the level of debate on these crucial issues concerning the future of the homeland. As you well know, I am profoundly republican and democratic. I defend an authentic state of law where the public interest is at the heart of the concerns of the leaders at all levels; There is an effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches; Justice is independent; The fundamental rights of man are respected; Corruption is fought with the utmost energy and also transparently; Meritocracy takes precedence over other considerations; The declaration of assets and assets is effective; Free, fair and just elections are organized by a truly independent body and an electoral code set up in a consensual manner. These are some examples of measures that can reassure all of our citizens.
Since the outbreak of this crisis, we haven’t heard from you enough. How do you explain this silence?
But no, how can you think for a moment that I have remained inactive in relation to such an important crisis and to which the whole world is today alerted. Remember that, 48 hours after the first demonstrations on 21 November 2016, I made a public statement in English and French, which was strongly relayed by the national media, a statement in which I called for calm and non- violence. In the same communiqué of November 23, 2016, when I saw the images coming from the North-West and South-West, I had recommended that President Paul Biya address the nation to calm the minds and reassure the fellow citizens. To date, this statement is still valid and I remain convinced that if President Biya had taken the lead at the time in November, the question would not have taken the turn that we know today.
I went down to the field in Kumba in the south-west in mid-December 2016, where I again called for non-violence and dressing of hearts. I have given interviews to the print and broadcast media in the same direction. Fortunately, other fellow citizens such as Dr. Simon Munzu, Honorable Wirba and Joshua Osih, Bernard & Akere Muna, Mr. Felix Agbor Balla, Mr. Ayah Paul, Ms. Kah Walla, also edified the national and international opinion on the contours of the question.
How do you appreciate the steps taken by the various stakeholders so far?
Needless to say, by his determination and perseverance, the younger generation of Anglophones – lawyers, teachers, students and other personalities involved in this movement – succeeded in putting publicly and peacefully, Grievances that have lasted for decades, and which until now have been dealt with in closed sessions in committees restricted by certain policies.
In the life of any nation, the management of large-scale crises allows us to better understand the thoughts and convictions of each other, and many of our compatriots have demonstrated their objectivity and the relevance of their interventions. I take this opportunity to appreciate the factual and dispassionate positions of all those who have enlightened national and international opinion on the issue. I am thinking in particular of former Minister David Abouem-A-Tchoyi, Protais Ayangma, MP Martin Oyono, Jean de Dieu Momo, Professor Nkou Mvondo, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Richard Bona, Other compatriots who, without being English speakers, have shown empathy and sympathy towards our compatriots in the Southwest and North-West, and we have shown a lot of lucidity in their analyzes. I also positively appreciated the efforts and appeasement efforts of the Governor of the Northwest committed to the highlights of the crisis. Surely posterity will be the best judge of the contribution of each of us in the search for just, equitable and lasting solutions.
Do you have the same impression as Achille Mbembe, who believes that something very profound has broken in Cameroon during the last 34 years of government by abandonment, and that the record of the current leaders is calamitous?
I greatly appreciate compatriot Achille Mbembe for his outspokenness and for his clear reflections on issues of national interest. He is certainly right, and I would add that the management of this crisis will be decisive in more ways than one. Today we are faced with an alternative: either we remain indifferent to this enlightened observation; Or together we work with new approaches and new men to solve the break and re-challenge Cameroon on the place of honor and future that should come back to him. This would prevent Cameroon from falling into uncertainty.