By Cham Victor Bama
At the close of 2018, the sociopolitical atmosphere in the North West and South West regions was cataclysmic. The level of violence and destruction had hit unprecedented heights with many fearing for the worst.
But President Paul Biya, in his usual wisdom opted for a fresh approach to address the concerns of the people of the two English-speaking regions.
He made known his resolve when he addressed the nation at the end of 2018. Thus, the country entered 2019 with a new government under the directive of the Head of State given firm instructions to take actions towards turning the tides around.
With this new Presidential resolve, came a change in government. President Biya reshuffled the cabinet. He pumped in new blood, giving many a reason to hope for goodies in restoring normalcy in the North West and South West regions.
The big name entrusted with making real government’s resolve to put order in the North West and South West regions was Chief Dr Dion Ngute Joseph. Biya entrusted this revered academician, diplomat, wisdom-full traditional ruler and longtime loyalist to the vision of the Head of State and was named Prime Minister, Head of Government.
A few other faces were also brought in to work under the coordination of the new Prime Minister whose mark of humility and open door policy is an asset towards galvanizing the polity.
But What Was The Situation Before now?
Doomsayers did not expect anything new or good to happen in the North West and South West regions when the Dion Ngute-led government was named.
At that time, guns were smoking incessantly, ghost towns and lockdowns were regular; school attendance was in a sorry state, major state entities such as the Upper Nun Development Authority, UNVDA, the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, PAMOL plantations were in ruins.
Separatist fighters were on rampage. Socioeconomic activities especially farming had collapsed with most communities deserted. Separatist hardliners in the Diaspora were violent and aggressive towards any government move. They had most Social Media Platforms flooded with lies to manipulate and mislead the population. The social fabric in the North West and South West regions was greatly affected. With such a gloomy picture, many did not see any meaning in the change of approach by the President of the Republic. But with the dynamism after the holding of the Major National Dialogue masterminded by the Head of State, they are reasons to proof that the skeptics were wrong.
The Prime Minister, Head of Government, had this herculean task assigned to him by the Head of State in such a very difficult atmosphere. However, many skeptics and detractors couldn’t perceive the impetus brought in by the Head of State.
This is why, some analysts think, the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute whom Biya handed the task of heading such a mission which most as at that time saw as an impossible mission and didn’t understand the change of vision of the Head of State, also deserve respect for aptly handling Presidential directives in an assiduous and frank manner.
Where are we today?
The signs have become clearer that government actions since 2019 have yielded much fruits. Some of the very visible signs at the close of this 2022 were seen even in the United States, US when President Paul Biya went for the US-Africa Summit.
There has been a drastic change both internally and externally.
In the internal domain, many separatist fighters have dropped arms and others continue to do so in order to benefit from the Head of State’s olive branch and regain normal life.
Externally, it was the first time after some few years that the Head of State was given a historic welcome in Europe and the America’s. Shockingly, among those who welcomed President Paul Biya were former separatist hardliners who have renounced the separatist movement and pledged their unalloyed support to a one and indivisible Cameroon.
Government has also been seen to be gaining the confidence of her international partners and friendly countries in its quest for peace in the North West and South West regions.
Indictment, Arrests of Amba Sponsors In US
Through strategic decisions and concrete actions born out of the Major National Dialogue, government has succeeded in delivering the people of the North West and South West regions from the siege of people selling vain ideologies online.
The State’s resilience in convincing the international community to see the destruction separatists have caused to the people of the North West and South West regions has also recorded a major milestone.
For the first time since the crisis broke out in the two English-speaking regions, some Cameroonians in the diaspora who had been sponsoring terrorism through killings, kidnappings, arsons, and all sorts of barbaric acts are currently experiencing sleepless nights with the US judiciary. The forefathers of America who built on the values of democracy and freedom, where the right to live is paramount, are by all signs and wonders angered by the inhumane acts perpetrated by these diaspora terrorism promoters.
Cases like Claude N. Chi, 40, of Lee’s Summit, Missouri; Francis Chenyi, 49, of St. Paul, Minnesota; and Lah Nestor Langmi, 46, of Buffalo, New York, all of whom are U.S. citizens of Cameroonian origin are the first culprits.
Others like Chris Anu, Sako Ikome and Eric Tataw are currently having sleepless nights after days of grilling by the US FBI agents recently.
Faced with frustration and also allegations that he killed his younger brother, Oliver Lekeake aka Field marshall, Anu has recently been multiplying threats at the US judiciary. Anu led a timid group of asylum seekers to protest against the President of the Republic recently. A protest which was watered down by a historic reception accorded the Cameroonian democratically elected president by Cameroonians especially Anglophones based in America.
According to a statement which the US Department of Justice released weeks back, they are charged in a four-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 18, 2022. These are fruits of the diplomatic efforts of the President of the Republic, Paul Biya.
Gains From The Historic Major National Dialogue
For those who lambasted the holding of the historic Major National Dialogue which spanned September 30 to October 4, 2019, analysts say they can’t deny that government has based on recommendations of that gathering many enormous progress.
The impact of the dialogue, observers have said, and rightly so, remain largely immeasurable given the gains on ground. They also say the demand for more power at the base to enhance local development nationwide has been government’s priority since that gathering.
The august event which rallied the sons and daughters of the nation from all the ten regions paved a way for landmark actions. The benefits today are there for everyone to see.
It charted a formidable path towards building a resolute and fraternal republic bound by nature to harbour a bi-jural, bilingual, multicultural and multiethnic fabric.
The dialogue till date is what has redefined the strength and capacity of the people of the English-speaking regions now experiencing economic revival, social growth, and educational and cultural rejuvenation.
Recommendations arrived at during that historic dialogue have remained the guiding instrument of government’s fresh local development policy, peace drive and the need to build a just society for all Cameroonians.
Diaspora Separatists Shifting Grounds
The peace caravan initiative of the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute after the Major National Dialogue of 2019 has also yielded fruits.
For the first time in years, more and more separatist hardliners are shifting grounds and expressing readiness to listen to authorities on completely addressing the situation in the North West and South West regions.
During an informal zoom meeting held between the Focal Point of the Major National Dialogue Follow-up Committee and some major stakeholders including Diaspora activists, a twist emerged. In that meeting, many of them aired their mind and expressed willingness to support the government.
The activists even used that meeting to appeal to the Head of State, President Paul Biya to beg for general amnesty.
Among those who took part in that meeting we had; Patrick Nde Asanga, Yannick Sicoth and Dr Gabila Fuhtong.
Dr Gabila had during that meeting thanked the Dion Ngute-led government for opening several avenues that will lead to peace and the rebuilding of communities.
It is in this same light that others such as Dr Nicolas Santos, Nso Foncha Obi have dumped the separatist movement and are now relentlessly interested in working towards restoring peace in the North West and South West regions.
Similarly, key figures within the separatist have piped down and have reportedly been engaged in underground discussions for peace. Some of them Municipal Updates gathered are; Cho Ayaba of the Ambazonia Governing Council, AGC, Ngong Emmanuel popularly known as Capo Daniel, Ebenezer Akwanga and many others.
Many who have taken note in delight of these developments in recent months have not stopped hailing the Prime Minister, Head of Government Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute for making use of President Biya’s new peace path to ensure the troubled regions regain their vibrancy.
Steady Return To Normalcy
One of the Major visible signs that normalcy was possible surfaced last October 2021 at the Bamenda Commercial Avenue when Biya dispatched Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, to hold a public meeting. For the first time since the crisis broke out, government successfully organized a historic public gathering to preach peace and its goodwill.
In the last four years, the government had succeeded in containing the escalating violence across communities. Today, more communities are at least witnessing a vast return of IDPs, revival in agricultural activities and more.
It is thus no secret that the CDC for the first time in six years of the crisis has voted a budget of 57 billion FCFA for 2023. The cooperation and others such as PAMOL, the South West Development Authority, SOWEDA, North West Development Authority, MIDENO are fast finding their place in development and once more contributing the nation building.
The peace caravans led by the late Cardinal Tumi and the reigning archbishop of Bamenda, His Grace Andrew Nkea to Bamenda and Buea at the behest of the Prime Minister Head of Government in 2020 contributed in laying a formidable foundation on the path to normalcy.
Biya Ensuring Follow Up, Implementation Of Recommendations
To make a point and show good faith, the convenor of the Major National Dialogue, President Paul Biya, has remained active in ensuring that what was discussed is being implemented.
The follow up committee has been meeting regularly.
On March 23 2020, in order to ensure that words were rightly matched with concrete actions, Biya created the committee to follow up the implementation of the recommendations of the Major National Dialogue.
The Prime Minister, Head of Government and Chairman of the Major National Dialogue was appointed President of this committee. To keep the President’s decision alive and real, the Committee met for its fourth session Thursday August 4, 2022.
The composition of the committee represents the ambitious intention of the government to respect the wishes of hundreds of Cameroonians who sacrificed their time to think and rebuild the North West and South West regions in particular and Cameroon as a whole. The diaspora participation is an essential component of the follow up committee.
Special Status Changing NW, SW For Good
The Special Status accorded the North West and South West regions today stands out among other towering gains of the Major National Dialogue.
It is one of the recommendations of the dialogue that has seen the English-speaking regions today having Regional Assemblies and Houses of Chiefs.
The regional institutions have gone functional since 2020 and are playing their part in a bottom-top approach to stimulate local development. These institutions were not there four years ago and as such, judging from this, many say the Dion Ngute government has within its reach, historic gains worth acknowledging.
Enviable Recovery Pace
Prior to the convening of the Major National Dialogue, the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, had signed Decree N°2019/3178/PM of September 2, 2019 to specify the procedures for implementing the status of economic disaster areas. He also outlined conditions for related tax benefits provided for by the provisions of articles 121 and 121a of the General Tax Code. Eight days later, the President of the Republic, Paul Biya, convened the Major National Dialogue.
From this deduction, the stage was already set to fully engage all economic forces and attract vital investments to the North West and South West regions plagued by a crisis.
Between 2018 and 2019, most markets across the two regions were grounded. Several business activities were punctured due to recurrent ghost towns and lockdowns. Life was almost miserable for thousands. Farm to market produce became scarce. The usual hustling and bustling in rural markets in the North West and South West regions with traders pouring in from Douala and other neighbouring countries suffered a setback.
The second largest employer after the State, the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC was almost grounded following repeated attacks on its workers and equipment. The PAMOL Plantations in the Ndian division also suffered same. Activities of the South West and North West Development Authorities were affected. Thousands of workers in some public and private companies lost their jobs or were sent on technical leave.
But since government began implementing the recommendations of the Major National Dialogue, the situation has remained impressive. The momentum has even increased in this year, so far.
In 2021, when the population realised how much time was wasted on nothing, they started drifting from supporting people whom they perceived as liberators, but who were actually oppressors and now focused on reviving their lives. The change in perception came after several visits which the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute made to the North West and South West regions.
He visited communities and markets, explaining to the people the Head of State’s vision for peace in the two regions. It is in that same spirit that he has maintained a robust communication campaign, sometimes addressing their people in the local lingua franca, Pidgin to pass across a message of peace and hope.
Between 2021 and 2022, the situation of economic activities across the two regions has greatly improved. Markets and other social ventures are now operational in the 13 divisions of the two English-speaking regions. The tone for this was set at the Major National Dialogue.
The Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, has resumed activities in most of its plantations. It is even ready to venture into cassava cultivation this year.
In 2021, when activities fully resumed, CDC rehabilitated 520 hectares of plantations it had abandoned due to the armed conflict in the English-speaking regions. This led to an increase of Banana exports in Cameroon by 4.8% in early 2022.
PAMOL has also resumed activities. Several workers have regained their jobs despite sporadic separatist incursions.
Kumba, the commercial capital of the South West Region has fully regained steam with businessmen driving in from Douala and beyond to continue business as it was before. The President of the Republic has handed the construction of the Kumba-Ekondo Titi Road to the military Engineering corps.
Almost all villages now enjoy the traditional market days as it obtained before the armed conflict.
Another clear socio economic indicator is the fact that farmers now feel confident, safe and are engaged in farming more than ever before.
Return of IDPs
One of the key points highlighted during the Major National Dialogue was the quest for peace to return to the troubled North West and South West regions.
The early signs of Major National Dialogue impact were visible when some internally displaced persons decided to return home in 2020. Not long, before the end of 2021, a good number of IDPs had taken back residence in their villages. This year, more persons have returned to their communities.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of 26 October 2022, 1,067,722 individuals were displaced by the crisis, including 562,807 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), representing 53 per cent of the displaced population, 85,181 refugees in Nigeria (8% of displaced persons), 376,707 former IDP Returnees (35%), and 43,027 Returnees from abroad (4%). Sixty-six per cent of IDPs resided in North-West (231,281 individuals) and South-West (137,461 individuals) regions, while 34 per cent fled to West and Littoral regions.
The return of refugees and IDPs was the task of commission number six at the Major National Dialogue. This commission proposed ways and methods which could accelerate normalcy and cause the return of IDPs and refugees.
Today, the talk about IDPs is gradually fading away. The return of refugees has been gradual. President Paul Biya, however, has remained committed to address the situation of IDPs. In 2021, the Head of State sent a special consignment of relief material to refugees of the crisis in Nigeria.
Sociocultural, Sports Animation
Another indicator that the situation is improving in the North West and South West regions is the organisation of social gatherings, cultural festivals and manifestations and sporting activities.
Before January 2021, it was tough organising any cultural or sporting activity in the most parts of the English-speaking regions of the country.
But since 2021, there has been a significant increase in the number of cultural and sports events.
The Coronation of the Fon of Buea, When, Oku, Nkambe, Ekondo Titi, Mankon, Bamendankwe, Kumba, Limbe and a host of others across the interiors of the North West and South West regions speak volumes of how fast the social climate in these two regions is improving.
Not only were such events attended by home-based people only, but many traveled from around and out of the country to live the great moments of communion with their ancestors.
Since 2021, the sensation and spirit of village sporting competitions rekindled. Holiday football inter-quarter competitions have been taking place in most areas which used to be dreaded yesterday, but are calm today.
The usual excitement during holidays in villages shown at football tournaments is fast bouncing back.
The most outstanding moment now in the North West and South West regions is the resistance most communities have been putting up against Amba fighters. Places like Mbalangi in the South West Region, Oku in the North West Region are among several villages to have openly said NO to the atrocities of Amba boys and drove them out of their communities.
Thousands of Children Returning To School
One of the key sectors which made the North West and South West regions proud was the rare educational structures and value they attached to education.
Since the holding of the historic Major National Dialogue, there is no contradiction that, education which is popularly known as the multibillion industry of the North West and South West regions is inching back to its glory days.
The glaring proof is the thousands of candidates in the two regions who have been sitting in for exams organised by the General Certificate of Education, GCE Board.
When the armed conflict reached crescendo, education establishments were main targets. Apart from the usual ghost towns and lockdowns which grounded smooth academic years, recurrent arson attacks on school campuses caused many to shut down. But since the coming to office of the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, things have turned around for good.
The committee on education at the Major National Dialogue recommended that the two subsystems of education be prioritised to the fullest. This has been already a matter of action in the two regional Assemblies of the North West and South West regions carved out within the context of the special status.
In 2017, effective school enrollment in the North West Region stood at 220,000. This number dropped to 45,000 in 2018 (or 20, 51%) and 24,350 representing 11,67% in 2019. This 2022, enrollment has risen to 60,462.
Denominational Activities Booming
The activities of denominational establishments have resumed fully in most areas of the two regions. These institutions came under life threats and intimidation from amba fighters. Due to sustained collaboration and support of the Recovery Plan borne after the Major National Dialogue, these denominations have benefitted through several reconstruction works and rehabilitation of some health and educational infrastructures.
The Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the North West and South West region, PPRD-NW/SW afoot today is a product of the MND
The United Nations Development Programme, UNPD is the implementing partner of this project already recording huge successes across communities in the North West and South West regions.
The plan has started touching on the afflicted fabric in the two English-speaking regions in dire need of reconstruction.
Through the plan, in just 18 months, 19 water points have been rehabilitated thereby enabling over 174,000 people to have access to potable water. This year, 2022, statistics presented by the former National Coordinator of the PPRD-NW/SW, Minister Paul Tasong talked of 16 health centres rehabilitated now providing healthcare to 5,451 persons; over 7000 students and teachers now have access to good learning space with some 22 schools rehabilitated.
Within the same scheme, over 48,000 persons are now being serviced by four bridges also rehabilitated; 8000 lost documents recovered; over 60 insider mediators have been trained to enhance community peace; 12 social and cultural festivals and events staged to revive social cohesion across the North West and South West regions; over 126,500 persons have benefitted from some five community centres already renewed. The figures presented also talked of over 2,402 farmers who have received farm equipment and tools; 40 greenhouses erected to boost food production; 53 stores transformed to revive economic activities; 120 young start-uppers trained, mentored and given funding. He also talked of 47 cooperatives that have received intensive support to enhance agricultural production. On November 4, 2022 the Prime Minister, Head of Government, appointed Tamajong Obase Motuba as new National Coordinator of the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the North West and South West regions.
Fresh Local Development Drive
A defining gain of the Dion Ngute government is the fresh impetus Cameroon has had it is local development drive since the holding of the Major National Dialogue. First, it was the putting in place of a new law on Regional and Local Collectivities in December 2019. From that Dialogue, the country organized its first regional election on December 6, 2020.
Government, observers say, can boast today that the eight French-speaking regions of the country have Regional Councils with autonomous powers to pilot local development.
In the English-speaking North West and South West regions, there are Regional Assemblies with powers that touch on same. A unique additive here is the putting in place of Houses of Chiefs unique to what obtained in the former West Cameroon.
The North West and South West regions too now have Public Independent Conciliators who are charged with handling conflicts arising from local collectivities. With the achievements this far, many are of the opinion that, the recommendations of the MND are being implemented by the powers that be without reservation.
With this in exhaustive review that also ties with the fourth anniversary of Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute as Prime Minister, many are now saying and accurately so that beyond the Anglophone crisis, he has been serving the country excellently.
Some cite the hosting of the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON tourney and the piloting of government action against COVID-19 as telling of Dion Ngute and his team as being extraordinarily resilient.
All these strides, that no one had imagined as at the time President Biya put in place a new government in January 2019 headed by the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute. This is a great record for the government’s resilience in preaching peace and openness to compatriots who had been misled into a dream world that has turned out to be a people shooting themselves on the leg. So far, government has been able to improve on the security and social climate in the North West and South West regions after all.