The Bishop of Shrewsbury and the Bishop of Middlesbrough have joined Catholic bishops from around the world in calling for the Cameroon government to hold urgent peace talks with the country’s English-speaking separatists and moderates.
As violence grows in the central African country, Bishop Mark Davies, Bishop Terence Drainey and 14 other bishops are urging President Paul Biya to enter negotiations to find a peaceful constitutional settlement that addresses the grievances of the Anglophone community.
Human rights groups report that both the Cameroon armed forces and secessionist militias have terrorised unarmed civilians, burned villages, closed schools and hospitals, and brought the economy to a stand-still in English-speaking regions of the country.
The UN estimates that 656,000 Anglophone Cameroonians have fled their homes to avoid the violence, while at least 2,000 people are thought to have been killed.
The bishops have signed an open letter to President Biya, coordinated by the non-partisan Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon. The clergymen urge the president, who has been in power since 1982, to join inclusive Swiss-led negotiations aimed at finding a peaceful solution to long-standing Anglophone concerns.
In his 2020 New Year’s message, President Biya reaffirmed his determination to defeat secessionist forces using military means. The bishops take no side in the conflict, but they believe there can be no military solution to the current insecurity. Civilians—including Catholic priests—have been kidnapped, and Catholic-run schools and clinics have been forced to close. An estimated 800,000 children are unable to attend school.
The current wave of violence began in 2016 when the Francophone-dominated government imposed French lawyers and teachers on English-speaking courts and schools. However, Anglophone grievances are rooted in a 1961 UN-backed independence referendum that failed to offer English-speaking Cameroonians, who represent 20% of the population, the chance to form their own country. Especially since 1972, there have been allegations that the Francophone-dominated central government in the capital of Yaoundé has marginalised the mainly Anglophone North West and South West regions.
Responding to international pressure, the Cameroon government held a Major National Dialogue in October 2019. However, the talks were widely boycotted by Anglophone groups, while other members of civil society were unable to attend. The government subsequently granted Special Status to the two Anglophone regions. However, critics argue that the
promised increase in autonomy remains loosely defined, with power remaining in the centralized and largely Francophone administration in Yaoundé. Despite the dialogue, the violence is worsening, with an estimated 50,000 people in refugee camps across the border in next-door Nigeria.
The text of the open letter is as follows:
Dear President Biya,
We, the undersigned Roman Catholic bishops from across the globe, write to respectfully urge your government to participate in proposed Swiss-led peace talks aimed at ending the violence in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions.
We stress that we are impartial. We are motivated by our concern about the suffering of unarmed civilians, and the stability and prosperity of Cameroon. Violence and atrocities on all sides have forced 656,000 Anglophone Cameroonians from their homes, kept 800,000 children from school (including 400,000 from Catholic schools), caused 50,000 people to flee to Nigeria, destroyed hundreds of villages and resulted in a death toll of at least 2,000. Each of these lives is precious, and we mourn their suffering and wish to prevent more loss of life and innocence.
There will be no military victory for any side. A lasting solution to Cameroon’s problems must come from a mediated process that includes Anglophone armed-separatist groups and non-violent civil-society leaders. If all parties treat each other as they wish to be treated, a solution is possible.
We applaud the Cameroonian government’s Major National Dialogue several months ago. However, it did not stop the violence. We believe the proposed Swiss-led talks offer the best path to an appropriate political solution through inclusive negotiations. The success of these talks will be critical in Cameroon’s journey towards ensuring peace and your legacy as an effective leader in a troubled region. It is our sincere hope that all interested stakeholders will join these talks and show a spirit of cooperation, pragmatism, and realism to ensure these negotiations succeed. This is what the people of Cameroon, your sons and daughters, God’s children, expect and deserve. Only true peace will allow Catholic dioceses, clinics, and schools to once again minister safely to the blessed congregants and citizens of Anglophone
Bishop Mark Davies
Diocese of Shrewsbury, England
Bishop Terence Drainey
Diocese of Middlesbrough, England
Bishop Siegfried Jwara
Vicariate Apostolic, Ingwavuma, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Bishop John Keenan
Diocese of Paisley, Scotland
Bishop Noel Simard
Diocese of Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada
The Most Reverend Charles Hammawa Jalingo
Diocese of Tabara State, Nigeria
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong
Archdiocese of Suva, Fiji
Bishop Bart van Roijen
Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador, Canada
Bishop Thomas R Zinkula
Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, USA
Bishop Antonio R Tobias
Emeritus of Novaliches, Philippines
Bishop Albert Thevenot
Diocese of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada
Bishop Ray Browne
Diocese of Kerry, Ireland
Bishop Jose Cabantan
Diocese of Malaybalay, Philippines
Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi
Diocese of Tonga, South Pacific
Archbishop Donald Bolen
Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan
Diocese of Waterford et Lismore, Ireland
cc: His Holiness Pope Francis