An Update on Cameroon: Time for a Peace Process

Paul Biya at Andrews Air Force Base in 1986.

Paul Biya at Andrews Air Force Base in 1986.

(Read my October piece on Cameroon for background on the historical roots of the country's crisis.

There is no military solution to the conflict between Paul Biya's regime in Cameroon, and the Anglophone separatists at war with it since 2017. The overwhelming, brutal, and repressive response of Biya's security forces has resulted in countless killings, hundreds of thousands displaced, and a total denial of basic services in the Anglophone regions. 

Despite the dark state of affairs, Cameroon's situation is ripe for external mediation. A return to a federal system – which would keep Yaoundé feeling secure in its sovereignty while providing Anglophones with the self-determination they deserve – should not be considered out of the question. President Biya, a reclusive man in his eighties who is serving his fifth term, said in an April statement that he is ready for a comprehensive dialogue provided that separation is not on the table. In an effort to kick off a political mediation process, Prime Minister Joseph Ngute was dispatched to the restive northwest with an open-ended mandate to discuss any subject of concern among local groups. This the first sign of potential for peace and reflects a growing anti-war sentiment on the part of the French-speaking majority, and especially the people of Northern Cameroon's Lake Chad region, who must also contend with periodic lethal raids by Boko Haram.

Yet there are no signs of an end to the violence. The government forces' crackdown has merely deepened the radicalization of the militants while providing them with a powerful propaganda tool. In addition to the regime's campaign of village-burning and systematic torture, ordinary Cameroonians are facing atrocities committed by the separatist militants, who have even been known to target schools, children, and teachers.

The United States enjoys a great deal of respect among Cameroon's people, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy is in an excellent position to offer U.S. mediation. The dialogue process could be led by a former AFRICOM commander, or former Ambassador to the region, under his close supervision. 

The West Wing would do well to pay close attention to the situation in Cameroon. Former diplomats have warned that the situation between Israel and Palestine is unlikely to be resolved during President Trump's tenure and with his strategies. But ending the conflict in Cameroon is within this administration's grasp. Leading this peace process would do far more to improve our regional partnerships and relative position in "great power competition" than an aggressive anti-China and anti-Russia campaign on the continent – especially if it is a success.