Cameroon’s president Paul Biya on Tuesday night announced the organisation of a national dialogue to solve a separatist crisis in the country’s English-speaking regions.
In a rare public address, Biya said the talks, starting from the end of this month, would be led by the prime minister, and would bring together a wide range of people to seek ways to end violence that has plagued the region in recent months.
An insurgency erupted in late 2017 after the government cracked down on peaceful protests in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions. Protesters were complaining of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority.
Since then, fighting has killed about 1,800 people and displaced over 500,000, according to United Nations estimates.
“That is why I have decided to convene, at the end of this month, a major national dialogue that will enable us, within the limits of our Constitution, to examine ways and means of meeting the deep aspirations of the peoples of the Northwest and Southwest, but also of all the other components of our Nation,” said Biya in a speech on state television.
He did not specify if representatives for the separatist movements would be invited to participate in the talks.
In June, NGO Human Rights Watch said the prospects for talks between the government and separatist leaders were very thin.
Cameroonians reacted very differently to the rare public address broadcast on state television.
“Free people who are in jail to talk about dialogue. When people are in prison, we’re going to talk to who? What does he say, he doesn’t say anything good,’‘ said Séraphin Temgwa , a seller.
“Finally, he recognises that political problems can only be solved by providing political and non-military or judicial solutions,’‘ Robert Wafo, a communications officer with the opposition SDF party.
The prime minister, Dion Ngute Joseph, appointed in April this year, hails from the Anglophone South West region. His residence in Bongongo, in the South Western region, was by separatist elements after his appointment to the role.