Interview - Can devolution contribute to the peace process in Cameroon
Updated: May 29
As part of a university project, British student Joe Chapman has been exploring whether the peace process that was pursued in Northern Ireland can be applied in other countries, specifically in Cameroon. As part of this project, he interviewed founder of Mbiame New Vision, Tata Wirba Usmaila, to help understand if this would be feasible. Tata Wirba Usmaila has ran his organisation for 7 years in Western Cameroon, and much of that time he has had dealt with the severe civil conflict that has affected the area, with first hand experience of the violence that has occurred. Here is what he had to say.
Joe: Do you think the government would be prepared to pursue this (devolution) if it led to peace in West Cameroon?
Tata: Actually, for the government to accept it is an issue, and for the separatist fighters to accept it is another issue. If the two parties do not sit down and have a dialogue, the government leaders and separatist fighters, it will not work. If they do sit down and talk, then yes it could work.
Joe: In Northern Ireland, one of the things that the government said would lead to them talking to the separatist fighters would be if they stuck to a ceasefire. Do you think that’s possible?
Tata: A ceasefire is possible if the government deploy troops back to the barracks.
Joe: Do you think the separatist fighters would be prepared to stop fighting if they were given their own devolved government to look after Western Cameroon, while still remaining as part of Cameroon?
Tata: Hopefully they would be able to, but to explain, they would probably not be able to. If you look at how the conflict is, the separatist leaders who are putting pressure on those in western Cameroon, they not of one accord, there are many different groups, each group fighting another group, which means that there is an in fight which means that if they do not stop then a government would not work, because some will be for and some would be against, so the first thing would be for the separatist fighters to come to a compromise and agree to one thing. If they do not do that it will be difficult.
Joe: If the fighters compromised with each other and peace talks began, the government was set up, would there be much more peace in Western Cameroon?
Tata: Yes absolutely there would be much more peace. But the worry is, with the devolution system of government, the central government is the one with the power, the military is still controlled by the government. With this system it can work, but now the situation in Western Cameroon is they (separatist fighters) want total liberation, that is why it is difficult for the system to be implemented. If they just wanted a proportionate distribution of resources then it would be more achievable but they want total liberation and their own system of government that is free from the French system of government in Cameroon. But from my understanding, looking at the way things are right now, and the extent to which people have died, properties have been destroyed, devolution system of government is the best way to stop the crisis now. I believe the innocent civilians who are affected would be willing to accept it.
Joe: In Northern Ireland there were a lot of similarities between two things you mentioned. There were multiple groups that were not able to compromise for many years, and it was only once they compromised that they were able to continue the peace process. Another similarity is that the separatist fighters in Northern Ireland wanted complete independence from the United Kingdom. Do you believe that if peace was achieved in Ireland, is it possible to achieve it in Cameroon with the introduction of a devolved government? Are the two situation comparable
Tata: Yes it is possible. But the question is this, what measures will be put in place to make sure that those in the bushes, the separatist fighters, those that hold the arms, how are they going to get out of this? What will be their occupation? Most of them have not been educated and attended school. Will they be recruited into the military? Because they are already warriors. It is easy to give a gun to a child, but difficult to take it away. If this system is going to work the government should recruit them into the military to serve some way, under the government. Now There are 1000’s of them there, how is it possible? That is where the war is now. That is how they are earning their living, with many abductions taking place and demanding ransoms.
Joe: Maybe one way forward would be for the government in Cameroon and this government in Western Cameroon to work together rehabilitate the soldiers. Hopefully this government in Western Cameroon would be more concerned with the problems that face Western Cameroon and be more able to implement a solution. But that is true, once the peace happens, what happens to all the people who have been fighting?
Tata: Yes it is very difficult, but it is dependent on how the government take it and how the separatist fighters take it. But the main worry is that the main separatist fighters and sponsors are not in Cameroon. They are overseas with their families living in luxury and it is people here who are suffering. How will they compensate question damage that has already been caused?
Joe: Thankyou very much Tata, this has been very informative. If you have anything else to say before we go, please feel free to say it.
Tata: I just want to say thankyou for asking me to help with your project. Let me know more about the devolution process which was once implemented between Britain and Ireland and was successful. As a peace advocate, I will keep on advocating that this system should be implemented in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa where we have a lot of conflict, so that peace can be established and we can have a prosperous economy and a peaceful society. Thankyou very much.
A link to the recorded interview can be found here