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Cameroon: English-speaking Minority - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:17 pm on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 8:17 pm, 14th November 2018

My Lords, I shall try not to repeat any of the very clear and passionate points made by my noble friend Lord Boateng about the current situation and recent developments in Cameroon. Suffice it to say that I fully support his call for UK engagement in this situation, not least because of our historical responsibilities for the actions in 1961 and a degree of abandonment thereafter when the federal system was abandoned in 1972. However, I want to add a few points to the discussion this evening.

First, although there is a role for the United Kingdom, there also has to be a role for the African Union. Over the years, many of us have welcomed the shift from the old policy of non-interference in the practices of the Governments of the member states of the Organisation of African Unity to the new policy of non-indifference in the African Union, where there is—at least, in theory—a more interventionist approach to these kinds of situations. It seems to me that it is where the region and the continent have been more actively engaged than the international community that there has been success in recent years in tackling human rights abuses and preventing atrocities.

Secondly, here, there is yet another lesson for the ambitions the Government claim to have for a global Britain post Brexit. If we are to increase our resources in the Foreign Office and to have a more active international policy, I believe that it has to have human rights and atrocity prevention at its core. We have that responsibility in the UN Security Council but also as a nation, given our historical responsibilities for our colonial past. The Government must ensure that human rights and atrocity prevention are at the heart of the new policy of global Britain. I am interested to hear the Minister tell us about the Government’s assessment in relation to atrocity prevention. What has been the Foreign Office’s approach to the “responsibility to protect” focal point? What is its response and its attitude to this situation, and how much worse it could become?

My third point relates to the crucial politics of the situation, and here I want to generalise far beyond Cameroon. If we look around the world, we see that almost every major conflict today is based on an identity clash between a majority and a minority. Many of these were created by borders that were defined by the end of the First World War or by the end of colonisation in the 1950s and early 1960s. But elsewhere many are still raging, without any engagement from any of the European former colonial powers. Look at Myanmar, the Philippines—where I have been involved as an adviser to the Mindanao peace process, as is listed in the register of interests—the former Soviet states of Ukraine and elsewhere, the Middle East, and across large parts of Africa in large and medium-sized states. We see conflict between a majority and a minority, where the minority, rightly or wrongly—in most cases rightly—feels persecuted and disadvantaged by the majority, and where the majority fears the minority and therefore will not concede power.

It seems to me that the system of federated government that was designed for Cameroon back in the late 1950s and early 1960s—at least in theory—and which prompted the decision of the Southern Cameroonians in the plebiscite to choose to be part of Cameroon rather than Nigeria, is the kind of political solution that must be promoted around the world to ensure that these conflicts are not just contained but are resolved in the long term. Unless people have a political voice, representation of their identity and an opportunity to govern themselves and influence the rest of the country in an appropriate way, the underlying causes of these conflicts will not end, whether it is in parts of Africa, the Middle East, the former Soviet states, south-east asia or anywhere else.

The British Government, perhaps along with other European partners, could be making more effective interventions. We have a history of devolution and a political settlement in Northern Ireland, bringing to an end the violent conflict there, and a history in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK of creating political devolution in a peaceful way. In both these instances, there are lessons we can take elsewhere in the world and use to help prevent conflict and sustain peace. That is one initiative that could be at the heart of the global Britain approach that we are promised post Brexit.