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My Lords, Cameroon has the hallmarks of the region and the world sleep-walking into another humanitarian disaster even beyond that which we are witnessing today. My past visits to Cameroon have been to assess the appropriateness of a key agricultural investment in the French-speaking north.
I begin with my conclusion and a possible way forward—but not before commending the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, for securing a debate on this rapidly deteriorating situation and for his powerful intervention.
It is terrible and so sad that these wounds have resurfaced, but I fear it was always going to be thus with the exclusion of the English-speaking minority from the affairs of state. The only practical solution, from a distance, is a political settlement with either a United Nations or African Union peace-keeping contingent being placed on the ground to enable an immediate cessation of violence, ensuring a humanitarian protective intervention and a cooling-off period to create the conditions to allow an equitable settlement to be hammered out. Building on lessons learned, autonomy but not separation in a close-knit federation is the formula for lasting peace and should be embraced as a solution.
I have not tracked the papers that explain why this was not contained in the 1961 plebiscite when divesting from Southern Cameroons. The Minister could usefully shed light into the thinking of the day and as to why not. Are the Government satisfied that sufficient regard was paid to sensitivities, responsibilities and their consequences by our forebears? The Minister may wish to comment on the background of the
What was always, and still is, envisaged as an acceptable solution to the English language-speaking people of Cameroon was a choice of a federation made up of two states with equal status. I am not critical of London in isolation. The Quai d’Orsay possibly pressed what it considered to be an advantage by not containing this key option in restricting the alternatives to a choice between Nigeria and French Cameroun.
Importantly, the 1964 Cairo declaration on African borders, reaffirmed in Article 4b of the Constitutive Act of the African Union and signed off by the President of Cameroun, makes it clear that demarcation of the territory of each African state is recognised as being such on the date of its independence. Do the United Kingdom Government accept this to be the case or not? Have there been subsequent declarations that nullify these issues on borders? If not, it would follow that French Cameroun and Ambazonia are both able to assert territorial integrity. At no time before or after its independence from France was the Southern Cameroons part of that country known by its French name and style as La République du Cameroun.
A solution would be a close-knit federation made up of two entities, thus ensuring no parting of the ways. The question of the legitimacy of territorial integrity superseding that of self-determination would not be relevant in this instance. An international boundary separating French Cameroun from the Southern Cameroons existed and was affirmed in the Anglo-French boundary treaty of 1916 and confirmed in 1931. If that be the case, would it not follow that the territorial integrity of the Southern Cameroons should be recognised sitting alongside that of French Cameroun.
An integral part of a peace formula lies with France. Given the David and Goliath nature of the situation in Cameroon, I ask the Minister on what occasions have a British Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary brought up this matter with a French President or the Quai d’Orsay?
On the multilateral front we should not forget that Cameroon is a Commonwealth member. It was always envisaged by the secretariat that the Commonwealth would take the wind out of the sail of secession. Membership was pressed for by Ambazonians against the will of Paris, with France, unsurprisingly, mightily resisting Cameroon’s application for Commonwealth membership
When the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, visited Yaoundé in December 2017, President Biya recalled all the measures taken by his Government to appease the situation in the north-west and south-west regions. He reiterated his willingness for dialogue, but also that he stood firm on his determination to “restore order”. The Commonwealth must surely now regain some of its focus, with the UK pressing the Commonwealth to serve more of a purpose in Cameroon than just monitoring elections.
A practical and immediate imperative is to effect measures to end the atrocities by the military. What is being done to stem the refugee flows into Nigeria; the halting of the burning down of over 100 towns and villages; the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of women, children and the elderly into the forests, hills and bushes; and the dislocation of the livelihood of others?
Let this debate, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, be the catalyst for all sides to sit together before yet another series of continuing calamitous events befalls the world.