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Cameroon: English-speaking Minority - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:36 pm on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:36 pm, 14th November 2018

My Lords, I would like unreservedly to thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Boateng on having taken up this cause. To have someone with his experience and insight leading on our concerns is magnificent. I also think that he introduced this subject to terrific effect and with considerable passion in the best sense.

I have a personal affection for Cameroon because as a young man, the first time I went to Africa, as part of my journey, I visited Senegal and Cameroon. I remember being struck then by the immense difference in the character, tradition and life between the West Cameroonians and the French Cameroonians. I was bewildered as to how the administrators thought that these two communities made a natural combined entity; I just did not see it.

This is an auspicious day in terms of our own domestic history here in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. There are lessons here. You cannot fix these things by imposing agreements, they have to grow out of the commitment, will and understanding of the different parties to the situation. If I am allowed to continue with my digression for a moment, that is what is so desperately sad about the situation in Northern Ireland because within the context of the European Union, there was a sense of equivalence. The minority population had the reassurance of the European institutions in talks with their colleagues and fellow Northern Ireland citizens. A large number of people were working away at building a future and building the peace, and we have got to get that right.

On this subject, I am particularly sad because I have just had news today of a recent ugly event in Bamenda. The Presbyterian secondary school there, Nkwen, has seen 79 schoolchildren abducted, while the headmaster and another key individual are missing, their whereabouts unknown. Also, an American missionary by the name of Charles Wesco has been killed. Bamenda was one of the key places I visited when I was in West Cameroon and I rather think that this is the school in which I received warm hospitality at the time.

My noble friend Lord Boateng said that we have gone past the time for urging and talking about our concerns: we need action. In that context, he concentrated on some of the things that could be done. He mentioned the soon-to-occur Anglophone General Conference for Cameroon being organised by church and other religious leaders in the community. It is to be held on 21 and 22 November. We need an answer tonight as to what the British Government are doing—not what they think about it, but what they are actually doing to help that conference be a success. What support have they provided both directly and indirectly? If they have not done so, why have they not? All the professions of good will and concern become rather unpleasant in the context of nothing being done in terms of constructive and hopeful action.

My noble friend also talked about people who are going into the forest and the implications of that. What are we doing about shelter and non-food items? What are we doing about food security? What are we doing about health? Vulnerable people are at risk in the forest. What are we doing about water, sanitation and hygiene? What are we doing about gender-based violence? What are we doing about education?

This is the time for action and for us to see the evidence of action, it is not the time for being told yet again that we are concerned. What are we doing in the Commonwealth which professes to give priority to conflict resolution? What are we doing at the UN, and while we are still in the European Union, what we are doing with our EU partners?