Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Anglophone Crisis: only Pope Francis can convince Biya

Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped two Catholic priests in the village of Ibal, in the troubled region of English-speaking Cameroon. Church officials said they were "kidnapped late into the night" and called for their kidnappers to release them unharmed. Local police said the kidnappers were separatists seeking to break with French-speaking Cameroon and had founded an independent English-speaking state. But the separatist leaders denied having captured the priests.

The kidnapping is only the latest in a series of troubling incidents involving clerics in this West African country. In May 2017, the body of Bishop Jean-Marie BenoƮt Balla was discovered in the Sanaga River. Authorities decided it was a suicide, but local church officials said he was murdered. In November 2018, a missionary priest from Kenya was shot dead in front of a church in Kembong, in the English-speaking region. According to reports, he was killed in crossfire between the Cameroonian army and the separatists.

The recent outbreak of violence has undermined Cameroon's reputation as one of Africa's most stable countries. President Paul Biya has been leading the country since 1982. Last year, the 86-year-old won a seventh term with 71% of the vote (according to some suspects). But many Western observers attribute their refusal to compromise to the worsening conflict in the English-speaking region.

The crisis is rooted in the country's colonial history. During the First World War, Great Britain and France joined forces for the German Camerun. The Treaty of Versailles has yielded most of the territory to France. He attributed to Great Britain two small neighboring regions of Nigeria, called North Cameroon and South Cameroon. In a referendum in 1961, northern Cameroon chose to join Nigeria, while the latter voted in favor of union with Cameroon, with the assurance that it would enjoy substantial autonomy, including from his own Prime Minister. But in 1972, after another referendum, Cameroon adopted a new constitution that swept the federal system and replaced it with a unitary state. Southern Cameroon lost its autonomous powers and was divided into two administrative regions, the North West Region and the South West Region.

President Biya has resisted all calls to restore the autonomy of the English-speaking region. The separatists, in turn, became more and more violent. In September 2017, they declared their independence by renaming the English-speaking territories of Ambazonia and confronting government forces.

The Catholic Church has a unique role to play in this conflict bordering civil war. The Church is one of the few institutions to truly integrate Francophones and Anglophones. Catholics represent 38% of Cameroon's 20.4 million inhabitants, 26% of Protestants and 21% of Muslims, according to the US State Department's International Religious Freedom Report.

The Church has always called for negotiations between the government and the separatists. He suggested that some decentralization of powers could help put an end to the troubles. He also denounced the violence in the English-speaking region.

In May 2018, shots were fired at the residence of Archbishop Samuel Kleda, president of the Cameroon Bishops' Conference. A local news agency described the incident as an "attempted assassination". A month earlier, Archbishop Kleda had given a television interview in which he asked the government to make concessions and both parties to stop the killings. "Since we are all in the same country and all the brothers, our message is to stop the violence immediately, at all costs, without revenge, and to accept others who do not think like us," he said. declared.

But the fear is that the separatists and the government have gone beyond the point where they can "accept others who do not think like us" and engage in a fight to the death. If this is the case, there is little that the local church can do. He will not be able to ensure the safety of the clergy in the blood-laden English-speaking region.

It may be time for the Vatican to intervene. Biya obviously has a certain respect for the Church. His father was a catechist who hoped that his son would become a priest. Biya attended a small seminary but finally left Cameroon to study law in Paris. In 2013, his government signed an agreement with the Holy See specifying the legal status of the Church. If Pope Francis were to invite Biya to Rome, he could perhaps persuade him to move. It seems that no one else can.

Source: camerounweb.com/catholicherald.co.uk