By Paul Ndiho

The US is cutting Cameroon from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) over allegations of human rights violations in the English-speaking regions. The crisis has cost more than 3,000 lives and displaced more than 500,000 civilians from their homes.

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In a letter addressed to Congress on Thursday last week, President Donald Trump said the West African nation failed to address concerns over its “persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” allegedly committed by Cameroon’s security forces against the separatists in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest pushing for secession.   Cameroon’s longtime Leader Paul Biya succumbed to pressure last month and called for a national dialogue to forge a way forward. However, leaders invited to the highly anticipated talks boycotted saying they will not take part in any negotiations.

“I want to tell you that we invited nearly every one of them. They were invited, and some of them didn’t feel comfortable coming for reasons they know best, we wanted them to come and to take part in the discussions, this was a wonderful opportunity for them to come and air their views, and they didn’t come.”

Analysts say Cameroon’s national dialogue could have opened the door to a historic peace agreement, ending the unrest, which began in October 2016. Lawyers and teachers in English-speaking cities went on strike protesting having to use French in schools and courtrooms.

Clashes broke out in the following weeks. Some protesters were killed; hundreds were arrested and put on trial for charges carrying long sentences or the death penalty. Critics said talks were not inclusive and did not involve any discussion about a return to federalism — that many say is the solution to the conflict.

 “I think the dialogue was that it was very frank and sincere. For those of us who were in the hall could tell you how honest it was and the debates were very heated, I saw how I mean, some people in government acknowledge the fact that some of the positions that we were raising were the right position.”

Political analysts say support for secession continues to grow, as hundreds of thousands demand a breakaway state called Ambazonia. By 2017, newly formed armed groups were attacking army posts in the Anglophone regions. The army responded by burning down villages and shooting civilians.

“I’m not very satisfied because the root causes of the problems are not addressed, the root causes of the problem are from the state, and if the form of the state is not addressed, then we’ll not solve the problem. But yes, we’ve come, we’ve talked, proposals have been made, certain opportunities have been provided.”

Longtime leader President Biya has struggled to contain this unrest. He rarely speaks in public or meets with his government. In addition, is said to be spending months each year holidaying in Switzerland.  Last month, his government announced that that they would drop charges against 333 prisoners held about the crisis. Still, the move failed to appease separatists and moderates alike. They say thousands more remain imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

“I did not go to jail so that we could always steal the elections and have a single electoral code. No, I went to change that and fight for the happiness of all our children. I went to prison because I said no to the war in the north-west.”

“We went back to prison for no reason, and we come out with no reason. We went to prison for our ideas, and we are ready to go back to our ideas. We are not fighting anyone. We fight for Cameroon. You can be against a government, but you stay for your country.”

In what was seen as a positive move,  last Month President Paul Biya ordered a military tribunal to halt legal proceedings and the release of main opposition leader Maurice Kamto, and other opposition figures who have been imprisoned for nine months. They had been arrested after calling for peaceful protests against alleged irregularities in the October 7, 2018, an election that saw Biya easily win a seventh term.

Biya, 86, has been President of Cameroon since November 1982. He is the second longest-serving leader on the continent, with nearly 37 years in office.

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