Tag Archives: Cameroon

Editor’s Desk: Moving the UN Closer To its Masterpiece, Dr. Robert Zuber

19 May

The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason. T. S. Eliot

Growing a culture requires a good storyteller. Changing a culture requires a persuasive editor.  Ryan Lilly

Focus on making yourself better, not on thinking that you are better.  Bohdi Sanders

Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.  Nathan W. Morris

One of the satisfactions of being inside the UN each day is to see the multilateral system generating effective outcomes:  elevating the formal status of indigenous people and persons with disabilities; calling practical attention to our (so far) too-tepid responses to threats from our plastic-filled oceans, our rapidly warming climate and our shrinking biodiversity; dodging bombs and bullets to reach literally millions from Yemen to the Central African Republic with humanitarian aid; helping states like the Gambia transition to more inclusive governance, Burkina Faso hold the line on a fresh wave of terror attacks, or Bangladesh manage its Myanmar-responsible refugee crisis.

But we also recognize that world remains messy with so divergent policy goals, so many values and expectations, so many vested (and often unacknowledged) interests.  It is also “messy” in the sense that the institutions which have been in the forefront of efforts to navigate and even “referee” the mess, including the UN of course, have been and remain intensely political in nature, not only in terms of the “politics” of negotiating some version of consensus, but “political” in the sense of telling less than the truth we know, the truth that serves the interests of our national policy hierarchies but not necessarily the needs of the global commons we allege to represent.

We have made this point before, but it bears repeating here:   we have enabled formation of a “culture” within our multilateral settings where “straight talk” is too-often at a premium, where norms and resolutions are not expected to be implemented, and where articulated policy preferences and recommendations mask as many dimensions of our sometimes existential problems as they clarify.

This past week at the UN was in part an exercise in why the system where we spend our days could use an editor of sorts for organizational culture.   The General Assembly discussion this past Wednesday on “inequalities within and between nations,” especially in the introductory session, outlined  a growing crisis that many at the UN believe rivals climate and weapons of mass destruction as existential threats to our future.  As often this year, GA president María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés set a tone that was part restating the UN’s commitment to fulfilling SDG 10 and part potentially culture-shifting storytelling, noting that we live in a world where some children are fortunate to eat once a day while others eat “whatever and how often they wish.”  She also quoted an African proverb that “injustice is like a snake that only strikes those who are barefoot.”

But what gave this session its “legs,” moving the room beyond mere outrage at the growing gaps between the rich and the rest, were the specifics provided by other speakers to address in practical terms the Egyptian Minister’s call for the rapid, intentional “removal of obstacles” to the reduction of poverty and inequalities.  States and other stakeholders shared diverse practices designed to improve domestic revenue streams, eliminate corruption, improve access to education and other public services, and even consider income floors for citizens.  With due regard for national context, what the session lacked was someone to clarify and distill common priorities and help build specific lines of support for hopeful and replicable initiatives by states and other stakeholders.  As the “operational activities” segment of the UN’s Economic and Social Council opens this week, we hope that more persuasive “editing” of the activities that can incarnate our development goals is on the near horizon.

But of course inequalities are not confined to the vast spaces separating barrios from corporate board rooms.  There are also inequalities – sometimes vast – when it comes to how states are able to manipulate the levers of power and influence the narrative in multilateral settings.  The Security Council is often “ground zero” for the display of such inequalities — permanent members who cast blame but rarely accept it; members who make statements that share a portion of the global truth, but mostly the portion that serves more parochial interests; members who adopt resolutions for others but are all-too-willing to bend international obligations to suit themselves and their allies; members who resist efforts at significant reform that could alter the very fabric of the Council’s  culture and working methods, including how it engages with the rest of the UN system.  The culture of the Council is not even remotely “edited frequently and ruthlessly” nor is there now any candidate for the task who would be trusted by more than a handful of members currently serving.

To find examples of the varying levels of policy effectiveness in a largely “unedited” Council, one would only have to consult last week’s meetings:  a largely successful review of the G5 Sahel Force with the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso; an urgent session seeking to preserve what remains of the cease fire in Idlib, Syria in the hopes of preventing the renewed bombing that would signal a humanitarian disaster beyond what the UN and other agencies could possibly handle; a session on Yemen which celebrated the demilitarization of the Hodeidah ports while continuing to blame only Iran and Houthi rebels by name for the still-considerable violence across Yemen, mentioning Saudi Arabia only in praise for their generous donations to ease the suffering of the many thousands of Yemenis put at deadly risk by Saudi bombers (with weapons from the US, UK and others) in the first place.

And then there was the discussion on Cameroon, held outside the formal chamber in an Arria Formula format, but which nevertheless represented a breakthrough of sorts regarding a conflict with many victims that has directly impacted our office and that we and others have been warning about for many months.  Convened by the US, the session was noteworthy for the sometimes-gruesome truth-telling of USG Lowcock and two Cameroon briefers, especially the director of Reach Out Cameroon who was known to us from previous trips to the country and who gave what she called a “human face” to the vulnerabilities of so many living in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon – including those who have “lost it all” and are now “trapped in the bushes” or “living in petrol stations.”

We have sat with many of these images already; no doubt some of the diplomats have also. However, despite the concerns of the UK that the Council is now at risk of having to “discuss Cameroon more often,” there seemed to be little other interest in taking this matter on to the formal SC agenda.   There was no plan floated (let alone agreed upon) to confront Cameroon whose representative remained defiant throughout.  Some states were concerned about jeopardizing Cameroon support for counter-terror operations around Lake Chad and for the care of refugees from the Central African Republic.  Others were concerned about putting Cameroon on the formal Council agenda when risks to International Peace and Security were not yet persuasive.  Still others expressed concern about placing yet another African state on the Council’s agenda without clear strategies for entry and exit.

We were dismayed to note that despite the compelling testimony, especially from the Cameroon briefers, not a single other speaker directly referenced any segment of their stories.   Not one.  Caveats to a deeper involvement by this Council appeared to win the day.  “Partnership” with Cameroon commanded a higher priority than rescuing women and children from the bushes.

Beyond the Cameroon briefers, there were certainly truth-tellers in the Council this week – including ASG Keita on fresh threats from terrorist violence in the Sahel, USG Lowcock on the incontrovertible links between violence, deprivation and displacement in Cameroon and NW Syria, Special Envoy Griffiths on the “corrosive nature of extended war” and the still-perilous, still-fragile security and political context in Yemen. Added to that has been the constant and welcome refrain from May president Indonesia that the primary purpose of this Security Council is “to save lives.”

But if this SC as to achieve this “masterpiece” of a purpose going forward it must focus more energy on “making this better,” to  embark towards what could represent a profound cultural shift, one in which states are expected to take responsibility more often than they cast blame; a shift that encourages the “right deeds for the right reasons,” that confesses more often the “mixed” that constitutes motive, that not only consults the truth on the ground but allows such truth to fully infuse its policy decisions, that honors security alliances which don’t require women and children to hide out in petrol stations.

In our current, hyper-active and crisis-defined system, one that is driven by state interests and large state interests above all, I don’t know from whence that fully “persuasive editor” of our institutional culture is most likely to emerge. But for the rest of this year and perhaps beyond, our small team of interns and fellows will remain on the lookout.



A Path Forward for Cameroon: An Interview with the Canadian Broadcast System

7 Oct

The following is the transcript of an interview conducted for the CBC “As it Happens” program with a colleague in Cameroon who has been closely following the street-level frustration and state violence now overwhelming the Anglophone region.   The call here for an immediate and inclusive political dialogue — perhaps best brokered by the UN — coupled with an end to excessive force by state security is one we fully endorse.

Guest: Guest

JD: In Cameroon last weekend, English-speaking protesters gathered to call for independence. Snd for their vocal dissent, 17 people were killed. There sre two English-speaking regions in Cameroon Northwest and the Southwest. The protesters want to separate from the country’s Francophone majority and create a new state called “Ambazonia”. We reached an activist living in the Southwest, who works for a local NGO. At his request, we have agreed to not use his name, because he fears arrest and detention. But we reached him in Buea, Cameroon.

CO: You are in the Southwest region of Cameroon. This is one of the two Anglophone regions, where the military has been heavily deployed following these protests. Can you describe what things are like there right now?

GUEST: After the heavy street protests last Sunday, places are relatively quiet. We do not have protesters again on the streets. But the region is heavily militarized. Arrests are still going on.

CO: And what can you see? What the presence of the military can you actually see on the streets?

GUEST: Basically, there are three categories of military: uniform officers have been deployed, the police and the army are all actively deployed. And they are currently on every street and every junction in the region.

CO: Can you tell us about the protests and what the protesters want? Can you tell us about the movement?

GUEST: The demands of the protesters dramatically change as they are asking now for a full federal system of government that would give them the power to manage the justice and education system.

CO: So it started as a demand for English language rights — for minority language rights to work in English. But now, the protesters are demanding something far larger. They unfurled flags of something they call “Abmazonia”, which would be what? Can you describe what they are now asking for? It’s a separatist movement, isn’t it?

GUEST: Yes. The Southern Cameroons’ gained their independence by joining the French Cameroon in 1961. At that time, the agreement was two states with equal status coming together in a federal system of government.

CO: And so the Anglophones who are leading this protest, what they want, if I understand it. They want an independent state called Ambazonia that would be English speaking?

GUEST: Yes, they want an independent state for Southern Cameroon and they’re naming it Ambazonia.

CO: Security forces shot dead 17 people among those protesters on the weekend. Is there an expectation that there were more deaths or that the toll will rise?

GUEST: The toll is already rising because they are more corpses that have been identified in the bushes where the protesters were followed by the military and some of them killed. We are still getting very, very disturbing reports about a very large number of corpses found around the region. And so the number 17 is likely going to grow.

CO: Security forces are saying we won’t use violence, unless there is a major cause. There are numerous risks even terrorist risks and we’re acting appropriately. Does that match what you are seeing on the streets?

GUEST: No, I don’t think so. Because none of the protesters were armed, and a lot of them had peace plants and branches and were saying no violence, no violence. And so we can also confirm that at one point when they were stopped, there was an exchange of stone throwing between them and the uniform officers when they returned tear gas. But, basically, we do not think that the force used by the protesters can justify why the military should have used excessive the force that they used.

CO: So the government has also shut down the Internet. They’ve closed businesses in the main cities where the protests happened. I understand there are military helicopters overhead. and that they’ve deployed the “rapid intervention brigade”, which is usually used to fight Islamists. So it’s pretty heavy. How do you think the government will proceed from here? How do you think the security forces will deport themselves?

GUEST: We think that they urgently need to demilitarize these regions back to a level that is meant to keep security for normal day-to-day activities to return. But this is not the situation yet.

CO: Is there any chance of returning to mediation? Any way to sit down between protesters and the government? Or do you think it’s gone too far at this point?

GUEST: It may have gone too far, but I think that it is not beyond the possibility for two parties to sit down and dialogue. No matter how dark it may seem today, it is still relatively brighter than tomorrow. A dialogue should not stop now. So we think it will save more lives and save the nation and all the parties will stand to win if dialogue should start now.

CO: Do you support the protest movement yourself?

GUEST: As an organization, we support human rights and we think we support the right for peaceful protest. We think that they have fundamental rights that needs to be respected. The questions that they are raising and the demands are genuine.

CO: We are not identifying you, nor the name of your organization, but you’re not breaking any laws. You’re not part of that separatist movement. You are part of a legal NGO. Why do you want your identity protected?

GUEST: It is because, presently, it’s it seems like a breakdown in order. Because not all those who have been arrested, or killed, or molested and detained are guilty of any crimes. So anybody can be arrested even when you show that this is my identification and stuff. There is indiscriminate arrests and penetration, so it’s not safe at all.

CO: We will leave it there and follow this story. I appreciate speaking with you. Thank you.

GUEST: Thank you very much.

JD: That was an activist living in Cameroon. He requested we not use his name because he fears arrest, but we reached him in Buea.