Dialogue seems to be the cheap word everybody uses nowadays when talking about solutions to the ongoing conflict between La Republique du Cameroun and The Federal Republique of Ambazonia. It is the word everyone uses even without stopping to think about what it really means. International organizations say dialogue is the only way out but without making further precisions about the dialogue like what, when, where, who and how? In fact, the notion of dialogue as the solution to the ongoing crisis is very complex and includes many variables that most people overlook. Without an in-depth analysis on those variables and sound preparation, the dialogue we all yearn for is a long way to come and is very likely doomed to fail.
Firstly, the what: What will the dialogue be about? If your answer is “It will be about the current crisis” that is as vague as the word dialogue itself in this context. What is it in the current crisis that we want to talk about? The root causes, the nature of the crisis, the consequences of the crisis, the victims, solutions, etc. This list could be longer. La Republique du Cameroun’s idea of what shall be discussed in that dialogue is totally different from what The Federal Republique of Ambazonia expects to be discussed in the same dialogue. If you doubt it prove me wrong.
Secondly, the when: When will the dialogue take place? Your guess is as good as mine. When both sides see that conditions they have laid down as prerequisites for dialogue are met with. The Federal Republique of Ambazonia has a short list of about 4 conditions as mentioned in the most recent speech of the Chairman of The Governing Council: The release of all Ambazonians detained in jails in La Republique du Cameroun, the complete demilitarization of the territory of Ambazonia, the presence of a neutral mediator and the selection of neutral grounds for the dialogue. On the other hand, La Republique has not laid down any conditions that I know of. It is therefore arguably right to say that the when is hard to pinpoint at this moment.
Thirdly, the where: Where will the dialogue take place? The last time opinion leaders from Southern Cameroons tried to dialogue with representatives of La Republique du Cameroun was in November 2016 and the dialogue ended up being a snare as the opinion leaders were rounded up after discussions and thrown into jail. That explains why opinion leaders are cautiously advocating for neutral territory where neither of the parties dialoguing will have the power to intimidate or hurt the other. “Once bitten, twice shy” the adage goes. So, in Nigeria, South Africa, France, England, The USA, China, Russia, Australia, or in some dare-you place like North Korea? Don’t laugh. If you can find any territory on the globe that is not biased, suggest.
Fourthly, the who: Who will the participants at the dialogue be? This is probably the most delicate and mind-bending question of the five. Who will be the persons to constitute the teams of participants from La Republique du Cameroun, from The Federal Republique of Ambazonia and the mediating team? In fact, how many will they be in each team? Will it be okay to have all major protagonists at the table or simply their surrogates? Think of Minister Tchiroma from La Republique du Cameroun for example sitting at the other end of the table and spokesperson Milton from The Federal Republic of Ambazonia at the other end. How would you prevent the two from strangling each other? Or worse still, think of the same person who called Ambazonians dogs in the room with a parent whose kid was shot during the October massacre. How do you hold those two back from choking each other to death? Those who are calling for dialogue should spend more time pondering over these details instead of just clamoring for dialogue.
Fifthly, the how: How will the dialogue be organized? This part begins with the major question about the initiator of the dialogue. That alone can make or mar the dialogue. How is it going to be convened; by some ministerial decree from the same person who ordered the massacre of armless citizens or by the Governing Council or by some international organization? How will the talks be financed? Will there be wide media coverage or everything will be done behind closed doors? The how of everything is key to its success. If we expect meaningful dialogue in any near future, the how must be in the works right now or else we are heading towards failure.
Because of these details raised above, dialogue might come in a more distant future than we expect. It might have people we least expected and leave out those we expected to be present at all cost. It might take place where we least expected and last longer. It might produce questionable or laughable solutions. It might just fail woefully. Keep your expectations low and the wisest thing to do now in my opinion is to think of plan B: What if dialogue fails…?
So when I read online and listen to all those who are so concerned with the crisis and seem to have solutions on their fingertips, what I ask myself is whether they have thought about the ingredients needed for successful dialogue to take place. While some opportunists take advantage of the crisis to seek for notice and even make political gains, there are some genuine humanitarians who want the conflict resolved. The first step towards achieving successful, constructive and meaningful dialogue should be to identify those genuine unbiased humanitarians who are in for nothing else but the wellbeing of humans irrespective of which sides of the conflict they belong.