Last Wednesday, the Southern Cameroons Defense Forces (SOCADEF), a separatist armed group from Cameroon’s anglophone Ambazonia region, agreed to a ceasefire urged by the United Nations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter written by SOCADEF commander Ebenezer Akwanga and addressed to Cameroonian president Paul Biya, the armed group pledged to support the ceasefire and “ensure the security and free circulation of international observers and humanitarian organizations in Ambazonia… in accordance with human rights law.”
The Cameroonian government is yet to respond to the letter. Two days earlier, on Monday, March 23, UN secretary-general António Guterres had called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world”. Mediators from the Switzerland-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue quickly reached out to Ambazonia separatist movements to try to get them on board with the ceasefire, with SOCADEF the first to respond to the call.
Why It Matters
A viral pandemic occurring in a time of war is a deadly combination for civilians. Wars disrupt humanitarian efforts and squeeze healthcare capacity as resources are directed toward victims of the war. Refugees fleeing from their homes spread the virus, and sometimes humanitarian and relief personnel become targets of deliberate attacks.
The COVID-19 pandemic can provide opportunities for warring parties to set aside their arms as they deal with the more immediate threat, opening up a space for dialogue. Cameroon’s separatist conflict has been raging for almost three years now, displacing hundreds of thousands, most of whom have fled into Nigeria. SOCADEF’s actions may push the Cameroonian government and other armed groups to come to a negotiating table and hash out concerns. How President Biya’s administration responds will determine whether this rare opportunity goes to waste or yields a peaceable outcome.