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Exclusive Interview with Dr William: Elections may escalate insecurity in Cameroon

In an exclusive interview, Dr William Hermann Arrey, specialist in Peace, Development, and Public governance issues, Head of Department Peace and Development Studies, Protestant University of Central Africa, hails the President of the Republic for respecting the constitution as well as the electoral calendar. But he goes ahead to question whether elections are a priority at this point in time. He concluded by saying that, it may just be like “solving a problem with another problem.”

Dr William Hermann Arrey

National Times; How did you feel when you heard about the announcement convening the electorate for October 7, 2018?

Dr. William; First by announcing elections, the President has respected the constitution and the electoral calendar which says that elections should be held 90 days from the date of announcement. But I asked myself; ‘what actually is the priority at this point in time when there is a violent conflict at hand in the country, is it elections at all cost despite the prevailing situation?’

National Times; Are the elections itself a problem? (May be we could say:  Is the presidential election itself a problem?)

Dr. William; Elections at such a period in time can be more of a trigger to further escalate the already appalling ‘armed conflict’. It may put the lives of ordinary citizens at risk while wanting to exercise their voting rights.

National Times; Are national elections possible in the atmosphere of violence in the restive Anglophone regions?

Dr. William; It largely depends on the political culture, motives and interest of the political decision makers and supporters. However, for elections to be announced it means the organizers are certainly prepared and I think all will be set by October 7

National Times; Generally, is it possible to have elections during periods of violent conflicts?

Dr. William; The problem we are having emerged from the crises of governance, democracy and political leadership.  So what Cameroonian political decision makers are trying to employ (electoral democracy) at this crucial point in time to fix the problem is however part of what caused the problem in the first place.  I think for now the key issue in Cameroon is not “what can we do to replace someone occupying the office of the president” but to look for possible peaceful pathways out of the current seemingly protracted socio-political crisis and I don’t think organizing elections at this time is a feasible strategy.

National Times; Faced with the conflict in the Anglophone regions of the country, is it possible to have elections?

Dr. William; First of all, for a long time Anglophones have had the feeling (wrongly or rightly) that they have been victims of what could be termed ‘governing by exclusionary policies’ wherein they do not feel part of the governing machinery, and hence their feelings of ‘second class’ citizens and their inclination towards violent protest as a way of making their voices heard.

Elections have always been controversial in this country like many parts of Africa, and another election at this point in time may be problematic. Imagine that as a result of the current socio-political crisis in Anglophone Cameroon, thousands have been displaced internally, some are living in forest while another large portion are on refuge in Nigeria, documents houses and documents of have been burnt etc; it is highly probably that a large portion of the Anglophone community would not have the opportunity to choose its leader under a violent context. In such a situation, the legitimacy of the leader would be challenged because not all segments of the population were given the same opportunity to vote.

In other words, organising elections at this point in time would further exclude many Anglophones who already feel excluded from the system of governance and distributive justice. This could lead to a situation which for lack of a better term, could be called, a situation of ‘double disadvantage.’ It is like solving a problem with another problem which can also be considered as peacemaking by violent means (physical, cultural and structural), rather than peacemaking by peaceful means.

National Times; Looking at the recent attacks in Buea, Kumba, Bamenda, are issues of security having a prime importance in this election?

Dr. William; We should never trust the use of force but diplomatic means. No society can be built on violence. Whatever we are seeing today is simply an indication of what could happen tomorrow. Sometimes our language, the words we use also incite people to violence and the actions we take can also inflame a situation. At this point in time nothing should be neglected. We should remain alert! at all levels.

National Times; What therefore would be your advice to the government at this point in time?

Dr. William; It’s really a challenging situation owing to the fact that the government has already announced the elections. In all these, I think the government is facing a huge dilemma; is it to take a forward march, backward march or stay on the same spot? In my view the government needs help because the situation continues to get out of control despite all the security and other measures put in place.

National Times; Any word about the emergency humanitarian plan by the government?

Dr William; It shows that the government has concern for its people by bringing assistance to the ‘suffering masses’. However, I am pondering aloud whether that is the prime importance, how accessible are these victims especially the refugees and displaced persons. What I also see the government doing is tantamount to ‘development in the context of war’. Rather, in peace and development studies, we talk of ‘post-conflict’ reconstruction/recover and not ‘conflict’ reconstruction/recovery. For during violent conflict or war what is imminent is ‘destruction’ not ‘construction’?

Now with the case at hand in the North West and South West regions, the rebuilding of schools and houses for example when the ‘fire is still burning’ or again when the violent conflict is ongoing is like constructing and deconstructing at the same time.

When somebody is sick you prioritize treatment and not food. Given food to the person when he is not able to fully consume it is simply cosmetic assistance. The government should get first to the epicenter of the current ‘Anglophone crisis’ and search for the cure.  The food and other humanitarian assistance could be left for other international and national NGOs that are already well specialized in that kind of assistance during situations of emergencies. For the victims, governmental food and other humanitarian action will certainly become relevant only when peace, reconciliation and healing become possible and not the other way round.  Cameroon needs not only a genuine strategic dialogue and re-engineering of governmental machinery but also a genuine and strategy intervention from her international partners.