Reflections on Track II Peace building: case of Bakassi Peninsula in Cameroon
Author: George Ngwane
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 04/09/2010
In November 2009, our organization AFRICAphonie carried out a Citizen Peace Building capacity project in the disputed Bakassi Peninsula in Cameroon. The Bakassi Peninsula is a swampy resource – rich, 1600 kilometer – long border area between Cameroon and Nigeria extending from Chad to the Gulf of Guinea. It has been a disputed area between Cameroon and Nigeria since 1990s and fertile ground for ethnic hostilities between the two mixed people of Nigeria and Cameroon. In spite of official diplomacy handing the territory to Cameroon, in spite of high military presence to assure confidence-building measures and collective security, peace still remains elusive in the Bakassi peninsula.
This project which was the first of its kind in Bakassi sought to complement this official diplomacy by instituting a Track II approach that would involve citizen peacemaking and peace building capacity. The project consisted of organising peace building public forums among the inhabitants and training workshops on peace building in some of the contentious villages in Bakassi. The primary objective was to share ideas and information with a wide range of actors on how to predict conflict and emergency situations, how to recognize the danger signals and how to develop appropriate mechanisms to avert gun violence. The Public Forums were done in conjunction with training workshops involving civil society development agents in the Bakassi area with the aim of reinforcing their capacity and tools on the relevant concepts, approaches and skills of conflict analysis, conflict prevention and transformation, peacemaking and peace building.
At the end of the exercise, a network of citizen peacemakers called Bakassi Peace Coalition was established with the agenda to monitor conflict trends and engage in multi-track preventive diplomacy as well as mobilise public support so that policy makers and local government authorities can take action on potential conflicts that have been detected. Two Project Products came out of this project. First, a video documentary called ‘Bakassi Peace’ covering the public forums and training workshops which is currently being projected on Cameroon Television and which is also being viewed in pubs and social gatherings in Bakassi. Second, is the publication of a newsletter called ‘Bakassi Peace Letter’. The editorial policy of the newsletter is the prevention, management and resolution of conflict in Bakassi by citizens. In this regard, the newsletter managed by AFRICAphonie collects opinion, news, views culture and photographs on early warning signals and serves as advocacy for people –oriented reforms in Bakassi. Guided by objectivity, non partisanship and independence the newsletter gives a voice to the Bakassi people on their socio-economic needs and specific local areas of contention; strategies that the Bakassi inhabitants continue to employ in identifying sources of conflicts and unidentified assailants; news on the peace building and peacemaking mechanisms employed by the Bakassi Peace Coalition; news on confidence-building and collective security measures between the military and civilian on the one hand and the mixed ethnic groups on the other and finally news on the reconstruction and development efforts (roads, health centers, water points etc) carried out by the Cameroonian government in Bakassi.
The Bakassi peninsula is found in Ndian division of the South West Region in Cameroon bordering the neighboring country of Nigeria. The area has a population of 150 000 – 300 000 inhabitants. It is rich in fish, mangrove and sub-marine deposits and owns 10% of world’s gas and oil resources. Since 1990, these villages have known little or no peace owing to the sporadic attacks by unidentified assailants and hostilities between the ethnic groups of Nigerian and Cameroonian extraction. Because of its mineral wealth, the peninsula remains a bone of contention between Nigeria and Cameroon.
On 10th October 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a judgment deciding in part, that the sovereignty over the Bakassi peninsula lies with Cameroon.
On 12 June 2006, an agreement called the “Green Tree Accord” was signed between Cameroon and Nigeria under the watchful eyes of the United Nations and on 14th August 2008 Bakassi was transferred to Cameroonian government. Our questionnaires revealed that this transfer was received with mixed feelings especially by the Nigerian community. Indeed a group called Bakassi Self Determination Movement allegedly from Nigeria vows to continue hostility towards the Bakassi population even after the official transfer.
Sporadic attacks by unidentified gunmen and ethnic strife have become common currency in the area leaving the military embarrassed, official diplomacy humiliated, the inhabitants insecure and the prospects of a durable peace in jeopardy.
The first attack in November 2007 left 21 Cameroonian soldiers dead and ten people on the side of the attackers wounded.
The second attack was on 9th June 2008 killing the local government authority (Divisional Officer) of Kombo Abedimo and five inhabitants.
The most recent attack was on the 24th July 2008 where some villagers were seriously wounded, one journalist killed, two military killed and ten attackers apprehended.
Surprise attacks on oil installations and light gun battles have been recorded in the peninsula since we left Bakassi in November 2009.
Government and military sources claim that identifying these unknown assailants has been marred due to the non-cooperation of the civilian population. To the extent that this non-cooperative attitude, mutual ethnic suspicion and covert hostility among the civilian population persist, the Bakassi Peninsula shall continue to be engulfed, albeit with low intensity, in a spiral of conflicts even though the official diplomacy that has ceded the area to Cameroon is complete.
The focus of this project was to therefore provide the civil society with a complementary voice in peacemaking and peace building thereby promoting unofficial (Track II) dialogue on contentious issues. Our inspiration was drawn from the fact that as in all societies, there exists a wealth of indigenous knowledge, norms, skills and practices which are relevant to establishing and maintaining peaceful relationships between individuals and groups and to deal with differences and disputes. In the case of the Bakassi peninsula, we engaged various civil society development agents (education, chiefs, church, women groups, business etc) whose indigenous knowledge and capacity on peace building were shared during the workshops and public discussion forums. Most of their contributions centered on ideas on how to live harmoniously in spite of their ethnic (national) differences, how to recognize conflict signals and how to develop appropriate mechanisms to avert gun violence with the aim of creating a sustainable enabling environment for collective security, economic sharing and social harmony.
We on the other hand shared with them peaceful strategies that would build values of trust, harmony and confidence within their communities. We also identified with some of the official government representatives invited to the workshop, government actions in the areas of reconstruction and development with citizen action in the areas of dialogue and reconciliation.
Lessons drawn from this Project
Our first lesson is that community-driven peace building is very important but should not be isolated from government reconstruction and development action in a post-conflict area.
We also think that Security and Reconstruction are like siamese twins because reconstruction indeed is the basis for psychological security for citizens in any post war situation. But this reconstruction and development process should not be left in the hands of government alone. Development partners should also encourage community driven income-generating projects that impact on livelihoods and that are drawn from a community needs assessment dialogue. Corporate Responsibility by multinational oil companies in the Bakassi area is crucial to a harmonious relation between the companies and the inhabitants and in curbing the effects of environmental degradation in the peninsula.
The debate over heavy militarization as a way to prevent a re-escalation of conflict is still tenable because in the case of the Bakassi peninsula, the inhabitants of mixed Nigerian and Cameroonian extraction say they feel more economically secure by opening trade among themselves than having gun-toting military occupying every acre of their space. In this regard we may suggest that the Cameroon government places a community-friendly and development-oriented military and a pacifist police service in Bakassi.
The crucial problem of natural resource allocation based on the law of derivation needs to be addressed in Bakassi. As it is in most areas that are resource-endowed, the logic is to avoid the Niger Delta scenario by allocating a royalty percentage of the resources to the concrete development of Bakassi peninsula. This will in turn minimize the environmental hazard caused due to the rapid depletion of the mangrove forest by the inhabitants and the unsustainable fishing practice carried out there.
Another lesson, at least from reactions of the participants of our project is that conflicts are not always negative. What is negative is the way they are managed. They (inhabitants) also requested to be associated with the decision-making process often unilaterally carried out by government. The need assessments coming from the inhabitants themselves can help restore confidence in government action within the peninsula.
Finally, to reintegrate Bakassi inhabitants into mainstream democracy and nation building processes in Cameroon, we hope, if funds are available, to follow up this project with one on Citizenship Education in the peninsula. We find this critical to local ownership in governance and to the imminent Presidential Elections in Cameroon.
The presence of Cameroon media is very important and this can be done by setting up signals for the reception of Cameroon Television, the setting up of community radio and for a short term measure the free distribution of newspapers (even recent unsold back copies) to students and inhabitants of the peninsula.
One of the greatest preoccupations is a road network and there are indications that government is supportive but needs to accelerate its support.
We have also written a proposal that focuses on Cultural activities in the Bakassi peninsula which should encourage social harmony and artistic expression among the hitherto conflict-prone and terror-faced inhabitants of what is gradually becoming a safe haven of Peace.
This Project was funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
Bio: George Ngwane is Executive Director of AFRICAphonie in Cameroon but is currently a Chevening Fellow studying Conflict Management at the University of York (UK). www.Africaphonie.org and www.gngwane.com