Church Mediator Caught in the Middle in Cameroon

Scott Morgan on December 3, 2020

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” Matthew 5:13

Want to know the most effective means to determine the merits of a mediator in a conflict? The best and most honest mediator is one who gets criticized by both sides. One particular attempt to resolve the conflict currently plaguing the African nation of Cameroon is ample evidence of this method of rating the mediator, in this case Cardinal Christian Tumi.

A secessionist movement — or a struggle for independence, depending on one’s worldview — has been active in the Northwest/Southwest region of Cameroon since 2016. During that time 90-year-old Cardinal Tumi, a man of God longing for peace and reconciliation, has stepped forward to offer his services to both sides. He offered to mediate between the English-speaking separatists and the government, which is led by long-standing president, Paul Biya.

Sadly, the efforts of the Roman Catholic Cardinal, who is the Archbishop Emeritus of Douala, have been rebuffed since 2018 when he first proposed having a National Dialogue. The first effort to hold such talks was supposed to take place in August 2018 . The talks were postponed until November 2018 to facilitate improved conditions for such a conference to take place. Then rumors surfaced of a plan to assassinate the Cardinal. So the November talks were cancelled as well.

The Cardinal, despite his attempts at fostering a dialogue to end the fighting, has raised the ire of the Separatists as well.  One reason for their anger towards him has been his criticism of the closing of schools in the Northwest/Southwest or Ambazonia regions. During the period of closure several incidents targeting schools and teachers have taken place.

The most recent incidents took place in early November 2020. Closing of schools has been a focal point in the conflict. The Government wants new instructors to teach French while the Separatists demand that the schools be closed if they are not able to receive instruction in English. This is a perfect recipe for an impasse, no matter which side one is on.

Also in early November another incident took place in which it seemed as if Cardinal Tumi was targeted by the Separatists. On the evening of November 5th he was reportedly kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Those gunmen who later were determined to be Separatist fighters. One of the kidnappers even accused the Cardinal of “bringing the children back to school.” Others accused the Cardinal of promoting Cameroon transitioning from a Republic into a Federation. His reply was “I will preach what is true and based on pastoral conviction.”

A telling fact was revealed when the Cardinal was released. No ransom was paid to the kidnappers and yet they released him. This incident drew the notice of not just the Catholic Church but also the rest of Cameroon.

Will this incident lead to a new attempt at mediation? The Swiss attempted a mediation, but it collapsed earlier this year. This was because the Diaspora residing in the United States refused to take part in the effort.

The failure of the Swiss mediation, and the fact that Cameroonians in America were the spoilers, has led to calls by some for the United States to assume the role as the mediator in the conflict. Perhaps the United States should consult with the Swiss and the Vatican to lead this effort. Some question why the former colonial powers of Germany and France should not have a role as well.

But the French role could be a lightning rod. France has been accused of propping up the government of Paul Biya. What Cameroon does not need right now is another excuse to eschew mediation attempts. And Germany has not had a presence in the country since surrendering the territory under the Treaty of Versailles, so not too invested.

It is not a good sign to see a mediator, let alone a leader of the Christian Faith attacked in such a manner as the esteemed Cardinal has been. But it shows very graphically the divisions within the country. Christians — both Catholics and Protestants are caught in the middle.

  1. Comment by thank you on December 4, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Will be on my knees about this. Thank you for this article.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.