Nelson Mandela once said, “Negotiation and discussions are the greatest weapons we have for promoting peace and development” (Leap To Success 2012). Many schools of thought have emerged with substantial propositions and practices that have emerged in establishing the link between civil society organizations and peace-build ing negotiations.
In that light, civil society organizations (CSOs) have emerged as a central force in fostering peace negotiations and in contributing to reframing discourse around peacebuilding initiatives in Cameroon. These CSOs are prominent as a driving force in the entire peacebuilding process and are considered by many as the epitome of fostering real and sustainable peace negotiations to streamline sustainable social cohesion.in Cameroon Despite the interest in CSOs in driving the agenda of peacebuilding activities, their initiatives are still yet to be fully recognized by the parties to the conflict. Little has been done to boost the functional character of CSOs’ voices in peacebuilding negotiations. What seems to exist in most peace conferences is a largely evocative position of civil society organizations acting as supporting agents in peacebuilding initiatives. It is within this context that this paper examines, CSOs’ voices in fostering peacebuilding and conflict resolution through peace negotiations in Cameroon.
Looking at the context of this paper, research has asserted that the challenges of CSOs engaging in discussions around the theme of peacebuilding are very obvious. Given the importance of civil society actors and activities in peacebuilding processes, it is not surprising that several debates and implementation challenges surround this sector. With the emphasis on Cameroon and the Anglophone crisis, CSOs have indicated that both the government and the separatists should call for genuine and inclusive dialogue which will ease the prevailing stalemate in the ongoing conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions (Dolah P.168)
CSOs engaged in conflict negotiation and peacebuilding initiatives have assumed a prominent role in public policy debates in the last five years in Cameroon since the Anglophone conflict erupted. Today, no one questions the credibility of these organizations as important actors in enhancing sustainable peace (Annan, et al pages 697-725)
Historically, interventions in armed conflict situations have been predominantly top-down, commonly led by international organizations, especially the United Nations, with the consent of national governments. But today, the CSOs have demonstrated a driving force in searching for alternative ways in promoting peace and security in Cameroon. They have been responding to conflict in numerous ways. While often they are one of the powerful forces promoting peace, carrying out mediation, negotiation processes, and promoting social cohesion.
From September 30, 2019, to October 4, 2019, during the Cameroon National Dialogue, CSOs acted in a very proactive manner in communicating the dialogue process by highlighting issues through communication platforms that need to be addressed in the negotiations necessary for reaching compromise or concluding peace (Elizabeth Murray and Susan Stingant 2021). Furthermore, CSOs can serve as facilitators in the understanding between the government and the separatist fighters’ relations with the separatists themselves. Other civil society institutions such as the Nkafu Policy Institute – a think tank of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation – have played a vital role in enhancing policy recommendations in maintaining peace and security in Cameroon.
Furthermore, they have actively engaged in grassroots peace negotiations in a relatively innovative role for civil society organizations to engage people and communities in peacebuilding pursued. As peace-making efforts by the government to solve the Anglophone crisis continue, Cameroonian CSOs engaged in creating space for talks with the population, to help in allaying information and opinions from the separatists to the government in achieving common consensus.
In addition, CSOs have been enabling the environment through public engagement crusades on a peace settlement with the help of peace negotiation. For example, on January 29, 2020, the representatives of 15 Cameroonian CSOs met to seek ways to conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Cameroon, especially in the crisis-hit Northwest and Southwest regions. These were organizations that were in the afflicted regions. As such, the influence of civil society organizations in engaging stakeholders in peace negotiations has been very vital (Annan and Beseng pp 697-725)
As far as peace-making efforts are concerned, the place of civil society organizations has been very instrumental in lobbying the parties in conflict to the negotiating table from a very neutral standpoint. Based on primary data, five interrelated areas are identified as:
– Humanitarian relief
– Peace campaigns
– Documentation of human rights violations
– Trauma healing
– Peace Education
It is worth noting that, while civil society actors initiate these peacebuilding efforts, the state must equally demonstrate its willingness to acknowledge and support these efforts if they are to have a national-level impact in ending the conflict. CSOs have done quite a lot but it is important to note that the government has the primary role in solving the conflict and we come in to act as a support system It remains primordial for CSOs to work in negotiating with the different parties on fewer sensitive matters, such as living together, humanitarian concerns, the conditions of IDPs, and the security of civilians in NOSO, which are much easier topics to begin the dialogue within building peace discussions.
CSOs are also significant actors in building trust in the institutions behind ongoing peace processes with the help of peace discussions. This is done by portraying an image of reverence and acceptance in the public institutions which will instigate truths in the population. Despite constraints to civic space, local CSOs in the Northwest and Southwest regions have responded in various ways to support populations affected by the conflict
The following recommendations are highlighted. For CSOs in Cameroon and other conflict-affected countries to drive tangible peace negotiations during peacebuilding and conflict resolution processes in their respective communities and societies, the following recommendations need to be taken into consideration by the CSOs themselves and the government:
– CSOs need to consider re-strategizing and reorganizing themselves in pulling together their expertise and resources in holding open peace debates which will create a wide room of influence and that can permit the inclusive mobilization of conflict-affected
persons through their family, neighborhood, and community. When CSOs unite themselves in synergy, it reduces the chances of duplication or isolated and dotted peace interventions.
– The government and other stakeholders should cease the longstanding practice of always being restrained to CSOs involved in peacebuilding and conflict resolution because they are always suspicious that the actions of CSOs will mean the government is failing in its responsibilities. Rather, the government should see CSOs as partners in development working for a common goal to achieve the government’s Agenda 2035 in Cameroon
– Furthermore, the government and other policymakers should deem it very necessary to include CSOs in the peace decision-making processes of the country thus preparing them to take on the role of peace discussions using a hands-on approach; The Government should make the environment conducive for the functioning of the CSOs. Legal frameworks and policies that support the actions of the CSOs should be strengthened to make the environment enable both stakeholders to work.
In conclusion, the voices of CSOs remain very instrumental and significant in the entire conflict resolution and peace negotiation process for any conflict-affected country in the world. CSOs work as allies to state parties in the elaboration and implementation of peace agendas while still exercising their role of negotiation, mediation, and facilitation interests with conflicting parties.
The recognition of the indispensable role played by CSOs in engaging and mobilizing actors around the peace discussion table helps in redefining and shaping the future of sustainable peace. In this sense, appropriate conditions need to be laid in place to permit the proper works of CSOs as a driving force in peace for Cameroon and Africa at large.
James. K, Maurice. B, Nancy.A & G.Crawford, (2021) Civil Society, Peacebuilding from below and shrinking civic Space: The case of Cameroon’s “Anglophone” conflict.
Elizabeth.M, Susan.S. (2021) National Dialogues in Peacebuilding and Transitions. Creativity adaptive thinking. (1st ed.). The United Institute of Peace.
Thelma.E. (2006) The Peacebuilding Role of Civil Society in Central Africa. Centre for Conflict Resolution 2006. Centre of Conflict Resolution.
Bigdon, C. and B Korf, (2002). ‘The Role of Development Aid in Conflict Transformation: Facilitating Empowerment Processes and Community Building. Berlin: Berghof Research.
Cameroon Intelligence Report,( 2018). ‘New Age Spuds Appraisal Well on Cameroon Etinde Block amid Genocide in Southern Cameroons’.
Chimtom. N, 2019. ‘Cameroon’s Conflict: Will the National Dialogue Make Any Difference?’ [BBC News]. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-49931662