Though he was imprisoned and his house burnt, the human rights activist whose continues to brave the odds in order to advocate for peace and find a political solution to the crisis that has been rocking the two English-speaking regions for the past 18 months.
In January 2017, Agbor Balla Nkongho (A .B .N) was arrested and incarcerated alongside the other leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium. After spending seven months behind bars, he was finally released alongside several others through a Presidential clemency. Many expected him to tone down after regaining his freedom but the Human Rights lawyer embarked on a peace and justice crusade for all. He carried out frequent visits to Kondengui to commune with other Anglophone detainees left behind. Things had changed on his return from prison as the crisis was gradually morphing into an armed conflict. But he stood his ground and continue preaching peace and dialogue as a way forward in the deadlock.
“The freedoms we seek for ourselves must be extended to all other citizens, whatever our ideological differences. I appeal to each of you to use alternative ways (other than violence) to achieve our goals,” he said.
Hero, terrorist, or traitor?
Choosing the path of dialogue as an inclusive solution to the Anglophone crisis has not gone without consequence. In November 2017, a few weeks after his release from prison, his family home in Mamfe in the South West region was set ablaze by unknown men who stood against his stance. The incident comes a few days after his dismissal from the consortium by his colleagues. The reasons given of his exclusion «due to his outspokenness on the media for schools to resume in the Anglophone regions“. He equally faced fierce opposition from Cameroonians in the UK after presenting a talk at Chatham house accusing him of being a “traitor” simply because he advocated for school resumption.
“We can disagree without being unpleasant. It is a characteristic of a democratic society to have differing opinions and points of view. The government has a responsibility to take action to reduce tensions in our communities to reduce the likelihood of conflict. We call on all our youth, religious leaders, community leaders, opinion leaders to work together to address all potential signs of violent behavior and to defend themselves against violence. The solution must be political. This is the moment of good leadership and the spirit of state we will provide”
Despite the facing constant threats from unknown persons, the 47-year-old lawyer, fluent in French and English, decided to stay in Buea, where he works. On the International Day for Social Justice, he offered computers to young entrepreneurs. He encouraged them in the in their job creation drive. Days after these events, he flew to the United States where he plans to gain new support in his fight for the peaceful resolution of the Anglophone crisis.
There is hope on the horizon
Since October 2017, many persons have died following violent clashes between security forces and protesters. The violence has forced about 40.000 persons to flee to neighbourig Nigeria to seek for refuge, local Nigerian authorities say. About fifty leaders of the movement have just been arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon. In the face of these arrests, armed groups have upped the ante by kidnapping two Government officials in the North West Region.
However, Agbor Balla has remained a credible outlet in calling for dialogue as an avenue to find lasting solutions to the crisis. This is evident by the fact that he was one of the rare leaders who held talks with Harriet Baldwin the UK’s Minister of State for African affairs. This followed December’s meeting with Patricia Scotland Secretary General of the Commonwealth. As a sign of things to come, the main opposition leader in Cameroon Ni John Fru Ndi recently added his strong voice to Agbor Balla by calling on the Head of State to call for an inclusive dialogue as a way out to the crisis. Hopefully glimmer of light at the tail end of the tunnel.