Paving the way for peace: A transformative journey through Cameroon
"I am short of words," says Lawal as we start driving out of Buea, a town located at the foot of Mount Cameroon in the country's Southwest Region. This is surprising coming out of Lawal's mouth as he is the most outspoken, outgoing, and entertaining person I know. While Lawal says this, Geogette has already closed her eyes, missing out on the spectacular view of the delta that unfolds before us even on this cloudy day. Lawal immediately follows her.
It is no wonder that they are tired. The past five days we spent in Cameroon in May 2023 have been intense. We, that is, GPPAC member Lawal from Building Blocks for Peace Foundation in Nigeria, my colleague Amanda and I from the GPPAC Global Secretariat, were invited by Geogette and her team at WAA Cameroon to join them to Buea, where they organised a two-day intergenerational dialogue. The dialogue is part of their Voices of Youth in Cameroon for Peace (known as VOYCE) project that aims to prevent the radicalisation of youth and supports those who have to de-radicalise in the Northwest and Southwest of the country, which are most hit by the Anglophone crisis.
As we leave the city behind us, we pass cows grazing on the fields, lush rainforest and local sellers on the roads offering fresh bananas, pineapples, cassava and cocoyams. Lawal and Geogette wake up again when we are stopped at a military checkpoint to present our papers. On our journey back to Yaoundé, this will happen four more times.
It is Geogette who breaks the silence: "Lawal, we really like the experience of having you here. We think that this kind of visit should be done more often just to get to know each other, understand how far we have come and exchange experiences." Lawal immediately nods and enthusiastically responds, "You need to come to Nigeria next year! I really hope that we can replicate this experience and bring Cameroonian colleagues to my country." Why, I ask.
"You learn so much", he explains. "Not only about peacebuilding approaches but also witnessing how WAA, as an organisation, is run on a day-to-day basis, was just wow for me. Seeing the finance, admin, programme, communications, and logistics division gives me an idea of how a CSO should be set up and what structures we need to have in our organisation back in Nigeria."
Lawal adds, "For me, it has been a wonderful experience. I have heard a lot about the Cameroonian conflict from afar. But here, I heard from people who are direct victims of it. Hearing what they are already doing to support the peace process with various interventions such as offering microgrants, hosting dialogues, and setting up Youth Think Tanks for Peace was really an eye-opener to me. I witnessed that people, especially young people, are not giving up in the midst of conflict. They are actually doing so much to restore peace."
Lawal's comment lets us reflect on how the VOYCE project, launched in 2022, has already trained one hundred young champions for peace in Cameroon. It has further established nine more community-based Youth Think Tanks for Peace on top of the already existing four ones. The Think Tanks for Peace are led by young peace champions trained by WAA Cameroon on conflict resolution methods. The Think Tanks offer a space for young people from different backgrounds with different experiences, opinions, and interests to support one another to resolve conflict and promote peace.
"I find the entire project extremely interesting. It is enticing. It would be great if we can learn from WAA's experience and replicate this in Nigeria, seeing the impact it already has in Cameroon, especially since our country experiences the same conflict dynamics," he says. Geogette, who embodies such determination, resilience, and compassion to build peaceful and inclusive societies that make your jaw drop, is immediately enthusiastic about this idea. "It would be nice to have a platform where Nigerian and Cameroonian youth could talk about different conflict situations in their country and share how they respond. They could exchange different methods and approaches. This would also give them a feeling that they are not alone and that there are others just like them who take peacebuilding seriously."
We sit in silence for a few seconds letting all our thoughts sink in. Suddenly, Ernest, our driver, displays instantaneous automotive finesse by manoeuvring around a pothole that lines the road. We all feel the swerve. Lawal chuckles, "Travelling on the road…ahhh… if we would not do it, we would not truly experience Cameroon." Everyone joins his laughter. We still have five more hours to go until we reach Yaoundé. Five more hours to dream of big peacebuilding ideas based on all the things we have learned in Buea.
The 3-year VOYCE project is funded by the European Union and implemented by WAA Cameroon and the Trauma Center, with the support of GPPAC.