At the Nigerian Institute of Journalism in Lagos, we were taught to write for newspapers and talk on radio and television. And when we were often asked to listen, it was to listen so we could talk or write even more, even louder.
But listening, a chief negotiator once said, is the most important part of communication in a world where everyone is talking, tweeting, posting and going viral. He wished that instead of having only “talk shows” and “peace talks”, we would have “listen-shows” and “peace-listen”.
For two years now, a raging conflict between Cameroonian armed forces and Anglophone activists has been going on. Hundreds, if not thousands, have died or been jailed. No one is listening to the other side.
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President Paul Biya would say, I would not listen to a “bunch of terrorists” who have taken up arms against a sovereign state. He would add that Cameroon is indivisible and he would protect by all means necessary its integrity and sovereignty.
The activists would reply that Anglophones were granted independence by association by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and would defend themselves to death until freedom is achieved.
The Cameroonian government has hired a reputation management firm in Washington DC to talk on its behalf. Anglophone activist leaders have held several press conferences in Washington DC and a protest at the White House for President Trump to talk on their behalf.
Some American lawmakers have reportedly issued statements, talking even more. And journalists have continued to give both sides the opportunity to talk even louder, even broader.
The Cameroon government would show corpses of security forces and innocent people killed by enraged armed activists, and the activists would show corpses and villages razed by Cameroonian forces.
As at now, there is no dialogue, only monologue. Everyone is talking. No one is listening. Everyone is trying to convince the world that they are right and the other side is wrong, and as a result, hundreds continue to die, and the conflict continues to escalate.
All these things are happening at the same time Boko Haram is wreaking havoc in Cameroon’s far north and the standard of living of millions of Cameroonians remains in free fall.
However, listening, the chief negotiator said, is the weapon that often unlocks peace. It gives you the opportunity to hear the other side, to know where their mind is before you could even expect to change it, and puts the other side in a better position to want to listen to you.
Listening can bring an end to bitter conflicts and relationships. It could be an answer to Cameroon’s raging conflict.
I pray that we will all learn the skill of listening, rather than talking.