The year-long conflict that is destroying Cameroon
- Where: Northwest & southwest Cameroon
- Who is involved: Anglophones (English-speaking minority who make up 20% of the 22 million population) and the government
- What has happened: The government has orchestrated attacks on the English-speaking regions — Northwest and Southwest
- Reason: Anglophones are still experiencing various forms of marginalisation; causing a resurgence for independence, to which the government objects
This conflict has roots dating back to the independence period of the 1960s. In 1960 French Cameroun (Francophones) — after a civil war caused by France’s suppression of a socialist independence movement— was granted independence. Soon after, elections were held and, the French-backed, Ahmadou Ahidjo was elected as the first president of the Republic of Cameroon. In 1961 British Cameroons (Anglophones) were left with the dilemma of joining Nigeria or newly independent Republic of Cameroon: the north sides opted to join Nigeria and the south sides joined Cameroon under a federal government establishing the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
After a failed attempt of reunification, grounded on assimilation, the Anglophone minority has been left politically and economically marginalised ever since. Inevitably, a separatist movement came to fruition but operated underground, some activists communicated by passing notes through bus drivers travelling through different towns.
Separatists from the country’s Anglophone regions once again protested to gain independence on Unification Day (1st October), however, the country was everything but unified as protesters were met by bullets from government security forces. Reuters has reported, “Soldiers shot dead at least eight people and wounded others in the two English-speaking regions on Sunday, the anniversary of Anglophone Cameroon’s independence from Britain.” According to Amnesty International, the death toll is at 17, with many others injured. Evidently, Paul Biya’s government has committed war crimes and the president's blatant disregard for the crisis in his country was on display when he addressed the 72nd UN General Assembly in September.
The frustrations of Anglophones surfaced extensively during the final months of 2016, due to a sequence of sectoral objections caused by disproportionate political representations, inevitably, leading to strikes, protests, and riots. Anglophones claim to have been facing different forms of state repression for decades (e.g. forced assimilation) from the years after independence and into the ongoing tenure of Paul Biya who took over after Ahidjo resigned in 1982. The demonstrations began with the mobilisation of civil servants, such as lawyers, in November 2016 after being fed up with the consolidation of power by the French-speaking majority, which was recklessly put down by the government — a reaction which has been taken advantage of by separatist groups. However, demonstrations continued with new groups with similar aims of autonomy — mirroring the identity-based movements of the 1970s.
“Last year, separatists couldn’t rally people on the streets. But people have seen family members arrested and killed, and they have switched over,” said Tapang Ivo Tanku, an Anglophone activist based in the United States.
The government has made significant efforts to continuously put down protests and demonstrations. After the first wave of protests in November, the following month the Minister of Communication ordered radio and TV stations to stop airing discussions and shows examining politics were suspended. Most notably, there have been cuts to internet connections in the Anglophone regions restricting access to social media sites such as Facebook and Whatsapp so that coverage of the ongoing conflict could not be reported and to limit support from members of the diaspora. In response to the 93-day internet blackout that ended in late April of this year, Cameroonian start-ups created “internet refugee camps”. Located in Bonako, a village near the toll gate separating the Southwest from the Francophone region of Littoral. The project was sponsored by ActivSpaces (Cameroon’s first tech hub and incubator) and Njorku (a job listing startup).
Unfortunately, following the events of Sunday (01/10/17) the internet has once again been disrupted restricting digital access to those outside of Cameroon establishing a fully functional police state in the Anglophone regions.
With the presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem will, very likely, dictate the future of the country. The growing influence of the separatist groups threatens the questionable stability of the central African nation, and due to some radical elements (some separatists told Reuters that they were responsible for a bomb that last wounded three policemen in Bamenda last month)the government of President Paul Biya — who will celebrate 35 years of, unconventional, presidency in November — will also be put to the test.
The lack of coverage, communication and support from allies has put Cameroon on track for a much larger grotesque genocide.
You can follow the ongoing crisis on Crisis Group — May 2019 update: https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/cameroon/272-crise-anglophone-au-cameroun-comment-arriver-aux-pourparlers
You can support Amnesty International by donating here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/cameroon-protect-our-rights/