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Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: Reasons for its continuation

  Jerry Franklin

Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: Reasons for its continuation

The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon is a prolonged issue due to cultural marginalization and it remains unresolved due to the incompetence of the government in resolving the crisis

Jerry Franklin

On 24 May, separatists in Cameroon's Northwest region kidnapped around 30 women in Big Babanki, a village near the Nigerian border for protesting against separatists' imposition of tax. AP news quoted the commander-in-chief of the separatist group, Ambazonia Defence Forces, Capo Daniel, that the women were being punished for “allowing themselves to be manipulated” by Cameroon's government.

On 1 May 2023, at least 15 Anglophone separatists attacked a military post in the village of Matoukee. The rebels killed at least six people, including five Soldiers and one civilian, and wounded several others.

On 1 June 2022, Soldiers from the 53rd Motorised Infantry Battalion killed nine people including four women and an 18-month-old girl in Missong Hamlet, Northwest region, in a retaliation operation against a population accused of harbouring separatist rebels.

The Anglophone-Francophone crisis in Cameroon is a prolonged issue that remains unresolved. Anglophone grievances remain unaddressed and intensifying.

A brief background to the Cameroon crisis

The long-standing difference between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians dates back to colonial rule when the Northwest and Southwest regions were under British control while the other areas were under French control. Until now, the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon are dominated by the English-speaking population and the French-speaking population dominates the rest of the country. The Francophone population constitutes the majority. The two English-speaking regions which constitute about 20 percent of the population claim that the francophone majority discriminates and excludes them.

The immediate crisis dates back to 2016 when the Francophone-dominated government repressed peaceful rallies and strikes demanding the protection of English-language educational and judicial systems in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. The government's harsh response to the protests resulted in calls for secession and the rise of extremist groups that used violence and intimidation, intensifying the political crisis. The crisis originated from grievances expressed by the English-speaking minority, who felt marginalized by the French-speaking majority and the central government. The ongoing crisis that started as a political dispute has gradually evolved into an armed conflict and humanitarian crisis.

Separatist insurgency and violations by security forces

The historical marginalization of the Anglophone population by the Francophone majority led to the rise of separatist movements. Multiple Anglophone separatist groups, including the Ambazonia Defense Forces, Ambazonia Self-Defense Council, and African People's Liberation Movement, comprise nearly 4,000 members supported by Cameroon's Anglophone diaspora. These groups seek independence for the Northwest and Southwest regions. The separatists regard the region as an independent state, calling it Ambazonia. Armed separatists have become increasingly brutal, involved in killing, kidnapping, and terrorizing civilians while consolidating authority over large parts of the Anglophone regions. Armed groups have targeted schools and educational institutions, resulting in the disruption of education for hundreds of children. This has had a long-term impact on the development and prospects of the affected youth.

Security forces react violently to separatist assaults; frequently attacking civilians in Anglophone regions. Security forces have been accused of using excessive force, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and torture, in their operations against separatist groups and protesters.

The conflict between the government forces and armed separatist fighters has killed more than 6,000 people. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 628,000 people have been internally displaced due to the conflict. Both security forces and armed separatist groups have engaged in arbitrary arrests and detentions, targeting individuals perceived to be associated with the opposing side. Many individuals have been held for prolonged periods without trial or due process. Separatists and government forces have committed targeted attacks on health facilities and humanitarian workers that restricted humanitarian access to the region.

Minimal interference of the international community

In reaction to the situation, the international community has taken only minimal action. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has only met once to discuss the situation in Cameroon. The European Union Council, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and others have called for an end to the violence and demanded immediate government action. Additionally, efforts to broker a peace accord between the warring groups have deteriorated and failed.  On 21 January 2023, Canada's foreign ministry announced that it had accepted a mandate to mediate a peace process between Cameroonian authorities and some separatist forces to end the conflict. However, the Cameroonian administration said that no foreign country has been entrusted with the duty of the mediator to resolve the situation.

The unresolved crisis

The Cameroon government continues to downplay the severity of the problem and has taken no meaningful action. Additionally, the Cameroonian government has not been involved in any inclusive dialogue and negotiation leading to a prolonged and unresolved crisis.

One of the reasons for the prolonged crisis is the degenerated armed separatist groups, and an increasingly disorganized and competing collection of groups, making the possible ways to peace highly challenging. Before the 2016 crisis, the Federalists were the majority who demanded federal autonomy for the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. However, they were alienated by the prolonged crisis which paved the way for the rise of radical separatists who are demanding absolute and complete independence of the region. This split between the population in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon is one of the reasons which hinders peaceful talks and possible negotiation.

The Cameroon government granted a special status to the Northwest and Southwest regions in 2019, making the regional councils’ regional assemblies. However, the move failed to resolve the conflict as the government pushed the changes without consulting Anglophone leaders and separatists. After the special status provided by the government to the northwest and southwest regions to resolve the crisis went ineffective, it is evident that any efforts or negotiations to sustain it should be subjected to the popular will.

About the author

Jerry Franklin is a Postgraduate Scholar at Madras Christian College, Chennai.

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