GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 689, 1 June 2023

Cameroon: Anglophone, Francophone and a Separatist Insurgency
Jerry Franklin

In the news
On 24 May, separatists in Cameroon's Northwest region kidnapped around 30 women in Big Babanki, a village near the Nigerian border. According to BBC report, the women were abducted for allegedly protesting against a curfew and taxes imposed by the separatists. 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. The Cameroonian military reported that they deployed troops to free the women. 

Issues at large
First, long-standing clashes between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians. The difference 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 Anglophone 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. 

Second, the separatist insurgency. The historical marginalization led to calls for separatist movements. Many 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 violent, killing, kidnapping, and terrorizing populations while steadily asserting control over large parts of the Anglophone regions. On 1 May, 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. 

Third, increasing violence and violations. The conflict between the government forces and armed separatist fighters has killed more than 6,000 people. The UN has been denouncing the government forces of committing “unlawful killings and widespread sexual and gender-based violence, burning Anglophone villages, and carrying out arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment.” The separatists enforced a boycott on education that deprived children of their fundamental right to education. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 628,000 people have been internally displaced.

Fourth, the inability of the government to resolve the issue. The government of Cameroon continues to deny the severity of the crisis, and has not taken any meaningful action. It 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. 

In perspective
Anglophone grievances run deep and have remained unaddressed for a long time. According to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the current crisis, which began as a political dispute, has evolved into a "multifaceted security crisis and humanitarian catastrophe." 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. 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.

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