Crisis in Anglophone Cameroon: It’s time to end the escalation
Published: 31 May 2018
By: Djibril Balde
The Anglophone crisis has plagued the north western and south western regions of Cameroon for more than a year and seems no closer to resolution. It has reportedly caused the deaths of at least 120 civilians and 43 members of the security forces. Since the end of 2016, and exacerbated since October 2017, the crisis has caused massive uprooting of the civilian population: as a result of the violence, 160,000 people fled their homes within Cameroon, and 34,000 have fled to Nigeria, according to the Nigerian authorities. The Cameroon government has continuously reinforced its security presence in the areas affected by the crisis. Fearing retaliation, many people fled to safer areas.
The problem dates back to the early post-colonial period however, this iteration of the crisis erupted in October 2016 with the successive claims of lawyers who launched a strike to denounce the “francophonisation” of the legal system in the English-speaking regions. Then, in November 2016, bloody clashes erupted in the streets of the city of Bamenda (North-West Region) between state security forces and English-speaking teachers demanding better living and working conditions. Students also complained of a lack of adequate school infrastructure and teachers. As they took the streets, they were joined by other dissatisfied people, demanding the independence of the Anglophone areas of Cameroon and denouncing their perceived marginalisation. These demonstrations were brutally repressed by the security forces.
Because of this crackdown, the secessionists have been able to drum up support amongst the Anglophone population and now, in the two English-speaking regions (the North-West and the South-West), a significant part of the English-speaking minority wants to separate from the majority of French-speaking Cameroon and complains of being marginalised by the central government.
Instead of managing this situation peacefully, the authorities preferred to use force. This has exacerbated tension. Militia groups now control limited territory in rural areas and have promised to disrupt the presidential, legislative and municipal elections scheduled before the end of 2018.
These perceptions have been further fuelled by rhetoric that is doing nothing to minimise tensions. For example, a message delivered by the President on 30 November 2017 in the South-West region has further fuelled displacement of populations. He announced a response to the “terrorists” responsible for killing of gendarmes, military and police, by promising all necessary measures to eliminate criminals and to ensure that peace and security are safeguarded all over the country. The president’s statements have caused panic among those people who fear retaliation by the security forces.
In addition, the Cameroonian government confirmed in a statement on 29 January 2018 the extradition of 47 activists from Nigeria, a flagrant violation of the principle of non-refoulement of asylum seekers. Some of these leaders were arrested in Nigeria during a meeting on the issue of Cameroonian Anglophone refugees who fled to Nigeria and they have since been in the hands of Cameroonian justice. For the time being, neither lawyers nor human rights organisations have had access to these individuals and many observers fear that, should they be brought to trial, they will not be able to benefit from a fair and equitable process.
With these continued actions and words by the government, the trajectory for Cameroon does not look good. However, there is still an opportunity for this latest crisis to be prevented from escalating further. To avoid a generalisation of violence all over the country and to mitigate tensions, it is urgent the government initiate a sincere dialogue with the English-speaking separatists to start to rebuild trust – and the liberation of activist leaders could be a first step to reduce tensions. And for any dialogue to be meaningful, the involvement in this process of the African Union, traditional leaders and civil society, including the church, is essential. This crisis is political so it is crucial to solve it politically, before it has time and reason to morph into something else.