#EndAnglophone is the current hashtag dominating Cameroon’s Social Media after many killings of both children and civilians throughout the country.
Over 3000 people have been killed since 2017, due to what some may call a civil war, between Anglophones (English-speaking Cameroonians) and Francophones.
Crisis Roots and Background
As Cameroon moved toward independence, the type of relationship that would be held between Cameroon and France was in question. A nationalist party, UPC, wanted to break completely away from France and establish a socialist economy. This party’s uprising and suppression of UPC by French officials eventually led to a civil war. Although this civil war is widely overlooked, it could help explain many of the civil crisis that Cameroon suffers from today.
Cameroon was granted independence on January 1, 1960. The semi-independent territories administered by Britain (British Southern Cameroon and British Northern Cameroon), had to decide, through a plebiscite (a direct vote of all members), to get their full independence by joining either Nigeria or French Cameroon. In 1961, The British Northern Cameroonians decided to join the Federation of Nigeria rather than join the newly independent Republic of Cameroon, while Southern English-speaking Cameroonians chose to join the French Republic of Cameroon. British Southern Cameroon and the Republic of Cameroon agreed on a two-state federation that would guarantee independent administration under a central federal authority.
The first elected president was Ahmadou Ahidjo under the Cameroon National Union (UNC). He vowed to build a capitalist economy and remain close to France against the UPC’s interests. Only six years after gaining independence, on May 20, 1972, Cameroon became an authoritarian single-party government under the UNC. As a unitary state the executive power became both increased and centralized, this allowed President Ahididjo the ability to merge the Southern Cameroons (Anglophone Cameroonians) with Francophone Cameroon to maintain access to France’s natural resources. After the constitutional referendum, some would describe the state as having an Orwellian like silence. Many people felt that it was a return to the appellation of French Cameroon before independence in 1960. The slightest liberation movement that may have placed a threat towards exposing human rights violations committed by the government was punished or even persecuted.
Cameroon’s Government Interjection
President Paul Biya has not been held to a strict requirement internationally overall. Many believe that more pressure should be placed on the Cameroonian government by their international partners such as the United States and the United Kingdom. The stripping of the benefits of being a part of various international groups from Cameroon is believed to force the Cameroonian government to come to a resolution of the Anglophone crisis quickly. The stripping of benefits may include placing economic and political sanctions on Cameroon such as travel bans and restrictions on access to services. International partners should also aid Cameroon’s government by partaking in a genuine national dialogue and help transform the governance archetype.
The lack of governance, in conjunction with the apartheid of the Anglophones, are just some of the reasons for the rapid need for change in government from autocratic to democratic rule.
Many believe that the crisis is due to the unmanageable historical animosity between Cameroon’s Anglophones and Francophones due to varying language. The crisis clearly goes beyond language, as Cameroon had no experienced direct conflict until 2016. It may be more so due to the resurgence of an old problem known as the Anglophone problem. The Anglophone problem is often described as the evolution of the “Anglophone’s awareness from the feeling of being marginalized, exploited and homogenized politically, economically and socially by the Francophone-dominated state and even the Francophone population in Cameroon.”
The Anglophone problem has been caused by various outright marginalization and discrimination against the Anglophones in Cameroon. For example, “Anglophones are marginalized and discriminated against in decision-making nationally, the region’s infrastructure; the exploitation of the region’s rich economic resources by successive Francophone administrations without much beneficiation to the local communities; and marginalization in human resource development.”
What began as peaceful protests and strikes by teachers, students, and lawyers in 2016 has now led to a huge conflict between the government and an armed separatist movement of the Anglophone region (English-speaking part of Cameroon) leaving civilians in the line of fire. The Anglophone crisis is continuing to grow in severity as it threatens the opportunity for national harmony and unification in Cameroon. After years of suffering and experiencing discrimination from the French-speaking government Cameroon has developed many separatist groups and movements; most people just want reforms. While many of Cameroon Anglophones’ are fighting for outright independence wishing to secede from Cameroon and form their independent state called Ambazonia.
The time leading up to the 2020 election was not safe. Civilians were not only experiencing voter suppression but also had to navigate the violence from both government and separatist groups. On December 22, 2019, Ayaba Cho Lucas, the leader of the Ambazonia Governing Council, a major separatist group, said that “anyone who sought to participate in or promote the elections would face consequences.” Armed separatists in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions kidnapped hundreds of people, burned down property, and threatened voters. Government forces also committed their own violations against them, rather than protecting civilians from these attacks. Between January 17 and 20, 2020, security forces carried out a military operation, destroying over 50 homes and killing several civilians. CPDM won 139 of the 167 seats, keeping its majority. Human rights abuses by armed separatists and government forces have been happening since the civil war crisis began in late 2016.
Overall, the Anglophone crisis has had a devastating impact on civilians. Many hundreds of thousands have been displaced due to the current state of the country and the immense violence throughout. Citizens have been forced to flee their homes and now lacking access to basic services such as water, food, education, and health care. Children have been killed, their education system has been affected, their media access limited, leaving their overall freedom to be limited. It is important to say that civilians have been directly targeted by both parties, government forces, and separatist fighters. Cameroonians are beginning to fight in various ways for change. They are working towards international interjections as well as fighting internally. The government will soon have to make changes to prevent many more deaths or uprisings.
Overall, I thought your article was a well-written and concise summary of the situation in Cameroon. I am studying Cameroon for my case study this semester, and I often find myself struck by not only how detrimental the Anglophone crisis has been to the people. What is more shocking is the relative lack of response from the Government and President Biya. While efforts to restabilize the country have been proposed, there has been little in the way of concrete change. As you mentioned, President Biya has historically not been held accountable by the international community, and I agree with you that more accountability is certainly necessary.
Where I am left questioning is I do not see any mechanisms that are maintained within the country to spearhead this accountability. Cameroon is a country that has seen the military used to counter civilian protests, the internet being shut down for over 100 days in times of unrest, and journalists arrested and killed in Cameroonian prisons. In addition, President Biya has been in power for almost 30 years and has altered the constitution so he can indefinitely run for reelection. We are certainly in agreement that something needs to change, but I wonder what your thoughts would be on the instability or potential negative reaction that might occur if other countries, such as the United Kingdom, were to involve themselves in the crisis in Cameroon. Considering the cause of this conflict is due to the aftermath of British Imperialism, it is possible that external influence, especially from Western nations, in Cameroon would incite more violence. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. In your opinion, what is the most viable way to hold the government accountable at this point?