HomepoliticsVIOLENCE IN ANGLOPHONE CAMEROON: A NEW HIDDEN WAR ?
VIOLENCE IN ANGLOPHONE CAMEROON: A NEW HIDDEN WAR. Text of the French newspaper liberation of May 24, 2018
The crisis in the south-west and north-west of the country has turned into an armed conflict in the last two years. France and the EU should invest to facilitate a political dialogue and a ceasefire before it degenerates into a civil war.
On May 20, Cameroon celebrated the 46th edition of the National Unity Day, on the back of clashes between separatist militias and defense forces in the English-speaking regions (South-West and North-West). The crisis that has been going on for almost two years has turned into an armed conflict. Its record is difficult to draw, but hundreds of people have reportedly died in a year, 160,000 are displaced and 35,000 are refugees in neighboring Nigeria. The “Ambazonian” militias, defending the independence of this former territory under British trusteeship (1918-1961), target the representatives of the State, mainly the security and defense forces, but also the governors, prefects, sub-prefects, teachers . In addition there are acts of violence against civilians. In retaliation, the army of the “Republic” as the “Amba boys” designate, burned whole villages.
This war is held in camera, none of the protagonists wishing to make public its actions. Before the violence spreads to the urban centers and spreads over the rest of the country, it is necessary that the international community, and in particular France, encourage the Cameroonian government to dialogue, which it has refused until now.
How did we come to such violence in this country known for its ethnic mosaic and its taste for peace? The intransigence of the Cameroonian power in front of limited and sectoral demands of departure, seems for many. Starting in October 2016, teachers ‘unions and lawyers’ groups demanded that the government respect the specificity of English-language education and the common law, both of which came from British colonization. The idea of a greater autonomy of these professional bodies but also of a more pronounced liberal culture in these regions has served as a common denominator for demands since the 80s, facing a centralizing and authoritarian state. The end of federalism (1972) and the arrogant domination of Francophones vis-à-vis the English-speaking minority, especially within an all-powerful administration, led some intellectual elites but also ordinary citizens to defend their singularity within the national community.
This time, however, the refusal of Yaoundé, the capital, to respond substantially to their demands and especially the closure of the main leaders of the mobilization has aggravated the conflict. After the Internet shutdown between January and April 2017, and the peak of international attention it has caused, the situation has not improved, on the contrary. The usual “divide and rule” tactics, but also the capture of the leaders of an “interim government” who went into exile in Abuja and their secret transfer to Yaoundé radicalized some of the contending fringes. Thus, for want of local leaders, it is now those in the diaspora who have taken control of the demands, giving them a turn at the same time independence, when their predecessors advocated a return to federalism, and violence.
From the United States, Europe, South Africa or Nigeria, and through social networks, these leaders now lead armed militias, providing funding collected within the diaspora and benefiting from porosity. from the border with Nigeria. The people, who depend heavily on money transfers from this diaspora, are caught in a bind. On the one hand, the separatists order them not to send the children to school for almost two years and not to open their shops on Mondays. On the other hand, the administrative authorities have for a year imposed a state of emergency, asking the villagers to leave, at the same time as the military brutalize civilians and burn villages. The situation is becoming untenable, for these populations, for the international community, which is the witness of daily abuses, as for the government, supposed to organize elections (presidential, legislative and local) by the end of the year and a African Cup of Football in 2019.
The government remains fiercely opposed to any political dialogue. Who can then mediate in this conflict where each side uses and abuses the term “terrorist” to disqualify the other, preventing any possibility of peaceful resolution? The Catholic Church is trying to make itself heard, but one of its highest representations, the archdiocese of Douala, was targeted a fortnight ago by shots whose authors are unknown. Human rights NGOs, both local and international, are banned from entering the area. The media are caught in a vice. It is therefore necessary today that the diplomatic actors, including France, who have every interest in the return of peace, take their responsibilities and try to initiate a mediation. France, a major bilateral partner of Cameroon, should adopt a stronger attitude towards President Paul Biya, to encourage dialogue on governance reform and improving decentralization, or even the introduction of a form of federalism or regionalism.
The involvement of France is important because many people in English-speaking Cameroon think that it is the former metropolis of “the Republic” that supports President Biya in this conflict and that would block the initiatives of the international community. These perceptions, true or false, contribute to accentuate the anti-French feeling, very strong in normal times and exacerbated in English-speaking regions at the moment, where France nevertheless has significant economic interests. That is why France should weigh all her weight, including by associating the European Union, for a cease-fire to be declared and for a genuine inclusive dialogue to begin. This would enable Cameroon to avoid a civil war and France to better position itself with Cameroonian public opinion and defend more intelligently its economic and political interests in the long term.