Cameroon: From Peaceful Protests to War – the Evolution of Cameroon’s Anglophone Conflict

A separatist crisis that began five years ago in Anglophone Cameroon has spiraled into unmitigated violence. The UN says a humanitarian catastrophe is on the horizon — but the key players aren’t willing to compromise.

Over the past five years, the English-speaking regions of Cameroon have rapidly morphed into a war zone. Lives have been lost, properties have been destroyed, and the humanitarian crisis continues to intensify.

In its latest report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted the impact on education: “Since the beginning of the crisis in 2016, education has been highly affected. Many schools have closed to avoid frequent attacks against education facilities. Teachers and students have been attacked, kidnapped, threatened, and killed. In 2021, more than 700,000 children are deprived of education in the north-west and south-west regions.”

Felix Agbor Nkongho, a human rights lawyer who was a leading member of the now-outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), is disheartened by the ongoing crisis.

“The current state of affairs in the Anglophone regions is very sad,” he told DW. “It is very deplorable. It is frustrating.”

Though CACSC led the first wave of peaceful protests against the federal government’s marginalization of Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in 2016, Agbor Nkongho said violence was never part of the group’s agenda.

“Nobody had a crystal ball that could see the future,” he said. “By and large we didn’t foresee violence.”

Uncertain but peaceful beginnings

Agbor Nkongho said the initial measures to pressure the government — such as lockdowns and school boycotts — were only meant to last for a short while. He blames Yaounde for escalating the situation.

“[The measures] were just to draw attention to the international community to what we were going through as a people,” he said. “We were even planning to call off the school boycott before the consortium was outlawed.”

In the lead-up to the country’s Unification Day on October 1, the situation in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions remains uncertain. Speaking on behalf of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC), the movement’s deputy defense chief, Emmanuel Ndong, briefly explains the history behind their cause.

“British Southern Cameroons — that is being called today Ambazonia– gained its independence from the United Kingdom following the UN’s Resolution 1608, which terminated the British mandate to govern Southern Cameroons on the 1st of October, 1961,” Ndong told DW.

Agbor Nkongho said the government’s decision to mark Unification Day on this date was the “height of political hypocrisy.”

“[President Paul Biya] can take all of us by an ambush by declaring the 1st of October, a national holiday in Cameroon,” he said.

Civilians the victims of an unclear strategy

For Cameroonians directly affected by the conflict, talk of dates and history is meaningless.

“I think the government and separatists are playing with the lives of the local population they claim to protect,” Nfor Nkfu, an Anglophone taxi driver, told DW. “These parties involved in the ongoing crisis are protecting their interests. They are not protecting anyone.”

Nelson Tum, a history teacher, said the fighting between the separatists and the government had left him and many others distrustful of both sides.

“To say that I feel protected by both parties is completely out of place, because you do not know who can hurt you at any given moment,” he said.

Paul Nilong, from the Interim Government of Ambazonia, said the federal government sought to make “Ambazonia ungovernable — it’s all about destroying everything.”

“The most important part is the economic sabotage,” Deputy Defense Chief Ndong said.

The separatists, however, do not always agree on their own strategy, particularly when it comes to repeated lockdowns — something Ndong admits has damaged their cause.

“We think it is counterproductive to declare a 2-week lockdown of the territory which is going to impose additional hardship to our people that are already bearing the brunt of this war.”

But Nilong disagrees and believes the lockdown was needed to send a message to the government.

“The two-week lockdown was to tell Yaounde they are not in control.”

Government efforts not enough

Meanwhile, the government has been accused of not doing enough to stem the crisis.

Elvis Ngolle Ngolle, a member of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party who previously served in the government as Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, says Yaounde has been doing the best it can to end the violence.

“The government means well and has been doing a lot to try to put an end to the crisis and, in particular, to try to put an end to the armed conflict.” Ngolle Ngolle told DW.

From his experiences on the ground, history teacher Nelson Tum agrees that the government has tried to restore calm in the Anglophone regions, but says that their efforts still weren’t enough.

“The government has done a lot, but I will say it’s not enough to end the crisis,” he says. “During the holding of a major national dialogue, those we consider leaders of the Anglophone [regions] were not brought into the dialogue with the government.”

Ngolle Ngolle says the lack of progress on the part of the government has more to do with the “bad faith” of some individuals who seek to “benefit from the conflict.”

“Apparently, money flies around on both sides, and they seem to be benefiting from this money,” he explains.

No end in sight

According to the separatists, the government’s deployment of increasingly more sophisticated weapons means the conflict won’t end for them anytime soon.

“The IEDs have been modified so that they create a heavy impact and they will continue to until Yaounde gives up the fight,” says Paul Nilong.

Ndong says the separatists are even looking abroad to draw more international attention to their cause.

“We seek to destabilize the Gulf of Guinea and make sure the exploitation of resources in this area is stopped until the international community comes to the recognition that only [they are the only] people that can guarantee peace and stability,” he says. “It is no longer Cameroon and Nigeria but Biafra and Ambazonia.”

But Ngolle Ngolle says a political solution is much more preferable to a military option.

“I am not a military man,” he stresses. “I am one of those who believe that the political arm works, has worked and can work. I am one of those who believes dialogue should never stop.”

Hopes for the international community to act

Lawyer Agbor Nkongho believes the ultimate solution lies with the international community imposing travel bans and freezing the assets of those fuelling the conflict. But to him, any progress needs to start with honesty.

“Friends of Cameroon in the international community, should be honest with [President Paul] Biya and tell him that he cannot win the war,” Nkongho says.

He also warns that the separatists should not feel as though they are immune to justice.

“Non-state actors should also be made to understand that if you incite violence or commit crimes, you should be held accountable.”


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Author : DW

Publish date : 2021-10-02 05:43:20

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