The current conflict situation in Cameroon
Cameroon – a “microcosm of Africa” – is a country in Central Africa in which the most diverse cultures, forms of life, religions and languages meet among its 25 million inhabitants. The landscape of Cameroon is just as diverse – the mountains, the seashore and the desert show how clashing nature is. However, the question quickly arises: All these contrasts – are they the greatest strength of the Cameroon or do they lead to ever new conflicts of interest?
After the First World War, Cameroon was divided in 1919. France received a mandate to administer four fifths of the country and Great Britain obtained one to direct one fifth. After repeated revolts against the French colonial power, the French part gained its independence on January 1, 1960. Ahmadou Ahidjo was called up by the French government as Cameroon’s first president orienting his foreign policy primarily towards France. On October 1, 1961, the British part of Cameroon eventually gained its independence, too. But since the British occupiers refused to grant complete independence, the northern part of the British Mandate joined Nigeria, while the southern part decided to join the Republic of Cameroon.
Yet, Cameroon is still a divided state, the two parts – the former French part and the former northern British part – have never completely come together. While the francophone part is still oriented towards France, the anglophone part identifies with the Commonwealth. However, the anglophones and francophones are not homogeneous blocks either as interethnic conflicts exist within these groups. 80 percent of the Cameroonian population are French-speaking and only 20 percent English-speaking. Although not only French, but also English is recognized as the official language in Cameroon due to its past history, all official activities are done in French only. For example, all speeches of the current President Paul Biya are held in French, all laws are written in French, and all necessary administrative procedures must take place in French.
At present, Cameroon is in an exceptional situation. For a long time, the country had been a stable anchor in an unstable region – currently, it is dominated by two areas of conflict.
The approaching threat coming from Boko Haram
For years now, the northeastern part of Nigeria has been ruled by the terrorism of the Boko Haram organization, which claims to be fighting in the name of religion. For many years, Cameroon has been considered a refuge for Boko Haram, where the organization was tolerated by the Cameroon authorities in the sense of an unspoken mutual non-aggression pact. Since 2013, however, the organization has extended its attacks to the Cameroon itself.
In May 2014, the confrontations increased when Cameroon’s President Paul Biya formally declared war on the organization. On the border with Nigeria, attacks and military confrontations increased. At the beginning of 2015, more than 80 villagers from the Mokolo region were kidnapped and their villages completely destroyed by Boko Haram. In July of the same year, there was a suicide attack in Fotokol and within a week two more attacks took place in Maroua. The interior of the Cameroon – the capital of the Cameroonian region Extrême-Nord – thereby became a target of the attacks for the first time. By the end of 2015, at least 23 more suicide attacks had been carried out – most of them by children – resulting in more than 150 deaths.
Since then, the increasing recruitment of new members in Cameroon has been worrying. A particular problem is that the people are by no means forced by Boko Haram to participate in the organization. Rather, financial and social incentives or religious-ideological views lead to more and more people joining the terrorist organization. Young people without prospects get an opportunity for employment, income and social recognition – currently out of reach in everyday life in Cameroon.
Although the international perception of crisis is currently focusing on the conflict in the anglophone region of Cameroon, the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram continues its suicide attacks in the north of the country claiming numerous civilian victims. The attacks have led and continue to lead to increasing destabilization of the northern regions. In the medium term, the activities of the terrorist organization will determine Cameroon’s domestic and security policy. This poses an enormous challenge for the state, because the political and structural situation of Cameroon appears to be very uncertain – which makes the state even more susceptible to conflict. But are the abilities of Cameroon’s government and society sufficient to master this dual challenge?
The economic situation in Cameroon is worsening. Since about 80 percent of all consumer goods in the north are imported from Nigeria, border closures and other restrictions as a result of border attacks have a negative impact on trade. As a result, Cameroon is stagnating not only socially but also economically despite its wealth of resources.
The “Republic of Ambazonia”
Again and again, the inequality between the anglophone and the francophone parts of Cameroon has been the trigger for burgeoning conflicts within society. Other triggers and exacerbators of conflict are corruption and state failure, especially with regard to the education and health systems. However, these are not discussed further within the present article. Already after the reunification, the anglophone part began to strive for autonomy, which has intensified since 1990. As a result, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) was founded in 1995, advocating the separation of the English-speaking part from Cameroon and the establishment of an independent “Republic of Ambazonia”.
Due to the disdain and persistent neglect by the government, there are increased protests and dissatisfaction among the young anglophone population in particular. In 2005, English-speaking students protested at universities for better study conditions and against discrimination against English-speaking students. The lack of prospects for young people and their anger at inequality led to further protests in Douala, Yaoundé and other cities in western Cameroon in 2008.
In 2016, peaceful protests by lawyers and teachers took place in the English-speaking part demanding more recognition of the English language and culture. In response to this, the government sent the military which brutally suppressed these protests. At the beginning of 2017, the internet in the anglophone region had been blocked for over 90 days – an essential intervention in the everyday lives of many Cameroonians who depend on internet access for everyday activities such as money transfers. As a result, the separatists also took up arms. Since then, the government and the separatists – the so-called “Amba Boys” – have outbid each other in their acts of violence, which often affect the civilian population. Entire villages have already been burned down, thousands of people killed, and about 300,000 people have fled the country so far. The civilian population does not know how to behave: Those who support the school boycott as teachers are punished by the government whereas those who resume teaching are attacked by the separatists.
In November 2018, when over 70 pupils were kidnapped by armed men in Bamenda, Paul Biya accused the separatists of this act and described their movement as a “terrorist gang” – the justification for even tougher actions against the protests. Fortunately, in the middle of November, all the abductees were free again. So far only the terrorist organization Boko Haram had resorted to such means. Does this result in a whole new dimension of the conflict between the government and the separatists?
However, not only the English-speaking population protests. There are also demonstrations in the francophone part of Cameroon against a possible secession. Beyond the structural conditions, the current political situation is particularly contributing to an increased crisis potential. President Paul Biya, who has ruled since 1982, leaves the population in complete uncertainty about his successor and the future of the country in terms of personnel and institutions.
The formerly comparatively stable Cameroon is currently in a difficult situation of increasing conflict, economic stagnation, and increasing political uncertainty. Cameroon is weakened by the constant threat of Boko Haram as well as recurrent conflicts of interest between the anglophone and French-speaking sections of the population since the state is incapable of using its variety as a strength.
Documentations of the BBC available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ct_SLnAGDuM.
Tull, Denis M. (2015): Kamerun und Boko Haram, SWP-Aktuell 76 August 2015, available at: https://www.swp-berlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/aktuell/2015A76_tll.pdf.