The Boko Haram insurgency is on the wane in the Lake Chad basin but continues to carry out attacks against civilian and military targets in Cameroon’s Far North. The war has killed 2,000 Cameroonians, displaced 170,000 and triggered the rise of vigilante self-defence groups. Meanwhile, Cameroon’s Anglophone region has experienced violent flare-ups as the central government represses dissent over the perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority. Crisis Group aims to reduce conflict risks in the Far North and to promote confidence-building measures and better governance to defuse the Anglophone crisis. Through field research led by our analyst and advocacy with the government as well as with national and international stakeholders, we work to increase the likelihood of peaceful presidential elections in October 2018.
Cameroon went to the polls on 7 October amid several crises, notably the conflict between the government and Anglophone separatists. Crisis Group’s expert Hans De Marie Heungoup, in Cameroon during the vote, says it has compounded the country’s problems but also offered reason for hope.
Opposition’s rejection of President Biya’s win in 7 Oct presidential poll citing fraud further intensified political polarisation and intercommunal antagonism, as violence continued in Anglophone areas and Boko Haram continued attacks in Far North. Opposition candidate Akere Muna 5 Oct withdrew from race and joined Maurice Kamto’s party, but electoral commission refused to pull his ballot papers citing lack of legal guidance. Vote took place largely peacefully 7 Oct, but Anglophones’ mass boycott saw official turnout of 5.36% in Northwest and 15.94% in Southwest. Kamto 8 Oct proclaimed himself winner, raising tensions between his ethnic Bamileke and Biya’s Beti. Citing lack of evidence Constitutional Council rejected opposition’s eighteen petitions denouncing fraud and demanding annulment of some or all votes. Security forces 21 Oct blocked planned opposition protest, briefly arresting supporters. Constitutional Council 22 Oct announced Biya winner with 71.28%, Kamto second with 14.23%; Kamto rejected results and again claimed victory. U.S., UK and African Union (AU) accepted results but urged reform. Kamto 24 Oct released plan to contest results with protests in Cameroon and at embassies in Europe and U.S.. Kamto’s supporters 27-28 Oct staged small-scale protests in Douala and capital Yaoundé; authorities 27 Oct briefly detained Kamto’s lawyer and dozens of protesters. Presidential candidate Cabral Libii, officially placed third, 29 Oct claimed he had won, said he would petition AU and UN. In Anglophone regions, military reinforcements as well as govt and separatists’ restrictions on movement and public gatherings kept violence down on national day 1 Oct and during presidential poll. Separatists raised flag of self-proclaimed Anglophone state Ambazonia in several places 1 Oct. In response, military burnt many houses in Ekona and Maumu in Southwest. On voting day, separatists attacked security forces around polling station in Bamunka-Ndop and exchanged fire with military in Bamenda, both Northwest, at least three separatists killed. After elections, military launched operations focused on Baba 2, Northwest and on Ekombe-Mundongo axis, Southwest, killing over ten separatists. Suspected Anglophones attacked school in Penda-Mboko, Littoral region 29 Oct. U.S. missionary killed between Bambili and Bamenda, Northwest 30 Oct during exchange of fire between separatists and military. In Far North, Boko Haram killed two people in Doublé, Mayo-Sava department 5 Oct; abducted eight women and one child in Vourkaza, Mayo-Moskota department 21 Oct; killed two people in Amchidé, Mayo-Sava 25 Oct.
Le risque de violences autour du scrutin du 7 octobre est élevé dans les régions anglophones mais existe aussi ailleurs. Le gouvernement devrait lutter contre la montée des antagonismes communautaires dans tout le pays et parvenir à un cessez-le-feu, au moins temporaire, avec les groupes armés anglophones.
Le gouvernement camerounais devrait chercher à encourager les redditions de membres camerounais de Boko Haram. Des travaux communautaires, des confessions publiques, des cérémonies symboliques et des formations professionnelles peuvent permettre la réinsertion de ceux qui ne constituent pas un danger. Le gouvernement doit aussi préparer la démobilisation de certains comités de vigilance.
The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon is growing deadlier. The Catholic Church could mediate between Anglophone militants and the state, but clergy have espoused clashing views on key issues. The Church should heal its divides so as to be a neutral arbiter that can broker peace.
La lutte contre Boko Haram dans l’Extrême-Nord du Cameroun, la région la plus pauvre du pays, a exacerbé la situation économique déjà précaire et bousculé les rôles socioéconomiques. Le gouvernement et les partenaires internationaux devront mettre en œuvre des politiques de développement qui tiennent compte des stratégies d’adaptation et de résilience des populations aux nouvelles réalités économiques.
Against a backdrop of bomb blasts, sporadic violence and repressive state measures, Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis has entered a new and intensified phase. In order to prevent the outbreak of an armed uprising, Cameroon’s president must go beyond superficial measures by urgently implementing key reforms and pursuing inclusive, high-level dialogue mediated by the UN or African Union.
Since October 2016, protests and strikes related to sectoral demands have escalated into a crisis over the economic and political marginalisation of Cameroon’s Anglophone minority. Although the government has made some concessions, it must rebuild mutual trust with Anglophone actors in order to avoid instability ahead of the 2018 general elections.
We are not yet in a civil war [in Cameroon], but all the ingredients for a potential civil war are already assembled.
The main issue for Ambazonian groups [in Cameroon] is that they really lack finance. If they had money to buy weapons, train and feed their people, they could raise an army.
With the troubles in [Cameroon's] Anglophone regions and the persistent threat from Boko Haram, the 2018 elections will be a greater challenge than previous votes.
[Cameroon's President Biya] should quickly initiate a political dialogue on federalism or decentralisation or it’s possible that the Anglophone side will be radicalised even further.
Cameroon is heading into elections against a volatile political and security backdrop. Palpable political tension, instability in the English-speaking regions and attacks by Boko Haram [persist].
There’s a real risk of rebellion [in Cameroon] that could make the Anglophone regions ungovernable. [...] The Anglophone crisis calls the foundations of the Cameroonian state into question.
In March 2018, Crisis Group’s Giustra Fellow, Tanda Theophilus, travelled for four weeks to the cities of Buea and Douala, which are at the heart of the Anglophone crisis that pits separatists against the government of Cameroon. He gauged the atmosphere in the Anglophone Southwest and Francophone Littoral regions ahead of the October presidential election.
Ce dimanche 20 mai le Cameroun célèbre sa fête nationale qui marque l'unité entre le Cameroun francophone et le Cameroun anglophone. Quarante-six ans plus tard, le pays est plus que jamais divisé.
Originally published in Jeune Afrique