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Anti-government demonstrators block a road in Bamenda, Cameroon, on 8 December 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
Report 250 / Africa

Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis at the Crossroads

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.

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Executive Summary

The Anglophones of Cameroon, 20 per cent of the population, feel marginalised. Their frustrations surfaced dramatically at the end of 2016 when a series of sectoral grievances morphed into political demands, leading to strikes and riots. The movement grew to the point where the government’s repressive approach was no longer sufficient to calm the situation, forcing it to negotiate with Anglophone trade unions and make some concessions. Popular mobilisation is now weakening, but the majority of Anglophones are far from happy. Having lived through three months with no internet, six months of general strikes and one school year lost, many are now demanding federalism or secession. Ahead of presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem could bring instability. The government, with the support of the international community, should quickly take measures to calm the situation, with the aim of rebuilding trust and getting back to dialogue.

Generally little understood by Francophones, the Anglophone problem dates back to the independence period. A poorly conducted re-unification, based on centralisation and assimilation, has led the Anglophone minority to feel politically and economically marginalised, and that their cultural difference are ignored.

Never before has tension around the Anglophone issue been so acute.

The current crisis is a particularly worrying resurgence of an old problem. Never before has tension around the Anglophone issue been so acute. The mobilisation of lawyers, teachers and students starting in October 2016, ignored then put down by the government, has revived identity-based movements which date back to the 1970s. These movements are demanding a return to the federal model that existed from 1961 to 1972. Trust between Anglophone activists and the government has been undermined by the arrest of the movement’s leading figures and the cutting of the internet, both in January. Since then, the two Anglophone regions have lived through general strikes, school boycotts and sporadic violence.

Small secessionist groups have emerged since January. They are taking advantage of the situation to radicalise the population with support from part of the Anglophone diaspora. While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.

The government has taken several measures since March – creating a National Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism; creating new benches for Common Law at the Supreme Court and new departments at the National School of Administration and Magistracy; recruiting Anglophone magistrates and 1,000 bilingual teachers; and turning the internet back on after a 92-day cut. But the leaders of the Anglophone movement have seen these measures as too little too late.

International reaction has been muted, but has nevertheless pushed the government to adopt the measures described above. The regime in Yaoundé seems more sensitive to international than to national pressure. Without firm, persistent and coordinated pressure from its international partners, it is unlikely that the government will seek lasting solutions.

The Anglophone crisis is in part a classic problem of a minority, which has swung between a desire for integration and a desire for autonomy, and in part a more structural governance problem. It shows the limits of centralised national power and the ineffectiveness of the decentralisation program started in 1996. The weak legitimacy of most of the Anglophone elites in their region, under-development, tensions between generations, and patrimonialism are ills common to the whole country. But the combination of bad governance and an identity issue could be particularly tough to resolve.

Dealing with the Anglophone problem requires a firmer international reaction and to rebuild trust through coherent measures that respond to the sectoral demands of striking teachers and lawyers. There is some urgency: the crisis risks undermining the approaching elections. In that context, several steps should be taken without delay:

  • The president of the republic should publicly recognise the problem and speak out to calm tensions.
  • The leaders of the Anglophone movement should be provisionally released.
  • Members of the security forces who have committed abuses should be sanctioned.
  • The government should quickly put in place the measures announced in March 2017, and the 21 points agreed on with unions in January.
  • The government and senior administration should be re-organised to better reflect the demographic, political and historical importance of the Anglophones, and to include younger and more legitimate members of the Anglophones community.
  • The National Commission on Bilingualism and multiculturalism should be restructured to include an equal number of Anglophones as Francophones, to guarantee the independence of its members and to give it powers to impose sanctions.
  • The government should desist from criminalising the political debate on Anglophone Cameroon, including on federalism, in particular by ceasing to use the anti-terrorism law for political ends and by considering recourse to a third party (the church or international partner) as a mediator between the government and Anglophone organisations.

In the longer term, Cameroon must undertake institutional reforms to remedy the deeper problems of which the Anglophone issue is the symptom. In particular, decentralisation laws should be rigorously applied, and improved, to reduce the powers of officials nominated by Yaoundé, create regional councils, and better distribute financial resources and powers. Finally, it is important to take legal measures specific to Anglophone regions in the areas of education, justice and culture.

Cameroon, facing Boko Haram in the Far North and militia from the Central African Republic in the East, needs to avoid another potentially destabilising front opening up. If the Anglophone problem got worse it would disrupt the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2018. Above all, it could spark off further demands throughout the country and lead to a wider political crisis.

Nairobi/Brussels, 2 August 2017

I. Introduction

Since October 2016, protests around sectoral demands have degenerated into a political crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. This crisis has led to the re-emergence of the Anglophone question and highlighted the limits of the Cameroonian governance model, based on centralisation and co-optation of elites.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°160, Cameroon: Fragile State?, 25 May 2010; Piet Konings, Francis Bernard Nyamnjoh, Negotiating an Anglophone Identity (Leiden, 2003).Hide Footnote

The Anglophone area consists of two of the country’s ten regions, the Northwest and the Southwest. It covers 16,364 sq km of the country’s total area of 475,442 sq km and has about 5 million of Cameroon’s 24 million inhabitants. It is the stronghold of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and plays an important role in the economy, especially its dynamic agricultural and commercial sectors. Most of Cameroon’s oil, which accounts for one twelfth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), is located off the coast of the Anglophone region.[fn]The oil is in national waters, but Anglophone activists stress that if Anglophone Cameroon were independent, the oil would belong to it, and even in a federal system, a redistribution of profits to the benefit of the region could be on the agenda. “Annuaire statistique du Cameroun”, Institut national de la statistique (INS), 2015, p. 383.Hide Footnote

The politicisation of the crisis and the radicalisation of its protagonists is mainly due to the government’s response (denial, disregard, intimidation and repression), the diminishing trust between the Anglophone population and the government and the exploitation of the identity question by political actors who have aggravated the population’s resentment to the point that probably most Anglophones now see a return to federalism or even secession as the only feasible ways out of the crisis.[fn]Almost all Crisis Group’s Anglophone interlocutors support federalism or regional autonomy. A minority favours secession. Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone elite and population, Northwest and Southwest regions, 2016-2017.Hide Footnote

What is the Anglophone crisis about? Who are the protagonists? How is it perceived by Francophones? What is the government’s response? How has the international community reacted? What role are the Anglophone diaspora and religious actors playing? In order to reply to these questions, Crisis Group has relied on documentary research and conducted around a hundred interviews during several visits to the Anglophone regions, Yaoundé and Douala, between December 2016 and May 2017. The report analyses the structural factors that caused the crisis in the Anglophone regions, the strategies and motivations of the actors, and the political and economic consequences. It formulates recommendations aimed at breaking the deadlock and rebuilding trust, with a view to facilitating a genuine dialogue and identifying sustainable solutions.

II. The Roots of the Anglophone Problem: Colonial Legacy and Failure of the Centralised Model

A. The Colonial Legacy

The German government and the traditional Douala chiefs signed a treaty in July 1884, establishing a protectorate called Kamerun. Its territories were shared out after the German defeat at the end of the First World War. The League of Nations appointed France and the UK as joint trustees of Kamerun. The Anglophone problem and a number of other weaknesses in present-day Cameroon have their roots in the colonial period.

During the period of the mandate and the trusteeship, each colonial power shaped their territories in their own image.[fn]Although France and the UK treated Cameroon as a colony, it was legally in fact an administered territory. Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant of 28 June 1919 states that the international “mandate” status applied to “colonies and territories” that, as a consequence of the war, had “ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them” and that “are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves”. The regime of “trusteeship”, introduced in 1945 by the newly created UN, granted more rights to former colonies and territories and was consistent with the UN’s wish to gradually end colonisation.Hide Footnote This resulted in major differences in political culture. English was the official language in the territory under British administration. The justice system (Common Law), the education system, the currency and social norms followed the British model. The system of indirect rule allowed traditional chiefdoms to remain in place and promoted the emergence of a form of self-government to the extent that freedom of the press, political pluralism and democratic change in power existed in Anglophone Cameroon prior to independence. The territory was administered as though it were part of Nigeria and several members of British Cameroon’s Anglophone elite were ministers in the Nigerian government in the 1950s.

In contrast, the Francophone territory was directly administered by France following the assimilationist model, although colonisers and the traditional elites also practised a form of indirect government, especially in the north of the country. French was spoken and France’s social, legal and political norms shaped the centralist political system of successive regimes. Bogged down in a total war against the nationalist movement (Union des populations du Cameroun – UPC), which challenged French presence, the Francophone territory was less democratic.[fn]From 1955 to 1971, between 30,000 and 150,000 were killed in the war of independence in Cameroon and the insurrection that followed and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. Thomas Deltombe, Manuel Domergue and Jacob Tatsitsa, Kamerun! Une guerre cachée aux origines de la Françafrique, 1948-1971 (Paris, 2011); Meredith Teretta, Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence. Nationalism, Grassfields Tradition, and State Building in Cameroon (Athens, 2013).Hide Footnote

B. Independences and Reunification: Different Dreams in the Same Bed

The process leading to the reunification of the two Cameroons is at the heart of the Anglophone problem. The Francophone territory gained independence on 1 January 1960, becoming the Republic of Cameroon. The British territory comprised Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroon. In the referendum held on 11 February 1961, Northern Cameroon chose to join Nigeria and Southern Cameroons chose to join the Republic of Cameroon. Southern Cameroons became independent on 1 October 1961 when it joined the Republic of Cameroon.

At the time of the 1961 referendum, the political landscape in Southern Cameroons was already dynamic.[fn]Joseph Ebune, The Growth of Political Parties in Southern Cameroons 1916-1960 (Yaoundé, 1992).Hide Footnote  According to reputed historians, the majority of the population aspired to independence. But the UK and some developing countries were against it on the grounds that Southern Cameroons would not be economically viable and that it was best to avoid the creation of micro-states. They advocated a vote in favour of joining Nigeria. The UN therefore excluded the independence option and limited the referendum to a choice between joining Nigeria and reunification with the Republic of Cameroon.

The main figures among the Anglophone political elites, Emmanuel Mbella Lifafa Endeley, John Ngu Foncha, Solomon Tandeng Muna and Agustine Ngom Jua, pleaded at the UN for an independent state of Southern Cameroons, or alternatively for temporary independence during which time it would negotiate the terms of unification from a better position. The UN’s rejection of the independence option left two opposing camps during the referendum. Endeley, the leader of the Kamerun National Congress (KNC), campaigned in favour of joining Nigeria. Foncha, the leader of the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP), who left the KNC in 1955, Muna and Jua campaigned in favour of reunification with the Republic of Cameroon. Influenced by these prominent political leaders and by a certain fear of being absorbed by the Nigerian giant, the vote went in favour of reunification.[fn]Anthony Ndi, Southern West Cameroon Revisited 1950-1972 (Buea, 2014).Hide Footnote

Even today, the failure to keep the promises made at the Foumban conference [...] is among the grievances of Anglophone militants.

Representatives of Southern Cameroons and the president of the Republic of Cameroon, Amadou Ahidjo, met at Foumban in the west of Francophone territory from 17 until 21 July 1961 to negotiate the terms of reunification. Even today, the failure to keep the promises made at the Foumban conference, which did not produce a written agreement, is among the grievances of Anglophone militants. The Anglophone representatives thought they were participating in a constituent assembly that would draft a constitution guaranteeing an egalitarian federalism and a large degree of autonomy to federated states,[fn]Crisis Group interviews, university academics and researchers, Buea and Limbé, March 2017. Piet Konings, “The Anglophone Problem in Cameroon”, The Journal of Modern and African Studies, vol. 35, no. 2 (1997), pp. 207-229.Hide Footnote but Ahidjo imposed a ready-made constitution that gave broad powers to the executive of the federal state to the detriment of the two federated states (West Cameroon and East Cameroon).[fn]The Anglophone territory was called West Cameroon and the Francophone territory was called East Cameroon. The federal president appointed the prime ministers of the federated states. However, in the Anglophone part, until 1968, this appointment only validated the prior election of the prime minister by the parliament of West Cameroon.Hide Footnote The Anglophones, who were in a weak position, accepted Ahidjo’s constitution and only obtained a blocking minority by way of concession.[fn]The blocking minority means that laws applying to the two federations can only be adopted by the federal assembly if a majority of deputies in both federated states vote for them. Article 47 of the constitution of 1 September 1961.Hide Footnote

The National Assembly of the Republic of Cameroon approved the federal constitution in August 1961 and Ahidjo promulgated it on 1 September, while Southern Cameroons was still under British trusteeship. The constitutional process for reunification and abandonment by the British left Anglophones with the impression of having been deceived by the Francophones, and also explains the bitterness of Anglophone militants toward the UK.[fn]Carlson Anyangwe, Betrayal of Too Trusting a People. The UN, the UK and the Trust Territory of the Southern Cameroons (Buea, 2009).Hide Footnote

C. The Centralist Model and the Emergence of Anglophone Grievances

Since 1961, unification and centralisation have been the political dogmas of the Ahidjo (1960-1982) and Paul Biya (1982-) regimes. After reunification on 1 October 1961, Cameroon became a federal republic, but in practice inherited a shaky federalism with an unequal distribution of power between the two federated states in the federal assembly and in the government.

Amadou Ahidjo was the federal president and John Ngu Foncha was both vice president of the country and prime minister of West Cameroon, in line with the constitutional provision according to which the vice president must be from West Cameroon if the federal president comes from East Cameroon, and vice versa. At the time of reunification, Ahidjo already had a near political monopoly in East Cameroon. Only West Cameroon represented a serious obstacle to his hegemonic ambitions. In 1961, he set about bringing West Cameroon under control through a mixture of repression and exploitation of divisions among Anglophones.[fn]Jean-François Bayart, L’Etat au Cameroun (Paris, 1985); Nicodemus Fru Awasom, “Anglo-saxonism and Gallicism in Nation Building in Africa: The Case of Bilingual Cameroon and the Senegambia Confederation in Historical and Contemporary Perspective”, Afrika Zamani, nos. 11 and 12 (2003-2004), pp. 86-118.Hide Footnote At the federal level, despite the constitutional guarantee that English and French would both be official languages, French was the administration’s language of preference.

On 20 October 1961, Ahidjo signed a decree reorganising federal territory into six administrative regions, including West Cameroon, and appointed a federal inspector for each region, who was to report to the federal president. That provoked discontent among Anglophones, because West Cameroon could not at the same time be a federated state according to the constitution and an administrative region by decree. The federal inspector had more power than the elected prime minister of West Cameroon and showed it on a daily basis by humiliating members of the federated government and parliament.[fn]Gendarmes under the authority of the federal inspector often set up road checks or summoned members of the West Cameroon government and parliament simply to affirm their power. Konings, Nyamnjoh, Negotiating an Anglophone Identity, op. cit., p. 53. “Rectification of certain matters tending to hinder the smooth and effective functioning of the federal Republic”, secret letter from John Ngu Foncha to Amadou Ahidjo, 4 October 1962.Hide Footnote

With the war against the UPC still at its height in East Cameroon, the arbitrary arrest and detention of opponents and trade unionists accused of subversion became common.

In 1962, Ahidjo signed several orders limiting public freedoms. With the war against the UPC still at its height in East Cameroon, the arbitrary arrest and detention of opponents and trade unionists accused of subversion became common. Although these arrests took place mainly in the Francophone part of the country, Anglophone leaders became concerned about the repressive direction that the federal executive was taking.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics, Buea, March 2017.Hide Footnote Other measures, such as the introduction of driving on the right-hand side of the road, the imposition of the metric system and the FCFA as currency took place during the 1960s. The change in currency entailed a reduction in the purchasing power of the Anglophone population by at least 10 per cent. Ahidjo also demanded that West Cameroon cut all links with the UK with the result that it lost several export duty advantages afforded to Commonwealth countries.[fn]This reduction was in part due to the exchange rate imposed by Ahidjo, who set it at £1 to FCFA692, even though £1 was in fact worth FCFA800. Crisis Group interviews, members of the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, Yaoundé and Buea, March 2017; confidential letter from Foncha to Ahidjo, 14 September 1963, seen by Crisis Group.Hide Footnote

The federated states did not have financial autonomy and depended on grants from the federal state. Understanding where the real power was located, the Anglophone elites competed with each other for positions in the federal government, spending more time trying to please Ahidjo than defending the Anglophone population. Ahidjo took advantage and manipulated the rivalries among the elites and the ethnic and cultural divisions between Grassfields in the north, which had cultural and linguistic links with the Bamilékés of the west Francophone region, and the Sawa in the south, who had cultural and linguistic links with the Francophone coast.[fn]Rivalries between the two regions go back a long way. Natives of the Southwest, such as the Bakweris, feel they have been invaded and economically and politically marginalised by people from the Northwest who settled there from the 1960s onwards.Hide Footnote The result was political chaos in West Cameroon, including a split between Foncha and Muna, who left the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) in 1965 to form the Cameroon United Congress (CUC).[fn]Martin Zachary Njeuma, “Reunification and Political Opportunity in the Making of Cameroon’s Independence”, Paideuma, no. 41 (1995), pp. 27-37.Hide Footnote

In 1965, in order to further weaken Foncha, who he believed to be less accommodating on the Anglophone question, Ahidjo tried to use his constitutional powers to appoint Muna as prime minister rather than Ngom Jua, Foncha’s heir apparent in the KNDP, the majority party in the West Cameroon parliament. He was unsuccessful in this because of strong opposition from the federated parliament. But one year later, taking advantage of divisions among the Anglophones, Ahidjo called for the creation of a single party in the two Cameroons, in the name of national unity. Strengthened by the support of some Anglophone leaders, such as Endeley and Muna, who saw an opportunity to dethrone Foncha, he succeeded in his objective. The Cameroon National Union (CNU) was formed in 1966 and the other parties were dissolved. Foncha, Jua and Bernard Fonlon (assistant general secretary at the presidency) were initially opposed but changed their views for fear of losing their positions in the federal government. The single party resulted in the Anglophones losing all their institutional leverage to plead their cause. In 1968, Ahidjo was able to appoint his new ally, Muna, as prime minister, replacing Jua.

Once the single party was formed, Ahidjo intensified centralisation, going so far as to suppress federalism on 20 May 1972, when Cameroon became the United Republic of Cameroon, following a referendum. Anglophones continued to challenge the legality of this change on the grounds that the 1961 constitution did not provide for any alteration in the form of state and stipulated that only parliament could amend the constitution.[fn]Article 47 of the constitution of 1 September 1961. Some observers believe that Ahidjo decided to hold a referendum to avoid Anglophone parliamentarians using the blocking minority mechanism to hold up legislation. The date of 20 May became Cameroon’s main national day of celebration. Crisis Group interviews, Bamenda University teachers, Bamenda, April 2017. Mufor Atanga, The Anglophone Cameroon Predicament (Buea, 2011); Martin Ayong Ayim (eds), Former British Southern Cameroons: Journey Towards a Complete Decolonization, Independence, and Sovereignty (Bloomington, 2008).Hide Footnote Anglophone militants also consider that the referendum should not have taken place throughout the country and should have been limited to West Cameroon, which had the most to lose. Finally, they claim that it was not possible to hold a free and transparent referendum in the context of the time and that the ballot was marred by serious irregularities.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of Southern Cameroons National Council, Bamenda, April 2017.Hide Footnote

It was also in 1972 that Anglophones really began to challenge their marginalisation. At the CNU National Congress in 1972, Bernard Fonlon publicly criticised the creation of the unitary republic. Other prominent Anglophones, such as Albert Mukong and Gorji Dinka were also fiercely opposed. Foncha and Jua wrote privately to Ahidjo and expressed their opposition in the official media.[fn]Konings, Nyamnjoh, Negotiating an Anglophone Identity, op. cit.Hide Footnote

When Paul Biya succeeded Ahidjo in November 1982, he further centralised power. On 22 August 1983, he divided the Anglophone region into two provinces: Northwest and Southwest. In 1984, he changed the country’s official name to the Republic of Cameroon (the name of the former Francophone territory) and removed the second star from the flag, which represented the Anglophone part of the country.

Anglophones formed movements and associations to resist their assimilation.

Anglophones formed movements and associations to resist their assimilation. In 1994, they protested in vain when the government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announced the privatisation of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), which played a major economic and social role in the Anglophone part of the country. In that same year, the government’s move to standardise the Anglophone and Francophone education systems provoked strong resistance from teachers’ unions and the parents of pupils and it finally had to create an independent General Certificate of Education (GCE) Board by presidential decree.

Unification left Anglophones with a sense that their territory was in economic decline, because it entailed the centralisation and/or dismantling of West Cameroon’s economic structures, such as the West Cameroon Marketing Board, the Cameroon Bank and Powercam, as well as the abandonment of several projects, including the port of Limbé, and airports at Bamenda and Tiko, with investments in the Francophone part of the country winning out.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics, Buea and Bamenda, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote

In particular, unification left the impression of a democratic setback, cultural assimilation and a downgrading of political status.[fn]Before 1972, the second most senior government official was Anglophone, but the Anglophone prime minister is now the fourth or fifth most senior official after the president of the Senate, the president of the National Assembly and the president of the yet to be created Constitutional Council.Hide Footnote Many Anglophones are convinced that the Francophone part of the country followed a strategy to marginalise Southern Cameroons and are still not sufficiently aware of the disastrous impact the economic crisis of the 1980s also had on several Francophone regions. When the multiparty system was restored in the 1990s, the Anglophones seized the opportunity to make their grievances heard. On 26 May 1990, the Social Democratic Front, a new pro-federalism opposition party, with a national vocation but with a strong contingent of Anglophones, was formed in Bamenda. It gained ground in the Anglophone part of the country before extending its influence into Francophone provinces. It then participated in the October 1992 presidential elections and came close to winning it.[fn]In 1992, the CPDM obtained 39 per cent, the SDF 37 per cent, the National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP) 19 per cent and the Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU) 3.6 per cent. The SDF believes it was robbed of victory and many observers said that the votes for the CPDM and the SDF were inverted. Crisis Group interviews, Ni John Fru Ndi and academics, Yaoundé, Douala and Bamenda, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote

With the prospect of a review of the constitution to adapt it to the multiparty system, the Anglophones organised the All Anglophone Conference (AAC) in 1993 and called for a return to federalism.[fn]Buea Declaration, AAC, 1993.Hide Footnote The Consultative Committee for Review of the Constitution rejected this option in favour of decentralisation. Meanwhile, after resigning in 1990 from the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), the name adopted by the single party in 1985, Foncha and Muna, yesterday’s rivals, resigned from the consultative committee in 1994 and openly criticised the assimilation of Anglophones.[fn]Foncha, “Lettre de démission du RDPC”, 9 June 1990; Muna, “Lettre de démission du Comité consultatif constitutionnel”, May 1994.Hide Footnote In that same year, a second All Anglophone Conference (AAC2) was organised in Bamenda and some of the participants called for a two-state federal system or secession.

During this period, Muna and Foncha launched diplomatic offensives at the UN to demand independence for Southern Cameroons. The position of the Social Democratic Front, which rejected secession and proposed, in the context of Francophone opposition to a two-state federal system, a four-state federal system, was judged to be ambiguous by some Anglophone militants, who in 1995, formed movements calling for two-state federalism or secession:[fn]The other movements were the Cameroon Anglophone Movement (CAM), the Free West Cameroon Movement (FWM), the Southern Cameroons Restoration Movement (SCRM) and the Ambazonia Movement. In 1999, some secessionist militants replaced the name of Southern Cameroons with Ambazonia Republic, derived from the name given by the Portuguese to the region’s coast, Ambas Bay, in order to get rid of any reference to Cameroon. Group interviews, SCNC militants, Bamenda, April 2017.Hide Footnote the most well-known was the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), the youth wing of which, Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), resorted to low-intensity violence. Since 1996, the SCNC has taken further diplomatic initiatives at the UN, the African Court of Banjul, the Commonwealth and national embassies.

Despite the emergence of Anglophone movements, centralisation continued and Anglophones lost even more political strength at the national level.

After the golden age of the 1990s, dissent weakened and the focus switched to the Anglophone diaspora’s advocacy in the international community and the creation of an Anglophone consciousness through the education system, writings of Anglophone intellectuals, the churches, associations and the local media. However, SCNC militants continued to organise protests in the Anglophone regions every 1 October and spectacular actions such as the proclamation of independence by the Ambazonia Republic on radio Buea in 1999 and in 2009. Despite the emergence of Anglophone movements, centralisation continued and Anglophones lost even more political strength at the national level. In 2017, there was only one Anglophone among 36 ministers with portfolio.

The roots of the Anglophone problem lie in a badly-organised reunification that was based on centralisation and assimilation, and in economic and administrative marginalisation.[fn]The Anglophones believe that they are under-represented in the government administration and the security forces, because the entry examinations for the major schools and the police force are weighted in favour of Francophones. For example, in 2016, only two Anglophones were among the 138 admitted to the National Youth and Sports Centre (Centre national de la jeunesse et des sports, Cenajes) in Bamenda, which is, however, located in the Anglophone region. Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone students and teachers, Buea and Bamenda, April-May 2017.Hide Footnote Personal and ethnic ambitions and rivalries among the elites did not help matters. They have not always been able to present a common front to defend an increasingly heterogeneous Anglophone cause. Since the 2000s, the Anglophone question has deeply divided society. It finds expression in the mutually negative perceptions of the Anglophone and Francophone populations and the occasional reciprocal stigmatisation.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of the elite and local population, Yaoundé, Douala, Bamenda, December 2016 and April 2017.Hide Footnote The current crisis represents an especially worrying resurgence of this old problem. Never before has the Anglophone question manifested itself with such intensity.

III. From Sectoral Mobilisations to the Resurgence of the Anglophone Problem

A. From the Strike to the Crisis

The current crisis began on 11 October 2016 in Bamenda when lawyers from the Northwest and the Southwest went on strike. Their demands, ignored until then by the justice ministry, were related to the justice system’s failure to use the Common Law in the two regions. The lawyers demanded the translation into English of the Code of the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) and other legal texts. They criticised the “francophonisation” of Common Law jurisdictions, with the appointment to the Anglophone zone of Francophone magistrates who did not understand English or the Common Law, and the appointment of notaries, to do work done by lawyers under the Common Law system.[fn]OHADA was formed in 1993, has seventeen member states and is dominated by Francophone countries. The law forms part of one of very few areas that Yaoundé has until now avoided standardising. The first Francophone magistrates were appointed to posts in the Anglophone part in 2002 and this trend intensified in 2014. Common Law lawyers had asserted the same demands to the justice ministry in the past without obtaining any concessions; for example in May 2015, 700 Anglophone lawyers called for federalism and the creation of an autonomous Anglophone Bar. Crisis Group interviews, magistrate, Anglophone and Francophone lawyers, Douala, Buea and Bamenda, March-May 2017; and email correspondence, president of the Northwest Lawyer's Association (NOWELA), 29 May 2017.Hide Footnote A lack of trust in the government and the brutality of the security forces aggravated the problem and radicalised the public.

On 8 November 2016, the lawyers mobilised hundreds of people for a march in Bamenda and reiterated their demand for the full restoration of the Common Law system as it was at the time of the federal system. They added a demand for federalism.[fn]That includes the creation of an autonomous Anglophone Bar, the appointment of magistrates in the Anglophone zone by a federal parliament and the adoption of English as the only language in Common Law jurisdictions. Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone lawyers and local population, Bamenda, April 2017.Hide Footnote While the march was taking place peacefully, gendarmes violently dispersed the crowd, manhandled some lawyers and arrested some motorbike taxi drivers (“Okada boys”). In response, some youth and Okada boys set up barricades at several crossroads and clashes between demonstrators and gendarmes left several wounded.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CNDHL members, mayors, Bamenda, April 2017.Hide Footnote

Several thousand people joined teachers to express grievances ranging from the lack of roads in the Northwest to the marginalisation of Anglophones.

On 21 November, teachers went on strike as well. They organised a rally against the lack of Anglophone teachers, the appointment of teachers who did not have a good command of English and the failure to respect the “Anglo-Saxon” character of schools and universities in the Anglophone zone.[fn]These teachers understand Anglo-Saxon universities to mean universities where English is the only teaching language, that encourage the presence of student associations and teachers’ unions and that respect and value university independence from central government, the election of rectors and faculty deans and the autonomy of faculties to recruit teachers. Crisis Group interviews, president of the national union of higher education teachers (Syndicat national des enseignants du supérieur, SYNES) and the Catholic University of Cameroon (CATUC), Buea-Bamenda, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote At the rally, several thousand people joined teachers to express grievances ranging from the lack of roads in the Northwest to the marginalisation of Anglophones. The police and the army violently dispersed the demonstrators. Several people were severely beaten, dozens of others were arrested and at least two people were shot dead, according to a report by the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms the (Commission nationale des droits de l’Homme et des libertés, CNDHL).[fn]Crisis Group has had access to this unpublished report, sent to the presidency of the Republic on 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote Several other incidents took place in Bamenda at the end of November, leading to riots

On 28 November, the crisis, which had until then been limited to the Northwest, spread to the Southwest. Students at Buea University organised a peaceful march on the campus to call for the payment to students of the president’s achievement bonus, denounce the banning of the University of Buea Student Union (UBSU) in 2012 and protest at the introduction of a penalty for late payment of education fees and the additional fee charged for accessing examination results.[fn]They brandished placards with slogans against violence and the politicisation of their problems. But they believed that the entry examinations held by the major schools and even by Buea University and the higher education institutions located in the Anglophone zone discriminate in favour of Francophone students and against Anglophones. Crisis Group observations, Buea, November 2016; and interviews with students and officers of student associations, Buea and Bamenda, April-May 2017.Hide Footnote The university rector’s response was to call the police onto the campus. They brutally repressed the students and arrested some of them in their homes. Female students were beaten, undressed, rolled in the mud and one was allegedly raped.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian actors, students and human rights observers, Buea, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote

The most violent confrontation took place on 8 December in Bamenda when the CPDM tried to organise a pro-government rally in the Anglophone regions. The angry crowd prevented the rally from taking place. In violent clashes, four died, several were wounded and around 50 arrested. Demonstrators set fire to a police station, government buildings and vehicles.[fn]CNDHL report, February 2017.Hide Footnote The prime minister, the CPDM secretary general, the governor of the Northwest region and the national security adviser, who were due to attend the rally, had to hide all day in the governor’s residence to escape the violence. The government responded to these demonstrations by militarising the region, causing the social climate to deteriorate even further.

The violence in Buea on 28 November and in Bamenda on 8 December aggravated the crisis and led to extensive media coverage. Images of abuses by the security forces quickly spread on the internet and on to international television channels. They had a decisive impact on public opinion and opened the Pandora’s box of the Anglophone problem.

From October 2016 to February 2017, at least nine people were killed.

Further incidents took place in January and February 2017 in Bamenda and other towns such as Ndop. They led to riots that left at least three dead, while government buildings and vehicles were set on fire. From October 2016 to February 2017, at least nine people were killed and more sustained gunshot wounds. There were 82 arrests, including of journalists and lawyers, according to the communications minister and about 150 according to the SDF. They appeared before a military court under the terrorism law. The security forces also arrested and intimidated prominent Anglophones. For example, Paul Abine Ayah, a judge at the Supreme Court, was arrested without a warrant in March on charges of funding the Anglophone campaign. He has since remained behind bars.

B. The Government and Anglophone Actors: Strategies and Motivations

Faced with the Anglophone crisis, the government tried to maintain the status quo. However, realising there were limits to what it could achieve with repression, it began talks with the striking unions. At the end of November, the prime minister formed an ad hoc inter-ministerial committee charged with leading negotiations. It comprised four Francophone ministers and was placed under the supervision of the prime ministry’s cabinet director. At the start of December, the lawyers and teachers formed the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC, “the Consortium”). It was initially formed by four lawyers’ associations and several teachers trade unions, with Félix Khongo Agbor Balla as president, Fontem Neba as secretary general and Wilfred Tassang as treasurer.[fn]The ad hoc committee officially negotiated with the teachers’ union rather than the Consortium, which included lawyers, although it discussed matters with the latter in private. Crisis Group interviews, Consortium members, Buea and Yaoundé prison, May 2017.Hide Footnote

On 25-26 November, the prime minister unsuccessfully conducted a first mission to Bamenda to open negotiations. He arrived without concrete proposals, perhaps expecting that the promise of dialogue and his presence would be enough to end the strike. This visit was an early sign of the divisions within the Anglophone elites working within government institutions in Yaoundé. While the prime minister recognised the existence of the Anglophone problem and invited the trade unions for talks in Bamenda, other prominent Anglophones, such as the minister and permanent secretary at the National Security Council told the media in Yaoundé that there was no Anglophone problem. This inflamed opinion in the region, making the prime minister’s mission impossible and, especially, confirming the Anglophone belief that the prime minister, a post occupied since 1996 by an Anglophone, had no real power.[fn]These concerns were partly justified, because the executive is centred on the presidency and the general secretary of the presidency de facto occupies the role of prime minister. This is apparent on a daily basis in the form of irreverent remarks by ministers to the prime minister. Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone and Francophone academics, Yaoundé and Buea, December 2016, March 2017.Hide Footnote

From December 2016 to January 2017, the ad hoc committee conducted several missions to Bamenda. The list of union demands increased from eleven to 25 between November and January but negotiations nearly reached an agreement, with the government saying it was ready to meet 21 of the 25 demands.[fn]These 21 demands were exclusively linked to the education sector. The other four covered issues such as the release of people arrested during the demonstrations, the adoption of an equitable five-year development plan and federalism. “Grève des enseignants Anglophones: le professeur Ghogomu met fin à sa mission”, Cameroon Info, 17 January 2017.Hide Footnote However, on 13 January, police abuses, against a backdrop of rumours, provoked riots in Bamenda and the negotiations collapsed. On 14 January, the Consortium cancelled a meeting with the committee, condemned the violence perpetrated by the security forces and declared a two-day Operation Ghost Town in the Northwest and the Southwest. The government responded by shutting down the internet in the two regions on 17 January, banning the Consortium and the SCNC and arresting Consortium leaders and several activists such as Mancho Bibixy, claiming that the Consortium had conditioned agreement on the introduction of federalism.

Crisis Group has gathered many witness statements, some contradictory, of the 13 January 2017 events, which marked a decisive break in attempts at dialogue. Some said that the security forces opened fire at point-blank range on motorbike taxis. Others said that Anglophone movement radicals tried to introduce the issue of secession into the debate, with the result that both sides hardened their positions.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, Consortium members, government officials, Northwest and Southwest, 2017.Hide Footnote Although these incidents contributed to the failure of negotiations, they were not the only reason. In fact, the tension in the two regions, the repression by the security forces and the radicalisation of public opinion had put Consortium leaders in a difficult position. They were forced to go beyond their own sectoral demands – especially as the 21 points accepted by the government only included the teachers’ demands, not the lawyers’ demands – and to deal more broadly with the Anglophone problem. According to a Consortium leader, “repression by the regime has opened a Pandora’s box and the public has forced us to put the Southern Cameroons issue on the table”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Consortium member, Buea, May 2017.Hide Footnote

The ad hoc committee did not inspire much confidence, because most of its members were Francophones.

Negotiations were difficult because of the deep distrust between the government and representatives of the Anglophone community. The ad hoc committee did not inspire much confidence, because most of its members were Francophones. Consortium members did not believe that the government would keep its promise to meet 21 of its 25 demands. So they proposed federalism in order to guarantee implementation of reforms and achieve a more general solution. Meanwhile, the government believed that the trade unions had a hidden agenda involving secession and that this was why they continually added to their list of demands.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior justice ministry officials, mayors, Yaoundé, Buea and Bamenda, 2017.Hide Footnote

Probably to avoid the crisis spreading to the Francophone part, the government brandished the spectre of secession by conflating Anglophone grievances and the division of the country. Some Francophone intellectuals said that federalism was only a step on the road to secession.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and researchers at the Paul Ango Ela Foundation, Yaoundé, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote There were some indications, such as the positions taken during the negotiations and confirmed in several interviews, that some members of the regime in Yaoundé tried to strengthen the position of the more radical Anglophones with the aim of presenting the Anglophone contestation as a dangerous attempt to divide the country. The government also claimed there was a plot, presenting the Anglophone strike as an initiative funded by the diaspora and supported by groups who were trying to destabilise Cameroon.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officials and officers, Yaoundé, December 2016, March 2017.Hide Footnote

After the arrest of Consortium leaders on 17 January, continued school closures and an intensification of Operation Ghost Town, the government took measures in the justice and education sectors to try to calm the situation. In December 2016, it had already announced the recruitment of 1,000 bilingual teachers, a FCFA2 billion (€3 million) grant to private schools and the redeployment of Francophone teachers away from Anglophone regions. On 23 January 2017, the president of the Republic created a National Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism.[fn]Decree 2017/013 of 23 January 2017 on the creation of the National Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism.Hide Footnote But Anglophone militants criticised this as too little too late and regretted that nine of the commission’s fifteen members were Francophones, that most of them belonged to the older generation and that several were members of the CPDM. The commission is handicapped by its remit, which gives it no power to impose punitive measures, and restricts it to preparing reports and advocating for bilingualism and multiculturalism. Some of its members have recognised this weakness.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of the Commission for Bilingualism, Yaoundé, Douala, Buea, 2017.Hide Footnote

The government announced other measures on 30 March, including the creation of new benches for Common Law at the Supreme Court and new departments at the National School of Administration and Magistracy (Ecole nationale d’administration et de magistrature, ENAM), an increase in the number of English language teachers at ENAM, the recruitment of Anglophone magistrates, the creation of a Common Law department at Francophone universities and provisional authorisation for Anglophone lawyers to act as notaries in the Northwest and the Southwest regions.[fn]”Revendications des Anglophones: la réponse du chef de l’Etat”, Cameroon Tribune, 31 March 2017.Hide Footnote On 20 April, the government turned the internet back on after a 92-day cut. Although these measures were a significant first step, they did not meet the concerns of the trade unions or resolve the political component of the Anglophone question.[fn]Article by Scacuf, “Biya’s common law measures: too little too late”, Cameroon Journal, 1 April 2017. Crisis Group interviews, Francophone and Anglophone law teachers, Buea University, 31 March 2017.Hide Footnote They were made rather late in the day, when the public were already calling for the release of detainees and negotiations on constitutional reform with the aim of introducing federalism.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone population, Northwest and Southwest, April-May 2017.Hide Footnote

Anglophones continued to take action. When the internet was cut, protesters used text messages and phone calls to organise protests. When it was restored they reverted to mainly using WhatsApp.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone population, Northwest and Southwest, 2017.Hide Footnote More recently, the campaign has nevertheless weakened, especially in the Southwest, partly because the economic consequences have become hard to bear for the public and also because of government pressure. New radical groups are using intimidation, threats and violence to maintain support for the movement. The public, elected representatives, parliamentarians and religious leaders regularly receive text messages and calls from Cameroon and abroad, informing them of Ghost Town days, now called Country Sundays. For example, a Francophone teacher at the University of Buea received eleven text messages and six telephone calls in a single day after ignoring a call to take part in Operation Ghost Town.[fn]Many messages of this kind have come to the attention of Crisis Group. Crisis Group interviews, police officers, Buea, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote Country Sundays take place every Monday and every national holiday or commemoration day. Anyone not adhering to the movement faces harassment and threats.

Violent incidents have fuelled the government’s strategy of demonising the Anglophone campaign.

Threats are sometimes carried out. Between January and June 2017, dozens of shops in markets at Bamenda, Buea and Limbé, about fifteen government buildings and vehicles and a dozen schools were set on fire for not observing Country Sundays.[fn]Compilation by Crisis Group on the basis of interviews with Anglophone militants and government officials and monitoring of publications by leaders of the movement on social networks from October 2016 to June 2017.Hide Footnote These violent incidents have fuelled the government’s strategy of demonising the Anglophone campaign, all the more so as exiled Consortium representatives distanced themselves late and rather timidly. The authorities and the security forces also used tough methods to break the movement, intimidating the public and printing companies that produced pamphlets, and threatening heads of schools and business owners with revoking their licences if they took part in the strikes. The security forces worked with telephone companies and money transfer agencies to identify and arrest the local contacts of secessionists in exile and block the transfer of funds from abroad to the Anglophone regions.

The two sides have made abundant use of propaganda. The government as well as Anglophone militants have circulated false information on the internet and in text messages and pamphlets.[fn]For example, the Anglophone movement claimed the UN was on the point of conceding independence to Southern Cameroons, and that the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces were in the process of liberating the region. Crisis Group has seen these messages. Meanwhile, the government claimed that Ayah Paul Abine had been arrested at the Nigerian border in possession of a large sum of money. It also leads people to believe it can monitor WhatsApp communications.Hide Footnote In particular, the government has exploited the idea of false news to sow doubt and avoid responsibility for human rights violations by casting doubt on their veracity, even in confirmed cases.

The Anglophone diaspora did not initiate this crisis, contrary to previous challenges to the government. It only took a dominant role after the 17 January arrest of Consortium leaders.[fn]The Consortium’s provisional leadership was entrusted to Mark Bareta in Belgium and Tapang Ivo in the U.S. Other Consortium members went into exile in Nigeria, South Africa and the U.S. Nkhongo Felix, “Press briefing: transfer of consortium operations to Europe and month-long ghost towns”, 17 January 2017; Crisis Group interview, president of SYNES, Buea, May 2017.Hide Footnote Internet-based campaigns contributed to mounting public anger and increased the popularity of secessionist ideas. The diaspora helped to give the crisis a higher profile at the international level by organising demonstrations outside the parliaments of Western countries and through diplomatic initiatives, such as commissioning the American law firm Foley Hoag to call for the independence of Southern Cameroons. This crisis also marked a generational renewal within the Anglophone movement and the diaspora. The historic standard-bearers of the Anglophone question who were members of the SCNC, the Cameroon Anglophone Movement or the AAC were not centre stage. Militants of the 1990s from Cameroon University, who emigrated in the period after 1995, were succeeded by young people from Buea University and the University of Buea Student Union, who left Cameroon more recently.

Although the great majority of the Anglophone diaspora probably supports the current protest movement, a minority has reacted in a hostile manner to calls for secession and to the movement as a whole, to the extent of sometimes writing to the authorities of the countries where the leading exponents of the secessionist current are living to call for their expulsion.[fn]“The role of Mr. Mark Bareta, a Belgian resident, in ongoing destabilization of Cameroon”, email from Benjamin Akih to the Belgian deputy prime minister and security and interior minister, consulted by Crisis Group, 24 May 2017.Hide Footnote

The movement is also weakening because of internal divisions over ideology, strategy and actions.

The movement is also weakening because of internal divisions over ideology, strategy and actions. Some Consortium leaders, such as Wilfred Tassangand Harmony Bobga, respectively in exile in Nigeria and the U.S., broke with the official federalist line and formed the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), which advocates secession. Even the Consortium’s interim leaders in the diaspora, such as Mark Bareta and Tapang Ivo, now support secession.

Within the secessionist movement, divergences persist about strategy and operational methods. Some want to prioritise diplomatic offensives, while others put the emphasis on supporting Operation Ghost Town. There are also differences about whether to use violence, which are intensified by rivalries and the struggle for power. Since March, several small violent groups have been formed. On social networks, they circulate contact details of people and organisations failing to observe Ghost Town operations, as well as those of local authorities and senior Anglophone officials hostile to the strike. They call on the public to burn down their properties. These groups also call on citizens not to pay tax and encourage attacks on Francophones.[fn]Most of these messages are public and accessible on Facebook and YouTube. More violent messages also circulate in WhatsApp groups to which Crisis Group has had access.Hide Footnote

Christian denominations supervise most schools and universities in the Anglophone regions. At the beginning of 2016, the Catholic bishops of the two regions wrote to President Biya and travelled to Yaoundé to meet him, but he did not receive them. On 22 December, they published their letter in the form of a memorandum listing most of the Anglophone grievances.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Bishop of Buea, May 2017; “Memorandum presented to the head of State on the current situation of unrest in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon”, Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference, 22 December 2017.Hide Footnote The government accused them of fuelling the crisis and began to intimidate members of the clergy and the heads of schools, calling on them to open their schools, which had been closed since the beginning of the crisis. In April, a fictitious association of parents lodged a complaint against the bishops and ministers, making the government more unpopular in this zone where religious leaders are respected. However, though the latter back the Anglophone cause, the fear of reprisals from the instigators of Operation Ghost Town rather than support for the strike explains the decision of Catholic and Protestant institutions to not resume their courses.[fn]Religious leaders, managers of educational establishments, teachers and parents of pupils receive threats from unidentified individuals and groups on a daily basis and are victims of violence. Between January and April, the chancellor of a Catholic University received an average of one hundred text messages every day, telling him not to open the university; a bishop received about fifty calls and one teacher received text messages and calls describing her home and telling her not to teach courses. Crisis Group interviews, bishops, priests, teachers and the university chancellor, 2017.Hide Footnote

The Anglophone protest movement also caused division among Francophones and Anglophones within the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC). In January 2017, at a meeting in Mamfé, Francophone bishops criticised their counterparts for not opening their schools, while the latter regretted the Francophone clergy’s ignorance of the Anglophone problem and the threats to which they had been subjected. In April, the archbishop of Douala and NECC president published a statement deploring the legal proceedings against the bishops but calling on them to open their schools. This statement, criticised by Anglophone militants, undermined the legitimacy of the archbishop, who had been mentioned in January as a possible mediator.[fn]“Cameroun: les évêques lancent un appel à l’unité”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 1 May 2017; “Mgr. Samuel Kleda: selling ignorance and sacralization of temporal power”, Cameroon Journal, 11 May 2017.Hide Footnote

One year from the next presidential elections, the governing elites in Yaoundé fear that the crisis will spread to Francophone regions, which share some of the socioeconomic difficulties experienced by Anglophones and where frustration took a violent turn in 2008. As the government perceives the crisis as a threat to its survival, it considers intimidation, violent repression and the internet shutdown as a risk worth taking, despite possible pressure from the international community. It feels the economic consequences and the possible electoral slump of the CPDM in the Anglophone regions at the next elections are a reasonable price to pay, because they are limited from a national point of view.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officers and senior presidency officials, Yaoundé, December 2016, March 2017.Hide Footnote

C. The International Community’s Response

The international response has been led by the U.S., multilateral organisations and international civil society. On 28 November 2016, the U.S. State Department published a communiqué calling for dialogue in the Anglophone regions and calling on the government of Cameroon to respect fundamental freedoms.[fn]Some European diplomats have criticised the U.S. position citing as an example the fact that the firm that is helping the Cameroonian government to monitor and filter social media sites is American. Crisis Group interviews, European diplomats, Yaoundé, July 2017.Hide Footnote In December, the UN Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa condemned the violence and asked Cameroon to respect minorities. On 18 January 2017, the president of the African Union Commission expressed concerns about acts of violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions and called on the government to seek dialogue. The UN Special Representative for Central Africa visited Yaoundé in February and April. He met Consortium leaders in prison and signed a communiqué calling for the release of prisoners, the restoration of internet and dialogue.

On 23 March, during President Biya’s visit to the Vatican, the Pope invited him to pursue dialogue and respect minorities.[fn]“Cameroun: Paul Biya confronté à la triple pression de l’ONU, des Etats-Unis et du Vatican”, Jeune Afrique, 13 April 2017.Hide Footnote These statements helped to secure an end to internet shutdown in March, but did not result in any moves toward the structural and constitutional reforms requested by Anglophones.

France, the UK, Germany, Canada and the EU have not made any public statement.

Bilateral responses and the European Union (EU)’s response has been the weakest. Except for the U.S., Cameroon’s Western partners, such as France, the UK, Germany, Canada and the EU have not made any public statement, saying they are exercising discreet diplomatic pressure on Yaoundé.[fn]Officials from the European Commission nevertheless met members of the government in Yaoundé in April. There have also been meetings in February and April between European ambassadors and Cameroonian authorities. These were formal demarches, although deliberately discreet. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Yaoundé, Washington and New York, February-July 2017.Hide Footnote The strongest reactions have come from international civil society, especially from the UK Bar and organisations like Amnesty International.[fn]“Open Letter to His Excellency Paul Biya”, The Bar Council of England and Wales, 24 March 2017; “Cameroon: arrests and civil society bans risk inflaming tensions in English-speaking regions”, Amnesty International press release, 20 January 2017.Hide Footnote

The lack of coordination of the international response has undermined new initiatives. Several European countries planned to publish statements but, in the end, remained silent, clearly for fear of finding themselves isolated. Other partners with economic interests in Cameroon probably preferred to tacitly support the regime, which protects them against Chinese competition. In February, some European countries wanted the European Union to issue a joint statement on the Anglophone question, but the initiative was blocked by other member states anxious to avoid criticising Cameroon too openly because of its role in the fight against Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Yaoundé, February-May 2017.Hide Footnote

This relatively timid reaction can be partly explained by diplomats’ hesitation to intervene in a crisis whose consequences are limited to the country in question, without repercussions in the sub-region, and which remains less acute than other crises in Africa. Although limited, the gains made by discreet pressure confirm them in their opinion that private diplomacy is the best strategy.[fn]To the question as to whether a more public reaction would be appropriate, one ambassador in Yaoundé replied “I don’t know, but this is a question we ask ourselves every day”. Crisis Group interview, May 2017.Hide Footnote More generally, Western countries have tended to deal with Cameroon in the context of its relative stability compared to other Central African countries and the low risk that the Anglophone crisis will lead to partition of the country. Cameroon’s role in the fight against Boko Haram reinforces this attitude.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Yaoundé, March 2017. See Crisis Group Africa Report N°241, Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram, 16 November 2016.Hide Footnote

The government of neighbouring Nigeria has not got involved in the current crisis. Moreover, it is wary of the Anglophone protest movement, because it fears that an independent Anglophone Cameroon could act as a base for separatist Nigerian movements. Nevertheless, some inhabitants of south-eastern Nigeria sympathise with Cameroonian Anglophone activists, although this probably does not amount to any substantial support.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Cameroonian and Nigerian diplomats and Anglophone militants, Yaoundé, Buea, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote

IV. A Political, Economic and Social Crisis

A. The Political Consequences

The current crisis has increased support to federalism among the Anglophones population – which most probably was already high – and reinforced support for secessionism.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and population, Southwest and Northwest, 2017.Hide Footnote This new configuration shows the depth of the Anglophone problem. Ghost Town operations and school closures could not have continued for nine months without the adherence of a large proportion of the population.[fn]The campaign involves almost all segments of the Anglophone population. Only the Anglophone government elite distances itself from the movement, yet it stands accused of hypocrisy and double standards by Francophone ministers. Several Francophone police officers have said that Anglophone police officers support the Anglophone cause. Only loyalty to their uniform and institutional discipline dissuade them from publicly expressing their support. Crisis Group interviews, police inspector and technical advisor to the presidency, Yaoundé, Douala, Buea, 2017.Hide Footnote As the population becomes more frustrated and disappointed, its desire for fair integration and willingness to coexist with Francophones is eclipsed by aspirations for autonomy.

Although most Anglophones want federalism, there is no consensus about the number of states in a future federation. A two-state federation, as before unification, or a four or six-state federation to better reflect the sociological composition of the country and make the idea of federalism acceptable to Francophones, or ten states to copy the current pattern of Cameroon’s ten regions? Some people insist that however many federated states are created, the federal capital Yaoundé should not be included in any of them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and trade unionists, Bamenda, April 2017.Hide Footnote For some Anglophone activists, federalism seems to be a maximalist negotiating strategy. They raise the bar high in order to obtain at least an effective decentralisation, with genuine autonomy for the country’s ten regions, starting with improvements to and the full application of current laws on decentralisation.[fn]See Law 2004/17 of 22 July 2004 on guidelines for decentralisation; law 2004/18 of 22 July 2004 setting rules applicable to communes; law 2004/19 of 22 July 2004 setting rules applicable to the regions; law 2009/11 of 10 July 2009 on financial arrangements for decentralised local authorities. The militant minority says that decentralisation should mean the drastic reduction of the central government’s presence in the regions and more administrative and financial powers for local elected bodies. Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone militants, students and Consortium members, Bamenda, Buea and Yaoundé prison, April, May 2017; Crisis Group email correspondence, militant in the diaspora, June 2017.Hide Footnote

The debate on the shape of the federation also reveals divisions that often undermine the Anglophone movement – between the Northwest where the “Grassfields” ethnic groups, close to the Bamiléké, are in the majority, and the Southwest, dominated by Sawa ethnic groups.[fn]The Bamiléké and the Sawa are two important ethnic groups in Cameroon. They are present in both Francophone and Anglophone zones. The “Grassfields”, better known as the Bamiléké, are originally from Francophone West regions and some of them from the Anglophone Northwest region. The Sawa are originally from Francophone and Anglophone coastal regions, including the Francophone city of Douala and the Anglophone towns of the Southwest, such as Limbé and Buea. In the Anglophone Southwest, several indigenous ethnic groups, such as the Bakweri, are closely related to the Duala from the city of Douala, and are all part of the Sawa group. Similarly, several ethnic groups from the Anglophone Northwest are effectively the same as the Bamiléké of Western Francophone regions, and all form part of the Grassfield group.Hide Footnote Most Anglophones in the Northwest favour a two-state federation, as in 1961. The southern elites and indigenous groups have always denounced the demographic, political and economic domination and monopolisation of their lands by Northern migrants, and therefore tend to prefer a ten-state federation in order to preserve their autonomy. Some of them, notably the Bakweri minority, would even form a federated state with the coastal Sawas (the Douala) rather than with the Grafis of the Northwest. Other southerners propose a federation with several states or a two-state federation with genuine decentralisation within the two regions of the Anglophone federated state.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local elites and elected representatives, Buea, Limbé, Kumba, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote

The Anglophone protest movement has tried, with some success, to go beyond these old divisions, partly because several members of the Consortium are southerners.[fn]Contrary to widespread belief, the Anglophone movement is not limited to the Northwest. The first and main ideologues of the Anglophone movement come from the Southwest and it was there that the first All Anglophone Conference was held.Hide Footnote However, when, at the end of January, the traditional chiefs of the Northwest wrote to the president of the republic to ask him to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture, the traditional chiefs of the Southwest responded by sending a motion of support to the government and calling on the youth of the Southwest to break with the disorder caused by northerners.[fn]“Crise anglophone: la libération des prisonniers divise”, Mutations, 17 February 2017; “At South West elite forum in Buea: speakers launch xenophobic attacks on North Westerners”, The Guardian Post, 3 February 2017.Hide Footnote However, the public has not shown itself to be very divided. Although Ghost Town operations are reducing in intensity, they are also observed in the Southwest and are sometimes stronger in towns like Kumba, where young people have denounced the ethnic rhetoric of their elites.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, students and young people from the Southwest, Buea, Limbé and Kumba, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote

The crisis has revealed the gap between the concerns of the Anglophone population and the Anglophone elite.

The crisis has revealed the gap between the concerns of the Anglophone population and the Anglophone elite, which has for a very long time tried to mediate between them and Yaoundé and sometimes even supported a firmer repressive position.[fn]Most of the Anglophone elites in government advocated a hard line, hoping to please the president of the Republic. Crisis Group interviews, senior officials, Anglophone diplomats and elites, Yaoundé, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote In fact, the prime minister and the Anglophone elite, which tried to mediate at the start of the crisis, have been jeered by crowds.

The lack of legitimacy of Anglophone leaders is also true, to a lesser degree, of opposition leaders. In November 2016, the president of the Social Democratic Front was booed in Bamenda when he tried to calm an angry crowd. The crisis caused tension in the SDF between a more radical group that, like the deputy Wirba, calls for a two-state federation or for secession, and a more traditional group that wants a four-state federation or, for the most moderates, effective decentralisation.[fn]Deputy Wirba has resolutely supported the Anglophone cause and made a speech in parliament, criticising the government. He then went into exile. Crisis Group interview, senator SDF, Yaoundé, March 2017; “Wirba joseph Cameroonian Parliamentarian defies speaker of the house on Anglophone problem”, YouTube, 13 December 2016; “Crise Anglophone: Joseph Wirba charge Fru Ndi”, Le Messager, 6 April 2017. On the SDF’s position, Crisis Group interviews, SDF militants, population, academics and European diplomats, Yaoundé, Douala, Buea and Bamenda, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote To better reflect opinion in its electoral base, the SDF strengthened its commitment to a four-state federation in 2017, while also taking symbolic steps such as not attending the 20 May march in solidarity with Anglophone detainees. Even in the governing party, the CPDM, Anglophone deputies have expressed their concerns to the government. In March 2017, they begged the head of state to at least restore internet access and release Anglophone political detainees.[fn]“Cameroun: des parlementaires du parti au pouvoir appellent Paul Biya à envisager la libération des leaders Anglophones”, Jeune Afrique, 16 February 2017.Hide Footnote

The Anglophone crisis is a classic case of a dissatisfied minority while at the same time the result of structural problems. First, it reveals major governance failures, with a lack of decision-making capacity accentuated by the all-powerful president’s prolonged absences from the country, a false decentralisation, the lack of legitimacy of local elites, tension between generations, a political system that relies on co-opting traditional chiefs and local elites, and a policy of regional balance that has been hijacked to their own advantage by families close to the regime.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°101, Cameroon: Prevention is Better than Cure, 4 September 2014; and Luc Sindjoun, L’Etat ailleurs: entre noyau dur et case vide (Paris, 2002). See decree 75/496 of 3 July 1975, decree 82/407 of 7 September 1982 and decree 2000/696/PM of 13 September 2000, which institutionalised the policy of regional balance. Gabriel Jürg Martin, “Cameroon’s Neopatrimonial Dilemma”, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, vol. 17, no. 2 (1999).Hide Footnote

Second, the crisis is prolonging restrictions on civil liberties which have become more pronounced since 2013: a ban on demonstrations, the arrest and beating up of political party militants, journalists and researchers. It has even served as a pretext for greater repression, with the use of anti-terrorist legislation for political ends, greater control over social media and threats against journalists.[fn]In January, the posts and telecoms minister signed an order imposing fines and prison sentences on anyone advocating federalism in the media and social networks. The minister and the National Communications Council (CNC) kept up the pressure thereafter. “Crise Anglophone: le SNJC demande aux journalistes d’ignorer les injonctions du CNC”, camerpost.net, 22 January 2017. The authorities send text messages regularly to the public to warn them of the penalties for publishing fake news and advocating federalism. Crisis Group interviews, journalists, Yaoundé, December 2016, March 2017. “Des médias camerounais dénoncent les pressions de Yaoundé sur le traitement de la crise Anglophone”, Le Monde, 22 February 2017.Hide Footnote Finally, the regime’s refusal to negotiate on fundamental questions and its sometimes brutal response highlight its authoritarian nature.

The crisis could have an impact on the 2018 elections and even on the African Cup of Nations football competition in 2019.[fn]The ruling party dominates the political landscape. Paul Biya received 78 per cent of votes in the 2011 presidential elections. In the 2013 general elections, the CPDM obtained 148 out of 180 deputies, 82 of 100 senators and 303 of 360 mayors.Hide Footnote If the present situation persists, it will be difficult to organise peaceful elections in the two Anglophone regions. But when elections take place, the stance of Anglophone militants who have gained in popularity during this crisis will be crucial. Anything seems possible at the moment: a boycott, support for the SDF or the emergence of new movements.[fn]Crisis Group observations, Anglophone groups, WhatsApps and Facebook, 2016-2017.Hide Footnote In 2016, the SDF appointed a Francophone secretary general for the first time in an attempt to start rebuilding a national base, but then immediately radicalised and moved closer to the Anglophone position because of the crisis. Will it again moderate its positions and try to gain support among Francophones, which it has not managed to do since 1997, or will it prioritise the Anglophone zone, in the hope of improving on its performance in the last elections?[fn]The SDF only has eighteen deputies (fourteen in the Anglophone zone), fourteen senators out of 100 and 23 mayors (eighteen in the Anglophone zone) out of 360. At the last presidential elections in 2011, it only received 10.8 per cent of votes. “Cameroun: SOS SDF”, Jeune Afrique, 26 February 2017.Hide Footnote Whatever happens to the SDF, the CPDM and the Francophone parties are henceforth in a weak position in the Anglophone regions.

B. The Economic Consequences

Economic marginalisation has played a major role in provoking discontent among Anglophones. Even though the two Anglophone regions are suffering no more than some Francophone regions from the prolonged economic crisis, Anglophones feel their potential is not being realised (or is being deliberately wasted) and feel abandoned.[fn]Cameroon’s poverty rate was 37.5 per cent in 2014 according to the INS. It was 74.3 and 67.9 per cent in the Far North and North regions. In the Anglophone zone, it was 55.6 and 18 per cent in the Northwest and Southwest respectively. Anglophones are therefore no poorer than people in the north and east, but they are much poorer than people in Douala and Yaoundé with who they often compare themselves and where the rate is 4.2 and 5.4 per cent respectively. “Tendances, profils et déterminants de la pauvreté au Cameroun entre 2001 et 2014”, INS (Yaoundé, 2015).Hide Footnote

No serious economic study has been published on the economic impact of the crisis, but there is no doubt that the isolation for several months of these two regions, which contribute around 20 per cent of Cameroon’s GDP, has had an impact on them as well as on the national economy.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, economists and statisticians, Yaoundé, December 2016, March 2017.Hide Footnote In 2016, the Anglophone regions were among the most digitally connected in Cameroon, just behind Douala and Yaoundé. Shutting down the internet paralysed several sectors of the local economy, notably banking and microfinance. The local economy is based on the oil sector (9 per cent of GDP), timber (4.5 per cent), intensive agriculture, including large plantations owned by the Cameroon Development Corporation and other smaller plantations that supply Douala and the countries of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, as well as cocoa, rubber, etc.[fn]“Ventilation de l’économie camerounaise”, INS, 2016. The other important sectors are commerce, banking and microcredit, services, small and medium sized industries and transport. The Southwest is considered to be the economic motor of the zone, because of its timber industry, the CDC and oil production-related industries.Hide Footnote

Anglophones and Southerners in particular often complain about the low proportion of Anglophones in the workforce and in decision-making posts in state oil companies, such as the National Refining Company (Société nationale de raffinage, Sonara), based in the Southwest, and the National Hydrocarbons Corporation (Société nationale des hydrocarbures, SNH).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Anglophone populations, Buea, Bamenda, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote The crisis has hit all sectors of the local economy, except for hydrocarbons and forestry, which has had an impact on some commercial sectors and industries in the Francophone regions. Several estimates put the direct cost of cutting access to internet alone at CFA2 billion (€3 million).[fn]Yonatan Morse, “Cameroon has been in crisis for six months. Here is what you need to know”, The Washington Post, 2 June 2017.Hide Footnote

C. The Social Consequences

The crisis has revealed the divisions between Francophones and Anglophones in Cameroon. Francophones are generally unaware of the reasons for the Anglophone problem and view Anglophones who are calling for federalism or secession with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion and even make fun of them. Anglophones are critical of Francophones for their lack of solidarity. While many Francophones say they support the Anglophones’ demands,[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Francophone academics and trade union leaders, December 2016 and March 2017.Hide Footnote the latter believe that this support is in word only and that Francophones do not really understand the problems that stem from being a minority. In fact, very few representatives of Francophone civil society organisations and political parties have visited the Northwest and the Southwest since October 2016. Francophone teachers did not come out in support for their ill-treated Anglophone colleagues. When Anglophone lawyers were beaten up and illegally arrested, support from the Bar was tardy and limited, leading some Anglophone lawyers to call for the creation of their own Bar.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former presidents of the Bar, Yaoundé, May 2017.Hide Footnote

Another stumbling block is that most Francophones are opposed to federalism and prefer effective decentralisation.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, presidents of Francophone NGOs and political parties, Yaoundé and Douala, 2016-2017.Hide Footnote Some Francophones also criticise Anglophones for “tribalising” issues and making it sound like they are the only ones affected by problems that are, in fact, national. They point out that some Francophone regions are less well off than Anglophone regions.[fn]One of the most virulent criticisms of the Francophones is against the “tribal” attitude of Anglophones in the Northwest and Southwest.Hide Footnote Francophone teachers in the Anglophone zone complain about discrimination in the universities, while Francophone citizens complain about their stigmatisation and the calls for violence against them issued since January 2017.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Francophone officials, teachers and taxi drivers, Buea, March-May 2017. Max Saintclair Mbida, “Dynamique contestataire et déviance démocratique: approche compréhensive et configurationnelle des mobilisations estudiantines à l’université de Buea”, in Jean-Emmanuel Pondi (dir.), Citoyenneté et pouvoir politique en Afrique centrale: état des lieux (Paris, 2016), pp. 297-322.Hide Footnote Some Francophones make fun of Anglophones and support government repression. There are of course exceptions, such as Abouem Atchoyi, former higher education minister and former governor of the Southwest and the Northwest, who published a long article in January 2017 asserting the legitimacy of Anglophone demands.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, youth, Yaoundé, Maroua, Douala, December 2016-May 2017. David Abouem Atchoyi, “Le problème Anglophone pourrait devenir le nouveau Boko Haram”, Le Jour, 10 January 2017.Hide Footnote

However, the crisis has also raised awareness. Some Anglophones said that public services in Yaoundé treat them better and that official communications pay greater attention to bilingualism.[fn]Crisis Group observations at several ministries, Yaoundé, March-May 2017.Hide Footnote The crisis has highlighted the economic resilience of the Anglophones, which is essentially based on the solidarity of Anglophones living in the Francophone zone and abroad.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, political party president and political militants, Douala, March and May 2017.Hide Footnote However, it has also caused social problems that were not anticipated by the strikers: for example, the boycott of schools has entailed extra childcare demands, which falls mainly on women, and increases in juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancies and school dropout.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, priests, girls and young women, Buea and Bamenda, March-June 2017.Hide Footnote

V. Ending the Crisis: Resume Dialogue and Deal with the Real Problems

Even though the violence, which raged from November 2016 to January 2017, has come to a halt, aspects of the crisis remain: radicalisation of the diaspora and a segment of the population, a loss of confidence in the government and targeted social violence. The trial of Anglophone militants is flawed in ways that illustrate persistent problems: it has been repeatedly postponed and conducted in French, with only rough translations provided if at all, and this for offences committed by Anglophones in Anglophone regions.

If a lasting solution is not found, the next resurgence of the Anglophone problem could be violent. The haughty attitude and cynicism of senior government officials, notably when they say that “as long as the Anglophones do not take up arms, the current strike does not worry [us] unduly”, could promote instability.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior official at the presidency, Yaoundé, December 2016.Hide Footnote “What can the Anglophones do? If they don’t want to go to school, so much the worse for them”, added a senior official.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Yaoundé, March 2017.Hide Footnote They are mistakenly relying on the strike losing impetus and the emergence of divisions among strikers, because although the campaign has weakened since May and even if it fizzles out, the fundamental problem will remain and people will continue to feel dissatisfied.

Within the secessionist movement, although the official objective remains independence through non-violence, there are growing calls for violence. Messages calling for the armed struggle circulate among WhatsApp groups and instances of targeted social violence have been recorded (intimidations, arson, beatings). On Facebook and YouTube, the Southern Cameroons Defense Forces regularly announce their imminent arrival to liberate Ambazonia. In July 2017, an Ambazonia Governing Council made its appearance online and Sisiku Ayuk Tabe was elected prime minister in an online vote. All this needs to be taken seriously, all the more so as some secessionist groups have circulated videos encouraging violence, for example, explaining how to make Molotov cocktails.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior police officers, Buea, March-May 2017; WhatsApp discussions, secessionist militants, March-July 2017; and “SCDF, Southern Cameroons Defense Forces updates”, YouTube, 28 March 2017; and “Resistance Speech by the FAGC Leader Ayaba Cho Lucas”, YouTube, 22 June 2016.Hide Footnote

Partisans of armed violence have not yet put their ideas into practice because they do not have either the resources or enough support from abroad. They are still a small minority, even among those in favour of secession. But questioning of the central principle of non-violence, inherited from the SCNC, gives cause for concern. The reason why the crisis has not descended into armed violence is also that the main actors have not wanted it to. Neither did they expect a crisis of such scale and duration.[fn]A member of the Consortium said: “We did not initially start the strike in support of federalism or secession and much less of the armed struggle. Talks with the government were rather cordial. Which is why none of us were preparing for any kind of guerrilla war. We did not try to identify rearbases outside the country, because all we wanted to do was to discuss the situation. We did not prepare our escape to Nigeria. But at least we’ve now got the message and we know what we need to do in the future”. Crisis Group interviews, Consortium members, Buea, May 2017.Hide Footnote

A lasting solution to the Anglophone problem requires measures to calm the situation and rebuild trust between the government and Anglophone actors, coherent measures to respond to sectoral demands and institutional reforms to address the national governance problem of which the Anglophone issue is symptomatic. It is unlikely that any of these measures will be taken without international pressure.

A. Take Conciliatory Measures, Rebuild Trust and Launch a Genuine Dialogue before the Elections

It is difficult to envisage a credible dialogue unless the government takes conciliatory measures and until trust is rebuilt between the parties. A discourse of tolerance, openness to dialogue and recognition of the Anglophone problem by the head of state would constitute a first important gesture. This should be immediately followed by several measures to calm the situation: release members of the Consortium; invite exiles to return to the country; halt legal proceedings against Anglophone clergy; open legal proceedings against security forces responsible for abuses; reshuffle the government and senior officials to increase the political representation of Anglophones and replace the senior officials whose actions have exacerbated tensions; and restructure and reconstitute the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism.[fn]The commission’s president and members who are close to the ruling party and hold several posts should be replaced by a younger team with greater legitimacy and composed of an equal number of Francophones and Anglophones, including Consortium members, as well as broadening its remit to include powers to impose sanctions on ministerial departments and government bodies that do not respect bilingualism and that discriminate against Anglophones. It should also have greater independence from the executive.Hide Footnote Finally, the President of the Republic should visit the Anglophone regions.

The government could then go on to reconstitute the ad hoc interministerial committee, this time with parity for senior Anglophone officials, and broaden its remit beyond dealing with sectoral demands. This would require decriminalising the political debate, including on federalism, and considering recourse to a third party (Catholic Church or an international partner) to mediate.

B. Respond to Anglophone Concerns

Once negotiations have begun, the government should make concessions with a view to improving the political and administrative representation of Anglophones. The government should also increase public and economic investment in the Anglophone zone and ensure that the majority of the security forces and administrative and legal authorities deployed there are Anglophones. Finally, it should apply the measures it has announced or that were decided with the Consortium and take additional measures to strengthen the semi-autonomous character of Anglophone educational and legal systems.

C. Reform Governance in the Medium Term

The Anglophone crisis has showed the limits presidential centralism and a governance system that depends on co-optation. Implementation of effective decentralisation could mitigate this problem at the national level. It appears to be the only alternative to federalism and has the advantage of being able to satisfy Francophones, the vast majority of whom reject a two-state federal system and, at the same time, moderate Anglophones, who are open to the idea of a ten-state federation or decentralisation.

The executive and the senior levels of the administration are the only real opponents of decentralisation. That is understandable: it would take away the presidency’s complete control over the regions and could – by opening the way for local democratic experiences with possible national impact – threaten the regime’s absolute power.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officials, Yaoundé, 2017; prefects and deputy prefects, North Cameroon and Yaoundé, 2016-2017.Hide Footnote But there is a serious risk that the crisis could deteriorate and, in time, destabilise the country. A government-backed decentralisation could provide a more consensual and peaceable future. A genuine decentralisation could even encourage a healthy process of renewal within the CPDM. Several Francophone leaders and some senior government officials are favourable to such a development.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CPDM leaders and senior officials, Yaoundé, December 2016.Hide Footnote

Decentralisation could take place on the basis of the ten current regions. It would require full application and the improvement of existing laws. At the moment, decentralisation is deficient: government-appointed representatives run the big cities, play the role of super mayor and only report to the President of the Republic, rendering town councils inoperative. The latter have to wait for their budgets to be allocated by the government representatives, which provokes discontent among both opposition mayors and those belonging to the ruling party.[fn]In 2017, there was a six-month delay before government representatives began to transfer funds. Crisis Group interviews, CPDM and SDF mayors, Yaoundé, Douala, Kumba, May 2017.Hide Footnote The transfer of financial resources (the percentage of which is not detailed in legal texts) has only increased from 4 to 7 per cent in 13 years, while it is 20 per cent in other decentralised unitary states like Kenya and Ghana. Other powers are not always transferred and remain in the hands of authorities appointed by Yaoundé.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, teachers at the Catholic University of Central Africa and researchers at the Paul Ango Ela Foundation, Yaoundé, December 2016.Hide Footnote

If a new attempt at decentralisation is going to be acceptable and effective, it must reduce the powers of administrators appointed by Yaoundé by creating regional councils, introducing elected regional presidents, transferring significant financial resources and powers, and implementing measures that are already provided for in law. It should also take legal measures specific to Anglophone regions in the areas of education, justice and culture (not currently covered by legislation).

D. A Firmer International Response

A firmer response from the international community could help to avoid the conflict from deteriorating and threatening the stability of this pivotal Central African country. It could begin by emphasising the right of Anglophones to discuss their future and that of their country, to better political representation and to expect greater official willingness to take into account cultural and linguistic differences. Public condemnation of the use of anti-terrorism laws for political ends would also be an important first step.

The UN, the UK, the U.S., France and the African Union should speak up on behalf of the international community. The UK and the UN are historic actors in this process. France is a strategic partner for Cameroon, and the biggest aid donor in Anglophone Cameroon. But Anglophones believe that it acts as a brake on the international community’s response, even though it has sought to promote multilingualism and multiculturalism within Francophonie. The Cameroon government does listen to the U.S., Cameroon’s most important security partner and home of the largest part of the Anglophone Cameroon diaspora. The first major international actor to react to this crisis, it should keep up the pressure. These countries and organisations should encourage the Cameroonian government to take measures to calm the situation, engage in a genuine dialogue and reform the governance model, including the implementation of decentralisation. It should also make itself available to mediate if necessary during negotiations, if the parties so desire.

VI. Conclusion

The violence that was rife between November 2016 to January 2017 in Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions and the support for the Operation Ghost Town that followed, showed that the Anglophone problem is deep-rooted. It will not be resolved by denying it exists or by repression, but by dialogue and institutional reform. In the context of pressure from the government and the financial difficulties of continuing the strike, some people have disassociated themselves from the movement and more would do so if it were not for the threats of secessionists. However, they are still dissatisfied. After sacrificing an academic year and resisting pressure from the government and secessionist militants, the risk is that they will become increasingly bitter if no reasonable progress is made, especially on educational reform and governance.

The government is wrong to bet on the crisis running out of steam. The threat of a second year of school closures hangs over the beginning of the next academic year. With a year to go before the next presidential and general elections, it would not be politically sensible to ignore the dissatisfaction and anger of a fifth of its population, especially as Francophones share some Anglophone grievances. Above and beyond the electoral question, the sporadic violence of the last few months and the use of social networks have shown that some secessionists are ready for the armed struggle. The opening of a front in the West could prove to be dramatic for Cameroon, which already faces Boko Haram in the Far North and militias from the Central African Republic to the East.

Nairobi/Brussels, 2 August 2017

Appendix A: Map of Cameroon

Map of Cameroon Crisis Group

Appendix B: Timeline

A timeline of Cameroon's history is available in the PDF version.

Appendix C: Glossary

AAC: All Anglophone Conference

CACSC: Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium

CAM: Cameroon Anglophone Movement

CATUC: Catholic University of Cameroon

CDC: Cameroon Development Corporation

Cemac: Communauté économique et monétaire de l’Afrique centrale (Central African Economic and Monetary Community)

Cenajes: Centre national de la jeunesse et des sports (National Centre for Youth and Sports)

NECC: National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon

CNC: Conseil national de la communication (National Communication Council)

NCHRF: National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms

CUC: Cameroon United Congress

ENAM: Ecole nationale d’administration et de magistrature (National School of Administration and Magistracy)

IMF: International Monetary Fund

FWM: Free West Cameroon Movement

GCE: General Certificate of Education

INS: Institut national de la statistique (National Institute of Statistics)

KNC: Kamerun National Congress

KNDP: Kamerun National Democratic Party

NOWELA: Northwest Lawyer's Association

OHADA: Organisation pour l’harmonisation en Afrique du droit des affaires (Organisation for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa)

NGO: Non-governmental Organisation

CPDM: Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement

SCACUF: Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front

SCDF: Southern Cameroons Defense Forces

SCNC: Southern Cameroons National Council

SCRM: Southern Cameroons Restoration Movement

SCYL: Southern Cameroons Youth League

SDF: Social Democratic Front

SNH: Société nationale des hydrocarbures (National Hydrocarbons Corporation)

Sonara: Société nationale de raffinage (National Refining Company)

SYNES: Syndicat national des enseignants du supérieur (National Union of Teachers of Higher Education)

UBSU: University of Buea Student Union

CDU: Cameroon Democratic Union

UNC: Union nationale camerounaise (Cameroon National Union)

UNDP: Union nationale pour la démocratie et le progress (National Union for Democracy and Progress)

UPC: Union des populations du Cameroun (Union of the Peoples of Cameroon)

A Cameroonian soldier walking in the town of Fotokol, on the border with Nigeria, after clashes occurred on 4 February between Cameroonian troops and Nigeria-based Boko Haram insurgents, 17 February 2015. AFP/Reinnier Kaze
Report 241 / Africa

Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram

Cameroon’s military campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency started late but has met with partial success. To consolidate gains and bring lasting peace to the Far North, the government must now shift to long-term socio-economic development, countering religious radicalism and reinforcing public services.

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Executive Summary

For the last two-and-a-half years, Cameroon has confronted the insurgents of the Nigeria-born group Boko Haram. The conflict has already caused 1,500 deaths, and led to 155,000 displaced persons and 73,000 refugees. Although the first attacks occurred in March 2014, the jihadist group’s presence in Cameroon’s Far North region dates back to at least 2011. It has benefited from a network of local collaborators and has exploited vulnerabilities that the region shares with north-eastern Nigeria. While the first eighteen months of conflict were characterised by conventional warfare, the group has now switched to an asymmetric mode of attack. The Cameroonian government’s focus on a military response has been partly successful, but the structural problems that allowed this threat to arise have not been addressed. The fight against Boko Haram requires adapting and improving security structures, and long-term crisis resolution policies that will prevent a revival of this threat in a different form, and stop insecurity in the region reigniting.

The Far North is the poorest of Cameroon’s regions and has the lowest school enrolment rate. A combination of weak national integration and historic neglect by the state have for many years contributed to violence and the presence of smugglers in the region, with a proliferation of highway robbers, traffickers and petty criminals. It was vulnerable to this jihadist insurrection due to geographical and cultural overlap with north-eastern Nigeria, the presence of an intolerant version of Islam and the repercussions of the Chadian civil wars.

Boko Haram exploited these vulnerabilities to make the Far North a logistics base, a safe haven and a source of recruitment. The group has particularly gathered support among disaffected youth in districts adjacent to Nigeria through the use of ideological indoctrination, socio-economic incentives and coercion. Cameroonian security forces, starting in 2013, dismantled hidden weapon stockpiles and arrested Boko Haram leaders, pushing the group to threaten and eventually attack Cameroon directly. In the last two-and-a-half years, the Far North region has experienced at least 460 attacks and about 50 suicide bombings.

Cameroon’s government was slow to react against the Boko Haram menace, due to historic tensions with Nigeria, an aversion to intervening in what it perceived as its neighbour’s internal problem, and a fear of becoming a target. Despite these early lapses, the government was later able to put in place an effective military response. This response disrupted the group and guided the reaction of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), the sub-regional task force with which Cameroon was reluctant to associate at first. Nonetheless, the weak point of the Cameroonian response remains the lack of commitment to development initiatives and the absence of counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation programs. Indeed, some measures adopted after the Maroua attacks in July 2015, such as the ban on full-face veils, the closing of the border, restrictions on motorcycle taxis, and abuses by the military could radicalise a portion of the population, including women, and have already accentuated socio-economic vulnerabilities for many young people, leading some to join Boko Haram.

Despite the geographical distance, the war against Boko Haram has not only impacted the Far North. The conflict has reinforced President Paul Biya’s leadership and boosted the legitimacy of the nation’s defence forces with parts of the population. The war has nonetheless had a negative effect on the country’s economy and has created ethnic and social cleavages, as seen in the stigmatisation of the Kanuri people in the Far North, often indiscriminately associated with the jihadist group. More generally, the conflict highlights a deficit of representation, although without fundamentally threatening the legitimacy of the state: the gerontocratic political elite of the Far North is increasingly challenged by a very young population.

The fight against Boko Haram is a test for security cooperation and sub-regional solidarity. The intervention by Chadian armed forces both in Cameroon, and, alongside forces from Niger, in Nigeria has reduced the group’s conventional military capacities. Despite some mistrust, the countries in the region have been able to establish the MNJTF and Nigeria finally accepted that Cameroon may intervene on its territory. This new multilateral force has slowed down the frequency of suicide attacks in Cameroon and is currently engaged against a dissident faction of the group in the Lake Chad Basin. However, the MNJTF lacks funding and logistical resources.

In order to consolidate military gains against Boko Haram and bring back lasting peace in the Far North, Cameroon’s government must shift from a security-based approach to focus on socio-economic development and countering religious radicalism. Due to heavy losses during confrontations with the Cameroonian army, Boko Haram has concentrated most of its efforts for the last three months in the Cameroonian areas of the Lake Chad Basin (Darak and Hile Alifa), where it controls part of the fishing economy and illicit trafficking and continues to stage suicide attacks. This shift in Boko Haram’s centre of gravity calls for a reinforcement of the security package around Lake Chad, as well as measures to counter the group’s financing in that area. A long-term solution should see the return of the state, which would build on the role of civil society and the youth, as well as local elites and external partners to rebuild public services in a long-neglected region.


To encourage development in the Far North, combat religious radicalism and reinforce state presence and public services

To the government of Cameroon:

  1. Elaborate a development and economic relaunch program in the Far North by, as a priority:
    1. improving assistance to internally displaced persons and victims of Boko Haram, as well as education opportunities and health infrastructure;
    2. reopening the Cameroon-Nigeria border for heavy goods vehicles and traders, with security provided by military escorts, restoring and developing the road network and launching high labour-intensity construction projects; and
    3. ensuring transparency and good governance of projects initiated in the Far North, in partnership with local populations, including youth and representatives of different ethnic communities.
  2. To finance this program, allocate to the region a share of the budget of the triennial emergency plan and of the public investment budget and coordinate with countries of the Lake Chad Basin to ask for support from donors.
  3. Create a program of awareness raising against religious radicalism, and a program of de-radicalisation in prisons.
  4. Encourage the security services and judiciary to distinguish among members of Boko Haram taking account of the seriousness of their crimes and their level of involvement in the group, understanding that categories can overlap; ensure that suspects and detainees are treated fairly and in accordance with international law; and support the creation of a “restorative justice” program, including a social reintegration component for forced recruits, informants and low-level logisticians, not suspected of serious human rights abuses. 
  5. Arrange an official visit of the president, leaders of the opposition and civil society, to the departments of the Far North targeted by Boko Haram, and organise the next 20 May national parade in Maroua. This visit would be an opportunity to launch a social cohesion and intercommunal reinforcement program to counter the stigmatisation of communities perceived as being Boko Haram sympathisers.

To civil society, elected and traditional chiefs of the Far North:

  1. Adopt a collective and inclusive approach to raising awareness on religious radicalism, including by taking into account cultural, gender and social particularities, and emphasising the need for dialogue tolerance and openness within families and in places such as Quranic schools, mosques, markets and prisons.

To countries of the sub-region:

  1. Elaborate a medium-term development strategy for the Lake Chad Basin, coordinated with the Cameroonian development plan for the Far North and ask for support from donors for financing such plans.

To Cameroon’s donors:

  1. Encourage the government’s development projects in the Far North, and coordinated initiatives in the sub-region for the development of the Lake Chad Basin, by guaranteeing 50 per cent financing, assuming suitable guarantees of the proper use of funds.

To improve the security response to the Boko Haram threat

To the government of Cameroon:

  1. Cut off Boko Haram funding sources while closely monitoring the livestock market in the Far North and economic activity in the Lake Chad region.
  2. Block Boko Haram recruitment:
    1. by improving cooperation between the Cameroonian armed forces and the local population. This can be achieved through civil-military operations and eradicating human rights violations perpetrated by security forces, notably by consistently sanctioning wrongdoers;
    2. by lifting, on a case by case basis, restrictions which currently affect economic activity such as that on motorcycles; and
    3. by putting in place a more efficient communication strategy through drawing on and supporting community-based radio stations, through the creation of awareness-raising shows on national channels, aired in local languages in the Far North, and through countering the promotion of violent radicalism on social networks.
  3. Adapt security structures to respond to recent changes within Boko Haram, and improve the strategy against suicide attacks via collaboration with the local population and reinforced forward-looking intelligence.
  4. Ensure better coordination between the three military operations in the Far North, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force, and reinforce cooperation with Nigeria and the other countries in the Lake Chad Basin.
  5. Limit the usage of vigilante groups, and progressively demobilise them if Boko Haram continues to weaken.
  6. Plan for the progressive return of better-equipped police and gendarmerie units along Cameroonian borders if Boko Haram continues to weaken.

To Cameroon’s donors:

  1. Co-financing the preparing of the Multinational Joint Task Force for operations, adding an important component of training on human rights in wartime, while possibly making funding conditional on respect for human rights by armies of the region.

Nairobi/Brussels, 16 November 2016

I. Introduction

The security situation in Cameroon has deteriorated since Boko Haram’s bloody emergence in 2014.[fn]This report uses the term “Boko Haram” for the sake of clarity and given its widespread usage. The movement’s sympathisers regard the phrase as pejorative and tend not to use it. For more information, see Crisis Group Africa Reports N°168, Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict, 20 December 2010 and N°201, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, 3 April 2014; and Africa Briefing N°120, Boko Haram on the Back Foot?, 4 May 2016.Hide Footnote That came as a terrible shock in a country that up to that point had seen itself as a stable state in an unstable sub-region. The Far North – one of Cameroon’s ten administrative regions – is the theatre of this conflict that is sub-regional in scale. This report is the latest in a series of Crisis Group publications on the jihadist threat in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin. It analyses Boko Haram’s impact on the Far North, the factors that have facilitated its breakthrough, its recruitment strategies, its alliances and its influence on the country. It also assesses the government’s responses and the repercussions of the conflict for the country. The report is based on documentary research and on more than 230 interviews carried out between January and October 2016 in Yaoundé and seventeen locations in the Far North. A Crisis Group analyst also spent time with the Cameroonian defence forces in March 2016 and visited the advanced positions of Operation Alpha and Operation Emergence 4 at the border with Nigeria.[fn]Hans De Marie Heungoup, “In the Tracks of Boko Haram in Cameroon”, crisisgroup.org, 2 September 2016.Hide Footnote

II. Far North: History of a Vulnerable Region

Located between north-eastern Nigeria and south-western Chad, the Far North has historically acted as a channel for trade and transit between the three countries. With four million inhabitants spread across its 34,263 square kilometres, this Sahelian region is the most densely populated in Cameroon. In the 1990s, climate change and deep poverty in rural areas – home to 85 per cent of the population – exacerbated the competition for access to natural resources in a region already suffering intercommunal tensions and recurrent episodes of violence. Boko Haram highlighted and accentuated the structural problems.

A. Far North: Between Violence and Smuggling

Ever since Cameroon became independent, the Far North has seen trafficking in weapons, fuel and drugs, and various types of violent banditry. This permanent insecurity follows a long history of looting and warfare in pre-colonial and colonial times across this region, whose effect on relations between communities remains evident. Around the 1980s, communal tensions were compounded by the phenomena of highway robbery, hostage-taking and conflicts over land.

The first post-independence conflicts in the Far North were intercommunal – between the Kotoko and the Choa Arabs, between the Kotoko and the Massa, and between the Massa and the Musgum in Logone and Chari. They were frequently sparked by struggles for access to resources, particularly those between the Kotoko and the Choa Arabs.[fn]Ever since the colonial period, the relationship between the Kotoko and the Choa Arabs has been characterised by periodic bouts of violence and, since 1992, by vigorous political competition for control over land in Logone and Chari – to the advantage of the Choa Arabs because of their greater numbers. Crisis Group interviews, lecturers at Maroua University, sultans of Kousseri and Goulfey, Far North, March 2016. Saïbou Issa, “Arithmétique ethnique et compétition politique entre Kotoko et Arabes Choa …”, Africa Spectrum, vol. 40, no. 2 (2005).Hide Footnote Insecurity in the area reached its highest levels between 1990 and 2010, with an influx of former combatants from the civil wars in Chad and the Central African Republic, who linked up with local bandits to form highway robbery gangs from the East to the Far North. The gendarmerie struggled to cope with this more violent and sophisticated banditry, leading the authorities to create the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) in 2001.[fn]The BIR is an elite force established in 2001 to fight against highway bandits; it falls under the authority of the presidency. Formed of 1,000 men initially, the BIR has grown to more than 7,000 today, divided into five land battalions, naval (BIR-Delta and BIR-Coast) and airmobile (GIRAM) sections, observation (GOA) and intelligence units and special forces-type units (CAT and GRS). Crisis Group interview, BIR colonel, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote Some highway robbers then turned to hostage-taking or joined up with poachers.[fn]See Saïbou Issa, Les coupeurs de route. Histoire du banditisme rural et transfrontalier dans le bassin du lac Tchad (Paris, 2010); and Christian Seignobos, “Le phénomène Zarguina dans le nord du Cameroun”, Afrique contemporaine, no. 239 (2011). Crisis Group interviews, Tcholliré company commander and administrative authorities, Garoua, September 2014. “Au Cameroun, les massacres d’éléphants continuent”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 13 March 2012.Hide Footnote

The Far North is located at the meeting point of the frontiers with Nigeria and Chad, where there are significant price and currency differences and intense customs activities. It is an area with a long history of trafficking in a wide range of products: watered-down fuel (zoua-zoua), Tramol, cannabis or Indian hemp (a local drug), arms, medicines, stolen vehicles and spare parts.[fn]Tramol or Tramadol is a powerful analgesic in the form of pills, manufactured legally in India, but sold illegally in Nigeria – where smugglers buy it to supply neighbouring countries. Crisis Group email correspondence, academics in Maroua, July 2016. Cyril Musila, “L’insécurité transfrontalière dans la zone du bassin du lac Tchad”, French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), July 2012.Hide Footnote Trade routes, some of them longstanding, run alongside smuggling tracks, generating unusually dynamic business flows that extend from legal trade to informal trade in legal goods and the trafficking of illegal products.

The Logone and Chari department sees substantial trafficking in light and small calibre weaponry, supplied from Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Libya. The Far North is both a market and a transit corridor – which explains the large number of weapons in circulation, as evidenced by the seizures made during police searches of Marou’s Dougoi district and Kousseri’s Mawak and Kodogo districts in 2014.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, Maroua and Mokolo, March 2016.Hide Footnote All the region’s departments see trafficking in drugs, medicines, stolen cars and oil. Petrol trading is most significant in communities on the border with Nigeria, where petrol is subsidised. Tramol is often sold from Nigeria into the Far North, while cannabis grown in southern Cameroon is consumed in the Far North and also sold to Nigeria and neighbouring countries.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, customs officers, Yaoundé, April 2016. “Plus de 200 kg de cannabis saisis sur la route de l’Extrême-Nord”, investiraucameroun.com, 13 July 2016.Hide Footnote

B. A Region Vulnerable to Infiltration by Boko Haram

Cameroon’s Far North is closely related to north-eastern Nigeria in historical, religious, commercial, ethnic, socio-cultural and linguistic terms, sharing the Arab, Kanuri and Mandara vehicular languages. Rather than being separated by a frontier in the traditional sense, the two regions share a border area.[fn]Kousseri is 1,611km away from Douala and 1,376km away from Yaoundé, but only 245km away from Maiduguri (capital of Borno state).Hide Footnote The same ethnic groups – Kanuri, Glavda, Mandara, Choa Arab –, the same families, and sometimes the same villages are spread on both sides. Islamic culture is also a common trait, particularly as many Cameroonians study at Nigerian Quranic schools. Finally, they share a long history, including conquest by Usman Dan Fodio, coming from Sokoto in the 18th century, and important pockets of resistance to this conquest and others.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, researchers, Maroua, March 2016. Elridge Mohammadou, Le Royaume du Wandala ou Mandara (Tokyo, 1982).Hide Footnote These factors helped Boko Haram extend its reach into Cameroon.

1. Dismal socio-economic indicators and absence of the state

In the Far North, poverty, low school enrolment, social divisions and the weak presence of the state are factors that increase vulnerability. With 74.3 per cent of its population living below the poverty line – compared with a national average of 37.5 per cent – the Far North is Cameroon’s poorest region.[fn]“Tendances, profil et déterminants de la pauvreté au Cameroun entre 2001 et 2014”, National Institute of Statistics (INS), December 2015, p. 43.Hide Footnote Vulnerabilities are higher in rural areas, particularly in the localities on the border with Nigeria, with a poverty rate above 80 per cent in Fotokol, Kolofata and Mayo Moskota districts – those that are most affected by the conflict with Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, researchers at Maroua University, administrative authorities, Maroua and Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote While the net school enrolment rate reached 84.1 per cent in 2014 at the national level, it is only 46 per cent in the Far North – and a mere 20 per cent in the border districts mentioned above.[fn]“Annuaire statistique du Cameroun 2015”, INS, p. 78; “Rapport régional de progrès des objectifs du millénaire pour le développement : région de l’Extrême-Nord”, INS, 2010. “Cameroun: examen national 2015 de l’éducation pour tous”, Education pour tous, 2015. The low school enrolment rate in the Far North is not solely the result of government neglect; in some places, parents opt for Quranic schools. The dominant activities being trade, agriculture, fishing and livestock herding, they do not always see the value of a secular education, particularly as the region is barely integrated into central government administrative structures. Crisis Group interviews, delegate for secondary education, Kousseri, 23 March 2016; senior officials originally from the north, Yaoundé, April 2016.Hide Footnote Moreover, behind these averages lie differences between communities: the Kanuri have a particularly low school enrolment rate.[fn]Some members of the elite originally from the north suggest that the Kanuri may marginalise themselves through their continued reliance on Quranic schools and reticence toward secular Western education, whereas attitudes among other communities in the region have evolved. It is difficult to confirm the accuracy of this perception. However, interviewed by Crisis Group about their principal needs, several displaced Kanuri families in Kousseri referred to the school enrolment of their children as their last priority, and some did not see it as useful. Crisis Group interviews, senior officials originally from the Far North and displaced persons, Yaoundé and Kousseri, 2016; mayor of Pette, Maroua, March 2016; and Crisis Group telephone interview, delegate for secondary education in Mayo Tsanaga, May 2016.Hide Footnote

Due to many years of neglect of the Far North, the Cameroonian state is partly responsible for a lack of public investment,  industrial development and the poor condition of health infrastructure and road networks.[fn]Elites from other regions feel that the Far North is not the only region that is neglected and that this is the result not of a deliberate policy of marginalisation, but of a Cameroonian model of governance that does not focus much on peripheral regions. Crisis Group interviews, researchers at Paul Ango Ela Foundation and academics, Yaoundé, January and June 2016.Hide Footnote The state only invested in security to contain and then, in the 2000s, suppress the growing phenomenon of highway robbery – yet without destroying the smuggling networks that have benefited from corruption among customs officers and the security forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, customs officials and General Directorate for External Research (DGRE) officers, Maroua, Mora, Kousseri and Yaoundé, March and April 2016. Several witness accounts stress that customs officers bribe their superiors in Yaoundé to get themselves posted to the Far North. Crisis Group interviews, police officers, customs officials and a former fuel smuggler, Far North, Yaoundé, March and April 2016.Hide Footnote Before the 2011 presidential election, local elites handed out identity cards to thousands of residents of frontier localities, irrespective of their nationality, hoping they would vote for the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM); this made it easier for criminals and non-Cameroonian members of Boko Haram to get identity documents.[fn]Possession of several national identity cards is fairly commonplace in the Lake Chad region. After arrest, several Nigerian and Chadian members of Boko Haram were found to have Cameroonian identity documents. Crisis Group interviews, police, gendarmes, administrative authorities and inhabitants, Mora and Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote

These failings left a section of the local population feeling abandoned. This is not a universally shared perception because, despite the weak presence of the state, the Far North is not under-represented in the government or the senior civil service – thanks to an informal policy of geopolitical balance that provides for appointments to be distributed among the elites of all ten regions.[fn]Ten of the 60 members of the government are natives of the Far North; for the regime, the region is a political stronghold where it usually achieves some of its best election results. Crisis Group interviews, academics, senior civil service and security officials originally from the Far North, Yaoundé and Maroua, February-April 2016.Hide Footnote The vice prime minister, the finance minister and the speaker of the National Assembly come from the Far North. But the elite is getting old: most members of the government from the Far North are aged more than 60, while the median age of the national population is eighteen. There is an overt rift between generations; young people accuse their elders of pocketing  the money earmarked for emergency plans for the region.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, students and groups of young people, researchers at the Institut supérieur du Sahel and journalists originally from the Far North, Yaoundé and Maroua, February-July 2016.Hide Footnote

2. A Sufi Islamic tradition under competitive pressure

In the Far North, Boko Haram has been able to take advantage of the presence of a “radical” or “fundamentalist” Islam.[fn]Local researchers and specialists in Islam dispute use of the expression “rigorist Islam”, preferring the alternative “fundamentalist Islam”. Crisis Group interviews, Adamawa (Cameroon) and Far North, 2014-2016. An overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Far North, including fundamentalists, reject Boko Haram – so direct correlations between rigorist Islam (Salafism and Wahhabism) and terrorism are to be avoided. However, Boko Haram’s main leaders claim allegiance to jihadist Salafism and recruit in the places and among the social groups where rigorist Islam predominates. Crisis Group interviews, academics and Islam specialists, Maroua and Kousseri, March 2016. Elodie Apard, “Les mots de Boko Haram : les prêches de Mohammed Yusuf sur le jihad obligatoire”, Le Monde, 29 April 2016; Mohammed Yusuf, Hazihi Aqeedatun wa Minhaju Da’ awatuna (Maiduguri, 2009).Hide Footnote Muslims and Christians each represent about two fifths of the population, and animists a fifth.[fn]For lack of official statistics, Crisis Group has based this estimate on cross-referencing responses from a score of interviews with administrative authorities, researchers and journalists in the Far North.Hide Footnote But this overall average conceals areas of Muslim concentration, such as Maroua and the localities neighbouring the Nigerian border such as Fotokol, Amchidé, Kerawa and Ashigashia.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, Far North, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Syncretic and derived from Sufism, Islam in Cameroon is generally considered “tolerant”.[fn]Sufism, an esoteric branch of Sunnism, arrived in sub-Saharan Africa in the 13th century and developed through brotherhoods. Some specialists in Islam challenge the supposedly tolerant nature of Sufism, pointing to the jihads led by Sufi leaders in pre-colonial West Africa. But over the past 50 years, no Islamic revival or jihadist movement has been rooted in Sufism and the Sufi movements have become integrated into state institutions – which may explain why they have eschewed violence. Crisis Group interviews, Islam specialists, Ngaoundéré, Garoua and Maroua, September 2014 and March 2016. Donal Cruise O’Brien, “La filière musulmane : confréries soufies et politique en Afrique noire”, Politique Africaine, no. 4 (1981), pp. 7-30; Hamadou Adama, L’islam au Cameroun : entre tradition et modernité (Paris, 2004).Hide Footnote Even so, fundamentalist strands have sunk local roots since the 1980s. In the Far North, the predominant Tijaniyya (Sufi) brotherhood now faces competition not only from a syncretic version of Sunniism – historically close to the political authorities, seen as moderate and mainly adhering to the Malekite tradition – but also from a radical or fundamentalist version of Sunniism – drawing its inspiration from Wahhabism and Salafism, it is promoted by preachers, spread through CDs and cassettes sold in markets or circulated via Bluetooth, Facebook or WhatsApp.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°229, Cameroon: The Threat of Religious Radicalism, 3 September 2015. The campaign against Boko Haram has led to a fall in sales in markets, but the contents still circulate widely on the internet. The majority of the imams running WhatsApp and Facebook platforms are supposedly based at Bertoua (east), Maroua and Kousseri. Crisis Group observations, markets in Ngaoundéré, Maroua and Kousseri, September 2014-March 2016; and interviews, Fulani notables from Garoua, Yaoundé, 2016. There are few mosques formally designated as Wahhabist or Salafist in the Far North. However, under the influence of Nigerian preachers and the thousands of Cameroonians who have studied in Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia or Nigeria, a subtle modification of Muslims’ social and religious practices is taking place. Crisis Group interviews, researchers, imams, lamido (first rank traditional chief) of Maroua, sultans of Kousseri and Goulfey, March 2016.Hide Footnote Although the radical movements are weak in the Far North, they are pervasive in the frontier localities already mentioned, as well as in Maroua.[fn]A preaching ban was imposed in 2012 in Maroua on an imam who was reputedly Wahhabist; Crisis Group met him and concluded that he was in fact a Sunni fundamentalist. Crisis Group interview, Maroua, March 2016. In order of importance, the various branches of Islam present in the Far North are: Sunnism – including Sufi strands such as Tijaniyya –, Salafism, Wahhabism, the Tablighs, the Ikhwans and Shiism. Crisis Group interviews, imams, Maroua, Kousseri, 2016.Hide Footnote

The spread of fundamentalist Islam also owes something to the Ahali Suna movement, which in the 2000s embarked on the propagation of a literal interpretation of the Quran in Yaoundé and the Far North.[fn]The short-lived Ahali Suna movement was popularised by Nigerian Hausa traders in the Briqueterie district of Yaoundé, in Maroua, Kousseri and the frontier localities of the Far North. Crisis Group interviews, imams and traditional chiefs, Maroua and Kousseri, 2016.Hide Footnote Islam from north-eastern Nigeria, which many Cameroonian Muslims view as a nearby “Mecca”, is highly influential in the Far North: the local Tijaniyya remains under the influence of the Sufi brotherhoods in Yola, capital of the Nigerian state of Adamawa, while other branches of Sunnism have an allegiance to the leading modibo (marabouts – spiritual guides) in Maiduguri.[fn]The CDs of the Nigerian preachers Sheikh Jaffar Adam and Mohamed Awal Adam Albani, in particular, are sold in the Far North. Crisis Group observations, 2016.Hide Footnote The Nigerian modibo have always travelled around northern Cameroon and in 2014, their portraits were still on display in rural buses throughout the region.

Against a background of state neglect, socio-economic vulnerabilities emerged, including acute poverty, low school enrolment rates and social and generational divides.

Old imams are being confronted by some members of the young generation, who have studied in Nigeria, Sudan or the Middle East and have a deeper knowledge of the Quran and the Arabic language. Accusing the old generation of practising an Islam coloured by local traditions and innovations, they lobby to be given positions of responsibility in major mosques.[fn]Crisis Group interview, lamido of Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote These rifts reflect social factors: for many of these young returnees, appointment as imam offers the sole route to a position in society, because the state does not recognise their Islamic diplomas. That causes frustration, pushing them toward the establishment of their own mosques and greater radicalism in their sermons.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officials originally from Adamaoua, Yaoundé, February 2016; lamido of Maroua, imams, young people returned from Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Far North, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Well before the Boko Haram attacks, the Far North was prey to trafficking and banditry and was thus a security concern for the Cameroonian state. Inter-communal conflicts, often rooted in old ethnic rivalries and pre-colonial struggles, and instability in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, fuelled smuggling networks and accentuated this insecurity. Against a background of state neglect, socio-economic vulnerabilities emerged, including  acute poverty, low school enrolment rates and social and generational divides. Subsequently, the outbreak of conflict has paralysed the regional economy, creating conditions for Boko Haram’s recruitment of thousands of youths.

III. Boko Haram’s Infiltration into Far North

A. Boko Haram Sinks Local Roots

While Nigerian jihadist groups have been able to exercise some modest influence in the Far North since 2004, Boko Haram only began to establish itself in the region in 2009. Then from 2014 onwards, as the government dismantled its local networks and cells, the jihadist movement staged head-on attacks against Cameroon.

1. 2004-2013: Early traces evolve into an established presence

The first signs of Boko Haram in Cameroon date back at least to 2009.[fn]According to a senior Nigerian state security official interviewed by RFI, while under interrogation in 2009 Mohammed Yusuf stated that his weapons came from Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Musa Tanko, who claims to be Boko Haram’s spokesperson, said in 2010 that the organisation’s priorities were Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. www.rfi.fr visited on 17 February 2014 (this interview is no longer available on the website). “Le Nord-Cameroun sert-il de base arrière de Boko Haram?”, L’œil du Sahel, 25 July 2011.Hide Footnote Its presence before then remains a subject of debate, mainly suggested by Nigerian sources.[fn]None of the administrative or security sources contacted by Crisis Group has been in a position to confirm that Boko Haram was present in the Far North prior to 2009, but statements by former members of the group indicate that this was the case. “Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth”, Mercy Corps, April 2016; “Joining and Leaving Boko Haram: Perspectives from Former Members”, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 8 June 2015.Hide Footnote In September 2004, after clashing with the Nigerian police in Bama and Gwoza, several individuals who were later to become members of Boko Haram are believed to have fled and found refuge in the Cameroonian part of the Mandara Mountains, particularly in Gossi and Mayo Moskota.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict, op. cit., p. 40. Crisis Group interviews, vigilante groups, Tourou, October 2016.Hide Footnote According to Nigerian state security services, Boko Haram’s interest in Cameroon dates back to 2006. Khaled al-Barnawi – who would later lead the jihadist group Ansaru, born of a split with Boko Haram in 2012 – reportedly recruited Cameroonians to join the Talibans in Nigeria and formed the sect’s first logistical network in 2007.[fn]Barnawi was arrested in April 2016 by the Nigerian security forces in Kogi state, far from Cameroon. “Le Nord-Cameroun sert-il de base arrière de Boko Haram?”, op. cit.; “Nigéria : le chef du groupe islamiste Ansaru arrêté”, Le Monde, 3 April 2016.Hide Footnote In 2009, serious clashes between Boko Haram activists and the Nigerian security forces in Borno state resulted in the death of 800 members of the group, including its founder Mohammed Yusuf; some of those who escaped travelled through the Far North or spent time there.[fn]The majority reportedly stayed in Amchidé, Fotokol, Mora, Kousseri and Maroua in 2009-2010, while others passed through these towns en route to Chad and Sudan. Crisis Group interviews, security forces and academics, Maroua, Mora, Fotokol, Kousseri, March-May 2016. See Crisis Group Reports, Cameroon: The Threat of Religious Radicalism, op. cit.; and Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II), op. cit.Hide Footnote

During this period, Boko Haram was probably not seeking to proselytise or recruit in the Far North border communities, but mainly to take refuge there. But the Nigerian security services were already insisting that the group was using Cameroon as a rear base and had alerted the country’s authorities.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, intelligence officers, Yaoundé, April 2016.Hide Footnote

The first sermons by imams linked to Boko Haram in mosques in the Far North took place in 2010, while the first known cases of recruitment – by a few local Salafists drawn to the group – were in 2011. Mahamat Abacar Saley, for example, preached in mosques in the Goulfey district and later went on to recruit eight radicalised youths and to become Boko Haram’s “emir” in the Afadé area.[fn]Mahamat Abacar Salay is a Kotoko originally from Goulfey. After his studies in Chad, Sudan and Maiduguri, Nigeria, he returned to the Far North in 2010, and began to preach in mosques in 2011. Crisis Group interviews, sub-prefect, sultan and senior officials originally from Goulfey, Yaoundé and Goulfey, February-March 2016.Hide Footnote There is proof that recruiters and logisticians from the group were in Mayo Tsanaga from 2011 onwards.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, Far North; academics, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote Boko Haram’s proselytism initially relied on distributing Mohammed Yusuf’s sermons, on the sermons of local imams sympathetic to the sect and on visits by its preachers to areas along the border.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents and traders, Far North, April 2016; administrative authority, Mokolo, March 2016. Daily intelligence bulletin, 12 November 2011.Hide Footnote

Cameroonians who had returned from their studies in Nigeria and Sudan – some of whom had become radicalised while they were abroad – also played a role.[fn]From 2009 onwards, Boko Haram reportedly recruited students in certain Sudanese Islamic institutes. A Cameroonian who formerly studied in Sudan described having witnessed the radicalisation of Nigerian and Cameroonian friends and the formation of the first cells after Yusuf’s death. Later, some of these young men joined the jihad in Nigeria, while others remained in Sudan as recruiters. Crisis Group interview, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote In Kerawa and Ganse, proselytism was mainly the work of young men returned from Bama in Nigeria who, during teaching sessions, called on their friends to reject Western education, the Constitution and the State.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, vigilante group and inhabitants, Kerawa, April 2016.Hide Footnote During the same period, Nigerian preachers linked to Boko Haram were touring the Mayo Sava and Mayo Tsanaga for baptism ceremonies – and some parents entrusted their children to them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, Maroua and Mokolo, March 2016.Hide Footnote

In 2012, tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees arrived at Zlevet, Kolofata and Fotokol. Some refugees stayed in Kerawa until 2014, when their attempts to impose their ideas on the population provoked a clash, and arms caches were discovered.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, district chiefs and vigilante group, Kerawa, April 2016.Hide Footnote Local sources reported that Boko Haram sympathisers were among them. In Kolo-fata, some refugees turned out to be recruiters, slipping into discussions among young people and encouraging the most suggestible ones to deepen their Islamic knowledge in Nigeria.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security forces and the lamido of Kolofata, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote

In 2012, incursions by fighters from Nigeria started and local cells were established in the Far North. Authorities treated the phenomenon as banditry, even though residents of Goulfey and Kousseri had informed them that it was Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authority, local NGOs and inhabitants, Far North, March 2016.Hide Footnote It was also in 2012 that the group demanded the shutdown of bars and application of Sharia in leaflets sent to the authorities and distributed to the population in Amchidé, Fotokol and Kousseri, and threatened traders and transport operators with reprisals unless they contributed to the financing of the jihad.[fn]“Fotokol : Boko Haram exige la fermeture des bars et des auberges”, L’œil du Sahel, 5 November 2012; “Boko Haram chasse les évangélistes d’Amchidé”, L’œil du Sahel, 7 January 2013. Crisis Group interviews, traders and transport operators, Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote

Boko Haram thus established the core of its logistics network in the Far North between 2010 and 2014, relying in particular on former smugglers and traffickers, traders and truckers who were offered large sums of money to act as logisticians or suppliers.[fn]In 2011 and 2012, a number of traders and transport operators were killed in Kousseri after accepting money from Boko Haram without actually delivering supplies to the sect as had been arranged. Crisis Group interviews, traders, transport operators and agents responsible for territorial surveillance, Kousseri, Fotokol, Amchidé, Mora, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote Kousseri, the capital of the Logone and Chari department, was the main logistics hub: logisticians there arranged arms caches, currency exchange, the production of fake identity documents and printing of propaganda material.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional chiefs, Far North, March 2016.Hide Footnote Mayo Sava, close to Boko Haram strongholds in Borno, was the main area for recruitment between 2012 and 2014.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional chiefs and administrative authorities, Mora, March 2016.Hide Footnote Fuel and food were delivered in Mayo Tsanaga and Diamaré. Boko Haram used the Mandara Mountains as a safe haven and food and fuel supply corridor.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security forces and administrative authorities, Maroua, Mokolo, Ldamang and Mabass, March 2016.Hide Footnote

2. 2014-2016: Open conflict

Since March 2014, the Far North has been the theatre of open warfare. In the course of some fifteen battles, Boko Haram has mobilised hundreds of fighters, armoured vehicles and 4WD vehicles equipped with heavy weapons. After a phase of conventional conflict between March 2014 and June 2015, the group focused mainly on planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and then suicide attacks – whose frequency reached a peak in early 2016.[fn]Counting all different types of attack, Boko Haram killed 88 people in January 2016, 79 in February, 23 in March, sixteen in April, thirteen in May, 31 in June, eighteen in July and about 30 in August and September.Hide Footnote

Cameroonian soldiers face an enemy who deploys multiple tactics: attacking in numbers that range from about 1,000 to just 10, using a wide range of operating modes and sometimes staging simultaneous attacks on towns in different departments. Since July 2015, the armed group, apparently weakened or having lost its capacity to launch frontal assaults, has combined ambushes and small strikes against army posts, looting raids and reprisals against vigilante groups (comités de vigilance) and those who collaborate with the army or the government. It has also multiplied suicide attacks.[fn]At least twenty suicide attacks were foiled without causing casualties, sixteen killed only the kamikaze attackers and 52 claimed other lives. Crisis Group estimate on the basis of open sources and interviews with the security forces and administrative authorities. Crisis Group Briefing, Boko Haram on the Back Foot?, op. cit.Hide Footnote At first, Boko Haram committed large-scale massacres in communities it viewed as collaborating with the government, avoiding attacks on those where it had a base. But as it suffered setbacks and local populations rallied around the Cameroonian forces, attacks became indiscriminate.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and journalists in the Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote

The first clash dates from 2 March 2014: a Cameroonian soldier and six members of Boko Haram were killed in Wouri-Maro near Fotokol.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and journalists in the Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote Under pressure from Nigeria and facing incursions along the frontier, Cameroon began to dismantle Boko Haram’s arms caches. This led the jihadist movement – which probably had no political agenda or territorial expansion project in Cameroon at first – to harden its position.[fn]Between 2012 and 2015, about twenty Boko Haram arms caches have been discovered in Kousseri, Fotokol, Waza, Amchidé, Goulfey, Blangoua and Makary. They included dozens of AK47 rifles, munitions, grenades, RPG7s and, in one case, anti-aircraft batteries. Crisis Group interviews, security forces and intelligence officers, Far North and Yaoundé, 2015-2016. “Extrême-Nord : un réseau d’approvisionnement de Boko Haram démantelé”, L’œil du Sahel, 22 October 2012.Hide Footnote Boko Haram then multiplied attacks on border communities, while distributing leaflets calling on the population not to cooperate with the army.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents of border localities, Far North, April-May 2016.Hide Footnote A spectacular attack on the Waza construction camp of the Chinese company Sinohydro in May 2014 finally pushed Cameroon into declaring war on Boko Haram and deploying 700 soldiers from the BIR as reinforcements in the Far North.[fn]“Dix ouvriers chinois enlevés par Boko Haram au nord du Cameroun”, Le Monde, 19 February 2014. Boko Haram seized 1,500kg of TNT, abducted ten Chinese and killed two BIR soldiers. Crisis Group interview, administrative authority, March 2016.Hide Footnote In July 2014, the abduction of the deputy prime minister’s wife, members of his family and the mayor of the city of Kolofata led to the deployment of a further 3,000 troops.[fn]Seventeen people were abducted and thirteen killed, including two soldiers. Crisis Group interview, individual close to the vice prime minister, Yaoundé, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Since March 2014, the conflict has left at least 125 dead and more than 200 wounded among the security forces and led to at least 1,400 civilian deaths. In the course of more than 100 attacks, Boko Haram is believed to have abducted more than 1,000 people, mainly women and girls: some have been used to stage suicide attacks, while others have been forcibly married to members of the group.[fn]In Mayo Moskota district alone, more than 200 people were killed (and 39 schools shut down); in Kolofata district, more than 350 were killed and in Fotokol district, more than 550. Crisis Group estimates based on open sources and interviews.Hide Footnote The defence forces claim to have killed about 2,000 presumed members of the group and arrested at least 970.[fn]Crisis Group interview, defence ministry spokesperson, Yaoundé, June 2016. Based on open sources and government statements, Crisis Group estimates that the Cameroonian army has killed around 2,300 members of Boko Haram. Crisis Group interviews, security forces and prison staff, Yaoundé and Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote

Communities that neighbour Nigerian towns controlled by Boko Haram and Lake Chad islands have been the most affected by the jihadist group’s attacks. Some Nigerian towns controlled by Boko Haram – such as Banki, Dilbe, Bama, Gambaru and Ngoshi – were part of Cameroon in the colonial era and even after independence.[fn]They were separated from Cameroon a year after independence following the 1961 referendum. See Crisis Group Africa Report N°160, Cameroon: Fragile State?, 25 May 2010. Crisis Group telephone interviews, Cameroonian security forces and Nigerian researchers, July 2016.Hide Footnote The important trading towns of Amchidé and Fotokol, attacked because their geographical position could confer an operational advantage on Boko Haram, have been destroyed and emptied of three quarters of their inhabitants – who were killed or displaced.[fn]From 5 until 7 February 2015 in Fotokol, Boko Haram mobilised around 1,000 fighters, of whom 300 were killed. Seven Cameroonian soldiers, seventeen Chadian soldiers and about 400 civilians were killed, including 78 burnt to death in mosques. Crisis Group interviews, Fotokol, April 2016. “In the Tracks of Boko Haram in Cameroon”, op. cit.Hide Footnote In 2014, Boko Haram was clearly seeking to take control of towns to add them to the caliphate it had proclaimed in Nigeria, and it even raised its flag above Kerawa, Ashigashia and Balochi, although it controlled them for barely a day.[fn]Besides Amchidé and the three towns mentioned above, several communities in Hile Alifa, Darak, Makary and Mayo Moskota districts were controlled for several days by Boko Haram because the security forces were absent or had difficulty in reaching the affected areas. Crisis Group interviews, Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote

The attacks have been carried out against areas with majority Muslim populations. Christians – of whom there are many in the Far North – were targeted in 2014 and 2015: during the February 2015 Fotokol massacre, the rebels said they were hunting for Christians, and churches were burnt down in Mayo Sava and Mayo Tsanaga.[fn]Most cases of arson against churches took place in Amchidé, Gouzda-Vreket and Beljoel. Crisis Group interviews, residents and displaced people, Mokolo, Mora and Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote But these cases were few compared with the number of mosques burnt down, and of imams and Muslims killed in the name of the fight against Muslims regarded as unfaithful.

The places targeted have varied with the seasons. During the November-May dry season, the Logone and Chari department – and in particular the Lake Chad islands, Fotokol and Dabanga – has been the main target of attacks, because the rivers dry up during this period, while during the June-October rainy season, Mayo Sava and Mayo Tsanaga have been targeted. The rainy season has also given Boko Haram the opportunity to reinforce its bases and training camps on the border with Logone and Chari and to establish itself in the hard to reach Cameroonian islands of Lake Chad to recruit fighters. Boko Haram has taken advantage of the rise in water levels to traffic arms through the islands of Tchol, Goulfey and Darak or the unidentified seasonally submerged islets.[fn]Some islets now have nicknames such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or Tora Bora. Crisis Group interviews, elites in Hile Alifa and Makary, March 2016.Hide Footnote

As far as battles are concerned – major offensives that can last for one or two days, with the aim of capturing a military base or a strategic location –, Boko Haram mobilised 250 to 800 fighters, and sometimes as many as 1,000, the majority Nigerians, but also Cameroonians and Chadians. Some fighters of Maghreb origin were killed during attacks on the BIR garrison in Fotokol and the motorised infantry brigade in Ashigashia.[fn]The involvement of Maghrebis as trainers and fighters in Boko Haram is confirmed by former hostages, former members of Boko Haram and BIR soldiers. Crisis Group interviews, BIR officers and former hostages, 2016; and interviews by Crisis Group analyst in a former capacity, members of Boko Haram detained in Maroua, 2014.Hide Footnote Battlefield commanders wore bulletproof vests and used walkie-talkie radios. The first wave of attack would be carried out by experienced fighters armed with RPGs, machine guns and AK-47s, using armoured vehicles, 4WD vehicles and pick-ups equipped with machine guns, usually driven by Chadians. They were followed by hundreds of “shouters” – young fighters armed with AK-47s, shouting Allahu Akbar, and advancing on motorbikes or on foot.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Cameroonian soldiers, Tourou, Mabass, Kolofata and Amchidé, 2016.Hide Footnote

The army has been routinely targeted by conventional attacks, staged by 50 to 200 insurgents, while attacks on villages have involved as few as five to 50 fighters. Kidnappings have been commonplace. During the 565 Boko Haram incursions into Cameroon between January 2014 and September 2016 (including 464 attacks and abductions identified by Crisis Group), the army was targeted on 71 occasions (43 conventional attacks).[fn]Crisis Group estimates based on open sources and interviews with administrative authorities and the security forces. “Violations and Abuses Committed by Boko Haram and the Impact on Human Rights in the Affected Countries”, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 29 September 2015; issues 629, 673, 695 and 747 of L’œil du Sahel; and “Cameroun. Boko Haram : 1 200 morts depuis 2013”, BBC, 15 January 2016.Hide Footnote

After having suffered defeats, and seeing the need to counter the mobility and capacity of the security forces to react quickly when under attack, Boko Haram began to plant IEDs.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior BIR officer, Kolofata, March 2016.Hide Footnote Since October 2014, the army has defused 37 IEDs in the Far North, while 24 have exploded as military vehicles went past and two have killed civilians.[fn]Crisis Group estimate based on information provided by BIR-Alpha, Emergence 4 and open sources.Hide Footnote Suicide attacks have followed the same pattern as conventional attacks, the majority targeting frontier communities, markets and mosques and mainly killing civilians. None has targeted a church. Young girls have carried out most suicide attacks. Between July 2015 and October 2016, they left at least 290 dead and more than 800 wounded. There was a particularly large number of suicide attacks in January and February 2016.

B. Boko Haram Recruitment and Financing

1. Recruitment

Since at least as early as 2011, between 3,500 and 4,000 Cameroonians, overwhelmingly men, are believed to have joined Boko Haram as fighters, spiritual guides and logisticians. More have been sympathisers of the group, particularly when the conflict was at its peak. However, few rose to the leadership level.

The Cameroonians in Boko Haram are almost all young men who come from poor families and are little educated if at all. However, some sons of imams and traditional chiefs, some youths with high school education and the children of prosperous traders have been involved.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former hostages and residents of border communities, Far North, March-May 2016.Hide Footnote Boko Haram has drawn on socio-economic motivations, ideology and religion, force and/or persuasion to secure recruits. In certain cases, a taste for adventure or a desire for personal revenge have played a role. Some people report the presence of women who have chosen to join the movement, working in logistics and intelligence. These are reportedly often wives or sisters of jihadists or women looking for a higher social status.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, refugees, humanitarian actors and security forces, Minawao and Mora, March-May 2016. “Mayo Sava : 9 femmes de Boko Haram arrêtées par l’armée”, L’œil du Sahel, 17 December 2015.Hide Footnote

The main recruitments took place in 2013 and 2014. Although concentrated in border areas and the three most affected departments, they also concerned Maroua and probably towns further south, such as Yaoundé, the capital city, or Bertoua and Foumban, where Boko Haram recruiting agents have been reported.[fn]“L’enrôlement des jeunes dans les groupes armés au Cameroun”, World Dynamics of Young People, Yaoundé, November 2015.Hide Footnote

Boko Haram has taken advantage of the local vulnerabilities outlined above. It has provided disenchanted youths seeking a sense of identity with a paid job, legitimised by religion, and has lured them with the promise of higher social status. It has also proved adept at exploiting inter-generational tensions, stirring up the resentment of young people toward their parents’ generation.[fn]Recruits were asked to kill their own parents. Those who did so were promoted more rapidly, having proved their devotion to Allah and to Boko Haram. The imam of Kerawa’s central mosque and several of his relatives were killed by their own children. Crisis Group interviews, senior community figures, Kerawa, April 2016. However, some Boko Haram militants retain affection for their families and often telephone them to get news. Crisis Group interviews, Boko Haram members detained in Maroua and families of Boko Haram militants, Far North, March-June 2016.Hide Footnote Another important factor has been ethnic identity – which extends across modern national borders: shared social memory of the Kanem-Bornou and Wandala empires remains deeply anchored across the region, providing fertile ground for anti-Western ideologies to prosper. In a number of places, Boko Haram has recruited among the Kanuri community through existing links between families and within peer groups.[fn]Some Boko Haram members based in Nigeria often call their brothers and friends, or contact them through WhatsApp to suggest that they join the movement or ask for money or food supplies. Crisis Group interviews, local NGOs and families of Boko Haram members, Far North, March-May 2016.Hide Footnote However, Crisis Group research found no strong ethnic factor in Boko Haram’s strategic choices.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents and academics, Far North, March 2016. Christian Seignobos, “Boko Haram : innovation guerrière depuis les monts mandara”, Afrique contemporaine, vol. 4, no. 252 (2014), pp. 149-169.Hide Footnote

Once recruited, new fighters are re-indoctrinated and drugged with Tramol, and paid only on the success of their operations.

The vast majority of Cameroonian recruits have joined the sect for socio-economic reasons: Boko Haram provides them with a motorbike and a recruitment bonus ranging from 300 up to 2,000 dollars and promises salaries of between 100 and 400 dollars during the initial months – as well as a substantial sum of money to the family of any fighter killed in combat. Once recruited, new fighters are re-indoctrinated and drugged with Tramol, and paid only on the success of their operations. Promises of money are backed up with social ones: for most young men in the area, marriage is an essential ingredient of social success and Boko Haram often provided wives for its fighters by kidnapping hundreds of young girls.[fn]Former hostages report that young men in Boko Haram spend their time listening to Shekau’s preaching and talking about girls and marriage. Crisis Group interviews, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote

In 2011, ideological recruitment campaigns got underway among Cameroonian students in Nigeria and among the Kanuri, Choa Arabs and Mandara in Cameroon itself.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional chiefs and administrative authorities, Mora and Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote According to agents of the security forces who have interrogated members of Boko Haram, those who have been recruited on an ideological basis are intensely radicalised, almost cult followers of Abubakar Shekau, the presumed leader of Boko Haram. Members arrested two years ago continue to adhere to the sect’s ideology – which blends religious radicalism such as jihadist Salafism, takfirism and kadjirism with an anti-Western outlook.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, prison staff, BIR-Alpha and gendarmerie, Yaoundé and Far North, February-April 2016.Hide Footnote In proposing to create a caliphate, Boko Haram exploits folk memory of the ancient Kanem-Bornu Empire.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Curbing Violence in Nigeria, op. cit.; Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, Islam, Politics and Security and the State in Nigeria (Leiden, 2014), p. 285.Hide Footnote While the majority of radicals were recruited early on, in 2o11, a further wave of young people joined the group after the caliphate had been proclaimed in 2014, thinking that Boko Haram was going to win the war.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security forces and administrative authorities, Mora, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Those kidnapped or forcibly recruited from 2012 onwards constitute a third group of recruits. Some individuals were indirectly pressured by radicalised friends into joining Boko Haram or opted to do so after coming under suspicion, or as a reaction against abuses committed by the army or the authorities’ lack of interest in the Far North. Others joined the sect after losing their means of livelihood – like motorcycle taxi drivers who had been prevented from working or people who had been engaged in cross-border trade.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academic, journalists, traditional chiefs and local NGOs, Maroua, Mora and Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote

At first, most recruits were ethnically Kanuri, but the pool has become more diverse, ranging from Islamicised ethnic groups such as the Choa Arabs, the Mandara, Kotoko and Hausa to the largely non-Muslim Kirdi ethnic groups such as the Maffa, Mada and Kapsiki. Kanuri’s vulnerability, rather than a Kanuri rebellion or their supposed desire to revive an old empire, explains why they form a large part of the recruits. Boko Haram took advantage of their tradition of rigorist Islam, poverty and low school enrolment rates, and of their links with north-eastern Nigeria through their proximity to the border, Quranic education ties and trade.[fn]It is the Far North community with the largest number of gonis – individuals whose Islamic knowledge is so deep that they can recite 6,000 verses of the Quran by heart. Crisis Group interviews, academic and Kanuri imam, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Fundamentally, people joined the group for a broad range of reasons. There is no simple model that explains how Boko Haram attracted recruits in Cameroon or that could prevent people from joining. In contrast to the situation in some other countries in conflict with jihadist groups, Cameroon’s populations do not question the legitimacy of the state, despite its weak presence in the Far North. This legitimacy is also reinforced by the alliance between the Biya regime and traditional chiefs who retain considerable influence over the local population. So the sort of anti-state rhetoric that plays well in north-eastern Nigeria does not resonate in the Far North; were it otherwise, Boko Haram probably would have attracted more recruits there.

2. Sources of funding

The payment of ransoms for the release of hostages – particularly foreigners – is one of Boko Haram’s main sources of funding. However, it remains a subject of controversy: the authorities involved usually deny having paid any ransoms to armed groups. On 19 February 2013, seven French citizens, including an employee of GDF-Suez, Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, were kidnapped in the Waza National Park (Logone and Chari); on 13 November 2013, a French priest was abducted in Nguetchewe (Mayo Tsanaga); on 19 April 2014, two Italian priests and a Canadian nun were kidnapped in Tchere (Diamaré); in May 2014, ten Chinese workers were abducted in Waza; and in July 2014, the wife of the vice prime minister and sixteen members of his inner circle – all Cameroonian – were kidnapped in Kolofata (Mayo Sava).

The Moulin-Fournier family was freed in November 2013 in return for a ransom payment reported by Cameroonian sources as $5 to 7 million and by Nigerian sources as $3.15 million together with the release of sixteen Boko Haram members who had been in detention in Cameroon, including logisticians who had already been tried and convicted.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, Yaoundé, Maroua and Mora, March-April 2016. “Politique : révélations sur la libération des otages français”, L’œil du Sahel, 22 April 2013; “Nigerian Islamists got 3.15 millions dollars to free French hostages”, Reuters, 26 April 2015. On a number of occasions, the French government has denied that a ransom was paid. “La France dément avoir versé une rançon pour la libération des otages”, lemonde.fr, 26 April 2013.Hide Footnote Similarly, the release of Father Vandenbeusch on 31 December 2013 reportedly led to the payment of a ransom and the freeing of Boko Haram members, including the prominent logistician Djida Umar.[fn]Authorities in Mayo Tsanaga – where the abduction took place – confirmed the payment of a ransom; this sparked a row between the speaker of the National Assembly and a local chief who, at the speaker’s request, had provided money from his personal funds to pay the ransom, against the promise that he would be reimbursed. “Libération du père Georges Vandenbeusch : le négociateur désigné de Boko Haram réclame son argent”, L’œil du Sahel, 6 January 2014. Crisis Group interview, administrative authority, Mokolo, Maroua, March 2016. The French government denied that any ransom had been paid. “Le prêtre Georges Vandenbeusch est rentré en France”, liberation.fr, 1 January 2014.Hide Footnote Cameroonian intermediaries allegedly secured the release of the Italian priests and the Canadian nun on 29 May 2014.[fn]The amount of the ransom is unknown. “Extrême-Nord : comment les trois otages ont été libérés?”, L’œil du Sahel, 2 June 2014. The Canadian government has denied that a ransom was paid, while the Italian government thanked the Cameroonian authorities and the Canadian government in a statement. “Release of Canadian nun, Italian priests spurs questions about ransom payments”, globeandmail.com, 1 June 2014. The Italian government recently declared that it was opposed to the payment of ransoms. “Italy denies paying ransom for release of aid workers”, The New York Times, 16 January 2015.Hide Footnote

The release of 27 hostages – ten Chinese and seventeen Cameroonian members of the vice prime minister’s inner circle – on 10 October 2014 is said to have proved more costly. These hostages were considered so valuable that Boko Haram managed to extract a payment of FCFA3.2 billion ($5.7 million) – FCFA1.5 billion ($2.6 million) for the Chinese and FCFA1.7 billion ($3.1 million) for the vice prime minister’s family – together with the release of 31 of its members, including senior figures such as Abakar Ali.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, inner circle of the vice prime minister, Yaoundé, April 2016. “Boko Haram : les dessous de la libération des 27 otages”, L’œil du Sahel, 13 October 2014. The Cameroonian authorities remained vague about whether a ransom had been paid. “Cameroun : libération d’otages chinois et camerounais de Boko Haram”, 20minutes.fr, 11 October 2014.Hide Footnote

These negotiations saw the sole contact for humanitarian purposes there has ever been between Boko Haram and the Cameroonian army – to arrange for the return of the bodies of dead soldiers. The group explained to negotiators that Shekau had attacked the house of the vice prime minister to take revenge for the failure to honour promises to release prisoners.[fn]After the battle of Bargaram and Kamouna on 24-25 July, which claimed the lives of 22 soldiers, the army established contacts to secure the return of some bodies – which were handed over in an encounter in Greya. Boko Haram representatives stated that Amadou Ali had been targeted because of his broken promise – made during negotiations over the Italian priests – to free about ten prisoners. Crisis Group interviews, security forces and intelligence officers, 2016.Hide Footnote During the negotiations, a Cameroonian member of parliament, acting as intermediary, was taken to Sambissa, in Nigeria, where he held talks with Shekau.[fn]“Cameroun : les contours de la libération de 27 otages enlevés par Boko Haram”, L’œil du Sahel, 16 October 2014; “Fin de séjour de l’honorable Abba Malla chez Boko Haram”, L’œil du Sahel, 31 August 2014.Hide Footnote The lamido of Kolofata and former hostages state that they were held in one of Boko Haram’s key Sambissa strongholds, commanded by Habib Mohammed Yusuf – the son of Mohammed Yusuf, according to the BIR.[fn]Nigeria also describes Habib Yusuf as the son of Mohammed Yusuf. In August 2016, Islamic State named him as its new leader in West Africa, replacing Abubakar Shekau. Crisis Group interview, lamido of Kolofata, Yaoundé, April 2016; and Crisis Group telephone interviews, security forces in Maiduguri, July 2016. “Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader”, BBC, 3 August 2016.Hide Footnote In all, at least 45 Boko Haram men were freed in exchange for 38 foreign and Cameroonian hostages who had been kidnapped in 2013 and 2014. The total value of ransom payments is estimated at a minimum of $11 million.[fn]Crisis Group estimate based on open sources and several interviews with sources involved in the case, including negotiators, systematically selecting the lowest figure from among the various cross-referenced estimates. Crisis Group interviews, Yaoundé and Far North, January-May 2016.Hide Footnote Leading figures of the Far North – a member of the government, members of the parliament and traditional chiefs – acted as intermediaries and used their contact networks during the negotiations.

In Cameroon, Boko Haram has also raised funds by stealing cattle and selling them in the markets of the Far North and in Nigeria.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities and police chief, Maroua and Mokolo, March 2016.Hide Footnote Since 2013, the group has stolen at least 12,000 heads of cattle – worth around FCFA2 billion ($3.4 million) – and thousands of sheep and goats in the Far North.[fn]The biggest thefts were: 4,244 head of cattle in January 2016 in Makary, Hile Alifa and Fotokol, 500 head in Ashigashia on 5 November 2014, 350 head on 6 December 2014 in Guidi, 200 head on 20 January in Djabiré and around 7,000 sheep and cattle from 2013 until 2015 in Mayo Moskota. More than 90 other thefts of cattle occurred between 2014 and June 2016. Tally established by Crisis Group based on open sources and interviews in the Far North in 2016. A single cow sells for an average FCFA200,000 ($332) in the region and Boko Haram receivers sold them at FCFA150,000 ($249). Crisis Group interviews, researchers at the Institut supérieur du Sahel and administrative authorities, Maroua and Mokolo, March 2016.Hide Footnote It has also grown richer by extorting money from local traders and those operating on the roads to Nigeria, or by asking for financial contributions to the jihad.[fn]They asked those who could not afford to pay to transport supplies and munitions. Crisis Group interviews, traders and transporters, Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote Finally, it managed to establish itself in the Far North by building alliances with blamas (district chiefs) and lawans (second-ranking chiefs), traders and transport operators, smugglers and former highway bandits – and by setting up a leadership team for Cameroon.

In the Far North, depending on the place and time, Boko Haram has been a sectarian movement rejecting the state, a rebel movement inspired by religious ideas, a particularly violent criminal group – but above all, an undertaking relying on terrorist tactics. Today it seems to have lost its appeal to young people: the defeats it has suffered and the indiscriminate killings it has carried out have persuaded the vast majority – including the followers of fundamentalist Islam – that it is neither an incarnation of true Islam nor the way toward an alternative political and social order. The movement has thus lost many sympathisers in frontier communities. It has also been weakened by the destruction of its arms caches and a number of its supply lines.

In June 2016, the Cameroonian authorities estimated that fewer than 1,000 Cameroonians remained active members of Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officers, Yaoundé, June 2016.Hide Footnote Since July 2015, the group has no longer controlled any territory in the country or staged attacks involving hundreds of fighters there. But it still maintains networks of alliances and support and continues to conduct suicide bombings and attacks by groups of ten to 50 rebels against civilians and military posts in the Cameroonian section of Lake Chad and the departments of Mayo Sava and Mayo Tsanaga.

C. The Impact of Boko Haram

1. Political and security consequences

Cameroon’s history has been marked by tensions between regional political elites. To some extent, this latest conflict has exposed such tensions in the Far North. The ruling CPDM and its ally, the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), are dominant in the region and the war against Boko Haram has thus bolstered the popularity of President Paul Biya. Despite the inadequacy of the government’s social and economic interventions and the fact that Biya has not visited the Far North since the start of the conflict, many residents are grateful for the state’s newfound concern for the region.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, Far North, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote But the war has also aggravated rivalries between local political figures – as evidenced by the acrimony between the Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali and the Speaker of the National Assembly Cavaye Jibril, and the quarrels that broke out in the CPDM when its grassroots bodies were renewed in October 2015.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CPDM mayors and municipal councillors, Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote

At the national and international levels, this war has strengthened the president. Despite some criticisms, many Cameroonians are satisfied with Biya’s response to Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, Far North, North, Adamawa (Cameroon), Foumban, Mbalmayo, Douala and Yaoundé, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote He has also gained credibility in diplomatic circles, particularly the French ones, through his personal involvement in efforts to secure the freedom of French hostages.[fn]Paul Biya was cold-shouldered diplomatically by France before the war, and received in Paris in 2012 in a manner that Cameroonians regarded as humiliating. But he has subsequently seen a string of French government figures turn up in Yaoundé, ranging from then Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to President François Hollande. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, Yaoundé and Paris, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote In parallel, campaigns by private media favoured and funded by close associates of the president have reinforced an existing  anti-French mood.[fn]This manoeuvre aims to damage France in the eyes of the Cameroonian public and thus limit  its scope to demand political reforms. Crisis Group interviews, senior officials and journalists, Yaoundé, 2015-2016. Crisis Group Report, Cameroon: The Threat of Religious Radicalism, op. cit.; Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle, “Les violences dans l’Extrême-Nord du Cameroun : le complot comme outil d’interprétation et de luttes politiques”, Politique Africaine, no. 138 (2015); and “Au Cameroun, la montée d’un sentiment anti-français”, Le Monde, 3 July 2015.Hide Footnote

The war has not much influenced how the north and south of Cameroon perceive each other, even if, initially, southern observers thought this was a case of rebellion by northerners.[fn]Northern Cameroon is little known to southerners, who generally see it as a homogenous entity in political and religious terms. Since power moved from the north to the south in 1982 and the abortive coup by northern soldiers in 1984, some of the southern elite have been haunted by the prospect of the northerners returning to power – particularly as some northern political barons do believe that power should revert to them when Paul Biya is gone. Thus, several media favoured by the president’s inner circle have reported Boko Haram as a northern rebellion supported by France. Populations in the Far North have felt unfairly stigmatised by the accusations emanating from the south, when it is they who are paying a heavy price for the conflict. Crisis Group interviews, academics and senior officials originally from the Far North, Yaoundé and Maroua, 2016.Hide Footnote Northern Cameroon has not suffered any erosion of its representation in the ranks of the government or the senior civil service. However, it has reinforced the feeling among officials that it is best to avoid being posted to the Far North.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, groups of officials, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote

The army has been the big winner from the war, despite suffering losses. It has earned the support of many Cameroonians who had previously blamed the military for repressing the democracy movement in the 1990s and the unrest of February 2008 and who for the first time have seen evidence of its effectiveness and usefulness.[fn]In contrast to the Bakassi conflict (1993-2002), the one with Boko Haram has received heavy media coverage and has been followed practically in real time through social media.Hide Footnote The credibility of the army has also been boosted in the eyes of international partners, who have enjoyed a cooperative relationship with their Cameroonian counterparts.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, American and European diplomats, Yaoundé, March 2016.Hide Footnote

But although there have been incidental benefits for the president and the army, the fact that the Far North proved fertile terrain for Boko Haram reveals a deep crisis. Prospects for the region, populated in the majority by young people with limited economic opportunities, depend heavily on Yaoundé. But links with the capital and the “productive” south of Cameroon are seen as the fiefdom of an elderly elite whose position is increasingly challenged in the political, religious and social spheres.

2. Economic consequences

The struggle against Boko Haram puts great strain on Cameroon’s development objectives.[fn]According to the INS, a growth rate clearly above 7 per cent would be needed to reduce poverty. It was 6 per cent in 2015. “La croissance du Cameroun à 6% en 2015, estime le FMI”, Jeune Afrique, 25 September 2015. Crisis Group interviews, INS researchers, Yaoundé, July 2016.Hide Footnote The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that between 2014 and 2015, security expenditure increased by some 1-2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) – that is FCFA189-378 billion ($320-640 million).[fn]“Sub-Saharan Africa: Time for a Policy Reset”, Regional Economic Outlook, IMF, April 2016, p. 24.Hide Footnote But the overall economic impact was greater still.

The conflict has eroded the economic structures in the Far North, pushing tens of thousands who lived from trade with Nigeria into poverty or bankruptcy. Some moved to N’Djamena because of the insecurity and the closure of the border with Nigeria.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kousseri market, March 2016.Hide Footnote The city of Kousseri, which used to be Cameroon’s second largest source of customs revenues from non-oil-related activity after Douala, was severely affected, as were important customs posts that are currently shut, such as Limani, Fotokol, Blamé, Blangoua and Dabanga.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Sultan of Kousseri, customs officers and traders, Far North, March-October 2016.Hide Footnote

The conflict and its consequences – the destruction of schools, hospitals, administrative buildings and, sometimes, entire villages, the theft of cattle and brutal halt to tourism – paralysed the local economy, which now accounts for only 5 per cent of Cameroon’s GDP, compared with 7.3 per cent before the conflict.[fn]No evaluation of the value of destroyed infrastructure has yet been carried out. Crisis Group interviews, senior officials in the economy, planning and regional development ministry (Minepat) and statisticians, Yaoundé, June-October 2016; regional customs and tax services directors, Ma-roua, October 2016. In 2014, Cameroon’s GDP was $32 billion, according to the World Bank.Hide Footnote The shortfall at the national level – the indirect economic cost – amounts to around $740 million a year, and thus $2.2 billion since 2014.[fn]Crisis Group estimate. The indirect cost of the war is the lost potential economic output and revenue and is calculated by combining the slowdown of growth and the fall in Far North’s contribution to the national budget and GDP. This cost equates to almost the entire budget proposed in the 2014 development plan for the north.Hide Footnote

3. Social and intercommunal consequences

This conflict has had an impact on inter-communal dynamics, leading to the stigmatisation of the Kanuri, the ethnic group most heavily represented among the ranks of Boko Haram, although it has not triggered acts of violence against them. The Kanuri have been harassed by the security forces – often after being the target of far-fetched accusations.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents and mayors in border communities, Far North, 2015.Hide Footnote Residents of Kousseri have referred to displaced Kanuri fleeing violence as “Boko Haram” and refused to rent homes to them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, displaced Kanuri and Glavda families, Kousseri and Mora, March 2016.Hide Footnote In Maroua prison, Kanuri detainees have been regarded with mistrust by other prisoners and harassed by the security forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, prison staff and director of the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC), Maroua, April 2016; and “Prison de Maroua : 795 membres de Boko Haram en détention”, L’œil du Sahel, 30 May 2016.Hide Footnote Kanuri women, suspected of being suicide bombers, have been closely monitored.

The situation of women in general is worrying: those who manage to escape from Boko Haram are often rejected by the communities they come from.[fn]“Beyond Chibok”, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), April 2016; “Bad blood”, UNICEF International Alert, February 2016; “Dans l’intimité des victimes sexuelles de Boko Haram”, Intégration, 6 June 2016.Hide Footnote In contrast, the war against Boko Haram has not had a significant impact on relations between Christians and Muslims, although this was a serious risk.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, local people and religious leaders, Douala, Yaoundé, Foumban and northern Cameroon, 2014-2016.Hide Footnote Similarly, Boko Haram violence generated few intercommunal tensions, except between Kanuri and Choa Arabs in Logone and Chari.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional chiefs, local population and administrative authorities, Maroua, Logone and Chari, March 2016.Hide Footnote

At present, Cameroon counts more than 155,000 internally displaced persons and 73,000 Nigerian refugees linked to the conflict with Boko Haram.[fn]“Lake Chad Basin: Crisis Update No. 9”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), 1 November 2016.Hide Footnote The arrival of displaced populations has created tensions with host families, who for the most part also needed help, but these strains have eased since humanitarian NGOs are on the ground.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian NGOs, families hosting displaced people and administrative authorities, Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote In 2014 and 2015, Cameroon expelled more than 40,000 Nigerian refugees, the majority by force and often in conditions that failed to meet the requirements of international law – which angered the Nigerian authorities, particularly in August 2015.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian NGOs, Maroua, Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote This troubled the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which drafted a tripartite agreement between Cameroun, UNHCR and Nigeria to facilitate refugees’ voluntary return. This has still not been signed, but the forced repatriations have ceased since 2016.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, UNHCR representative in Cameroon, September 2016.Hide Footnote The 73,000 remaining refugees live in the Minawao camp (59,000) and in host communities where their presence does not pose a particular problem.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UNHCR representative, Yaoundé, April 2016.Hide Footnote

IV. Responding to Boko Haram

A. The Government’s Security Response

Faced with Boko Haram, the government initially resorted to a strategy of denial. Out of negligence and because of historic tensions with its neighbour, but also to avoid being targeted by the jihadist group, up to 2013 it preferred to stay out of a problem that was perceived as internal to Nigeria.[fn]The Bakassi conflict between Cameroon and Nigeria made cooperation in tackling Boko Haram difficult. The frontier between the two countries has still not been fully delineated in the area where the group operates. When the Nigerians demanded hot pursuit rights, senior Cameroonian officers feared a ploy to establish a foothold in the Far North. Crisis Group interviews, presidential Security Directorate, senior army officers and foreign ministry, Yaoundé, 2016. Guy Roger Eba’a, Affaire Bakassi : 1993-2002 (Yaoundé, 2008).Hide Footnote But once confronted by the movement’s more aggressive approach, it adopted relatively effective security measures. This response has been structured around Operation Alpha led by the BIR (BIR-Alpha) and Operation Emergence 4, led by the fourth inter-service military region (RMIA4, the regular army).[fn]BIR-Alpha is a force established by the BIR general staff to fight against Boko Haram. Its troops are drawn from the five land units of the BIRs and seconded to Alpha for a year. BIR-Alpha is distinct from the first land unit of the BIR based at Maroua. Crisis Group interview, deputy chief of staff of BIR-Alpha, Kolofata, March 2016. Cameroon is divided into four inter-service military regions (RMIAs) and RMIA4 corresponds to the administrative region of the Far North. The concept of “Emergence” dates back to 2001, but was put into operation to confront Boko Haram. Crisis Group interview, brigadier general, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote The bilateral Operation Logone, carried out in 2015 by the Cameroonian and Chadian armed forces, was additional. The deployment of the Cameroonian sector of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in October 2015 constituted the final component of this security response.

Cameroon’s security response suffered from initial shortcomings, which cost dearly in soldiers’ lives: lack of, old or unreliable equipment (inappropriate bullet-proof vests, weapons that did not work, a shortage of night vision goggles), breakdowns in logistical support.[fn]In 2014, 67 soldiers were killed; in 2015, 41, and from January to August 2016, seventeen. Crisis Group interviews, international military experts, Yaoundé, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote A shortage of personnel and the weak operational capacity of the army caused major difficulties for troop rotation in Emergence 4: in 2014 and 2015, soldiers sometimes spent nine months in forward bases such as Mabass, Ldamang and Tourou without being relieved. There were also problems in the command structure: at first, there was little cooperation between Emergence 4 and BIR-Alpha.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officers, Yaoundé and Maroua, February-March 2016. Interview by a Crisis Group analyst in a former capacity, international soldier, Yaoundé, February 2015.Hide Footnote

Similarly, at the outset there was a notable lack of cooperation with local communities – a problem compounded by army abuses and the fact that the majority of deployed soldiers were southerners who did not understand the local languages. Human and electronic intelligence capacities were extremely limited.[fn]A lack of cooperation with the Nigerian army and rivalries between the intelligence agencies worsened the situation – to the point where the DGRE, the most important intelligence service, had to call on top-level political intervention to secure access to Boko Haram commanders arrested by the police and gendarmerie. Crisis Group interviews, intelligence officers, Yaoundé, September 2014-May 2016.Hide Footnote According to Amnesty International, the army committed numerous abuses and human rights violations against the populations in the Far North.[fn]Amnesty International has documented forced disappearances, arrests and arbitrary detentions, cases of financial extortion, raids on villages and mass killings, etc. The organisation has also criticised the judicial system, particularly conditions of detention in jails – Maroua prison, designed for 350 prisoners, actually holds 1,552 – and a judicial process that shows little respect for defence rights. “Right Cause, Wrong Means: Human Rights Violated and Justice Denied in Cameroon’s Fight against Boko Haram”, Amnesty International, July 2016.Hide Footnote The government denies this and insists that disciplinary measures were taken against “black sheep”.[fn]The measures include disciplinary assignments, exclusion from the army or prosecution. Crisis Group interviews, foreign affairs ministry and defence ministry, Yaoundé, April-September 2016.Hide Footnote Crisis Group has witnessed abuses by the security forces in the region, but also a high degree of support for the army.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, Far North and Yaoundé, 2016. The recent Amnesty International report on Cameroon provoked a plethora of fierce criticism by journalists and the civil society – a sign of the army’s newfound popularity.Hide Footnote

Much is at stake when it comes to respect for human rights, because the exponential growth of abuses in the Far North could push some young people, caught between Boko Haram’s hammer and the army’s anvil, to join the jihadist group.

However, the disciplinary measures that have been taken are inadequate, given the extent of the cases identified by Amnesty International. Moreover, the government’s response has so far been limited to these measures and does not encompass official apologies or material compensation for the victims or their families that could reinforce social cohesion. Much is at stake when it comes to respect for human rights, because the exponential growth of abuses in the Far North could push some young people, caught between Boko Haram’s hammer and the army’s anvil, to join the jihadist group. This also risks jeopardising military cooperation between Cameroon and Western countries; that is what happened in Nigeria, whose army committed serious human rights violations.[fn]“Afadé : 3 militaires accusés d’exactions interpellés”, L’œil du Sahel, 25 July 2016.Hide Footnote

Cameroon has managed to make up for lost ground quite effectively. In 2013 and 2014, small reinforcements were sent to the border area: 700 extra troops were deployed in June 2014, and 2,000 in August. BIR-Alpha was established in 2014 and Operation Emergence 3 – which later became Emergence 4 – was put into action in the same year. In August 2014, the government reorganised the structure of the military, establishing the Far North as the fourth inter-service military region and the fourth gendarmerie region (RG4). The incumbent generals were replaced with colonels who were originally from the area, a gendarmerie unit was specifically created in Kousseri, several brigades of motorised infantry were mobilised and the headquarters of the 41st motorised infantry brigade was transferred from Maroua to Kousseri.

Army equipment was improved too and cooperation between Emergence 4 and BIR-Alpha improved noticeably. The army launched numerous initiatives in support of the populations, such as the distribution of medicines and food, medical check-ups and work on local roads. Intelligence improved, in part thanks to the purchase of tactical drones and a Cessna surveillance aircraft, and to enhanced cooperation with Nigerian counterparts.[fn]Drones and surveillance material were purchased from Israel and the U.S., armoured vehicles, helicopters, and combat aircraft from China, Russia, South Africa and the U.S. Crisis Group interviews, BIR officers and European military experts, Far North and Yaoundé, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote Even the army’s communication was modernised: the defence ministry organised 24 visits to the front by journalists – which partly explains the current popularity of the army in the Cameroonian media.[fn]Crisis Group observations, Cameroon, 2016. “In the Tracks of Boko Haram …”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Cameroon now has around 8,500 troops in the Far North region – a seventh of its defence forces’ manpower.[fn]BIR-Alpha has 2,400 men, the MNJTF 2,300 – out of a planned 2,600 – and Emergence 4 1,800 men. Also present in RG4 are units of the gendarmerie and the Maroua-based first land unit of the BIR. Crisis Group interviews, senior officers, Maroua, March 2016, and officers from the southern area of the BIR, Kolofata, March 2016.Hide Footnote Even so, the military response is lacking in some respects. The troops are still not adequately provided for. Emergence 4 remains under-manned, causing problems for troop rotations.[fn]Contrary to the official line, the problem is not a shortage of manpower in the army – which has more than 60,000 troops – but rather in the soldiers’ efforts to avoid being posted to the Far North, by finding pretexts to remain in the south. Crisis Group interviews, soldiers, Maroua, Maltam and Kousseri, March 2016.Hide Footnote Abuses continue, albeit probably less than hitherto. Some Emergence 4 soldiers have seen their promotions effectively frozen because they are not free to take the required training courses, while those who have remained in Yaoundé have been promoted.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, soldiers in Emergence 4, Far North, March 2016.Hide Footnote Since the creation of the MNJTF, Alpha and Emergence 4 have been able to officially carry out operations against Boko Haram in Nigeria, in collaboration with Nigerian troops. BIR-Alpha operations in Nigeria go under the name of “Arrow” and those of Emergence 4 are labelled “Tentacules”.[fn]For a detailed outline of all the operations, see Appendix B.Hide Footnote

The shock caused by the first attacks in Cameroon, particularly those in Maroua, has led since July 2015 to the adoption of new administrative and security measures such as bans on the full face veil (burqa), on public gatherings and on the use of motorbikes, the imposition of a 6pm closing time for bars, numerous inspections and searches, the monitoring or even closure of mosques and the arrest of supposedly radical imams and the reinforcement of police and gendarmerie manpower for intelligence assignments.[fn]“Terrorisme : les 9 mesures phares prises par le Cameroun pour se protéger de Boko Haram”, Jeune Afrique, 29 July 2015.Hide Footnote While these measures have mostly been accepted by the population, some initiatives, and the ensuing excesses, have stirred discontent. The anti-terrorist law that had been adopted much earlier, in December 2014, has so far been used more to pressure the opposition and civil society than against Boko Haram.[fn]Journalists have been prosecuted for failing to condemn acts of terrorism, and researchers have been arrested in the north. In 2015 and 2016, opposition and civil society figures were briefly detained on a number of occasions and their demonstrations were often banned. “Cameroon: Authorities must drop ‘non-denunciation’ charges against three journalists”, Amnesty International, 21 January 2016; “Cameroun : Ahmed Abba, déjà un an derrière les barreaux”, RFI, 30 July 2016. Crisis Group interviews, opposition and civil society figures, prefect, Yaoundé, June 2016.Hide Footnote The ban on wearing the burqa has led to numerous abuses by the police and gendarmerie in the Far North, including against women wearing the niqab, the hijab or the soudaré – a type of headscarf similar to the jilbab or the chador that is widespread in the area.[fn]In 2015, Maroua residents complained to the governor, who advised the security forces to exercise greater restraint in carrying out security checks. By contrast, in Adamawa (Cameroon), local people say they appreciate the flexibility with which this measure is applied. Crisis Group interviews, academics and residents, Maroua, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Detention is another tool of the security strategy. Since 2014, the security forces have arrested at least 970 presumed members of Boko Haram, mostly men, of whom 880 are still detained: 125 have been convicted and around 755 are awaiting trial in Maroua prison (about 680), Kousseri and Mora local jails, the main prison in Yaoundé and the General Directorate for External Research (DGRE).[fn]About 30 presumed members were found innocent and released, often after a year in detention. Crisis Group interviews, security forces and prison staff, Yaoundé and Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote Among these prisoners are senior ideologues and operational commanders, on the one hand, and informers, forcibly recruited members and junior logisticians on the other. Boko Haram members in Maroua jail are incarcerated with common law detainees. Some prison authorities present this as a technique for de-radicalisation, but mixing the two categories of detainees carries the inverse risk that common criminals will become indoctrinated or that members who were initially less extreme will become more radicalised.[fn]The fact that different categories of prisoner are mixed together is not the result of a justice ministry policy but a reflection of the shortage of prisons and prison overcrowding. However, some senior penal administration officials insist that this does help to de-radicalise some members of Boko Haram. They explain how, for several months, some of the group’s senior members held at the main jail in Yaoundé have been praying with Muslim prisoners held over common criminal offences – and this has angered other members who accuse them of dirtying themselves and betrayal. Reportedly, a few have even agreed to talk to Christians, including the prison governor. But the majority remain deeply radical. Crisis Group interviews, governors and prison staff, Yaoundé, January-April 2016.Hide Footnote

Furthermore, the judicial response has so far been limited to sanctions (punitive justice) and does not include a program for reintegration into society. Among the almost 1,000 presumed Boko Haram members in detention, the majority have only played minor roles in logistics or as informers, for financial reward, without being converted to the ideology of the jihadist group – or they have been arrested for failing to report suspects. Subjected to punitive judicial treatment, they fill up prisons and are at increased risk of radicalisation.[fn]Cameroon prisons hold three to five times their supposed capacity of detainees. Crisis Group interviews, director of an association for the defence of human rights and prison staff, Yaoundé, 2016.Hide Footnote

B. The Vigilante Groups: Effectiveness versus Risks

In Cameroon, self-defence groups and vigilante groups have existed since the 1960s, and in the Far North these vigilante groups were activated or created in July 2015, after the first suicide attacks. They have usually been activated by the authorities but there are cases where the populations have taken the initiative. They are placed under the authority of sub-prefects and traditional chiefs and generally provide local intelligence to the army, sometimes also operating checkpoints or forming self-defence militias. They have foiled about fifteen suicide attacks and helped to secure the arrest of about 100 Boko Haram members.[fn]The BIR has trained several vigilante groups in the collection of intelligence. Crisis Group interview, senior BIR officer, Kolofata, March 2016.Hide Footnote In 2016, they became involved in some army operations against the jihadist group, including in Nigeria.[fn]“Limani : 70 membres des comités de vigilance attaquent Boko Haram au Nigéria”, L’œil du Sahel, 3 May 2016; “Au Cameroun, les soldats de l’ombre oubliés de la lutte contre Boko Haram”, Le Monde, 30 March 2016.Hide Footnote

However, reliance on these committees does carry some risks. False accusations have been made to the security forces as a way of settling scores.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, administrative authorities in Maroua, November 2015.Hide Footnote Despite prior personal background checks, there have been cases of complicity between some committee members and Boko Haram, while others have engaged in extortion on religious grounds.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of vigilante groups, Fotokol, Dabanga, Makary, Hile Alifa, April-May 2016. “Cameroun : des membres des comités de vigilance complices de Boko Haram”, L’œil du Sahel, 7 December 2015.Hide Footnote For example, in Amchidé, Christian members of the first vigilante group set up by the BIR in 2014 made false accusations against Muslim residents and subjected them to extortion and blackmail. After six months, the committee was dissolved and formed again on a religious parity basis.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, vigilante group and traditional chief, Amchidé, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote

C. The Frailty of Development Initiatives

Confronted with Boko Haram, the government has announced development projects for the Far North but these remain limited in scale and implementation has been delayed. In June 2014, an emergency plan for the development of the north was published. But it is budgeted at a mere FCFA78.8 billion ($135 million) and it is not yet operational. Yet in a letter to the president’s office just months earlier, members of the government and senior officials originally from the north had estimated cost the development needs of the area at a minimum of FCFA1,600 billion ($2.8 billion).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officials and senior officers originally from the north, Yaoundé, 2016. “Plan d’urgence du grand Nord : les fausses promesses du gouvernement”, L’œil du Sahel, 20 December 2014.Hide Footnote In March 2015, the government announced an emergency plan of FCFA5.3 billion ($9 million) for the construction of schools and hospitals in the Far North. Beyond the inadequacy of the allocated funding, this project has been the subject of accusations of embezzlement. Yet a second similar plan is being prepared.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities and inhabitants, Maroua and Mora, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Of the FCFA925 billion ($1.7 billion) of the Triennial Emergency Plan for the Acceleration of Growth and Employment, FCFA42 billion ($75 million) are allocated to the Far North.[fn]“Développement : un budget de 42 milliards pour l’Extrême-Nord”, cameroun24.net, 8 January 2016.Hide Footnote Similarly, in 2015, out of a national Public Investment Budget (BIP) of FCFA1,150 billion ($2 billion), only FCFA45.4 billion ($80 million) was reserved for the Far North – and that was an increase on the region’s share in 2014.[fn]See the 2016 finance law. “BIP et plan d’urgence à l’Extrême-Nord : les recommandations du gouvernement”, public contracts ministry, 22 July 2016; “Cameroun-BIP 2015 : inégale répartition du gâteau national”, 237online.com, 1 February 2015. Crisis Group email correspondence, senior officials and economists, July 2016.Hide Footnote Besides the government initiatives, the president has made donations to the populations of the Far North. The south of the country has also provided FCFA2.5 billion ($4.2 million) in support for the region as well as food supplies. But in relation to this, too, there have been allegations of embezzlement.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, administrative authorities, Yaoundé, Maroua and Mora, 2016. “Cameroun : 2,5 milliards FCFA collectés pour l’effort de guerre contre Boko Haram”, camerpost.com, 17 April 2016.Hide Footnote

D. The Regional Response

Faced with the Boko Haram threat, in 2015 the states of the Lake Chad Basin (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger) and Benin set up a multinational force of 8,700 soldiers and police drawn from all five countries.[fn]The current MNJTF is a descendant of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) created by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in 1998 to fight banditry in the area – and which encompassed Nigeria, Chad and Niger. It has kept the same English name, MNJTF, but the legal framework has been modified, and the geographical scope and range of competences have been broadened to bring in Cameroon and Benin and cover the fight against Boko Haram.Hide Footnote At the start of the crisis, Cameroon was wary of bilateral or sub-regional initiatives and in 2012, it did not grant cross-border hot pursuit rights to Nigeria – however, this did not prevent the latter from intervening twice, in Amchidé and Fotokol, in 2013.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, Nigerian and Cameroonian diplomats, July 2016. Crisis Group interviews, non-commissioned officers, Far North, March 2016. “Fotokol : quatre membres de Boko Haram abattus par l’armée nigériane”, L’œil du Sahel, 29 April 2013.Hide Footnote As the conflict intensified, Cameroon demanded hot pursuit rights from Nigeria in 2014 and, in cooperation with Chad, launched Operation Logone in January 2015. Indeed, Cameroonian soldiers often advanced as far as Gambaru and Banki in Nigeria and, from Cameroonian territory, bombarded Boko Haram positions in that country in 2014 and 2015.[fn]“L’armée camerounaise pilonne Boko Haram au Nigéria”, L’œil du Sahel, 26 October 2015.Hide Footnote Cooperation with Nigeria has markedly improved since Muhammadu Buhari’s May 2015 accession to power in Abuja, to the point where the Cameroonian sector of the MNJTF is the only one that is operational. The two armies carry out coordinated operations and regularly exchange intelligence.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Cameroonian soldiers and diplomats, Yaoundé, March and June 2016.Hide Footnote

One week after Cameroon’s president had appealed on 7 January 2015 for international and regional solidarity, Chad offered to intervene on the territory of its neigh-bour. Chad has felt concerned since September 2014, when Boko Haram seized control of the road from Maiduguri to Fotokol and was threatening the Mora-Kousseri route – the two main supply corridors to N’Djamena.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°233, Chad: Between Ambition and Fragility, 30 March 2016.Hide Footnote Cameroon and Chad established Operation Logone, composed of 2,500 soldiers from the Chadian Armed Forces for Intervention in Cameroon (FATIC) and units of the Cameroonian army.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, colonels and diplomats from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Yaoundé, March-June 2016.Hide Footnote Chadian soldiers stationed in Maltam, Fotokol and Mora, who enjoyed hot pursuit rights, carried out offensives against Boko Haram in Nigeria. They fought alongside the Cameroonians on their soil in several cases, like during the February 2015 Boko Haram attack on a military base in Fotokol.[fn]Crisis Group interview, defence ministry spokesperson, Yaoundé, February 2016.Hide Footnote

Although there was no official agreement, the understanding between the two countries envisaged that Cameroon would provide the fuel, food supplies and medical care for the Chadians. The former defence minister had hoped for the intervention of the Chadian troops and the local population welcomed it – but it was challenged by the military hierarchy. Cameroonian soldiers are wary of them following allegations of abuses against civilians in Nigeria.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior officers, Yaoundé, January 2016; soldiers and administrative authorities, Yaoundé and Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote Having crossed into Cameroon through Kousseri in February 2015, Chadian troops left in November 2015.

At the sub-regional level, the MNJTF has been organised into three sectors: Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria. The Cameroonian sector (Sector 1) covers Mayo Sava, although it is formally empowered to eventually cover all three border departments. Originally conceived as an integrated force, the MNJTF is in fact a coordinated force – the Cameroonian contingent is formed entirely of Cameroonian soldiers, and Cameroon’s defence ministry is entirely responsible for its funding and logistics. The commander of the Cameroonian sector takes his orders from the regional commander of the MNJTF in N’Djamena, but in the day-to-day management of Sector 1, he is answerable to the head of Emergence 4. The MNJTF has no authority over BIR-Alpha and Emergence 4, but these two forces do cooperate with the MNJTF contingent – with which they carry out joint operations in Nigeria.[fn]Crisis Group interview, brigadier general, Maroua, March 2016. Wary at first, BIR-Alpha cooperates better with the MNJTF contingent, whose commander is the former national supervisor of the BIR and has co-opted about ten BIR officers into the MNJTF general staff in Mora.Hide Footnote

The establishment of the MNJTF raised expectations among Cameroonian troops who hoped to be paid as if they were on a UN operation. This subsequently led to disappointment and accusations that salaries were being stolen.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, MNJTF non-commissioned officers, Yaoundé and Mora, February-March 2016; MNJTF senior officer, N’Djamena, May 2016.Hide Footnote

V. A Route out of Crisis

Although Boko Haram appears weakened this year – or at least has been described as weaker – it remains a danger for the populations in the Far North and a threat to the Cameroonian state and the security forces.[fn]Crisis Group Briefing, Boko Haram on the Back Foot?, op. cit.Hide Footnote Internal divisions undermining the group for a long time were exposed in August 2016 with Islamic State’s nomination of Abu Musab al-Barnawi as its new leader (Wali) in West Africa – a nomination challenged by Abubakar Shekau.[fn]“Boko Haram : contesté, Aboubakar Shekau répond à nouveau à l’Etat islamique”, Jeune Afrique, 9 August 2016.Hide Footnote But the rift between Shekau and Barnawi does not imply that Boko Haram will cease its activities in Cameroon.[fn]The faction commanded by Shekau currently operates in the Mayo Sava and Mayo Tsanaga areas, while the one led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi operates throughout Logone and Chari and on Lake Chad islands. Crisis Group interviews, intelligence officers, Yaoundé, August 2016.Hide Footnote In fact, the opposite is true: there is a serious risk that Cameroon will see a worsening spiral of violence, particularly in the Lake Chad area – Hile Alifa, Darak and Makary – and in Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga and along the Waza road, as the growing number of attacks since June 2016 indicates. After two years of conflict, it has become increasingly difficult for Boko Haram to attract recruits on an ideological basis in the Far North, which could lead the group to increase the scale of forced recruitment.[fn]In the Tracks of Boko Haram in Cameroon”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Across the Far North, the state is often present only in the form of the security forces and customs officers. Besides the specific technical or material issues, this also reflects a general problem of representation. The Cameroonian model for integrating peripheral regions by co-opting the male and elderly local elite has reached its limits – as in other regions – due to the poor management of resources and because the population is rising fast. This widening gulf between the way Cameroon is governed and the expectations of the public has exacerbated the social and economic vulnerability of young people in the region, leaving them exposed to the financial incentives proffered by Boko Haram.

Faced with development and social cohesion problems that the current conflict poses in the long term, the state should reinforce its presence in the region, concentrating on the improvement of public services and on the support and facilitation of economic activities. A visit by the president of Cameroon, and leaders of the opposition and civil society to the affected departments of the Far North could serve as the launchpad for a major drive to build public infrastructure and development projects. These should be accompanied by a program to reinforce social cohesion and intercommunal relations, as part of an inclusive approach that favours initiatives emerging from civil society and the public. The next 20 May National Day parade could take place in Maroua.

A. Social and Economic Priorities

The campaign against Boko Haram requires a strong social and economic dimension to counter the group’s recruitment efforts, and projects that will be launched need to be managed properly and in a transparent manner. The first priority must be the revival of trade with Nigeria, with permission granted for commercial vehicles to resume journeys between Maiduguri and the Far North – and that will mean providing security escorts on dangerous routes. It is important to complete National Highway N°1 between Maroua and Kousseri, and to bring the road network up to standard, in order to better connect the Far North departments with the two other regions of northern Cameroon, given the substantial scale of local trade.

The second priority should be support for farming and fishing around Lake Chad, and on the fertile land of Mayo Danay, Mayo Kani and Mayo Tsanaga. This should be supplemented with the launch of labour-intensive projects to support local production of rice, millet and sorghum. The third priority should be the promotion of microcredit, targeting the Kanuri community among others – but access to credit should be conditional on enrolling children in school.

The fourth priority is to relaunch industry in the Far North and North by overhauling the way it is managed; Cameroon’s external partners should also support public enterprises and small and medium businesses. This means that the state will need to increase Far North’s share of the public investment budget and triennal emergency program. Partner countries and financial institutions should also step up their support for the Far North, because this region represents one sixth of Cameroon’s population but is the least developed, and thus most at risk of being bogged down in a cycle of ongoing conflict.

To counteract religious radicalism […] the social affairs ministry should encourage parents to lift the taboo surrounding Boko Haram by discussing the issue with their children.

On a social and cultural level, the state should rapidly increase and improve education and health services in the Far North and deploy incentives or even compulsion to encourage parents to overcome any social reservations and send their children to school; priority should be given to the most vulnerable communities. This should be complemented with support for local community radio stations and the extension of the reach of national Cameroonian broadcasters, with programs in Kanuri, Hausa, Fulfulde and Arab, to foster a sense of national inclusiveness and broadcast programs warning against religious radicalism in languages that local people can understand.

The state should also encourage and support displaced populations who wish to return and protect the properties of those who do not yet plan to go home, and do so in accordance with the parameters set out under the tripartite agreement between Cameroon, Nigeria and UNHCR.[fn]Village chiefs have announced that they would sell the possessions of displaced persons if they failed to return soon. Crisis Group interviews, displaced persons and administrative authorities, Kousseri, March 2016. The tripartite agreement envisages the gradual voluntary return of Nigerian refugees and makes the UNHCR and the Nigerian government jointly responsible for the security and socio-economic reintegration of former refugees. Crisis Group interviews, UNHCR and foreign ministry officials, Yaoundé, June-October 2016.Hide Footnote Finally, units should be created to support former hostages and former members of Boko Haram.

To counteract religious radicalism, besides the measures already envisaged in the previous Crisis Group report on Cameroon, the social affairs ministry should encourage parents to lift the taboo surrounding Boko Haram by discussing the issue with their children. Following the example set by experiments with de-radicalisation programs in Nigerian prisons, and with the support of external partners and the consent of local communities, the Cameroonian government should provide programs, on a case-by-case basis, for those Boko Haram members who would like to reintegrate into society after serving a jail term appropriate to the seriousness of their crimes.[fn]A de-radicalisation program for former members of Boko Haram in Nigeria has had limited results. “Road to Redemption? Unmaking Nigeria’s Boko Haram”, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), 1 October 2015. There is no comparable program in Cameroon.Hide Footnote These programs should be open as a priority to Boko Haram members who were forcibly recruited and to deserters, while distinguishing between informers or those who provided small practical services and ideologists or leaders of the sect.

The security and judicial authorities should generally try to distinguish between Boko Haram members according to the gravity of the crimes they are accused of and the extent of their involvement in the group – even though it is not always easy to draw these distinctions – and to treat suspects and detainees fairly and in accordance with international law. A program of “restorative justice” could be envisaged; it would be based on confessions, work for the community, education about the dangers of religious radicalism and ideologies advocating violence, vocational training, socio-economic reintegration projects and, where necessary, short prison terms. It would be necessary to differentiate between forcibly recruited members, informers and those who provided minor practical assistance (forcibly recruited or not) but are not suspected of involvement in serious crimes such as torture, murder, forced disappearances etc. on the one hand, and leaders, ideologists and fighters who chose to join the movement, as well as all those suspected of committing serious abuses on the other. In order to do this, the current anti-terrorism law could be amended.

Finally, the state should continue to put in place programs to educate communities about the need to avoid stigmatising former Boko Haram members who have reintegrated into society; it should also reinforce trade between the Far North and southern Cameroon, and other types of exchanges, like cultural and sporting activities, that bring the two regions together. To implement all these measures, the government should allocate a significant share of the budget to the Far North.

B. Security Issues

In overall terms, Cameroon’s security response has been effective, thanks in part to the serious efforts undertaken since 2014 as well as improved coordination with neighbouring countries. But if the government is to restore lasting peace in the region, it needs to remedy a number of frailties in its approach and some strategic errors. Three aspects stand out.

The security forces, or any other state authority, should always be aware of the consequences that their actions may have for the populations and weigh up the risk that these will meet with rejection, undermine the legitimacy of the state, or generate intercommunal tensions. Greater respect for human rights will be crucial. And to achieve that, it is essential that soldiers and police guilty of abuses are subjected to disciplinary measures and that these measures are publicly announced.[fn]Some gendarmes have been arrested for hold-ups in Mokolo. The gendarmerie has opened an investigation into this episode. Crisis Group interview, gendarmerie commander in the Far North, Maroua, March 2016. “Le Commandant de compagnie de Mokolo et deux gendarmes jetés en prison”, L’œil du Sahel, 31 August 2016.Hide Footnote That also means stepping up campaigns to inform the populations about security forces actions and taking their views into account.

Next, the government must ensure that the fight against Boko Haram neither generates potentially dangerous tensions within the security forces, nor that these assume a role that is incompatible with democracy. That involves taking special measures to ensure fairness in the pay and promotions of soldiers, particularly those deployed to the front. The technological modernisation of the Cameroonian army poses a question about the role it will play once the Boko Haram crisis is over. With 60,000 troops and henceforth well equipped, the army could be too large for peaceful times, while military equipment maintenance costs could have an impact on public investment. The government should plan a freeze on army recruitment for some time – except for those members of vigilante groups who meet the age and educational criteria – and then restart recruitment at a pre-war pace once budget resources permit.[fn]Recruitment by the defence forces has sharply increased since the start of the conflict – by more than 10,000 extra soldiers in two years. The defence budget was previously devoted in a very large part to salary costs, but the sudden increase in manpower and spending to upgrade logistics and the conduct of the war itself are already generating deficits and a risk of budget crisis. This is one reason why Operation Alpha is currently funded by the presidency and unofficial funding arrangements and not by the defence ministry. Crisis Group interviews, senior officers, Yaoundé, Far North, 2016.Hide Footnote

As Boko Haram becomes weaker, the government should plan for the gradual return of police and gendarmerie to border areas– albeit in better-equipped units – to replace the elite military garrisons. These police should be trained to respect human rights in the specific context of rebellion, the fight against terrorism and operations among a traumatis