Cameroon is beset with two violent conflicts but also faces rising ethno-political tensions on and offline. Its main conflict, between the government and separatists from the English-speaking minority, has killed over 4,000 people and displaced 765,000 of whom 60,000 are refugees in Nigeria. According to the UN, three of the Anglophone regions’ four million people are affected by the humanitarian crisis while about 800,000 children are out of school. The country also faces a reinvigorated Boko Haram insurgency with renewed deadly attacks in the Lake Chad basin after a brief respite. The war with Boko Haram, centred in the Far North, has killed over 3,000 Cameroonians, displaced about 250,000 and triggered the rise of vigilante self-defence groups. Elsewhere, and particularly following the October 2018 presidential election, ethnic discourse is heightening political tensions on and offline. Through field research and advocacy with the government as well as with national and international stakeholders, Crisis Group works to de-escalate conflict and promote a peaceful resolution in the Anglophone regions and the Far North as well as to stop ethno-political tensions from sliding into violence.
A heavily contested presidential election in 2018 has unleashed a new layer of political tensions that have taken an ethnic turn and found a formidable amplifier on social media.
Originally published in World Politics Review
Violence between govt forces and separatists continued unabated in Anglophone regions and jihadists stepped up attacks in Far North. In North West region, separatists 10 March killed two soldiers in regional capital Bamenda, and clashes between armed forces and separatists 7 March killed four civilians along Bamenda-Babadjou road in Akum town. Meanwhile pro-govt groups launched attacks on civilians; notably, Fulani gunmen 10 March killed community leader in North West’s Ndu town. In South West region, separatist commander Goddy Elangwe 2 March surrendered to authorities in Kumba city, and armed forces 8 March captured separatist commander General Nokia in Konye area. Armed forces 18 March killed at least six separatists, including commander in Foé Bakundu village, Meme division. Separatists 22 March ambushed govt forces in Eyumojock subdivision, Manyu division, allegedly killing three. After NGO Human Rights Watch 26 Feb accused state forces of raping at least 20 women during attack in Ebam village, Manyu division, in South West in March 2020, defence ministry 2 March acknowledged attack but rejected rape allegations. In interview with weekly newspaper Jeune Afrique, imprisoned leader of faction of Ambazonia Interim Govt, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, 12 March restated conditions for talks, including govt troops returning to barracks, amnesty for separatists and internationally mediated dialogue in neutral venue. In South West region’s capital Buea, former separatists enrolled in Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration program 19 March protested poor conditions and slow reintegration. In Far North region, despite ongoing joint operations by Multinational Joint Task Force, Boko Haram (BH) stepped up attacks. Notably, BH 10 and 14 March killed three civilians in Mora town; 11 March killed another one in Blassaley village. BH 20 March killed two soldiers in Soueram village and one civilian in Nguetchewe village, overnight 21-22 March killed three in Bla-Gossi Tourou village and 27 March attacked Dabanga village killing at least three civilians and one soldier; in retaliation, govt forces same day killed at least six BH, seizing ammunition and vehicles. Military 30 March said it had deployed additional troops to northern border with Nigeria after BH recently intensified attacks.
Two years after Cameroon’s contested presidential election, political rivalry has taken a worrying direction as the incumbent’s supporters trade ethnic slurs with backers of his main challenger. The government should undertake electoral reforms, bar discrimination and work with social media platforms to curtail hate speech.
Après vingt mois d’affrontements, Yaoundé et les séparatistes campent sur leurs positions. Entre la sécession voulue par les séparatistes et la décentralisation en trompe-l’œil que propose le gouvernement, des solutions médianes doivent être explorées pour conférer plus d’autonomie aux régions.
Le risque de violences autour du scrutin du 7 octobre est élevé dans les régions anglophones mais existe aussi ailleurs. Le gouvernement devrait lutter contre la montée des antagonismes communautaires dans tout le pays et parvenir à un cessez-le-feu, au moins temporaire, avec les groupes armés anglophones.
Le gouvernement camerounais devrait chercher à encourager les redditions de membres camerounais de Boko Haram. Des travaux communautaires, des confessions publiques, des cérémonies symboliques et des formations professionnelles peuvent permettre la réinsertion de ceux qui ne constituent pas un danger. Le gouvernement doit aussi préparer la démobilisation de certains comités de vigilance.
The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon is growing deadlier. The Catholic Church could mediate between Anglophone militants and the state, but clergy have espoused clashing views on key issues. The Church should heal its divides so as to be a neutral arbiter that can broker peace.
La lutte contre Boko Haram dans l’Extrême-Nord du Cameroun, la région la plus pauvre du pays, a exacerbé la situation économique déjà précaire et bousculé les rôles socioéconomiques. Le gouvernement et les partenaires internationaux devront mettre en œuvre des politiques de développement qui tiennent compte des stratégies d’adaptation et de résilience des populations aux nouvelles réalités économiques.
Cameroon cannot simply afford to allow the ethnic and political tensions it is facing to rise to levels where they could constitute inter-community violence.
Around 700,000 young people were excluded from the school system owing to the conflict.
Le gouvernement et la société civile anglophone ont mis beaucoup de pression sur les groupes séparatistes pour que leurs enfants retournent à l'école.
Le boycott des écoles était une stratégie des séparatistes ces dernières années. 700.000 jeunes environ étaient en dehors du système scolaire à cause du conflit.
Dans un contexte de violence accrue contre les populations et les séparatistes, le risque est que même une fois la paix revenue dans les régions anglophones, cela complique les relations entre les Mbororo et les autres groupes ethniques.
(The election) will further bias the character of state institutions toward the views of a single party and seems bound to reduce prospects for frank discussions about resolving the Anglophone conflict and other brewing crises.
With a boycotting opposition and low expected turnout in conflict-affected Anglophone regions, Cameroon’s ruling party should win big in forthcoming elections. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Arrey Ntui explains why that result means dialogue about the country’s crises will have to happen outside parliament.
President Paul Biya has proposed a national dialogue aimed at resolving the Cameroonian government’s conflict with Anglophone separatists. Arrey E. Ntui, Crisis Group Senior Analyst for Cameroon, explains the reality on the ground in Anglophone areas and offers recommendations on how the government can make efforts to resolve the crisis.
President Paul Biya has proposed a national dialogue aimed at resolving the Cameroonian government’s conflict with Anglophone separatists. But the mooted dialogue will include neither separatists nor, it appears, other important English-speaking constituencies. Biya should allow greater Anglophone participation and neutral facilitation for the dialogue.
In the last 20 months, the conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon has left 1,850 dead, 530,000 internally displaced and tens of thousands of refugees. Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Central Africa Hans De Marie Heungoup talks about how Cameroonian and international actors can play to break the deadlock and encourage the two sides to make concessions.
Crisis Group’s work in Cameroon put underreported risks in this country on the policymaking radar years before the outbreaks of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Far North and a separatist revolt in Anglophone regions.