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Cameroun : la menace du radicalisme religieux
Cameroun : la menace du radicalisme religieux
Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis is Escalating. Here’s How It Could Be Resolved.
Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis is Escalating. Here’s How It Could Be Resolved.
A Cameroonian farmer stands near the mosque where he was praying when Boko Haram militants stormed the town of Fotokol, in northern Cameroon, on 17 February 2015. REUTERS/Bate Felix Tabi Tabe
Report 229 / Africa

Cameroun : la menace du radicalisme religieux

Le développement de l’intolérance religieuse au Cameroun est un risque réel, mais malheureusement sous-estimé par les autorités. Afin d’éviter la propagation de l’extrémisme violent sur son territoire, le Cameroun doit rassembler toutes les confessions religieuses autour d’un nouveau pacte social et l’entériner par une charte de la tolérance religieuse.

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Synthèse

Au Cameroun, la pénétration d’un islam fondamentaliste et l’essor d’églises pentecôtistes revivalistes, dites réveillées (born again), bouleversent le paysage religieux et mettent en place les ferments de l’intolérance religieuse. La pénétration de courants fondamentalistes, combinée aux tensions communautaires, constitue un risque spécifique au Nord et génère une concurrence pour les dirigeants de la communauté musulmane qui a parfois abouti à des conflits locaux. De plus, les différentes religions se perçoivent négativement. Face à ce radicalisme émergent, la réponse de l’Etat et des organisations religieuses demeure insuffisante, et dans certains cas porteuse de risques, car elle se limite à la menace posée par Boko Haram. La mise en place d’une réponse globale et cohérente par les pouvoirs publics et les organisations religieuses est nécessaire pour empêcher la détérioration du climat religieux et éviter des violences à connotation religieuse observées dans les pays voisins que sont le Nigéria et la République centrafricaine.

Si, contrairement à ses deux voisins cités, le Cameroun n’a jamais été le théâtre de violences religieuses importantes, l’émergence de poches de radicalisme risque de changer la donne et de porter atteinte au climat de tolérance religieuse. L’islam soufi traditionnel est fortement concurrencé par la montée en puissance d’un islam plus rigoriste dont la forme la plus répandue est le wahhabisme. Les mutations actuelles touchent majoritairement une nouvelle génération de jeunes Camerounais musulmans du Sud, tandis que l’islam soufi, incarné au Nord par les Peul, recule. Ces jeunes du Sud, arabisés et souvent formés au Soudan et dans les pays du Golfe, contestent à la fois la domination peul au sein de la communauté musulmane et le système religieux vieillissant. Les désaccords entre chefs du soufisme, marabouts traditionnels et nouveaux venus ne reposent pas que sur des motifs théologiques : ce conflit « des anciens et des modernes » a pour enjeu l’influence économique et politique des uns et des autres au sein de la communauté musulmane.

Ces transformations ont donné lieu à des clivages intra-religieux et déjà dégénéré en affrontements locaux entre courants islamiques. Dans la partie septentrionale, la pénétration des courants fondamentalistes, combinée aux tensions communautaires locales, est potentiellement source de conflits. Dans le Sud, la compétition pour les dirigeants de la communauté musulmane entre soufis et groupes proches du wahhabisme va s’accentuer et pourrait dégénérer en incidents locaux.

Au sein du christianisme, l’essor des églises de réveil a brisé le monopole de l’Eglise catholique et des églises protestantes historiques. Souvent dépourvues d’existence légale et mal considérées par les catholiques, ces églises prêchent une forme d’into­lérance religieuse, s’auto-excluent du dialogue interreligieux et sont hors de l’espace religieux officiel, bien que soutenant le régime pour la plupart.

Face à ces nouvelles formes d’intolérance religieuse, les initiatives de dialogue interreligieux sont faibles, dispersées et ne touchent qu’une minorité de la population. Pourtant ces transformations du paysage religieux ne sont pas perçues comme problématiques par les autorités politiques et religieuses du Cameroun, qui sous-estiment leur potentiel conflictogène et dont l’attention est focalisée sur Boko Haram. Ce n’est qu’à la suite des attaques de Boko Haram à l’Extrême Nord que le gouvernement a amorcé des initiatives de sensibilisation tardives et peu efficaces, comme en témoigne la stigmatisation et le harcèlement par les forces de sécurité des populations kanuri des villages frontaliers au Nigéria, ainsi que les nombreuses arrestations et détentions arbitraires. Ces évolutions sont d’autant plus préoccupantes que le Cameroun se situe à la confluence de deux conflits à dimension religieuse, la crise en République centrafricaine et Boko Haram au Nigéria, et en subit les contrecoups.

La lutte contre la menace du radicalisme religieux au Cameroun passe par l’élabo­ration d’une stratégie globale et cohérente, incluant l’étude des mutations religieuses actuelles, l’adoption d’une charte de la tolérance, la mise en place d’organes représentatifs de l’islam et des églises de réveil et le développement économique et social des régions fragiles. Dans l’immédiat, le gouvernement doit œuvrer à une meilleure surveillance du prosélytisme fondamentaliste, soutenir les associations de dialogue interreligieux et améliorer la sensibilisation des populations.

Op-Ed / Africa

Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis is Escalating. Here’s How It Could Be Resolved.

Originally published in African Arguments

Improving decentralisation countrywide would appeal to Anglophone protesters, but without seeming to give them special treatment.

On 22 September, massive protests across Cameroon’s Anglophone regions brought an estimated 30-80,000 people onto the streets. These were far larger than those which sparked the crisis at the end of 2016. In clashes with security forces, three to six protesters reportedly died – the first deaths in the crisis since January.

The demonstration came in the context of an already-deteriorating situation marked by the use of homemade bombs by militants, the failure to open schools for a second year due to ongoing strikes, and mounting incidents of arson.

The violence followed incidents in Western capitals throughout the previous month. On 1 August, a meeting in Washington between a senior delegation from the Cameroonian government and the US-based diaspora descended into farce, interrupted by angry exchanges. In Belgium, the delegation’s meeting was interrupted by violent scuffles. In South Africa, activists who had been denied access broke into the meeting, which was then cut short. The same happened in Canada, where the flag of Ambazonia, the putative homeland of Anglophone secessionists, was raised inside the High Commission. And in the UK, the invite list was reduced to a select and vetted group.

The resurgence of violence demonstrates that the roots of this crisis run deep, as detailed in the recent report from International Crisis Group, and that the measures taken by the government so far have failed to address grievances. By jailing the legitimate representatives of the Anglophone movement back in January, the government may have even played into the hands of the more radical elements.

As 1 October approaches, the anniversary of reunification of Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon, some militants are preparing to declare independence. If serious measures are not taken and a willingness to start genuine dialogue not forthcoming, protests are sure to erupt again, and could be worse this time.

Anglophone Grievances

Cameroon’s Anglophones make up 20% of the population. Most live in former British territories in the North-West and South-West regions. Their anger was sparked off in 2016 by the government’s refusal to respond to Anglophone lawyers who were aggrieved at the nomination of magistrates who neither spoke English well enough nor were trained in British common law.

After demonstrations were met with sometimes brutal force, teachers and students joined the growing movement, adding similar concerns about a way of life being progressively taken over by Francophone practices. At least nine people have now died in subsequent violence, and militants have frequently used sabotage and arson.

After negotiations broke down in January of this year, the government imprisoned the most prominent Anglophone activists alongside many others caught up in protests. They also cut off the internet in Anglophone areas for three months, causing huge damage to the economy.

Broken Promises

Anglophones feel marginalised and often humiliated in their own country. Many look back to the independence era. In February 1961, Anglophone Cameroonians, then under British rule, voted in a controversial UN-organised referendum to re-join francophone Cameroon. For the previous 40 years, they had been ruled by the British following the defeat of Germany, the first colonial power of all of Cameroon, in the First World War.

The constitutional conference which followed in July 1961 was hopelessly one-sided. A weak Anglophone negotiating team sparred with a Francophone side which had already gained independence and had strong support from its former colonial power, France. The result was a series of vague promises that Cameroon would be an “equal federation” in which the English language and customs derived from British rule would carry equal weight at the federal level.

The reality was anything but. First, in October 1961, only weeks after Anglophone Cameroon joined the federation, President Ahmadou Ahidjo (a Francophone who enjoyed very close ties to France) reorganised the country from two federal states to six regions. With the regions’ powers unclear, this move deliberately introduced confusion into local governance that has remained to this day.

Ahidjo then named federal inspectors in each region, who enjoyed more power than locally elected politicians. In 1965, he banned opposition parties, forcing all political aspirants, including Anglophones, into his orbit. At the same time, he chipped away at customs and institutions the Anglophones had inherited: their currency was discarded; membership of the British Commonwealth was not considered; imperial weights and measures were dispensed with. In 1971, through a national referendum, Ahidjo abolished federalism altogether, crushing the now fading Anglophone hope that they could enjoy a partnership of equals.

For three decades, Anglophones, like many of their Francophone compatriots, cowed by the brutal civil war that had raged in Francophone Cameroon in the 1960s, more or less accepted their lot. But in the 1990s, political freedoms blossomed again, and Anglophones were encouraged by the fact that the most important opposition party to emerge at the time, the Social Democratic Front, had one foot, if not two, firmly planted in the Anglophone region.

But as President Paul Biya, in power since 1984, slowly crushed hopes of pluralism and freedom, Anglophone frustrations grew again. Movements calling for a return to federalism, and even outright secession, proliferated. For many years these groups were largely based in the diaspora, hence the anger seen in Western capitals. But the movement of 2016 and 2017 has more domestic roots, based on widespread anger on the ground.

Decentralisation as the Start of a Sustainable Solution

After repressing the movement at the start of the year, the government has made some concessions, most notably restoring the internet in April and allowing the release of some (but not all) detained activists in August. But Yaoundé continues to treat the Anglophone movement as subversive and illegitimate. Militants were imprisoned in January for publicly discussing federalism, a discussion which should be perfectly allowable. The government refuses to acknowledge widespread feelings of marginalisation and humiliation.

To reach a sustainable solution, especially important with national elections looming next autumn, the government must start by acknowledging the well-founded grievances of Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. For trust to be re-built and maintained, concrete actions need to be taken.

Decentralisation is the most promising and is set out in the new constitution of 1996 and in laws of 2004. Since then, mayors and local councils have been elected, and the law stipulates that they should have their own budget and be responsible for local public services. But even these vague legal texts – for example the percentage of locally raised taxes to be devolved to local government is not specified – are not respected in practice.

Regional councils, led by elected regional presidents, are foreseen in the constitution, but have not been created 21 years on. Shortly after creating local councils, the government created its own delegates nominated by the president and accountable only to him. In day to day matters, the delegate has far more power than their elected counterparts, even those from the ruling party.

The problem of partial decentralisation is a frustration in all parts of the country. Improving it countrywide would have the distinct advantage of appealing to the Anglophones without seeming to give them special treatment. Regional councils should be created, or else a national debate started on whether they are needed. Local councils should have the powers over public services foreseen in the law and autonomy over their budgets.

Improved decentralisation would, if handled properly, reassure Anglophones that they have control over their own legal and educational system, rather than feeling that any gain they make is subject to the whims of central government.

Of course administrators in Yaoundé, and President Biya himself, who has created one of the world’s most centralised decision-making machineries, would lose some of their discretion. But the up side would be significant: a reinvigorated sense of national purpose and cohesiveness and less risk of renewed violence in Anglophone areas.