What will it take to end the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon? Are international organizations doing enough? Is there political will to end the hostilities? In this compelling article, Mbulle-Nziege Leonard highlights the prospects and challenges to achieving peace in the Anglophone region.
Two years after armed hostilities broke out in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions between the Cameroon Armed Forces and armed secessionists groups, violence continues to escalate. The International Crisis Group (ICG) that there have been 1,850 deaths since the conflict began in September 2017. More than 530,000 civilians have been internally displaced and up to 35,000 refugees have fled to Nigeria.
As the conflict intensifies, international stakeholders are increasingly voicing their concerns. In March, the U.S Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy, before and during his visit to Cameroon, called on the Cameroonian government to be more serious in their management of the ongoing conflict. The European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini described the violence and humanitarian situation as unacceptable. She called on Cameroonian authorities and separatists to pursue inclusive dialogue. The statements made by the U.S and EU representatives, echo earlier calls for an end to the conflict by international bodies such as; The Commonwealth and La Francophonie, as well as bilateral partners including France, Switzerland, The Vatican and the United Kingdom.
During his presidential inauguration on 6 November, President Paul Biya made a plea for separatist forces to lay down their arms – this was a major climbdown from his earlier declaration of war against the separatists. Biya also ordered for the release of 289 persons who were arrested in relation to the ongoing crisis in mid-December. On 30 November 2018, Biya had announced creation of the National Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Committee (NDDRC). The NDDRC is aimed at organising, supervising and managing the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of separatist forces who voluntarily surrender to government authorities. However, Cameroon-based security analyst Joseph Lea Ngoula believes the NDDRC was created prematurely. Ngoula suggests such an institution should only have been created following a peace agreement or ceasefire between both sides.
Despite these conciliatory measures, the use of military force is still being prioritised in all attempts to resolve the crisis. This has led to accusations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and locally-based Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) of misconduct by government soldiers. These organizations accuse Cameroon’s security forces of using indiscriminate and disproportionate force against presumed separatist elements and their alleged supporters. Defense forces have also been accused of carrying out arbitrary arrests, rape, torture, targeted killings and burning villages in the affected regions. Although the government has repeatedly denied these allegations, the Ministry of Defense recently acknowledged to HRW, that 30 cases of alleged abuses by defense forces are being investigation. On the back of these accusations the U.S Department of Defense decided to reduce its military cooperation and assistance to the Cameroon government in February 2019.
Separatists have equally resorted to the destruction and vandalism of schools, hospitals, economic infrastructure, government offices and traditional landmarks. They regularly intimidate individuals who present an obstacle to their stated objectives and organise kidnappings in order to raise revenue through ransoms. In March and April respectively, separatists kidnapped former secretary of state Emmanuel Ngafesson and John Fru Ndi, chairman of the largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF). The perpetration of human rights abuses and violence against civilians by both parties to the conflict compelled the EU Parliament to issue a resolution in April, deploring both parties’ lack of political will to end the conflict. An example of this lack of will to end hostilities is the government’s non-declaration of support for the Anglophone General Conference (AGC). The AGC aims to provide a platform where grievances stemming from the ongoing crisis can be discussed. But, with lack of political will, it has been postponed three times since 2018. The government simply did not provide an authorization permit for it to be held.
The EU has been intensely pushing for an end to the conflict. It passed several resolution, one of which urged the African Union and the Community of Central African States (CEAC) to press Cameroon to find a sustainable democratic solution to the crisis. U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet equally implored Cameroonian authorities to do more to ensure the respect of human rights and civil liberties during a May visit to Cameroon. The Cameroonian government has refuted the allegations levelled against them by international bodies and leaders. The government cited the creation of a humanitarian assistance programme worth €19.8m and speeding up of the decentralization of local and regional affairs as appeasement measures they have initiated. With respect to decentralization, the amount allocated to effectively implement the process amounts to only 1% of the current gross domestic product. These measures are therefore cosmetic and insufficient to address root causes of the conflict. For instance, in February, the United Nations stated that it would require US$299m in financial aid to provide humanitarian relief.
The Anglophone crisis has exacted a serious economic toll on the South West and North West regions. The combined effects of government-imposed internet shutdowns, weekly civil disobedience campaigns (ghost towns), curfews and continuous violence have led to a significant slowdown in economic activities. Cameroon’s largest business, Groupement Inter-patronal du Cameroun (GICAM) reported in September that they have been forced to retrench 6,124 workers. GICAM projects 8000 formal jobs could also be lost as a result of the crisis. Overall, the ongoing crisis is believed to have cost the economy the equivalent of US$500,000,000 since it began. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security estimates that in the Northwest region alone, 4,000 jobs have been lost. The Anglophone regions contribute a fifth of Cameroon’s GDP, and the ratings agency Standard & Poors recently downgraded Cameroon’s economic outlook from stable to negative mainly because of the crisis.
In conclusion, the government and separatists find themselves in an irreconcilable position and it appears international pressure will be key towards breaking this stalemate. Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute is currently undertaking a peace mission to the Anglophone regions and has indicated Biya is ready to pursue inclusive dialogue. Initiating dialogue allows matters such as the return of refugees, cease-fire arrangements, school recommencement, reducing the military presence as well as the establishment of humanitarian corridors and safe zones. Subsequently, issues relating to decentralization, federalism and representation can be discussed.
The government needs to pursue confidence-building measures for peace to return to these regions. According to Afrobarometer, only 13% and 24% of Anglophones residing in the English-speaking regions trust the army and police respectively. The trust gap between the government and security institutions must be re-established if there’s any hope for the return of peace and order. For dialogue to be successful, international brokers such as the AU, EU, Switzerland, The Vatican, UN and US need to be involved. Local institutions including the Catholic Church and the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (NCPBM) will also be instrumental in promoting dialogue, justice and reconciliation.
Mbulle-Nziege Leonard is a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and a graduate researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa at UCT