The ‘Anglophone’ Conflict in Cameroon: Causes, Consequences and Conflict Resolution?
James Kewir Kiven, University of Buea and African Leadership Centre, Kings College London,
Gordon Crawford, Coventry University and University of Freiburg
The current ‘Anglophone’ conflict in Cameroon is an internationally neglected civil war, one having a devastating impact on civilian populations. This panel seeks to highlight the causes and consequences and possible means of conflict resolution, notably through the efforts of CSOs in a highly constrained environment.
The ‘Anglophone’ conflict in bi-lingual Cameroon is an internationally neglected civil war, ongoing since 2016, between government security forces and separatist groups calling for an independent state in the Anglophone regions. The conflict continues to escalate and English-speaking civilians have suffered wide-ranging and brutal abuses, with over 200 villages burnt-down, thousands killed, over half a million internally displaced people, and
tens of thousands of external refugees (Norwegian Refugee Council, May 2019). Civil society organisations (CSOs) have been involved in various ways from the onset of the conflict, with lawyers’ groups and teachers’ associations involved in the initial protests that led to a government crackdown, as well as in national and international efforts to resolve the conflict. Yet CSOs face major constraints in a context where an autocratic central state is engaged in a counter-insurgency military campaign.
This panel will draw attention to this often overlooked and neglected conflict, despite its daily death toll and militarised nature. The panel welcomes a focus on various aspects of the conflict, including the following topics. It will explore the impact of the conflict on
civilian populations and the humanitarian consequences, including gendered aspects. It will examine the historical roots and longstanding issues that underpin the conflict from the post-World War I League of Nations mandate onwards, inclusive of more recent spatial and linguistic inequalities that gave rise to the current civil war.
The panel aims to focus in particular on the role of CSOs in conflict resolution, including women’s organisations, and the challenges faced in striving to achieve dialogue between warring factions that include the state itself. This focus could include the role of the media and its coverage of the conflict. It also wishes to draw on lessons from comparative cases on the role of CSOs in conflict resolution in other African countries.
01 James Kiven & Gordon Crawford: Shrinking Civic Space and the Role of Civil Society Organisations in Conflict Resolution in Cameroon
The space for civil society in many Sub-Saharan African countries has been reducing since the beginning of the 2000s (Smidt 2018). The engagement of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in conflict resolution has suffered important constraints as a result of this shrinking civic space which has been a feature of the socio-political landscape in Cameroon since 2008. The purpose of this study was to examine the role CSOs have played in efforts to resolve the Cameroon Anglophone conflict within a context where civic space is closing. What are the causes of this closing civic space? What efforts have been made by CSOs to resolve the Anglophone conflict and how have these been affected by the shrinking civic space? The study adopted a qualitative research strategy. Data was collected using focus group discussions, interviews and secondary literature such as NGO reports. The data was analysed using framework analysis. Results revealed that the conflict has further reduced the space for CSOs to influence government. The near absence of the rule of law and the breakdown of the administrative, security and judicial systems were found to explain the closing civic space. The shrinking civic space meant that CSOs face growing legal and bureaucratic obstacles including anti-terror laws, surveillance and travel restrictions. Other challenges faced include defamation and stigmatization, intimidation and criminalization, including threats to personal safety, arrest, torture and murder. In spite of these challenges, the prospects for sustainable peace without effective CSO participation remain unlikely. The study found that these challenges can be countered through CSO actors working together in strong networks and receiving significant political and financial support from international actors. By such means the prospects for civil society engagement in conflict resolution in Cameroon are potentially increased.
Gordon Crawford is Research Professor in Global Development in the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations and the University of Freiburg.
Kiven James Kewir is Professor of Conflict Prevention and Research Hub Leader for Central Africa with the African Leadership Centre, Nairobi.
02 Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo-Wondieh: Women and the Anglophone Crisis
This study reflects on women’s participation in collective struggles against injustice in the Anglophone struggle in Cameroon. It draws on an ethno-sociological study grounded in protesters’ perspectives to understand how women’s issues have been constructed over the thirty months of the conflict. It also unpacks whether the prevailing narratives of the conflict have amplified women’s experiences of inequalities and daily injustices. It underscores that women in Cameroon have always been politically active but seldom does this political activism translate into specific strategies that effectively address the concerns of women and girls. The participation of women in social protests in Cameroon goes back to the nineties during the struggle for multiparty democracy, which also coincided with the emergence of the secessionist struggle and groups such as the Ambazonia Movement (AM) of Barrister Fon Gorji Dinka (Konnings and Nyamnjoh 1997). In the 1990s, women acted independently against repressive political upheavals which emerged from presidential elections between the incumbent president and the opposition leader John Fru Ndi (Tripp et al. 2009). Women actively mobilised and organised for political representation, freedom of speech and democratic practices in Cameroon. For instance, Collectif des Femmes pour Le Renouveau (CFR) was banned in 1991 by the Ministry of Territorial Administration for being “too political” (Tripp et al. 2009). Female militant groups such as the Anlu, Titi-Koli and Takembeng were politically conscious and active in political processes in the country but hardly did the political consciousness translate to transforming gender equality. The Takembeng—a secret female cult—made up of mostly grandmothers past menopausal age and are all widows, are known for their nude protests (Swift 2017). In the nineties, at the height of the political crisis between the incumbent president and the leading opposition candidate Ni John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the Takembeng played a crucial role in restoring peace and stability across the North-West regions which were the epicentre of the political crisis.
Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo-Wondieh is the executive director at Women for a Change, a feminist organisation working with and for young women and girls sexual and reproductive health rights, leadership and development. She is also a Ph.D Candidate in Conflict Resolution.
03 Michaela Pelican: Impact of the Anglophone Crisis on the Mbororo ethnic minority
The Anglophone crisis has been deeply devastating for the Anglophone population of Cameroon. The ongoing fight between the Cameroonian military and the separatist forces has cost the lives of 3000 people. 700,000 have been internally displaced or have taken refuge in Nigeria, 80% of schools in the Anglophone regions are non-functioning, and one third of the population is in need of aid (ICG 2019, 2020, UNHCR 2018). While the crisis has affected large parts of the civilian population irrespective of their ethnicity, it is the Mbororo (pastoral Fulani/Fulbe) ethnic minority, that since 2018 has come under scrutiny. Being accused of collectively siding with the government, they have become a target of hate speech and violence by the separatist forces.
In this presentation, I will provide information on the impact of the Anglophone crisis on the Mbororo ethnic minority. I will analyse the reasons that may account for this 'ethnicization' of the conflict, and pay attention to the challenges and strategies of civil society actors, both in Cameroon and abroad, to mediate on behalf of the Mbororo minority.
Michaela Pelican is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Cologne and Principal Investigator of the Global South Studies Center Cologne (GSSC).
04 Guillaume Vadot: “The Cameroon Development Corporation cannot be left out!”. Anglophone Cameroon’s biggest parastatal and the ongoing crisis
The Cameroon Development corporation (CDC), an agro-industrial parastatal producing palm oil, rubber and bananas, has been by far the most important job provider in Anglophone Cameroon since the 1950s. It employed around 20.000 persons in 2016 on the eve of the current civil conflict. Its exploited land, around 40.000 hectares located mostly in the littoral parts of anglophone territory, derives from former German plantations which were seized by British colonial government after World War two. Deeply affected by the ongoing crisis (CDC lost 60% of its revenues in 2019), it nevertheless kept its integrity despite dismantling threats, and continues to concentrate a range of key issues for the conflict.
This paper assesses the contribution of the CDC to the current crisis, through the continuous conflicts about its land and its leadership since its foundation. It also explores the local political and interpretative disputes about CDC’s nature, seen as an extension of the Cameroonian State, a substitute of the latter, or an enterprise purely dedicated to profit-making. CDC holds indeed a core position in the contemporary social history of Anglophone Cameroon / Ambazonia. The land expropriation it is initially based on has been contested since the interwar period by local Bakweri populations, a mobilization that escalated again in the 1990s and 2000s and deeply affected the parastatal’s situation in the regional territory. The recent land restitution program deeply affected the local political and economical landscapes. The paper thus documents the negotiated and often conflicting processes by which the regional elite, in search of autonomy or a complex alliance with Yaoundé, sometimes invested in, sometimes confronted CDC. It also draws on dozens of testimonials from the workers which show their perceptions as job holders of a parastatal in a marginalized region. In this way, it shows how such key issues condensed by CDC as land, employment and elite formation, contributed, over the past two decades, to the evolution from an ethnic “Bakweri” to an “Anglophone” political moment.
This contribution is based on a survey conducted in 2016 in the fields and offices of the CDC in Bota (Limbe), Idenau, Moliwe, Tiko and Buea, but also on an original corpus of documents regarding CDC internal life as well as the legal and political battle led by the Bakweri Land Claim Committee. This new material enables us to follow up with the foundational work of Piet Konings. The data collected enable to analyze how working for CDC is interpreted by the different categories in the labour force, from rank-and-file to senior staff, and the tensions running through the company’s leadership about how to deal with Yaounde’s tutelage. In that sense, the paper proposes a more complex picture than the currently frequent assimilation between CDC and the Yaounde regime, which has escalated in attacks against workers since 2018. Apart from being divided, CDC’s management is deeply connected (through family links, education, professional socialization and churches) to the professions that initiated current unrest.
Guillaume Vadot is Doctor of Political Science (University of Paris Sorbonne, France) and Postdoctoral Researcher (MinErAL International Research Network).
05 Gregory Fah Fombo: Neighbours in Two Different Worlds: Broken Promises, Broken Dreams and the Descent to Violence in Cameroon’s Anglophone Region
For over three years now, Cameroon security forces have been logged in a fratricidal war with separatists fighting for a distinct state coterminous with the historic territory of British Southern Cameroons. This conflict is rooted in the decolonisation process of the erstwhile British Trust Territory. At the nadir of colonial rule over the territory, independence was offered as a choice between integration with the independent Federal Republic of Nigeria or with République du Cameroun. The apparent choice between Scylla and Charybdis compelled the people of this territory to opt for association with the latter as a lesser evil on the proviso that they were to establish a federation. However, just ten years on, the then Federal President, Ahmadou Ahidjo, among other unconstitutional manoeuvres, abrogated the federal constitution through a dubious referendum in 1972. In 1984, Paul Biya, successor to President Ahidjo, moved another notch by reversing the name of the reunified Cameroon to République du Cameroun (which was the name of the French speaking part prior to reunification in 1961). Down the years, perceived marginalisation by the minority English speaking region has grown with suspicious government harmonisation reforms that have largely been seen as moves to erase the last vestiges of the bicultural background of the country and complete subjugation of the Anglophones in their union of odds. This feeling of a threatened identity continued amidst half-hearted promises to decentralise the highly centralised authoritarian state structure. The re-emergence of multiparty politics offered some semblance of acceptance of diversity. But it was not to be. Increasing economic hardship, deepening corruption and state capture by the CPDM ruling elite further worsened the general feeling of resentment that, the former British Cameroons has been shortchanged by the majority francophone. The ostensible drive of the government to create a new identity for the nation beyond what was bequeathed by the colonial legacies even became more suspect. It is this drive, handled the way it has been, that offered the spark which ignited the tinderbox in 2017.
With an emic touch, using declassified security reports in Cameroon archives, oral interviews of actors at home and the diaspora, this study sets out the trail of the conflict. It argues that the highhanded measures adopted by the Yaoundé government against legitimate call for reforms, especially of the structure of the state as, sine qua non to deal with deep-rooted state failings radicalised the conflict zone and led to popularisation of secession. Indeed, it betrays the ultimate intentions of the leadership of the country to create a francophone and not a bilingual Cameroon. This fits into a familiar trend of marginalisation offering a fertile environment for not just dissent but maximalist solutions to problem of deprivation and identity.
Key words: marginalisation, harmonisation, subjugation, state capture, radicalisation, secession.
Gregory Fah FOMBO is Doctor of Political Science and Senior Lecturer of in the Department of International Relations and Conflict Resolution in the University of Buea.
06 Emile Sunjo: Economic opportunism versus self-determination in the anglophone secessionist conflict in Cameroon
Secessionist movements and the quest for self-determination remain common features of contemporary African politics. This phenomenon is particularly fascinating considering that most African states are an agglomeration of many cultural, ethnic and linguistic groupings. This paper focuses on the Anglophone separatist conflict that began as protests in 2016. Despite the genuine grievances that led to the outbreak of the conflict, there is a general feeling that many opportunists have hijacked the ‘struggle’ to prosecute their personal economic ambitions. The paper uses qualitative data from interviews with various stakeholders in the conflict, field observations and documentary sources. The paper uses the greed versus grievance theory propounded by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler as a framework of analysis. It argues that the separatist conflict has provided an excellent opportunity for separatist fights known as Amba Boys, government security forces and common criminals to engage in unscrupulous economic enrichment. A plethora of means such as smuggling of petrol from Nigeria, kidnapping for ransoms, illegal sale of military fuel, forced donations, multiplication of security control posts, random arrests of unarmed civilians and embezzlement of funds. The paper provides a basis to challenge the wave of African conflicts in general but particularly secessionist conflicts. Once greed triumphs over grievance, in the event of independence, the outcome remains the poor and unresponsive governments which usually occasion the conflicts. The paper equally provides a basis to challenge non-African conceptions of what statehood means.
Emile Sunjo is Doctor of Political Science and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Conflict Resolution and International Relation in the University of Buea, Cameroon.
07 Joseph Nfi: The Inhuman Phase of the Anglophone Struggle for Autonomy in Cameroon
Since 2016, the Anglophone struggle for independence from the Republic of Cameroon has witnessed the most horrifying and dehumanising atrocities in Africa since the Rwandan genocide. The Anglophone British Southern Cameroons gained independence by joining the Francophone Republic of Cameroon after a UN conducted plebiscite in 1961. Since then, they have complained of marginalisation, exploitation and assimilation from the Francophone majority. From 2016, the agitations became violent and bloody as both the Cameroon military and separatist militia used the most unorthodox and unconventional strategies and weapons to conquer the other. This study analysis these inhuman and atrocious acts that left especially women and children either killed or displaced and the reluctance of the international community to give adequate attention to this humanitarian disaster despite existing international legislations. Based on primary and secondary sources and on my observations on the scene, the findings reveal that humanity maybe in for another Rwanda if the international community does not intervene promptly and effectively in this Africa's latest civil war.
Nfi Joseph Lon is Associate Professor of History in the University of Bamenda, Cameroon.