Africa is bleeding: The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon

Author: Mary Izobo
International Human Rights Lawyer and Gender Advocate


The failure to promote the rule of law and democracy creates an environment for conflict, often exacerbated by marginalisation, discrimination,  inequality and inequity. The bitterness of citizens roused by violence is usually entrenched in lack of basic services and public infrastructure, corruption, lack of personal and economic security and lack of transparency and accountability of government to its citizens.  Thus, the greatest problem of African countries is their failure to protect the economic, political, social, and cultural concerns of its people. This year, 2020 has been marred by a series of human rights violations from Lagos to Kumba, Africa is bleeding.

On 24 October 2020, at least eight children were killed, and dozens wounded by a group of armed men at the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy  Kumba, in the Southwest Region of Cameroon. There has been a lot of attacks in Cameroon since 2016, however, these attacks have intensified dramatically.

Since the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon started in 2016, hundreds of people have died, over 70 villages destroyed, approximately 160, 000 people are internally displaced while 35, 000 people have sought refuge in Nigeria, Cameroon’s neighboring country. This crisis has also led to months of general strikes, innumerable days of internet shutdown and the loss of academic years. What started as a peaceful strike of teachers and lawyers in 2016, led to a conflict between the government and an armed separatist movement of the Anglophone region. This crisis is a serious threat to efforts to build national harmony and unification of Cameroon and has led to the reestablishment of strong contentions and conducts in support of secession and/or federalism by the Anglophones. This is because at the center of this conflict is the Anglophones’ wish to secede from Cameroon and form their own independent state called Ambazonia.

Many analysts contend that the current conflict is a result of the unmanageable historical animosity between Cameroon’s Anglophones and Francophones in terms of varying language, culture and identity. Thus, if the differences in identity, language and culture are the primary drivers of the conflict as these analysts contend, it is quite surprising that Cameroon, one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Africa, has to a great extent avoided conflict until 2016. This crisis goes way beyond language, culture or identity. It is a resurgence of an old problem known as the Anglophone problem. The Anglophone problem is often described as the evolution of the Anglophone’s awareness from the feeling of being marginalised, exploited and homogenised politically, economically and socially by the Francophone-dominated state and even the Francophone population in Cameroon. The Anglophone problem is driven by the marginalisation and discrimination against the Anglophones in Cameroon in decision-making nationally; the dilapidation of the region’s infrastructure; the exploitation of the region’s rich economic resources by successive Francophone administration without much beneficiation to the local communities; marginalisation in human resource development and deployment by the inundation of Anglophone regions with Francophone employees and workers; the marginalisation of the Anglophones in the allocation of economic resources by the Francophones especially by the mismanagement of the economic patrimony in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon; the common law system and the francophonisation of the English educational system; gradual erosion of Anglophone identity; the predominance of French and Francophones in official documents and public offices respectively; as well as the second-class citizenship of the Anglophones when compared to the Francophones.

These atrocities and the killings of the innocent cannot continue and must stop. While President Paul Biya of Cameroon has made several commitments to end the conflict in Cameroon, there has to be a genuine commitment for the equal and equitable distribution of resources to the Anglophone regions as enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon 1996, which stipulates that all citizens “have equal rights and obligations” and “the State shall provide all its citizens with the conditions necessary for their development” and that the state has a positive obligation to ensure that it protects the rights of the minorities. This must be upheld by the government of Cameroon.

Even if there is a commitment on the part of the Anglophones and the government of Cameroon to end the conflict and there are resources to do so, there may be an issue with the authorising environment. This is because President Paul Biya started ruling Cameroon in 1982 and is currently serving his seventh term, making him one of the longest-serving presidents in Africa and the world. This means that for an average Cameroonian, S/he has only known one president since birth. Since the early 1990s, it has been speculated that President Biya is aloof to the needs of his people and has made very few public appearances. He is termed an absentee president who regularly spends extended periods in Switzerland with the excuse from his government that he goes to Switzerland to work without being disturbed. This deficit in governance, as well as the economic apartheid of the Anglophones, are some of the reasons for the demand for a change in the system of government from autocratic to democratic rule.

The bilateral partners of Cameroon such as France, United Kingdom, United States of America and other national, regional and international organisations should put pressure on the Cameroonian government to put in place a course of action to assuage the situation, partake in a genuine national dialogue and transform the governance archetype. The government of Cameroon should allow for negotiation and mediation during the national dialogue between parties, where necessary.

The principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty may bar international actors from intervening. However, one can start from the low hanging fruits. For example, European media can call out President Biya for always spending his time and his country’s resources in Switzerland and other European countries without reasonable justification. Lastly, the African Union has a huge role to play in this crisis. Just like the Confederation of African Football (CAF) deprived Cameroon the right to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019, the African Union can strip Cameroon of the benefits that it enjoys from the continental body and may also place economic and political sanctions on Cameroon such as travel bans, restrictions on access to services in the international arena until it resolves the Anglophone crisis. Thus, it is imperative that the Anglophone crisis may continue to loom if the Anglophones still feel marginalized. Therefore, the government of Cameroon must make a conscious effort  to address the concerns of the Anglophones, particularly in the allocation and management of economic resources and representation in state institutions.

About the Author

Mary Izobo is a human rights lawyer with experience in the field of human rights, governance, and rule of law for development. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in French Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom; Barrister at Law (BL) from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, Nigeria; a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and a Master of Laws (LLM) in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago, United States of America. She is currently a Doctor of Laws candidate with a focus on governance in Africa at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

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