There is no such thing as an authentic narrative in war and conflict situations. All “facts” in war are contested. Anger, hate, and resentment produce their messy narratives. Even the initial colors used in the advert poster for this Interview sparked a mini war, prompting me to change them. Now let me thread on lands that angels would not dare.
By composing this piece, I have started yet another war! A war of disagreement! Sure, I will suffer the consequences in the foreseeable future, one of which may be a ban from entering Yaoundé. However, before the government goes into full rage and rampage, I clearly state that this is the first part in a Series. An interview has been extended to the officials to present their case, rebut everything in this piece, and challenge the narratives of the Interview on July 18. Alas! Power does not like to explain itself, preferring to dominate forcefully. Thus far, there has been no response from the government. We shall see.
Following four years of civil war in anglophone Cameroon, official and rebel troops have failed to engage in genuine negotiation, endangering its residents, including children! According to statistics, the crisis in Cameroon has led to the displacement of over 750,000 citizens. Before you quote me, war figures are casualties of fact! The crisis and aggravations continue to be at the forefront of political debate when discussing the civil war in Cameroon; however, the crisis is engineered from colonial times. Thus, to understand the root cause of the Cameroonian crisis is to go deeper in history, back to the European scramble for Africa, back to the colonization of France and Britain in 1919, then to the unification of the Anglophone and Francophone Cameroons in 1961. All these historical milestones embedded in them a century of hostility, establishing a preset to “the war in Cameroon,” which began in 2017 when Anglophone Cameroon protested peacefully over the marginalization and discrimination of the North-West and South-West regions of the country.
African crises did not just start today, and in this case, the blame game is well deserved. Understanding the prevailing cause of almost all African civil wars should be traced to colonization and western imperialism. Colonization brought together people of different cultures, traditions, and languages without their consent. Previously autonomous nations found themselves in polygamous relationships with their former friends and enemies.
Photo: A cartoon image depicting the partition of Africa by European powers.
People from different cultures merged to form a single colonial entity, without considering how people of different cultures and traditions could live together in peace and harmony. This situation becomes pertinent in light of today’s discussion about Cameroon. In 1884, Cameroon was shared with Germany. However, following the defeat of Germany after the First World War, the political history of Cameroon changed. German troops were forced out by the British and French soldiers in 1916, creating a new Cameroon. Three years later, they were split and formed a part of the colony of British and French, necessitating Anglophone Cameroon (20%) and Francophone Cameroon (80%). The subsequent 42 years saw the unification of these two colonial entities and formed today’s Cameroon. But Anglophone Cameroon felt marginalized as a result of the formation, and Francophone Cameroon has dominated the political space with Paul Biya becoming the leader of the Republic of Cameroon since 1982. The claim by Anglophone Cameroon is that the treaty regarded them as a separate country named Ambazonia.
Cameroon’s formation, which happened in the 1960s when a hitherto French-speaking mandated territory was merged with an English-speaking region to become an independent country, was met with dissatisfaction and objection. After the formation, both entities were left to retain their language, culture, education, and judicial system. As a result, Cameroon now has two educational systems, two official languages (English and French), and two judicial systems. But Anglophone Cameroon was not happy with the unification. Their grievances began after reunification when Ahmadou Ahidjo, the country’s authoritarian leader at the time, systematically undermined major democratic institutions and expanded the repressive police state in French Cameroon to Anglophone areas.
In western Cameroon, the English-speaking minority (Ambazonia) felt marginalized, neglected, and repressed by the central government in Yaoundé. They blamed the British for abandoning them and handing them over to the French government, who eventually transferred power to Francophone Cameroon. In this context, Professor Carlson Anyangwe pointed out: “The Southern Cameroons was one of the territories set for decolonization in the context of the UN’s decolonization agenda. Britain’s devious handling of it and the British wheeling and dealing at the UN in 1959 and 1960 caused a great historical injustice to the people of Southern Cameroons.” Anyangwe continued, “That injustice continues to cry out for redress.”
Photo: A picture of Professor Carlson Anyangwe
Altogether, the feeling of distaste, marginalization, negligence of the government, transfer of French teachers to English-speaking schools, and Paul Biya’s authoritarian rule as the president of Cameroon for 39 years are factors responsible for the outbreak of the civil war. Since November 6, 1982, Paul Biya, a ruthless politician, has been the president of Cameroon. He is ranked as Africa’s second-longest-serving president, the world’s longest-serving non-royal leader, and the continent’s oldest leader. He has a reputation as one of the most corrupt African leaders and boasts of a net worth of over 200 million dollars. He is known for making irrational decisions and carelessly employing the use of violence at the first opportunity. His approach to settling the dispute is said to have triggered the civil war.
THE CIVIL WAR
“For civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and separatists, the conflict is a brutal reality.”
Poor resource allocation and a lack of effective political representation are two of the most common complaints among the Anglophones, and this led to the beginning of the unrest in the country. They accused the government of “Francophonizing” the state through a planned cultural agenda. In late 2016, the Anglophone’s union of lawyers and teachers opposed the appointment of French-speaking teachers, judges, and prosecutors to their courts and schools. These demonstrations, which were influenced by social media, lasted more than one year. The North-West and the South-West, two of Cameroon’s English-speaking (minority) areas, have been embroiled in a terrible civil conflict that has gone mostly unreported. Anglophone rebels have been fighting for a new Republic of Ambazonia since 2017. However, in October 2017, the protesters’ harsh repression, labeling demonstrators “terrorists,” and authorizing the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians escalated the unrest into a full-fledged uprising and civil war. The violence started from the peaceful protests in Anglophone Cameroon, which stemmed from long-standing prejudice and marginalization in the North-West and South-West regions.
Additionally, the fighting became more intense in the spring of 2018. Separatists intensified their attacks on the military, prompting retaliation by Cameroonian forces, which left civilians trapped in the crossfire. The sound of heavy machine-gun fire awoke the southern village of Azi in the early hours of April 2018. It was claimed that government troops had arrived in the village to search for armed separatists. There were random shootings and killings. Soldiers on the ground opened fire on an older woman attempting to flee and burnt several houses. This was the height of Paul Biya’s aggressive approach to stop the Ambazonians from engaging in their secessionist movement.
Photo: Cameroonian military destruction of houses in Azi Village.
Credit: BBC News
On February 14, 2020, nothing less than 21 civilians, including 13 children and one pregnant woman, were murdered by government forces and armed ethnic Fulani in Cameroon’s Ngarbuh village. They also set fire to five homes, pillaged several other properties, and assaulted locals. Some of the victims’ bodies were discovered charred inside their homes. According to the Human Rights Watch report, a 32-year-old man witnessed his entire family, including seven children, being murdered. He said in the interview conducted with him that: “I heard gunfire and ran to the side of my house to hide. As they sought to flee, I witnessed the soldiers shooting my family members one by one. They started with our mum. The children were then shot, and their bodies all fell on her. Then they set fire to my house.”
Sadly, it has been denied that these crimes took place, adding to the survivors’ trauma and simply encouraging government troops to conduct additional atrocities. Nevertheless, these heinous murders of citizens, especially children, are crimes that should be thoroughly and independently investigated, and those responsible brought to justice.
On February 21, 2020, a memorial service for victims of the Ngarbuh massacre was held at the Saint Theresia Cathedral in Kumbo, Cameroon’s North-West region.
Credit: Human Rights Watch
The war in Cameroon continues to wreak havoc on southern Cameroon, and it is safe to say that the war does not appear to be enraging political leaders in Yaoundé as it formerly did. However, civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and separatists continue to die due to the fighting. On January 10, 2021, in the South-West region, the Cameroon army killed at least nine members of the public and wounded four others. The following week saw the killings of more civilians.
Due to its complexity, the war remains one of the most complicated African conflicts. It is a territory with a history of three colonial masters, and there is an intense debate about who should respond to the crisis among the world leaders. Still, the killings and displacements keep increasing that in 2018, the UN cautioned that “there has been an upsurge in violence between the Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon.” Amnesty International recorded the death of over 400 civilians in 2017 and reports that at least 400 civilians were killed in the previous year. According to Col. Didier Badjeck, the spokesman for Cameroon’s army, as of November 2018, over 170 Cameroonian troops had been killed. The UN estimates that out of hundreds of thousands of people, about 30,000 Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria as refugees.
UNHCR – Displaced Cameroonians struggle in Nigeria
Photo: Displaced Cameroonians waiting to be relocated from Agadom Refugee Camp, Ogoja, Nigeria.
Credit: Wachiaya, 2019, (UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency)
In January 2021, the United Nations reported that over 3,000 people had been killed, more than 200 villages have been burned, more than 750,000 people had been internally displaced, and 1.3 million people require aid. The deadliness and complexity of the crisis have left the world in a plethora of awe of what could be done to settle the prevailing dispute. Various dialogues have been conducted in a bid to put an end to the crisis. For instance, on February 2, 2021, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, went on a five-day visit to Cameroon and met with President Biya to address the Anglophone secessionist issue. This came after the initial calls for peaceful solutions from the European Union and US Senators. However, international attempts to convince aged President Biya to embrace a peaceful settlement have thus far been unsuccessful. Despite these appeals, Biya has continued to advocate using a violent approach to handle the crisis. Interestingly, when he addressed Cameroonians in December 2020, he claimed that the country had “returned to peace.”
President Biya’s nonchalant attitude has continued to fuel the civil war and the aggression of secessionists to depart from the Republic of Cameroon and form the Ambazonian Republic. Would this movement and agitation for a separate state be possible? What is the various undertone embedded in the current civil war in Cameroon? What is the take of the French and British governments in the crisis that has affected Cameroon in the last four years?
Professor Carlson Anyangwe has been invited to the next Toyin Falola Interviews to answer these questions and to discuss the ongoing war in the Cameroons as part of a more extensive set of initiatives to attain peace. Do Please join us on:
Sunday, July 18, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria/Cameroon
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
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