The conflict between the government of Cameroon and armed fighters in the country’s anglophone regions may not meet the technical definitions of civil war, but it is pretty close.
Which is why it is odd that neither the African Union nor the “international community” is paying more attention to the conflict. I would hazard a guess that part of the problem is that the regional body in Central Africa, ECCAS, is the most rudderless of the Continent’s RECs. Perhaps a more proactive ECCAS would have forced the AU’s hand.
He’s one of a growing number of civilians trapped between the army and roaming gangs of English-speaking insurgents fighting to break away from the majority-Francophone nation. The conflict has decimated the local economy in the conflict zone, and according to the United Nations, left hundreds of people dead and displaced about 437,000 people.
“The military burn houses, destroys, loots property and kills citizens,” Cyprain, 41, said on condition that his surname not be used out fear for his safety during an interview in the port city of Douala, where he now stays with relatives. “Separatist fighters attack, kidnap and even kill people they suspect are their enemies.”
There’s no end in sight to a conflict that started in late 2016 with peaceful protests against the dominance of the French language in schools and courtrooms of the Northwest and Southwest regions, where most people speak English. President Paul Biya, 85, said on Twitter last week he’ll order the defense forces to “neutralize” all fighters who don’t lay down their weapons, a warning he first gave in his traditional year-end speech.
Biya might yet end the conflict through military victory, as per his threat. Indeed, research shows that a state’s ability to fend off armed challengers is important in preventing civil war outbreak.
But what if the Cameroonian state is not strong enough to quell the rebellion?
So far the African Union and other international actors seem to be betting that Biya will prevail. But it is also possible that everyone is vastly underestimating the resolve and capacity of those behind the armed rebellion. Add to this Biya’s record of gross mismanagement of the Cameroonian state and it becomes clear why the Cameroonian military may bungle the fight for effective control over the anglophone regions of the country (comparisons of how Nigeria let Boko Haram metastasize into a full blow insurgency come to mind).
Also, it looks like the conflict is escalating:
About 300 armed men swarmed into the town of Bangourain on Dec. 23 and set houses ablaze in what was the biggest attack in French-speaking territory since the conflict began.
The incident triggered such angry reactions on social media from Cameroonians that the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa issued a statement urging Francophones and Anglophones to “exercise restraint and refrain from hate speech and retaliation against one another.”
At some point it will become impossible to piece the Cameroons back together. Human rights abuses by the Cameroonian military, several instances of which are well documented, will only harden the belief that the francophone-dominated state does not view its anglophone citizens to be legitimate members of a shared political community.