16 | FEB | 2019
“Ambazonia:” Africa’s new separatist war is destabilizing Cameroon
A Cameroonian elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) member patrols the abandoned village of Elona near Buea in the anglophone southwest region, Cameroon - Photo: Zohra Bensemra/REUTERS

“Ambazonia:” Africa’s new separatist war is destabilizing Cameroon

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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Considered one of the most stable republics of sub-Saharan Africa, Cameroon is facing an armed separatist movement in its English-speaking regions since 2016, which is added to the political uncertainty after Sunday’s presidential elections

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Considered one of the most stable republics of sub-Saharan Africa, Cameroon is facing an armed separatist movement in its English-speaking regions since 2016, which is added to the political uncertainty after Sunday’s presidential elections.

Located between the Gulf of Guinea and Central Africa, during the colonial era the country’s southern part became German Kamerun in 1885.

The Kaiser’s rule ended in the First World War when French and British troops occupied the territory.

Three years later, 80% of Cameroon was assigned to France and 20% to the United Kingdom: the former became independent in 1960 and following a referendum, the British Southern Cameroons joined it, while Northern Cameroons joined English-speaking Nigeria.

The result of this complicated legacy due to foreign domination and the artificially drawn borders—also affecting Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, and other African countries—is visible not only in the language differences, yet also in the educational and legal systems.

By 1972, the federal republic of Cameroon had become a unitary state, while the current Northwest and Southwest regions kept its British laws and academic models, the rest of the country stuck to the French legal system and the baccalaureate schooling alternative.

Political stability was maintained reserving the presidency to the French-speaking majority; the post of prime minister and head of government corresponds to the minority anglophone community, who make up 20% of the population (17 million).

In the last years, there was an increase of complaints of marginalization and a dearth of infrastructure in the Northwest and Southwest regions, despite being home to the oil that accounts for 40% of the GDP.

Tensions rose in 2017 during protests by lawyers and teachers demanding better provision for the use of English, followed by a 93-day blackout of internet services and clashes between the security forces and militants fighting for an independent “Ambazonia,” a name taken from Ambas Bay, the area of a settlement of freed slaves which is regarded as the natural boundary between the two communities.

In the run-up to Sunday’s election, attacks on civilians and the army escalated.

Amnesty International called for the central government in Yaoundé to act immediately to restore peace, stressing that 400 civilians have been killed in the past year, and 160 members of the security forces have died since late 2016.

A further 20,000 people have fled into Nigeria and 170,000 are internally displaced, according to the think tank International Crisis Group, which estimates the total death toll in at least 2,000.


Cameroonians displaced by a separatist insurgency ahead of elections

What began as a peaceful movement in 2016 calling for broader recognition of Anglophone teachers and lawyers has opened a deep wound in Cameroon
Cameroonians displaced by a separatist insurgency ahead of electionsCameroonians displaced by a separatist insurgency ahead of elections

Economic toll

The Inter-Patronal Grouping said USD $500 million has been lost as a result of the conflict, along with 6,500 jobs in the formal sector, especially in Buea, the touristic capital of the English-speaking regions.

In January, Julius Tabe, the self-declared leader of theinterim governmentof the separatists, was arrested in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, on charges of terrorism.

Later, Prime Minister Philemon Yang blamed the Cameroonian diaspora for inciting violence on social media.

Analysts in Nigeria believe the Anglophone insurgency has 500 to 1,000 active fighters in ten groups, using hit-and-run tactics against isolated police and military units or prestigious targets, such as local chiefs whom they kidnap.

Weapons and ammunition are being smuggled in from Nigeria and some English-speaking soldiers have deserted to beef up the movement.

Aggravating the crisis, since 2012 the Islamist group Boko Haram extended its actions from Nigeria to the broader Lake Chad basin (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger), including the Far North region of Cameroon with suicide bombings and raids, highlighted a report from Quartz Africa.

Nearly 300,000 people have been displaced in the Cameroonian region alone by the rebels.

Against this backdrop, Africa’s oldest leader, President Paul Biya (85), who has been ruling the country since 1982, is expected to win reelection and the seventh term of seven years (the electoral results will be announced within 15 days).

Under pressure of the UK and France to end the separatist conflict, Biya responded with a cabinet reshuffle and the creation of a ministry for decentralization, promising greater local control over development and public services.

However, the opposition Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) candidate Maurice Kamto claimed victory this week, despite a government warning not to announce unofficial results.

The former Justice minister vowed to defend his “win” and invited Biya to “organise a peaceful way to transfer power.”

Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement(CPDM) strongly condemned this position, saying it was a maneuver to compromise peace and tranquillity.

The CPDM has been dominating the political arena since the 60s and Biya is backed by well-known figures with historical connections to the opposition, usually regarded as weak and disorganized.

Nevertheless, the era of decades-old presidencies is slipping away in Africa.

Criticized by his “hands-off” style of rule, Biya spent nearly 60 days out of Cameroon in 2017 on private visits.

Geneva, Switzerland, is said to be his favorite destination, underscored the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in Yaoundé.

After a trip to Beijing in September for the China-Africa summit, Biya flew to Geneva in his private jet and did not return to the country until ten days later.

China is building the biggest deepwater port in Central Africa in the town of Kribi, a USD $1.3 billion project.

Despite the investment, Cameroon is suffering economically and 48% of the population lives below the poverty line.

For its part, Transparency International ranked Cameroon 136 out of 175 countries in its corruption index.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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