It is a conflict between English and French. It's a conflict that has translated into bloody clashes, and has left many people dead, with many more being displaced. The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has been thought to be putting Cameroon on the verge of civil war.
Recently, there were reports that Cameroon's Anglophone crisis was deepening, and that the Nigerian business community was fleeing, leaving Bamenda (a city in North West Cameroon) on the brink of being a ghost-town. With any human being, safety will come first over commerce. The frequent clashes between government forces and separatists has left scores of people dead, and security being heavily compromised. The separatists want to form a separate state called Ambazonia.
The problem in Cameroon has colonial roots. The removal of these roots is a daunting task to Cameroon's government. The bad thing with most African governments is that they are very reactionary in their dealings with grievances voiced by citizens, often responding with brutal heavy-handedness, while eschewing constructive and meaningful dialogue.
At the advent of colonialism, Cameroon was Germany's territory. It became known as German Kamerun. In 1916, during World War I, France and Britain converged to take German Kamerun. When Germany lost the war, the Versailles Treaty awarded the territory to France and Britain as punishment to Germany. Most of the territory was given to the French - they were given 167 000 square miles. The British on the other hand were given Northern Cameroon, about 17,500 square miles of territory and Southern Cameroon, 16,580 square miles.
This partitioning is the root cause of today's problems in Cameroon. The parts controlled by Britain became British in culture, and the part controlled by France became French in culture. Hence the terms Anglophone and Francophone. As of now, there is a minority Anglophone population and a majority Francophone population, which in essence has control over almost every thing in Cameroon.
At independence, the Southern Cameroons elected to join the Republic of Cameroon in 1961 via a United Nations plebiscite. A simple power sharing agreement was drawn up - the executive branch of government was meant to be shared by Francophones and Anglophones. The Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria, and not Cameroon. But up to now, this power-sharing deal is a remote possibility for the Anglophone Cameroonians.
There had been always simmering tensions, with Anglophone political representation gradually being eroded, but all hell then broke loose in 2016. In that year, English-speaking lawyers and teachers staged an industrial strike over the imposition of French, amidst grievances of unfair treatment of the Anglophones. In typical fashion, Cameroon's president Paul Biya responded by deploying troops and blocking internet access in English-speaking regions. Ever since, the conflict has become a national crisis that is demanding substantial solutions.
The Anglophone Ambazonia Defence Forces want secession, but Cameroon's government won't allow that. The government declared war on the separatists, with bloody clashes and loss of life ensuing. Places like Belo have been the worst hit. The humanitarian crisis in Cameroon has deteriorated, with many human rights activists worrying that Cameroon may just be on the verge of civil war. Agbor Nkongho, an Anglophone human rights lawyer and director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, told the Washington Post: "We are gradually, gradually getting there (civil war). I’m not seeing the willingness of the government to try to find and address the issue in a way that we will not get there."
There seems to be the lack of initiative from the government on finding a solution to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. The calls for creating a separate state are growing louder, and the government is not saying anything about having dialogue with the separatists. Others want the unification of a federation, and a return to the power-sharing deal struck in 1961. More than 20,000 people have fled to Nigeria, and more than 160,000 are displaced within Cameroon. All this points to an urgent need for solutions.
Will more people need to die before Paul Biya's government does something? As has been clearly shown, the Anglophone crisis is a reflection of the deep and long-lasting legacies of colonialism. Peace efforts and driving towards unity is what is needed in Cameroon right now, not bloodshed, displacement, destruction of property and unfair treatment of others.
Header Image credit: BBC