African Nations Championship (CHAN) Continues In Cameroon Despite Ongoing Conflict

Cameroon’s government has deployed its troops to serve as security for the African
Nations Championships (CHAN), which began on January 16, 2021, citing concerns of violence from threats levied by separatist groups. The factions vow to stop the football matches in English-speaking regions, just the latest development in a nearly five-year-long armed conflict.

The Cameroonian government, led by Paul Biya and regional governors of English-speaking areas such as Bernard Okalia Bilai in South West Cameroon, is ensuring the public that games will be played in safety. Securing the games is a complicated endeavour, though, because it forces officials to guard against hazards from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as the possibility of violence from dissenters.

While the Cameroon people are, sadly, somewhat accustomed to violence stemming from Boko Haram that grips the Northern part of their Nation, they now face an increasingly dangerous conflict from the separatists. Cameroon’s government officially declared war against the Anglophone separatist movement at the end of 2017, yet the conflict continues. As of 2019, as many as 20 emerging separatist groups, including the Ambazonia Military Forces (AMF), joined the fight to carve an independent nation out of Cameroon along the Country’s Nigerian border (Foreign Policy 2019). It has drawn little international attention despite the displacement
of hundreds of thousands of people since the beginning of the Nation’s internal struggle in 2016.

The Anglophone Conflict has pitted Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions, the
Northwest and Southwest, against the Francophone-dominated government. It began due to frustration and resentment toward the French-speaking government among Cameroon’s English-speaking communities due to what they see as systemic, Anglophonic discrimination in the Country’s education and legal systems. The government violently cracked down on Anglophone minority protests five years ago, and these disputes soon turned into a full-fledged armed conflict in 2018.

Aggression has not been one-sided, however, as the separatist groups have launched
many attacks. In October 2020, it was likely a group of these fighters who attacked an
international bilingual school, Mother Francisca, in the Southwestern region of Cameroon that killed eight children and injured a dozen more (UN 2020). In response to these types of raids, government forces have often resorted to using live ammunition, detainment, torturing, and other tactics on English-speaking, military-aged men and those they suspect to be AMF collaborators.

In addition to these human rights violations, the vital economic and military routes from Cameroon to Nigeria have become the primary pathways for refugees fleeing unrest caused by both separatist and government forces. Innocent civilians in rural areas are suffering, and many are out of reach of aid organizations. The fighting is displacing Anglophone and Francophone communities. This upheaval has depopulated vast rural, Anglophone regions and brought the combat closer to
urban centres. Given this distressing conflict, officials like Thomas Ndive Mulungo, president of the Cameroon Football Federation in the English-speaking southwest region, are working with government officials to keep the CHAN events safe. Thus far, this has been relatively effective.

A year-long pandemic, years of Boko Haram terror in the North, and other pressing
issues facing Cameroon notwithstanding, the main priority during CHAN will be continuing to prevent the separatist threats of violence from materializing. This reality highlights just how pervasive this conflict has become.