In recent days, organized violence has gripped some parts of the Anglophone regions in Cameroon as the conflict enters an escalates. The worst hit area is the town of Mamfe in the South West region and neighbouring villages where frequent attacks have been reported from purported Anglophone separatist groups in the area. The latest in a spate of violent attacks on December 14th recorded sustained gunfire throughout the day between government forces and unidentified men. Some residents reported that military helicopters were also called in for reinforcement. It is feared that some civilians especially school children may have been caught in the crossfire. Some residents said it was just like what they have been seeing in Baghdad.
The government has responded with a heavy deployment of the military including the elite Rapid Intervention Battalion which has been mostly used to fight Boko Haram militants in the North. On his return from Ivory Coast on November 30th following the death of 10 soldiers around Mamfe, President Paul Biya stated that it is now clear the country is under attack from people he called ‘terrorists’ and promised to use force to crush them down. His message was followed by a heavy deployment of troops to Anglophone regions especially Mamfe which has been the centre of events for some weeks now. Meanwhile, the BBC quoted a certain Ben Kuah, leader of the Defense wing of one of the separatist Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC) as saying that they want to clear all checkpoints of Cameroun government forces because they represent instances of marginalization on Anglophones. In the meantime one of the leaders of the Anglophone movement who started the strike action, Wilfred Tassang told the BBC in a recent interview that the situation in Cameroon, may become worst than that of Rwanda and Burundi put together.
Meanwhile, opposition parties and civil society have decried Biya’s excessive use of force to solve a purely political problem which has now radicalized the youths of the Anglophone regions. Some of these calls have come from within the President’s own party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) with some saying that the President is being misled to think that force can solve the problem. Even though information is sketchy because of government’s shutdown of internet and a refusal to allow journalists on the ground, activists are claiming to have killed tens of military men with unconfirmed reports of some defections. The number of refugees is also growing with Cross River State, Nigeria, which houses more than 40,000 displaced Anglophones already reporting it as a humanitarian disaster. Human rights groups including the National Human Rights Commission have also castigated the military for using excessive force on civilians and a general human rights degradation.
Since the start of the current Anglophone crisis, the government has not formally adressed the situation and neither has Biya, save for a brief mention in his regular end of year message last December 31st, 2016 and on February, 20th 2017, on National Youth Day. Worse still both houses of parliament have rejected appeals from the opposition to debate the matter. Even when the leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) physically perturbed affairs of parliament (sometimes using vuvuzelas) during the just concluded session, members of the ruling CPDM which dominate both houses remained indifferent.
This has pushed Anglophones to think that only violence would put their case on national and international agenda especially at a time when the United Nations has been very reluctant to address the issue. The strike action which started in October 2016 when Lawyers and Teachers of Anglophone regions downed tools because of the imposition of French and French culture on their systems began with the demand for a return to a two-state federation (Anglophone and Francophone) to the fight for what activists called the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons or the Republic of Ambazonia. This decision is informed by years of what Anglophones described as organized state marginalization and erosion of their culture since Anglophone Cameroon (Southern Cameroons) decided to join Francophone Cameroon (La Republique du Cameroun) in 1961. In the meantime, the government has shunned all routes to dialogues despite calls from national and international bodies. Earlier on in the year, Amnesty International had warned the government of a civil war if frank dialogue is not opened.
However, as the military faces stiff resistance in the forest of Mamfe, and with sympathy to the Anglophone course even within government circles, it is a myth to think that the military would work a miracle in a situation that has transformed from a simple problem to a religion.