Ethnic conflict leaves thousands displaced in Cameroon

Over 10,000 people have fled from the northern region of Cameroon into Chad over the weekend. According to Iris Blom, the deputy director for the United Nations refugee agency in Chad, 85% of those fleeing the violence are women and children. The conflict itself is between fishermen and herders in the region and occurred last Tuesday. However, aside from the violence that has already left over one dozen dead and 48 wounded, the clash between two ethnicities could lead to further escalation and displacement. 

The dispute is between the Musgum and Arab Choa ethnic groups over the construction of a dam. Musgum fishermen built dams in order to divert fish to increase their yields, entering in direct confrontation with the Arab Choa herders whose cattle were affected by the diversion. According to the governor of the region, Midjiyawa Bakari, the construction of dikes was made in the area where the shepherds take their animals to drink water. Despite this beginning as a simple dispute between fishermen and herders, the governor stated that the violence degenerated into clashes between the two wider communities. The concerning implications are that such “banal disputes” as mentioned by the governor on the radio, can lead to further ethnic conflict out of smaller disputes. According to Reuters, local officials stated that this was the worst ethnic violence they had seen in the region. This is related to the presence of Boko Haram in the region and clashes between the terrorist group and the army for years. This led to locals purchasing weapons out of fear of attacks by Boko Haram and a general sense of insecurity. As a result, ethnic clashes between the two people were much more lethal than they would have otherwise.

Regarding potential future clashes, it is important to note that ethnic conflicts like this one are rare in Cameroon. Furthermore, in his interview with Cameroon’s state broadcaster, the governor said that the local government spoke with authorities in both communities in order to cease hostilities, leading to an effective end to the dispute. However, as stated previously, the latest quarrel between both communities was the worst case of ethnic violence in the region. With the presence of Boko Haram and general instability, locals will continue to be armed, likely meaning that any future dispute will have similar or worse results than the one last week. Despite this, the subsequent resolution to violence demonstrated that peace between both communities is possible. As a result, despite concerns for potential future conflict, the swift action of the local government and community leaders has shown that these two ethnic groups are capable of controlling hostilities- an example for other groups fighting over similar disputes and a hopeful reminder of the benefits of peaceful resolution.