Half A Decade Gone Yet Tensions Persist In Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions: What Can Be Done?

“Once considered a beacon of stability in Central Africa, Cameroon is now facing three protracted humanitarian crises” Aljazeera reports. How is it that the ‘save haven’ for 2 million refugees from neighboring countries is now unsafe for its own millions? Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions have experienced the highest levels of economic dilapidation in the last 5 years due to an unending crisis.

Amidst the countless reports and commentaries of what is presumed to be the cause of this crisis, several people are in agreement that the marginalization of Anglophones is the top on the causal list. However, the root cause remains unclear because escalation has exceeded proportions.

For half a decade, Cameroon’s calm English speaking regions have experienced uncontrolled attacks and gun battles between the national military forces and members of separatist groups. Whether the separation is possible, remains an unanswered question. But why is the conflict persisting? That is another undefined question as no individual or government authority has been able to provide clear answers.

Though the UN estimates three million of the four million people in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest have been impacted, the reality is all 4 million have had the worst experiences.

What went wrong?

Most people claim tribalism and nepotism is the main cause of the conflict. This has been evident in that, major job opportunities are largely given to French-speaking Cameroonians even in English-speaking regions. For example, appointments to governmental positions in national corporations like the SONARA- Cameroon’s National Refinery Company have been given mostly to Francophones even though the company is in the foothills of Cameroon’s southwest region. Anglophones have always questioned why despite their literacy and professional skills, they cannot handle key functions in the government especially in their own regions.

When did the conflict start?

According to reports from Reuters’ Zohra Bensemra, the Anglophone crisis began in 2016 when the government security forces used lethal force to put down peaceful marches by members of the country’s English-speaking minority.

Is that really when the crisis started? Several Cameroonians will deny it had started much earlier. Decades before 2016. The silent grudges and voiceless Anglophones have always experienced inconsistencies on several strata.

Regionalism and language difference remains the biggest backbone to this unsettled political dilemma. The killings and property loss of uncountable south westerners and north westerners’ remains the unpleasant consequences of this instability. The murder figures are unknown and the numbers of those who have become refugees in neighboring Nigeria also cannot be verified.

A report from Crisis Group adds “A poorly conducted re-unification, based on centralization and assimilation, has led the Anglophone minority to feel politically and economically marginalized, and that their cultural difference is ignored” as the main cause.  This is unarguably the most remote but accurate reason for these unsettled differences in Cameroon which has ensued into a deadly civil crisis.

Why is the conflict persisting?

This is the most common question everyone wants to know. Unfortunately, no one person can respond with accuracy. The crisis is likely to persist because of internal political attachments on both sides.

Many will affirm that the crisis is persisting because there has been little or nothing done in relation to centralization and assimilation. All power and political control are almost the same as it was before the crisis, thus there seems to be no room for decentralization. There have been several decrees proclaimed by the government in the light of decentralization. Have these decrees been practically implemented? Another hard question!

What can be done?

The idea of holding a national dialogue and its actual realization was considered the most doable peaceful movement. But almost 4 years after, there seems to have been little or no effect from it.

How else can peace be realized? Most people have affirmed peace will only come if one of the parties surrenders; that is, either the “freedom fighters” put down their guns or the government agrees to declare independence. None of them have been willing to succumb to each other thus leaving the crisis unpredictable.

Firstly, decentralization exceeds written decrees at the presidential level. It has to include actual application in terms of regional balance. This can include aspects like appointments into government positions. For example, competent Cameroonians should be appointed to work in areas of their expertise. The key requirement for people to get employment should be linked to their academic and professional experience and not their ethnic or regional roots. If competence becomes the key element for recruitment, more quality work will be produced and everyone will feel accepted to contribute to national development.

At the level of peace and reconciliation, forgiveness has to become a national motto. Discussions on how to heal from traumatic and psycho-social effects due to the conflict need to be open and public especially for those living in the conflict zones. There is a need for a national gathering where people will be free to express their experiences without threats of death.

On an extremely political level, there is a need for Cameroon to emulate Rwanda. This means implementing a reconciliation process in Cameroon that will focus on reconstructing the Cameroonian identity, as well as balancing justice, truth, peace, and security in the country. For example, the Rwandan Constitution now states that all Rwandans share equal rights. And laws have been passed to fight discrimination and divisive genocidal ideology. This constitutional change can greatly affect how Anglophones will be considered included and accepted. This will largely erase the appellations of regions based on language and will indicate a national spirit for all Cameroonians.

In addition, alluding to how peacekeeping was developed in Rwanda, there were intense negotiations and discussions. Rwandans agreed on the necessity of a National Human Rights Commission, a Commission on National Unity, a Constitutional Commission, and the reform of the judiciary. A change in all these organs that already exist in Cameroon will greatly affect the peace of Cameroon. There is a need for the government to allow these organs to operate independently on an equal and impartial basis. They are not supposed to be managed solely by members of the ruling party or be appointed by presidential decrees.

The reshuffling of members of the government remains the key solution to destabilize this crisis. This is because there is a need for a switch in the methods and strategies of how the crisis has been handled. The constant condemning of either the military forces or self-proclaimed Ambazonian forces after a deadly incident has proven insufficient to end the crisis. The solution is in Cameroon, and Cameroonians can fix it by choosing unity and making changes where necessary.

Sarah Namondo


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