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The ongoing crisis in Cameroon has caused great concern and attracted international attention as the conflict continues to unfold. On Wednesday, November 7, 76 of the 78 children who were kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda were returned to their families. The children were held for two days and returned along with their driver. Following the kidnapping, a video was released online where the children claim they are being held by the Amba Boys. The name Amba is a reference to Ambazonia, the state separatists wish to create for themselves in the western regions. However, no one has formally taken responsibility for the kidnappings and instead, the separatists and government have been blaming each other.
These kidnappings are not the first to occur; in September, seven students and their teacher were kidnapped, allegedly by separatists. These incidents are part of the current conflict, dubbed the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon, which began in late 2016 with English-speaking Cameroonian lawyers and teachers protesting the mandatory use of French in classrooms and courts. The protests resulted in the Cameroonian government issuing a massive crackdown and the conflict has since become violent, especially in north-western and south-western Cameroon, which are the Anglophone regions of the country.
Several armed forces – Amba Boys, Tigers, Ambazonia Defence Forces and Red Dragons to name a few – have sprung up to join the fight for sovereignty in these English-speaking regions. Due to these swelling militias, many of the smaller towns are now considered ungovernable. The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that there are probably as many as 10 separatist militia groups operating in the Anglophone areas. Additionally, many smaller groups are combined into the largest militia group, Ambazonia Restoration Forces (ARF). Many of these groups attack schools and kidnap students to instil fear in teachers and other community authorities who refused to boycott Cameroon’s elections in November. However, despite low voter turnout in the Anglophone regions, Cameroon’s 36-year president, Paul Biya, was re-elected.
The history of Cameroon is rooted in colonialism, a past that is strongly affecting the country today, particularly in the Anglophone crisis. First colonized by Germany, Cameroon was later colonized by the French who governed 80% of the country and the British who ran the remaining 20%. French rule lasted longest – colonialists only left once Cameroon gained independence in 1960, at which point a referendum was held where some of the English-speaking population joined Nigeria while the remainder chose to stay as part of Cameroon.
The country’s colonial past needs to be taken into account when proposing solutions to current issues like the separatist movement. Cameroonians will now look toward Paul Biya’s leadership to resolve the Anglophone Crisis in the country, particularly as many English-speaking citizens have concerns that they receive second-class treatment and that their welfare is not prioritized.
The crisis in Cameroon, among other similar situations across the world, demonstrates the lasting impact of colonialism and its role in many of today’s issues, disrupting lives and impeding peaceful relations. Thus, it is important that steps towards peace address the role of colonization in the marginalization of large groups of people. Great caution should also be taken to ensure that these efforts do not subscribe to the tenets of existing or prevailing colonialist structures, as doing so would only further alienate and oppress people as well as create environments that are volatile instead of peaceful and harmonious.