The small African country of Cameroon is currently on the brink of a civil war. Also known as the Anglophone Crisis, the conflict began with demonstrations and protests that date back to 2016 at the appointment of Francophone judges in English speaking regions now known as Ambazionia. Members of those regions organized mostly peaceful protests that demanded increased autonomy. However, those demonstrations led the Cameroon government to use excessive force with their largely American and Israel trained private military. Throughout 2016 and 2017, the government has used live ammunition, injuring and killing both protestors and bystanders. Some have also been detained and subjected to inhumane treatment and torture.A recent report from the International Crisis Group estimated 3,000 people have been killed.
The issue’s origin can be traced to a complicated colonial past. Protests stemmed from large dissatisfaction with President Biya’s concentration of resources and power in the French-speaking regions of Cameroon. The English speaking or Anglophone regions have experienced discrimination and marginalization, despite the fact that the Anglophone comprise one fifth of the population. Anglophone regions have a lack of infrastructure, along with assigned teachers and judges who speak poor English.
In October 2017, separatist leaders declared independence and formed a new nation known as Ambazonia. Ambazonian fighters, known locally as the “Amba boys,” are estimated to be 2,000 in number and arming themselves with homemade guns.
A month after the declaration of separation, President Biya of Cameroon announced the separatists were terrorists and that the country was under attack. Since then, the scale and frequency of the attacks led by separatist groups against security forces, government workers, and state institutions have only increased. The government crackdown on the separatists has been ruthless; residents and local officials report regularly of troops burning homes, detaining civilians, and executing sometimes innocent young men in hopes of rooting out the separatists.
The Cameroon government isn’t the only side guilty of violating human rights though. To enforce boycotts following the protests, separatist groups have attacked and burned schools, while also threatening, attacking, and kidnapping students, principals, and teachers.
Amnesty International estimates tens of thousands of people have fled the English speaking parts of Cameroon. Those who have escaped live in unsuitable homes, and live with the knowledge that those they left behind were killed.
More recently, Cameroon’s leaders are starting a national dialogue to end the conflict. The talks are to be led by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, and are scheduled to occur from September 30 to October 4. Nevertheless, key separatist leaders have refused to participate, which has many activists and experts voicing their skepticism on whether the efforts will produce tangible results.
Despite this, the United States has continued to send military aid to Cameroon. This is because the country is a vital partner to the U.S. in battling Islamist extremism in Africa.