By Dr. Adeline Nembot, Bin Meh and Dr. Parfait Beri (Download PDF)
Analysing the Socioeconomic Consequences of the Anglophone Conflict in Cameroon
Several internal and external measures have been taken since the outbreak of the Anglophone Crisis in 2016 to address burning issues. However, such efforts, which include the Grand National Dialogue, the Special Status for the Northwest and Southwest (NW-SW) regions, the Reconstruction Plan, the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) initiative, the Swiss peace initiative, and the Canadian-led negotiation process, have not abated the crisis. Seven years down the lane, Cameroon is yet to find a sustainable path towards lasting peace and the conflict continues unabated. Businesses are crumbling and winding up, national revenue is plummeting, poverty is rising, human rights abuses are being committed, and school attendance is yet to return to pre-2016 levels as separatist lockdowns continue unperturbed. Named by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) as one of the most neglected crises in the world (1), this article aims to assess the socioeconomic consequences of the armed conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Such an assessment will highlight the importance of peace and security in a country yearning for economic prosperity and wishing to emerge by 2035. The article addresses stakeholders, including separatist groups, the Cameroon government, the African Union, and the United Nations, and suggests policy recommendations that can help resolve the conflict sustainably.
Context of the Affected Regions
Anglophone Cameroonians are hardworking people, and the main economic activity in the two regions is agriculture. Coffee, bananas, cocoa, and rice cultivation in these regions are quite renowned locally and in international markets, hence contributing to about 20% of the country’s GDP. In the SW region, there is offshore exploitation of oil and gas resources, timber, and a fair number of industries that attracts labour from other regions. The region also has a long coastal line that could potentially form one of the longest deep seaports in Africa if well-developed.
Although Anglophones have for decades complained about marginalisation by the predominantly French-speaking government (2), it wasn’t until 2016, when the government started appointing French-speaking teachers and lawyers in Anglophone schools and courts that the first widespread protests gained enormous support from local communities, and eventually transitioned into a bloody armed conflict. Government deployment of security operatives in the regions to calm down tensions failed to silence the protests and instead led to further escalation. The conflict is confined to an area that covers about 20% of the territory and 2 of the country’s 10 regions. While public opinion has drastically shifted over the years, the desire to reinstate the two-state federation that defined the union between the English and French-speaking parts of the country at independence remains sacrosanct among a good size of the Anglophone populace. However, the failure to restore peace and order seven years after the outbreak of the conflict is particularly concerning because it threatens national unity in a country previously regarded as the source of peace and stability in the sub-region.
Socioeconomic Consequences of the Anglophone Crisis 7 Years After
The anglophone conflict has had a significant toll on the economy of Cameroon. The NWSW regions are two major contributors to Cameroon’s economy. In 2017, the country registered a fall of more than 30% in the performance of the industrial services, a drop of 5.3% in exports, 3.4% in consumption and 10.2% in investment compared to the pre-crisis period (3). Due to the crisis, over 2,000,000 people have lost their livelihoods (4). For infrastructural damages, Cameroon registered a total value of destroyed assets of about US$64 million (5), a destruction in the agribusiness sector of about US$35 million, and in the energy sector of about US$27 million (3).
The crisis in the NWSW regions of Cameroon has also had a significant negative effect on the education sector. Education is central to the growth of any country, but by 2023, the conflict had caused the closure of more than 3,000 out of 6,515 (6) anglophone schools. Also, the crisis has reportedly deprived over 600,000 schoolchildren of regular classes (7). The number of secondary school enrolments reduced from 213,277 in 2016 (before the crisis) to 2,908 in 2018 (during the crisis), representing a drop of 98.6%. Accordingly, only about 19% of primary and secondary schools (collectively) remained open in the NWSW regions (5). Additionally, tertiary school enrolment dropped from 15,898 to 14,164 students between 2016 and 2018, representing a 10.91% drop at the University of Bamenda (8). The increase in the number of school dropouts within the Anglophone regions might lead to an increase in crime wave. Regarding the health sector, only 34% of health facilities remain operational in the North and Southwest regions (4), which in part explains the increase in reported deaths in the two regions.
The conflict has also negatively affected businesses. Some public and private enterprises like PAMOL and the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), with an employment capacity of about 10,000 people, have been partially shut down. It is estimated that 6,434 and 8,000 employees in the formal and informal sectors lost their jobs, respectively (8). As a result, hunger and food insecurity have drastically increased in households and the affected communities. A finding from the Cameroon Doing Business in 2018 showed that the Cameroon government lost about CFA5.9 billion from taxes due to this conflict (9)
Finally, the conflict has also had a significant negative effect on human life in the two regions. About 6,000 fatalities have been registered, and there are an estimated 60,000 refugees and 900,000 internally displaced persons (4; 10). As a result, a lot of manpower has been lost over the years. The large displacements have caused overcrowding in cities like Bafoussam, Douala, and Yaoundé. With some individuals unable to meet up with the rising cost of living in these cities, there has been an increase in crime rate, prostitution, and abortion, which negatively affect the welfare of citizens.
Based on these consequences, it is important for the government to take appropriate measures to end the conflict if it wishes to achieve emergence in 2035. World Bank estimates have even shown that national GDP could drop by 9% and household welfare by 5% if the conflict lasts until 2025 (11), which can prevent Cameroon from achieving its development plans.
There is an urgent need for the Cameroon government to initiate frank dialogue so that all parties to the conflict can explore ways to address the root causes of the conflict for sustainable peace and development to take place.
Separatists should denounce abuses and thus expel combatants guilty of committing crimes against the civilian population.
Separatist leaders should soften their stance on lockdowns and allow businesses and the government to carry out their activities in the affected regions to boost the economy of the two regions. For instance, the so-called economic sabotage and ghost towns neither serve the course nor help the population.
Furthermore, the government should order inquiries into abuses by the security forces and make provisions for reparations to victims and reconstruction in the affected communities.
The international community should actively engage all stakeholders in the conflict and encourage them about the need for round-table discussions to settle the conflict peacefully.
This article aimed to assess the socioeconomic consequences of the crisis seven years after it degenerated into an armed conflict. Using documents and reports from national and international institutions, findings reveal that the conflict has already resulted in many deaths, displacements of about a million people and significant destruction of critical assets, such as productive infrastructure, schools and health facilities. It is imperative that the government revisit its current stands towards dialogue and call for a more inclusive negotiation that includes separatist leaders, the United Nations and other stakeholders in the conflict to find a lasting solution to the burning issues.