State-Centric Approach to Resolving the Anglophone Conflict in Cameroon: What Prospects? (Download Pdf Version)
By Francis Tazoacha
The Nkafu Policy Institute, a think–thank of Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation, Simbock, Yaoundé, Cameroon, hosted a webinar on January 26, 2021 on the theme: “Can the Anglophone Crisis be Solved Through a State-Centric Approach?”
Hosted in partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy based in Washington DC, the webinar sought to know if the ongoing conflict in North West and South West Cameroon can be resolved through a state–centric approach. Bringing together about 68 participants, the January 2021 webinar sought to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and dialogue on the anglophone conflict and brainstorming to see if the state alone can resolve the conflict without the involvement of other stakeholders. The meeting sought to address a widely recognized need for the government of Cameroon to ensure greater involvement of civil society organizations, regional bodies, the United Nations, the African Union, Nation States and international mediators in the sustainable resolution of the conflict.
For the past four years, the socio-political climate of the Anglophone regions of Cameroon has been very volatile. The long-standing grievances among the Anglophone population in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon concerning marginalisation particularly in the educational and legal systems by the Francophone-dominated government led to widespread protests in October 2016.1 The conflict escalated from a peaceful demonstration that was met with a heavy crackdown from the government security forces in 2017. As a result, the situation morphed into an armed conflict with increasing support by the population in the Anglophone regions to seek independence from Cameroun – French Cameroon – as an independent “Republic of Ambazonia.” Since 2017, the conflict has continued unabated without any party seeming to surrender and thus end the war. Despite attempts from the national and international communities to intervene and resolve this destructive conflict, it has nevertheless, resulted in an impasse.2 The government of Cameroon opted for a military strategy from the very beginning of the peaceful protest that quickly changed into an armed conflict. Some pundits attribute this escalation to November 30, 2017 when President Biya, upon his return from Abidjan, Ivory Coast – after attending the 5th African Union-European Union Summit – declared to pressmen at the Yaoundé Nsimalen International Airport that he would put an end to the series of killings of forces of law. He also said he would order in general and the massacres around Mamfe in the South West Region, at the time all claimed to have been perpetrated by “Anglophone separatists.”
With the deepening of the crisis, the government also made several peaceful concessions and top-down institutional responses, including the Major National Dialogue conveyed by the President of the Republic and chaired by the Prime Minister, Chief Dr. Dion Ngute, from September 30, 2019 to October 4, 2019.3 Other institutional measures include the setting up of an English division of the Supreme Court and creating a Common Law Section at the National School of Administration and Magistracy; the translation of the OHADA uniform Act to English; the recruitment of bilingual teachers to teach in secondary schools; the resolve to implement effective decentralization; setting up a National Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism; putting in place the DDR program for ex-combatants of Boko Haram and Separatists fighters who drop their weapons; and the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction of the NW and SW Regions.
Despite these attempts made by the government to resolve the on-going armed conflict, the guns have still not been silenced. The situation has even taken a critical twist with the mass killings of separatists by the Cameroonian military and counter killings with unarmed civilians, particularly women and children, bearing the brunt of the price. Some of these killings include the Ngarbuh massacre in the North West of Cameroon on February 14, 2020, the Kumba School massacre on October 24, 2020, and the Mautu massacre on January 6, 2021. Moreover, separatists’ leaders and fighters appear to be more radicalized and galvanized with the increasing militarization of cities by government security forces.
The fundamental question at this point remains: Why is the crisis so difficult to be resolved despite all governmental and international initiatives? There are many discerning voices from many stakeholders both from national and international communities who believe that if the government had not adopted a state centric approach in resolving the crisis, the conflict would have long been resolved.
It is from this perspective that the Nkafu Policy Institute of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation came up with this opportunity to engage all conflict stakeholders and the general public to participate in the public dialogue on whether the current state-centric approach can resolve the Anglophone conflict. The foundation also wants to bring about the most cherished peace and sustainable development in the affected regions in particular and Cameroon in general, while at the same time looking for other possible sustainable peaceful pathways to resolving the conflict.
Objectives of the Report
The Objective of the report is to give an opportunity to stakeholders and policymakers to engage on a debate on whether the crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon commonly known as the Anglophone Crisis can be easily resolved through a state-centric approach.
This report provides comprehensive, incisive, and evidenced-based policy recommendations that will precipitate a succinct pathway in resolving the crisis in the North West and South West regions in particular, and Cameroon in general.
During the event, panellists and participants discussed the different approaches that have been put in place to resolve the conflict. Presentations were equally centred on the different actors that have attempted to intervene in resolving the conflict, and the successes, challenges and contentions surrounding such efforts. Other discussions suggested ways forward in resolving the conflict, building peace and galvanizing social cohesion and sustainable development in the conflict affected regions in particular. The discussions were organized around the following key thematic issues:
History and Dynamic of the Current Anglophone
The political agenda in Cameroon has become increasingly dominated by what is known today as the “Anglophone Conflict,” which is posing a major challenge to the effort of the post-colonial state to forge national unity and integration. It has led to the reintroduction of forceful arguments and actions in favor of “federalism” or “separation.”
The root causes of this problem could be traced back to the colonial and historical injustices in 1961 when political elites of the two states with different colonial legacies – one French and the other British – agreed on the formation of a Federal State. Contrary to the expectations, this agreement did not provide equal partnership for both parties, let alone the preservation of the cultural heritage and identity of each other. It was merely euphoric and a transitory phase to the total integration of the Southern Cameroons into a strongly centralized unitary state. This gradually created an anglophone consciousness: the feeling of being marginalised, exploited and assimilated by the majority francophone population.
However, on May 20, 1972, President Ahmadou Ahidjo called for a constitutional referendum, which saw a 98.2% voter turnout voting 99.99% for a unitary constitution. The country thus changed from the Federal Republic of Cameroon to the United Republic of Cameroon.4 On February 4, 1984, the current president, Paul Biya, passed a decree changing the country’s name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon. As such, many people felt that it was a return to the appellation of French Cameroun when it got its independence in 19605 and had not joined West former British Cameroon – or West Cameroon. Another constitution was drawn up on January 18, 1996, making the country a decentralized unitary state. Yet, political pundits have observed delays or cautious implementation of the decentralization process.6
The current Anglophone crisis is therefore considered an extension of the historical injustices and the resistance to the alleged assimilation of the indigenous English-speaking population. It began with the harassment of the Anglophone lawyers who organized protest marches in the regions in 2016. In November 2016, the Anglophone Teachers Trade Union also staged a solidarity strike to protest against the distortions on the Anglo-Saxon educational system implemented in the North West and South West Region. Furthermore, the targeting of the University of Buea and the National Polytechnic Bambili in November by the elements of the Cameroon military and police culminating in the massive arrests and torture of students also aggravated the current armed conflict. In December 2016, activist lawyer Felix Agbor Balla, Secretary General of SINES-UB Chapter Neba Fontem, and President of CATTU Wilfred Tassang formed the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, which championed the demands of the Anglophone community. Following failed attempts to address the demands of the Anglophones population, President Biya, in the 2016 End of Year address to the nation, described the agitators as “a group of manipulated and exploited rioters whose activities have led to the loss of lives, destruction of public and private property, crippling of the economic activities, and the desecration of national symbols.”7 The crisis outgrew the less-complicated demands that originally led to the strike action initiated by teachers and lawyers. Ordinary citizens joined the protests, which increasingly became immersed with burgeoning clamors for independence. To diffuse the crisis through heavy crackdowns only seemed to justify the cause of the protesters. In addition, the more resolute both parties got, the more the conflict seemed to crystallize into armed violence.
The Anglophone Crises and the Form of State
Anglophones constitute about 20% of Cameroon’s population and make up two out of the 10 regions in the country; that is, the North West and South West Regions. As earlier mentioned, the Anglophone crisis could be traced back to the long-standing grievances expressed by Anglophones, with respect to the form of state and the modus operandi of state institutions. The Anglophones feel that their cultural identity has been ignored and that they have been economically and politically marginalized by the government.8 Over the years, Anglophones have been airing out their frustrations to seek government redress, which proved abortive.
At the end of 2016, these frustrations degenerated into outright riots and strikes, with the Anglophone lawyers and teachers demanding for reforms in the legal and educational systems respectively.9 The Anglophone Consortium was formed through which Anglophones made several political demands, including the request to return to the federal system of government that the Ahidjo administration abolished. Government’s retaliation through the use of force to crackdown the protests as well as the banning of the Consortium further radicalized some Anglophone elite and youths. This continuous anger and frustration led to the deployment of the Ambazonia Defence Force by the Ambazonia Governing Council – a separatist movement formed in 2013 through the merger of several groups.10 Since 2017, several separatist armed groups fighting to ensure the separation of English from French Cameroon have been proliferated and, hence, formed the Republic of Ambazonia. To date, the Anglophone elite remain divided on the form of state to be adopted as a solution to the Anglophone crisis, with some arguing in favor of federalism, while others prefer outright separation.11 The government has continued to harness efforts in resolving the Anglophone crisis through a state centric approach by insisting on the effective implementation of the decentralized unitary state system. The government argues that federalism is costly and weak as far as state power is concerned, and that it promotes ethnic and regional sentiments rather than national consciousness.12
Decentralized Unitary State, Federalism or Separation?
The form of state to be adopted by the Cameroonian government has remained the epicenter of debates on the resolution of the Anglophone crisis. Opinions of Cameroonians are divided over the form of state to be adopted with some people arguing in favor of the decentralized unitary state, while others are for federalism and ‘extremists’ for secession (Konings & Nyamnjoh, 1997 but you should also cite current work related to the dynamics today). Decentralization has been enshrined in the Cameroon Constitution of 1996, which made the country a one and indivisible decentralized unitary state.13 This implies the recognition of the existence of cultural diversity and local communities, while maintaining the unity of the state. As such, proponents of the decentralized unitary state system argue that any other form of state – federalism and/or separation – is unconstitutional (some reference needed if possible). Since 1996, the government has been making gradual efforts to transfer some of its authority and responsibility for public functions from the center to regional and local authorities under the ongoing state decentralization process. These ranged from the institution of the 2004 law on decentralization to the December 6, 2020 regional elections endowed with some administrative and financial autonomy to manage the affairs of their respective regions – promote economic, social, sanitary, educational, sports and cultural development.14 Proponents of federalism argue that decentralization is no longer a solution to the Anglophone crisis and clearly state that federalism is the solution, although there is divided opinion as to whether it should be a two-state federalism or not, with key opposition figures – such as Maurice Kamto – arguing against a two-state federalism.15 Proponents of the two–state federalism argue that the only way out of the Anglophone crisis is a return to the original federal system that was illegally abolished during the Ahidjo administration, where West Cameroon enjoyed ‘real’ autonomy as opposed to the current governance structure that concentrates power at the center and is very sluggish in the implementation of effective decentralization.16 The proponents of separation are extremists because they argue for the creation of a new state – the Republic of Ambazonia – which will enjoy total autonomy, clearly mapped out territory, population, government and above all enjoy sovereignty and participate in international relations.
Can the State–Centric Approach Alone Resolve the Anglophone Crisis?
The government of Cameroon has been making tremendous efforts to manage the situation. Among several attempts, the government deployed some francophone teachers and magistrates from the English speaking to the French speaking institutions, created the common law section at ENAM, created the National Commission on bilingualism and multiculturalism,17 the Grand National Dialogue followed with several recommendations amongst which included the granting of special statute to the North West and South West Regions.18 In 2020, Counsellors were elected as a step toward the implementation of effective decentralization. In spite of all these measures, armed groups have continued to engage in guerrilla tactics, clashing regularly with state security forces in their quest for separation. This is therefore an indication that the state-centered approach to resolving the conflicts has not yielded the desired results.
- In this regard, it would seem an effective way out of conflict requires a neutral third-party mediation that would be able to broker a ceasefire and peace deal between the warring factions and would include all conflict stakeholders.
- There is urgent need for an inclusive dialogue involving all parties under no pre–conditions and not making any subject a taboo.
- There is need for a credible and inclusive mediation. The UN, AU, Switzerland, and Catholic Church – Episcopal Conference, or even the Vatican – have already offered to mediate and should be contacted to mediate.
- There is need to put together an international team equipped with the political weight and experience to get people to change their positions, put pressure on the central government in Yaoundé, and mobilize the support of other key actors, such as Nigeria. In the absence of a leading role from the UN, mediation could take place under the tutelage of the AU if it has solid support from the UN.
- The United Nations and the African Union should organize another plebiscite in the Southern Cameroons so that the people of the Southern Cameroons decide the fate of their future existence.
- The Cameroon government should make a change in the legal framework for the creation of greater autonomy to the anglophone regions.
- Given the wave of atrocities and alleged war crimes committed in the context of the crisis, it would be necessary for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to launch initial investigations to that effect. This could encourage the government to initiate its own investigations into these abuses that are said to be committed by both warring factions and, depending on the outcome, start criminal proceedings. This will serve as a strong deterrent to others from further abuses against civilians.
The Anglophone problem that degenerated into violence with severe clashes between the separatist fighters and the military has led to several lives lost and the destruction of both public and private property. This has also led to implications in the education, health and economic sectors, as well as human security, humanitarian and social problems, justifying the urgent need for the resolution of the crisis and the management of the effects of the conflict. The state-centric institutional measures to manage the crisis have been applauded by many. However, the largely coercive approach does not seem to end the conflicts. On the contrary, it would seem more and more atrocities are being committed and conflicts are escalating. As such, the recommendations outlined above, though not exhaustive, could be resourceful in the restoration of peace in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon.