Cameroon Part Two: Ending the Anglophone crisis

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The two sides fighting in the Anglophone region are entrenched and unwilling to back down. The international community is showing a greater interest in the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon and may actually make a difference.

In the previous blog the Anglophone crisis was introduced and identified as one that is primarily a constitutional one driven by political factors that also have an impact on other concerns the country faces. In this blog, we look at what impact the international community can have in resolving the crisis and what steps the warring parties can take to begin a dialogue.

A major factor benefiting resolution is leverage from outside actors. This is more effective when a party to a conflict has something to lose instead of simply facing moral outrage abroad (leaders worry more about the political situation at home). A promising source of leverage comes from the United States, which has effectively bankrolled and trained Cameroon’s armed forces in their war on Boko Haram. Cameroon’s problems with corruption and questionable elections were overlooked but the US is less inclined to overlook the military’s role in suppressing dissent in the Anglophone region. It is also disinclined to provide training for soldiers that may have been involved in human rights abuses and as a consequence has scaled back its investment. Pressure is also being brought on the government by a coalition of human rights groups, whom have made a submission to the UN Human Rights Council and will be heard in September. Closer to home, the movement of refugees into Nigeria affects Cameroon’s reputation regionally and globally and has focused international attention on the Anglophone crisis. Where previously the likes of the US, UK, Germany, the EU and the UN did not look too far behind the image of a peaceful multi-party democracy, they have slowly become more aware of the problems beneath the image. Quiet French diplomacy didn’t help resolve the situation, multi-lateral diplomacy might: the imprisonment of the opposition leader Maurice Kamto and his supporters in January of 2019 drew attention, as did the arrival of the situation in Cameroon at the doors of the UN Security Council in May. All of this affects aid, of which the EU is the biggest donor. Put bluntly, the government faces significant economic costs as a consequence of the Anglophone crisis on top of the damage to its international reputation.

While the international community and human rights groups have been explicit in their calls for the government to bring the Anglophone crisis to an end they have also censured the separatist armed groups. Criticism of the political leaders and members of the Anglophone movement is more muted as they and their followers have been politically suppressed and incarcerated. According to an International Crisis Group report (cited below) there are differing opinions on issues such as the utility of violence, political solutions (independence/autonomy/ confederation), the use of school strikes, and there are a myriad of political organisations, some linked to armed groups. There is also disagreement on finding solutions to the conflict other than armed struggle as hardliners insist on fighting on and there are small semi-criminal actors reliant on a war economy. A major problem affecting the stance of Anglophone actors is the imprisonment of its leaders in 2017. It is difficult to argue for a conciliatory approach to resolving the conflict when leaders are locked up and the government blocks any attempts at political assembly that might explore ways out of the conflict other than violence. Crucially, local Anglophone actors are seeking solutions to the conflict. Anglophone religious leaders have actively sought to hold an Anglophone General Conference and Women’s groups including the South West and North West Women’s Task Force have emerged. The Women’s groups have not been seen as a threat by the government and have been left alone, although the government has sought to prevent the Anglophone General Conference being held. Western embassies have expressed their support for both women’s groups and the conference. One thing that is certain is the people living in the Anglophone region desperately want the violence and destruction of property to stop.

International actors have less of an influence on the Anglophone side to the conflict. Setting aside their suspicion of the UK (seen as a former colonial power) and France (seen as allied to the government) the relationship between the Anglophones and the international community in general is limited. Human rights organisations have engaged with them and brought attention to their plight but individual countries and multi-national organisations such as the EU and the African Union in particular have been seen as slow to act as the crisis unfolded. This may be remedied to a degree by the more recent international support, which has included aid to the Anglophone region and a more vocal calling to account of the government for its actions there. One of the biggest obstacles to the search for a dialogue is the internal divisions within the Anglophone movement and the consequential lack of unity in approach to the crisis. The government has actually hindered any attempt at an integrated approach from the start through its suppression of protestors and political actors. There are many differing opinions within the movement on what the political solution to the conflict would be and they are not going to be resolved without an internal dialogue. Without this it is nigh on impossible for the first stage of a peace process to be reached: constructive communication between the warring parties. This does not require a grand event with pomp and dignitaries, more a subtle movement of people quietly going about the business of making peace. The fact that both sides have agreed to mediation by the Swiss is a promising sign but it helps if the negotiators arrive having established their stance beforehand.

The Anglophone crisis is a constitutional one that relates directly to how the government manages the political space within Cameroon. Failure to deal with this also impacts on other divisions within the country, notably ethnic and religious divides that have the potential to result in political violence. The resolution of conflict in the Anglophone region, which is inherently political, requires a constitutional solution that will also mitigate ethnic and political tensions over succession once the incumbent President leaves power. The present state of affairs in the political sphere is more likely to exacerbate tensions than mitigate or prevent them. As regards the Anglophone crisis, this has barely reached the point where the adversaries are talking, never mind capable of taking constructive action, but they clearly must do so. Conciliatory measures by both sides are needed to build confidence. The government must cease the political suppression of the Anglophone movement and release political prisoners not involved in violence. This will allow the Anglophone movement to hold its Anglophone General Conference and resolve internal tensions, including that over separatism and federalism. The Anglophone movement would be required to abandon its ‘Ghost Towns’ strategy and school boycotts and commit to the holding of the Anglophone General Conference, at home or abroad. The international community, should actively promote the exploration of a constitutional solution to the Anglophone crisis that will demonstrably improve the political situation in Cameroon as a whole. They should also offer good offices and support for the peace process as it emerges. Socio-economic and political support for the government would be linked directly to political reform.

For more information regarding this blog see:

https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/cameroon/272-crise-anglophone-au-cameroun-comment-arriver-aux-pourparlers

https://peacelab.blog/2019/06/conflict-in-cameroon-eu-and-african-partners-should-not-count-on-france

https://theconversation.com/what-it-would-take-to-break-the-impasse-in-cameroons-deadly-crisis-122134

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-45723211

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/RC-8-2019-0245_EN.html

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

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