Cameroon: The tense relationship between Fulani and anglophones

By Franck Foute, in Yaoundé
Posted on Tuesday, 21 July 2020 11:21

A Mbororo woman in Cameroon in 2015
A Mbororo woman in Cameroon in 2015. © Jorge Fernandez/LightRocket via Getty Images

Better known as 'Mbororos', the Fulani of the North-West have become full-fledged actors in the conflict in this English-speaking region of Cameroon. Victims of secessionist militias, this population is also accused of meting out abuse.

It is a crisis within a crisis.

Some 200 kilometres from Bamenda, the capital of the North-West region, the green hills of Ndu – in the Ndongang-Mantung region – may offer abundant grazing in this rainy season. But the Fulani pastoralists and their herds that usually flood these lands are scarce. The herders of this nomadic community had settled in the area.

But because of the resurgence of tensions with members of the indigenous Grassfields Christian community, most of them have left the area.

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Better known under the name of “Mbororos”, the Fulani claim to be victims of secessionist militias fighting for the independence of English-speaking Cameroon. They say they are exposed to intimidation, kidnappings, assassinations, as well as the theft of cattle and other goods.

The abuses recorded in recent weeks illustrate the scale of the violence.

On 25 June, a murder took place in Bui. Another was recorded two days later in Njila. On 7 July, a 10-year-old child and his mother were cut down with a machete in Ndu.

Full-fledged actors in the conflict

As the days went by, the toll paid by the Mbororo community grew heavier and heavier. According to the NGO Justice and Dignity Campaign, a minority rights organization, 11,755 members of the nearly 80,000 Mbororo living in the northwest have been forced to leave the region because of the violence.

The same organization counts at least 250 people killed, all Fulani, since the beginning of the crisis in 2016.

According to the same source, 475 houses have been burned down and 2,600 head of cattle killed. More than 150 million CFA francs have also been paid to secessionist groups as ransoms. A heavy toll, making this community one of the most affected by the English-speaking crisis.

But while the Mbororos claim to be victims of “Ambazonian” secessionist militias, the participation of some members of this clan in murderous retalion, both civilian and military, has contributed to making them full-fledged actors in the conflict.

Long suspected by the population of collaborating with the military, the account of the Ngarbuh massacre, which occurred on 14 February, formalized the ties between the Mbororos groups and the defence forces. And, above all, shone a spotlight on how they work together.

READ MORE Cameroon’s Ngarbuh massacre: revenge, blunder, or manipulation?

On that day, two soldiers, a gendarme and ten members of a Fulani vigilance committee opened fire on alleged separatists who were trapped in the small village of Ngarbuh, before setting fire to the houses to conceal the deaths of civilians, “collateral victims” of the incursion.

According to the UN, 22 people, including 15 children and two pregnant women, died in the flames. “It was proof, if proof were needed, that Fulani were taking part in armed expeditions with consequences for civilians,” said Alfred Kongnyuy, a journalist based in Bamenda.

Tongues are loosening

In the report of the commission of inquiry set up by the Cameroonian authorities following the massacre, the Mbororos’ responsibility was clearly established.

The members of the vigilance committee, the text says, are accused of having “participated in an operation that caused the death of several people and the burning of houses. “Only four months after the events, neither the identity nor the traces of the culprits have been found to date.

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Since the release of this note officially acknowledging the involvement of Mbororos in violence against civilians, the Grassfield community has been opening up to denounce crimes in turn. “The Ambaboys [separatists] regularly attack the Fulani. They steal their cattle and take refuge in the bush. But when the Fulani want to retaliate, they attack the people instead,” says Calvin Moffor, a resident of Naikom [near Wum] who is now a refugee in Bamenda. Last year, the Fulani killed two people in our village.”

In a letter addressed to the prefect of Ndongang-Mantung on 11 May, the chief of Ntubaw village requested the intervention of the administrative authorities in the face of the “series of attacks carried out by the Fulani. “These would have led to the creation of “an atmosphere of tension which prevents the harmonious cohabitation of the indigenous population and the Mbororo.”

An old conflict

The attacks against the Mbororo – who are not the only people to fall victim to secessionist militias – are rooted in their historical conflict with the indigenous Grassfields people. According to historian Jabiru Mohammadou Adamou, the beginnings of this conflict date back to the 20th century, when the region was still under British administration.

Fleeing Nigeria, the Fulani had settled on the Sabga, Wum and Santa Hills with the blessing of the indigenous leaders.

“There were no documents at that time. Only the word of the chiefs was authentic. But as their respective populations grew, each community began to nibble on each other’s land, causing tensions. The indigenous people then began to demand that the Fulani return the land they had obtained from their parents,” explains this teacher-researcher at the École normale supérieure in Yaoundé.

This land problem was compounded by political issues.

In the 1990s, a wind of democracy blew over Cameroon. With the return to a multi-party system, the Grassfield indigenous people joined the SDF led by Ni John Fru Ndi in large numbers. Courted, the Mbororo community nevertheless chose to support the UNDP of Bello Bouba Maigari – a Muslim from the North like them – in the 1992 presidential election.

“Supporting Bello Bouba Maigari instead of Fru Ndi was seen by the indigenous people as a betrayal,” said Jabiru Mohammadou Adamou.

A collaboration underpinned by the army

The same scenario was repeated in 2016, at the very beginning of the English-speaking crisis.

In search of support from the population, the secessionist militias were turned down by the Mbororo community, which strongly opposed secession. This stance is the leaven of attacks by the secessionist militias, which have promised to recover the lands ceded by their ancestors if independence is obtained.

To defend themselves, the Fulani Vigilance Committees are working at full speed.

These small groups of shepherds, often armed with machetes, are responsible for protecting clan members and property. On the side of the indigenous people, the populations accuse the defence forces of maintaining an complicit silence in the face of these groups of Mbororos “who are not content to just defend themselves”. “The army does nothing to stop them when they cross the line,” adds Calvin Moffor.

The army does nothing to stop them when they cross the line,” adds Moffor.

The army refutes these accusations, but it does admot its collaboration with “the vigilance committees of both Mbororos and indigenous people”.

“Cameroon has opted for a ‘popular’ defence that can include civilians, explains a senior military official. “We opted for the vigilance committees, which differ from self-defence groups in that they do not carry weapons. This technique was used in the North in front of Boko Haram and it paid off. There’s only one enemy in the North West and South West: secessionist terrorists.”


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