COUNTRY FOCUS, CAMEROON | Regional ructions
Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, which started with strikes by teachers, students and those in the legal profession in late 2016 and now includes groups calling for secession, is deepening. People from English-speaking South-West and North-West regions of Cameroon have long complained about their marginalisation in the centralised state apparatus in Yaoundé and the government’s failure to protect Anglophone heritage.
Opinion is divided on how to address the Anglophones’ concerns. Victor Mukete, member of the ruling party and the country’s oldest senator, tells sister publication Jeune Afrique that a federal system should be created “as soon as we are capable of financing it.” A fringe group has declared an independent state of Ambazonia, but many people say that a fairer system rather than a separate system would be the best solution. Yaoundé’s response so far has been a security crackdown and creating a weak national commission on the issues of bilingualism and multi-culturalism. President Paul Biya launched a government reshuffle in early March, separating the decentralisation portfolio from the interior ministry. Elanga Obam George, a technocrat who worked in prime minister Philémon Yang’s office, is the new minister of decentralisation.
The Anglophone crisis also highlights the often difficult relationship between neighbouring Cameroon and Nigeria. Back in 1961, the United Nations (UN) organised a referendum in the areas colonised by Britain, giving northern and southern Cameroon the options of joining Nigeria or joining Cameroon. The North went to Nigeria, and the South went to Cameroon.
Since the flare-ups of late 2016, the UN estimates that nearly 20,000 Cameroonian refugees have fled to Nigeria. Anglophone Cameroon’s economy, heavily integrated with Nigeria, has been severely affected as many small towns and villages have been abandoned. Businesses often close down for ‘ghost town’ protests. Meanwhile big firms with interests in the region are reporting reduced profits, and cross-border trade has slowed to a trickle.
Cameroon and Nigeria share a long border, with security flashpoints along the 1,975km frontier. Nigeria’s north-eastern states of Borno and Adamawa and Cameroon’s Far North Region continue to deal with a significant Boko Haram insurgency while an escalating pastoral conflict between Fulani herdsmen and settler communities is currently raging from Adamawa through Taraba and Benue into parts of Cross River, with small arms proliferation in Akwa Ibom and other states in the Niger Delta.
The crisis highlights Nigeria’s difficult position. Security analyst Chris Ngwodo explains: “Nigeria cannot be seen as aiding a separatist cause and infringing on Cameroon’s sovereignty, having crushed a nascent separatist cause of its own in the south-east just last year.” Journalist Nicholas Ibekwe adds: “Nigeria’s government felt sufficiently compelled to aid Yaoundé by ensuring the arrest and repatriation of prominent separatist leaders resident in its territory in December […] Not to mention the lack of criticism over reports of incursions into Nigerian territory by Cameroonian gendarmes in pursuit of suspected rebels.” Nigeria’s cooperation with Cameroon, however, has not always been well received at home. Ayo Sogunro, a human rights lawyer, says: “Are they criminals? What are the grounds for arresting the Cameroonians in Nigeria? […] This goes against international law.”
The stakes are getting higher, as Cameroon will hold elections in 2018, and President Muhammadu Buhari will be up for re-election in 2019. A wider expansion of the anti-separatist crackdown could lead to increased tensions between the governments in Abuja and Yaoundé, a state of affairs not unheard of as both countries have clashed over territory, access to resources and political interference in the past.
Cameroon’s imports from Nigeria in 2016 were much larger than its $40.8m in exports to Nigeria
From the March 2018 print edition