Bad Governance at the Crossroads of Cameroon’s English-speaking crisis
Bad Governance at the Crossroads of Cameroon’s English-speaking crisis
Author: Nouridin Melo, PhD
Researcher, Lecturer & Content Writer
Internal national dialogue with dissenting groups is key to finding a sustainable solution
Anglophone universities are vulnerable to attacks and kidnapping
Building trust between government and armed militias in Anglophone areas
Anglophone General Conference should be held outside Cameroon
The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has become an example of bad governance and the limitations of centralized national power. This crisis has revealed the ineffectiveness of the decentralization program that began in 1996, as well as the weak legitimacy of the Anglophone elites. While bad governance is not easy to resolve, it is critical to release the leaders of the Anglophone movement and restore their legitimate power.
- Internal national dialogue with dissenting groups is key to finding a sustainable solution
The Anglophone Crisis continues to dominate the political discourse in Cameroon. Insurgent groups continue to attack government assets, and the government has escalated its counterinsurgency efforts to prevent a repeat of the past. The Anglophone Movement is fragmented across political factions and dozens of local militias. The insurgents are targeting civilians and any group perceived as cooperating with the government. Political dissent is swiftly crushed and some members of opposition parties are languishing in jail without trial.
Prison conditions are notoriously bad. While imposed by law, they are used discriminatorily by the government. In January 2020, a group of protesters decrying the irregularities in the October 2018 presidential election was arrested and Maurice Kamto was placed under house arrest for 78 days. The government has also selectively banned MRC rallies and activities, while the COVID-19 restriction on gatherings of 50 or more people is still in place.
To combat corruption, the government has imposed legislation to increase its enforcement power. While there are judicial institutions in the country, they are not independent of the executive branch. Corruption prevents courts from performing their duties as independent arbiters. The government also does not enforce enforcement actions effectively. There is no effective way to prevent the government from imposing sanctions on foreign investors.
Anti-corruption efforts are slow and halfhearted. The government uses these measures to silence critics. For example, Urbain Awono was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2008 for embezzlement after criticizing the abolishment of presidential term limits. Meanwhile, Marafa Hamidou Yaya was sentenced to 25 years in jail for involvement in the “Albatross Affair.”
After the Anglophone crisis began in 2016, the government has intensified repression against dissenting groups. The government banned the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) in January 2017 despite the fact that it advocated secession, which is illegal under Cameroon’s law. Meanwhile, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CAM) has been formed to advocate for the rights of the Anglophone community.
- Anglophone universities are vulnerable to attacks and kidnapping
Security in the Anglophone region of Cameroon has been a serious problem for years, with some students staying off campus and academic activities continuously disrupted. Lecturers and staff at universities are also subject to attacks and kidnapping, putting their safety at risk. Many of them are frightened of working normally and are seeking to leave the country. Despite these challenges, the Institute for International Education has received unusually high numbers of applications from Anglophone Cameroon scholars.
The government of Cameroon has failed to adequately protect Anglophone academics outside of schools. Separatists and security forces continue to attack civilians, including students and teachers. While a national dialogue was held in September and October 2019 to address human rights violations, the outcome was not adequate. A report released on Monday by Human Rights Watch documented at least seven separate attacks on schools and universities in the English-speaking western regions. Meanwhile, 33 Anglophone students and five teachers have been abducted.
The government’s response to the crisis has been disastrous. The government has banned internet access to the restive Anglophone region for 93 days, as a means of curtailing the population’s dissent. Many local and international organizations viewed this as an outright violation of human rights and constitutional rights. As a result, the government’s decision to suspend Internet access in the Anglophone region is likely to provoke even more violent responses.
Insecurity has also affected the health system of the Anglophone region. Health centers and hospitals were attacked and abandoned, with many staff being terrified to return to their jobs. As a result, a third of all health centers in the country were not functioning in December 2018. Despite government lockdowns, many of the remaining institutions are understaffed and under pressure to treat the influx of patients. The lack of access to adequate health care further increases the suffering of the Anglophone population.
The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon is a complex emergency that is exacerbated by the ongoing eruption of Mt. Cameroon. The Anglophone crisis could become a Complex Disaster Emergency if Mt. Cameroon continues to erupt. Further research and analysis is needed to understand the ramifications of this situation.
- Building trust between the government and armed militias in Anglophone areas
The Anglophone region of Cameroon has been plagued by a series of armed conflicts. Some of these conflicts have resulted in the repatriation of Anglophone activists who had sought refuge in Nigeria. This detention, however, sparked a retaliation from militia groups, who have gone on to kidnap over 40 civilians and government employees. The violence between government forces and armed militias resulted in the displacement of 550 000 Anglophone residents. This represents approximately 10% of the population.
To avoid such a scenario, the government and armed militias must work together to build trust. The government should adopt a conciliatory tone, acknowledge the validity of Anglophone concerns, and consider a reparations policy for victims. Neither party should make absolute demands about the form of government or the secessionists. Such an approach can bring opposing sides to dialogue and eventually lead to consensus.
Anglophone political activists should be released from jail. This will demonstrate their good faith and will, in turn, build trust between the government and the armed militias. There are many anglophone political activists in jail, and this should be the first step towards resolving the current crisis. While the government should work with the separatists and federalists, there are still significant challenges.
The African Union must be bolder and applies more pressure to the Cameroonian government. It must visit the Anglophone areas more frequently to assess the situation. It should also continue to promote multipartyism and democracy. The African Union must also make its presence felt in the Anglophone regions by introducing a constitution. However, the African Union must also be more assertive in its approach, and the government must make more frequent visits to the Anglophone regions.
The role of civil society organizations in an Anglophone area of Cameroon is paradoxical. The shrinking civic space, coupled with the emergence of armed militias, have prevented the CSO sector from effectively responding to the situation. The shrinking civic space also impedes peacebuilding from below. Further, the civic space has also remained restricted as a result of the autocratic rule of President Biya.
- Anglophone General Conference should be held outside Cameroon
The AU and UN have offered their good offices for a dialogue with the separatists, but the proposed process is not inclusive enough. It risks frustrating Anglophones and emboldening hardliners. Instead, the government should offer more space for an Anglophone General Conference that would bring together a diverse range of Anglophones. The planned September forum offers a chance for dialogue and a check on the spiraling into civil war.
The Anglophone General Conference is open to everyone who does not have ancestral origins in the North or South West Regions or who settled in Cameroon permanently after October 1, 1961. Separatist leaders should be pressured by the international community to moderate their positions. Non-separatist Anglophone leaders should throw their support behind the initiative and make direct negotiations with the parties. Cardinal Tumi and his team should also make arrangements for different parties to participate in the Conference. They should ensure the return of Anglophone activists from Diaspora and ensure that Anglophone bishops are invited to participate.
The Anglophone General Conference should be held outside of Cameroon because it can help identify credible interlocutors for national dialogue. The political situation in Cameroon has changed dramatically since President Biya created the National Commission on Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to address the Anglophone crisis. But Francophone leaders and their government representatives should be actively involved in the process of promoting national dialogue.
While the President of Cameroon should adopt a conciliatory stance, the government should also address the demands of the Anglophone community. The government should stop jailing thousands of peaceful protesters, torture many of them, and manipulate the media to smear human rights defenders. Further, the government should release hundreds of Anglophone activists. The separatists should also renounce Monday ghost towns and expel combatants who abuse civilians.
The conflict in Cameroon is a manifestation of weak authoritarian governance. Under President Biya’s rule since 1982, large segments of the population have felt marginalized. Many decisions are made by a presidential decree without proper public consultation. In addition, the opposition parties are fragmented. This marginalization has been compounded by violence against Boko Haram, which has devastated the country’s economy and development.