We see Blood and Do Nothing: The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon

Cameroon is worse than a police state. The country has a failed multiparty system of governance  and has been ruled by the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) for 36 years. Its president, Paul Biya retains absolute power to control legislation, influence Judiciary and appoint executives.

From October 2016 hitherto, the Yaoundé authorities have arrested thousands of Anglophone activists and bystanders for no apparent reason other than reclaiming civil rights. The South West and North West which are the English-speaking regions of Cameroon are home to approximately five million people. These are the areas that were controlled by Britain during the epoch of colonization. While the other eight provinces were controlled by France. The two communities (Anglophone and Francophone) reunited to form Cameroon after the colonial powers withdrew in the 1960 and 1961.

Anglophones are arrested daily without being informed of any charges. There are many instances where family members are not informed of the whereabouts of relatives as they are taken to unknown military and unofficial detention facilities. Some journalists also covering events in the Anglophone regions were arrested and held for long periods of time without being notified of the charges against them. The Anglophone detainees are severely beaten with various objects, including electric cables, machetes, and wooden sticks; forced into stress positions and suspended from poles in ways that cause extreme pain to joints and muscles. They are also subjected to simulated drowning.

In November 2016, in a joint police, gendarmes and military crackdown in Buea, in the southwest region, students who had been protesting were violently removed from university accommodation. Following the students refusal to move, the police began charging at them and beat those who wouldn’t budge with batons. Some students ran and hid in student apartments. Thousands of these students were later crammed onto military trucks and taken to undisclosed locations where some were held for months and others killed as mass graves have been discovered. Female students were allegedly raped.

The crisis has created a huge refugee question. There are thousands of Anglophone Cameroonians stranded in Nigeria and over 20,000 Cameroonians have been registered as asylum seekers. In recent remarks on the refugee situation in Nigeria, Aikaterini Kitidi, the UNHCR spokesperson expressed that a recent assessment by humanitarian groups shows that 95 percent of the asylum seekers have no more than three days’ worth of food and are down to one meal a day. The asylum seekers do not have access to clean water and essential relief items such as clothing, blankets, and plastic sheeting are only available to fewer than 25 percent of them. Only five in every 100 Cameroonians have proper or independent shelter, while the rest have little or no privacy. She also noted that children commonly exhibit rapid breathing and coughing.

From 2016 thousands of Anglophone teachers and lawyers went on strike, because the government has been marginalising the Anglophone community by imposing French language in Anglophone schools and courts. The teachers and lawyers said the government is sending French-educated civil law judges who do not understand English common law to courts in the Anglophone regions. They requested a complete overhaul of the administrative departments in the country and an inclusive federal constitution to end their woes. In other words, they demanded a return to the federal government system of the 1960s with the two gold stars on the national flag that symbolized two joint states.

Instead, the government never created a space for a peaceful conversation. The government sent its colonial army and militarized the Anglophone regions. Key peaceful protesters were arrested. This included  Ayah Paul Abine (advocate general at the Supreme Court), Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla (who was then leader of the Cameroon Anglophone Lawyers Associations) and recently the Nigerian government arrested the Anglophone Restoration Interim President H.E. Sisiku Ayuk Tabe alongside others in a  high Command meeting. They were then extradited from Nigeria to Cameroon and kept incommunicado once in Cameroon.

The human rights abuses perpetrated by the president, has radicalized a faction of the Anglophone population and led to them declaring their independence under the Federal Republic of Ambazonia and to build justifiable self-defence mechanism as nothing guarantees them a future in the union between West and East Cameroon. The Anglophones have opted for self-determination which is an international law principle applicable to all people.

Amidst these very significant human rights abuses experienced by the Anglophone population the entire world is sadly and surprisingly very silent.

In the midst of crises, doing nothing should not be an option. Key international instruments and institutions such as the International Criminal Court exists to protect innocent victims of violence in cases where the state does not fulfil its duty. It remains puzzling that there has been no intervention to tackle these human rights abuses.


Featured image | Cameroon Location map | Pharos | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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