Cameroon was once thought of as an island of stability in a sea of instability, but that mirage began to crumble in 2016 when President Paul Biya mistreated what many in the outside world call the "Anglophone Crisis" but what many Cameroonians (English) and French speakers equally) is just further evidence of the lack of political freedom, accountability and competence that has plagued the country since 1961.
For the second time in a row, the Norwegian Refugee Council has chosen Cameroon as the most neglected displacement crisis in the world. More than 1 million Cameroonians have been internally displaced, tens of thousands have fled to Nigeria and thousands from other countries have fled to Cameroon to flee Boko Haram, West Africa Province (ISWAP) or violence in the Central African Republic.
Both the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and the Simon Skjodt Center for Genocide Prevention at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum report that Cameroon is at risk for mass atrocities and urgent action is needed. Since the beginning of 2020, violence has increased in both the Anglophone Southwest and Northwest and in the far north, where Boko Haram and ISWAP are resurrecting.
The Cameroonian government has linked the jihadist threat in the far north to the Anglophone crisis in an effort to keep the flow of international support going. At the General Assembly of the United States in September, Cameroonian Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella called for increased international cooperation in support of the country's ongoing fight against "terrorism". However, his increased attention to "multilateralism" belied Cameroon's usual moderate response to international comments on its domestic and economic policies or the conduct of its military operations.
Cameroon is doing everything it can to reduce the international impact of its failed militarization strategy against legitimate grievances in its Anglophone regions. Instead of seeking peace through political compromise and better governance, the regime confuses the international community by describing the crisis as a two-front war against “terrorists” and “criminals”.
After two years of careful research using GIS tools and open source data analysis, we have come to the conclusion that Cameroon's military operations against Anglophones in the southwest and northwest have noticeably weakened Cameroon’s efforts against Boko Haram and ISWAP, resulting in greater regional uncertainty Has.
Since 2019, Boko Haram and ISWAP have once again carried out major operations, attacking Nigerian, Cameroonian, Nigerian and Chadian military targets and causing heavy casualties to soldiers and civilians alike. At the end of September, the Nigerian governor Bornu's convoy was attacked twice within two days not far from the Cameroonian border. However, the Cameroonian regime is ready to ignore an Islamist resurgence on Lake Chad as it perceives the Anglophone crisis as a greater threat to its close takeover. And unfortunately, if the situation gets out of hand, it is confident that the international community will once again ride to the rescue. Let's call it the moral hazard problem of the global war on terrorism.
The Cameroonian government's determination to militarily destroy Anglophones for legitimate grievances has ousted support for constitutional reforms or even a full return to federalism (which was officially ended in 1972) for many Anglophones, who are now demanding more. It doesn't help that the government has long ruled out serious talks about a return to federalism, offering only the empty promise of “decentralization” that was a central feature of the 1996 constitutional amendments but will only be implemented this year.
From a bilingualism commission set up in 2017 to “special status” for Anglophone regions in 2019, the government has tried to show the international community that it is reacting, but few in the country see any of these measures as a solution to the fundamental problems of the Marginalization and mismanagement.
It is not surprising, therefore, that support for full independence of the Anglophone regions (based on the 1961 British South Cameroon borders), which some call Ambazonia, deepens as the conflict progresses. A global poll conducted in October found that 86 percent of the 3,700-plus Anglophone respondents were in favor of full independence. That result is not surprising of cultural, given decades of economic and political marginalization based on a flawed decolonization process and, more recently, relentless violent repression, including well-documented atrocities, human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, mass incarceration, and theft of artifacts and destruction Heritage.
This blunt strategy has not only prevented more Anglophones from seeing a future in a unified Cameroon, but has also worsened regional instability in the Lake Chad region over the past two years. The uncertainty in the whole country is intensifying precisely because of the redeployment of security forces and the waste of scarce financial resources in the violent confrontation with the Anglophone problem, when options for a negotiated solution were always available.
After increasing violence in 2017, Biya called up its top military commanders in December of this year and, as the state radio reported, declared "war on these terrorists who are seeking secession." In February 2018, the government created a new military command region to direct operations in one of the Anglophone regions, a signal that military solutions would trump political ones. Key military leaders who led efforts against Islamists in the far north were eventually brought to the Anglophone regions, including Brig. General Valère Nka, disrupting the already weak coordination between command and control with regional partners in the Multinational Joint Task Force. (Chad had sent troops to Cameroon and Nigeria regularly since 2015, but recently withdrew over complaints that the Chadian armed forces were engaged in most of the fighting.)
In the Anglophone regions, significant investments have also been made in military infrastructure. At the end of 2018, Bamenda Airport was refurbished militarily. New helicopter facilities and a new barracks complex have been added to complement an existing base of the Battalion d & # 39; Intervention Rapide (BIR), the elite division of the Cameroonian security forces trained by Israeli contractors, which takes orders directly from the presidency.
There is also ample evidence that armored vehicles, ammunition, small arms, helicopters, as well as surveillance drones and aircraft originally deployed to combat Boko Haram have been re-deployed and used in the Anglophone regions.
Mack Defense Fortress armored personnel carriers (APCs) donated by the United States for use in the far north have been observed at bases and during operations in the Anglophone regions. At Bamenda Airport, there were regular sightings of C-130 Hercules aircraft delivered by the USA, which for a long time had been dependent on the troops in the far north. A British company recently won a five-year support contract to keep them up in the air. Two used Bell 412 helicopters were delivered in 2019, at least one direct from the USA. They are now in the BIR warehouse in Limbe in the south-west and complement two that are already in operation.
In addition, reports suggest that Cessna Caravan surveillance aircraft and drones supplied by the U.S. government in 2018 were used in the Anglophone regions to identify camps of armed groups in heavily forested terrain. Armored combat vehicles supplied by the Chinese and South Africa, once the mainstay of mechanized units in the north, have also been identified in the south.
Despite the increasing threat from Boko Haram and ISWAP in the north, Cameroon’s recent investments in military hardware have mainly been concentrated in the Anglophone regions. The ongoing supply of Panthera APCs for Minerva specialty vehicles from the UAE's burgeoning arms industry to various branches of the security forces stationed in Anglophone regions is a case in point, while units in the north have not seen any major shipments of armored vehicles for at some point.
Boko Haram's conventional military capabilities were largely reduced by 2016 from their peak in 2014 and 2015, but the fragmented ISWAP and Boko Haram factions did not go away. Reports from the ground and satellite imagery suggest that the Cameroonian armed forces have either withdrawn or reduced their commitments in the north since 2017, adding to fear and insecurity among civilians, including those already displaced. Community members have been formed into makeshift self-help groups by Cameroonian troops to defend themselves against these resurgent extremist attacks.
Data from the data project on armed conflict locations and incidents shows that fighting and violence against civilians in the two northernmost regions of Cameroon has risen sharply since 2018, reaching a record level in 2019 and at a much higher frequency through 2020 than during the previous peak of Boko Haram continued.
Cameroon's security resources are severely restricted by fighting on two fronts, so that Islamist groups can gain momentum and rebuild their capabilities in the north. Paradoxically, the international community has been relatively calm about the government's militarized approach to the Anglophone crisis, possibly due to the alleged use of Cameroon in fighting jihadists – a fight they have not fought seriously in more than three years. External actors who can offer military and economic aid to Cameroon must ensure that their efforts do not allow the Biya regime to crack down on its own Anglophone citizens.
The so-called fight against terrorism has unfortunately become an opportunity to withdraw resources and support from the international community in order to keep the ruling regimes in power. Across the continent, the recruitment ability of extremist groups is related to poor quality of governance coupled with the absence or impunity of security forces.
In recognition of the worsening situation in Cameroon, a bipartisan US Senate resolution was presented on September 8 by Sens. Jim Risch of Idaho, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Ben Cardin of Maryland. It contains the harshest congressional language yet and calls on the Biya government and "armed separatist groups", often referred to locally as the local defense or recovery forces, to "end all violence, respect the human rights of all Cameroonians and take a truly inclusive stance to take. " Dialogue to resolve the ongoing civil war in Anglophone Cameroon. “The preamble is particularly harsh on Biya – in power since 1982 and the 'oldest head of state in Africa' – who criticizes his centralization of power, corrupt practices, suppression of the opposition and fraudulent elections.
In late September, a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on “Democratic Relapse in Sub-Saharan Africa” identified the problem of US military assistance in atrocities against Anglophones. In response to a specific question from Rep. Ilhan Omar, Christopher Fomunyoh of the National Democratic Institute stated that, particularly in the past two years, “some of the resources originally donated to the government of Cameroon to aid in the fight against Boko haram … has moved both materially and personally to the Anglophone regions of the country, where there is an ongoing armed conflict. "
Yet the United States and most international actors with influence in Cameroon, including France, still need to invest sufficient political capital or financial resources to move the government, armed groups, and civil society leaders into real, mediated negotiations. France's reputation in West and Central Africa, already precarious for historical reasons and because of its recent unilateralist impulses, does not make it a good candidate for leading international efforts to resolve the Anglophone crisis.
Half-hearted peace efforts require a revitalized coalition of international interest groups to move forward. An informal process led by Switzerland, driven by non-governmental organizations and initiated at the end of last year, has neither the official approval of the government of Biya nor broad support from all domestic and diaspora groups who are calling for peace and justice. A “national dialogue” organized by the government at the end of 2019 deceived more international actors than national constituencies.
Appeals for a ceasefire on COVID-19 by the United States and a respected group that included Nobel Prize winners in June 2020 have been ignored by the government and some armed groups. And in July, secret meetings between incarcerated Anglophone leaders and members of the government produced neither concrete results nor clarity as to whether the government was really pursuing a new strategy or trying again to appease international critics.
Despite the total lack of progress in ending a regional civil war, the Biya government signed a $ 160 million reconstruction and development agreement with the United States Development Program in May for the two Anglophone regions of the country where security forces have destroyed more than 200 villages since 2016.
The latest strategy by the Biya government is to press ahead with the December regional council elections in the hope of reassuring both national and international critics with the sign that the decentralization first promised in the 1996 constitutional amendments is finally coming to fruition. In at least three and perhaps four of the ten regions of Cameroon, however, the security situation makes it difficult to conduct these indirect elections safely, and most voters (only city councils and traditional rulers can vote) are already affiliated with the ruling party.
The international community must not fall for this charade and should instead reassess its support for a financially troubled government in Biya. After more than three years of intense military operations in the economically critical Anglophone regions, the Cameroonian economy is volatile, but the scarce resources are still flowing into military imports, training, infrastructure and operations.
Regime politicians, military commanders and supporting media cloud the water by calling opponents of the regime "terrorists and criminals" or insurgents – whether they are Boko Haram and ISWAP hardliners in the northern regions, Anglophone separatists, federalists or even Opposition politicians act like Maurice Kamto.
Cameroon's stubborn military response in the Anglophone regions has ruined an economically important part of the country, removed any solution other than independence from the agenda for many English speakers and allowed extremist movements to resurface in the north.
Biya and his regime fully understand how to manipulate the international community to protect the government from international pressure and control, and foreign governments and institutions must stop being fooled. The continued references to the so-called war on terrorism and regional stability enabled Cameroon to receive rescue packages for the International Monetary Fund, humanitarian funds and military aid, despite ample evidence of severe repression, economic mismanagement and a lack of sincerity in resolving political conflicts peacefully templates .
The first step in combating the resurgent Islamist threat in the north is to encourage Cameroon to resolve its Anglophone crisis peacefully. Until the international community persuades the Biya regime to open brokered negotiations to find a political solution, its attention will remain divided to the detriment of the stability of the region.