By Guy Blaise Feugap, WBW Cameroon Coordinator, August 5, 2021
The Historical Sources of Current Troubles
The key historical juncture that marked divisions in Cameroon was the colonisation (under Germany, and then France and Britain). Kamerun was an African colony of the German Empire from 1884 to 1916. Starting in July 1884, what is Cameroon today became a German colony, Kamerun. During World War I, the British invaded Cameroon from the Nigerian side in 1914 and after World War I, this colony was partitioned between the United Kingdom and France under June 28, 1919 League of Nations mandate. France received the larger geographical area (French Cameroun) and the other part bordering Nigeria came under the British (British Cameroons). This dual configuration constitutes a history that could have been a great wealth for Cameroon, otherwise considered as Africa in miniature because of its geographical position, its resources, its climatic diversity, etc. Unfortunately, it is among the root causes of the conflicts.
Since independence in 1960, the country has had only two Presidents, the current one being in power for 39 years to date. This Central African country’s progress has been hampered by decades of authoritarian rule, injustice, and corruption, which are definitely other sources of conflict in the country today.
The increasing Threats to Peace in Cameroon
Over the last decade, political and social instability have grown steadily, marked by multiple crises with numerous impact throughout the country. Boko Haram terrorists have attacked in the Far North; secessionists are fighting against the military in English-speaking regions; fighting in the Central African Republic has sent an influx of refugees into the East; the number IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) has increased in all regions bringing related social cohesion issues; hatred among political party supporters is rising; young people are being radicalized, the spirit of rebellion is growing as is resistance to state violence; small arms and light weapons have proliferated; the management of the Covid-19 pandemic generates problems; in addition to poor governance, social injustice, and corruption. The list could go on.
The crises in the North-West and South-West, and the Boko Haram war in the Far-North are spreading across the Cameroon, resulting in an upsurge of insecurity in the major cities of the country (Yaoundé, Douala, Bafoussam). Now, the cities of the Western region bordering the North-West seem to be the new focus of separatist attacks. The national economy is paralyzed, and the Far North, a major crossroads for trade and culture, is losing its way. The people, especially the youth, are suffocating under the violent and insensitive shots that come in the form of physical bullets, insufficient or little government action, and speeches that twist or obscure meaningful achievements. Resolution of these wars is slow and tortured. The impacts of the conflict, on the other hand, are enormous. On the occasion of World Refugee Day, celebrated June 20, the Human Rights Commission in Cameroon launched an appeal for assistance in the management of refugees and IDPs.
These and other threats to peace have reshaped social norms, giving more significant and attention to those who have more power or who use the most violent and hateful speech through conventional and social media. Youth are paying a heavy price because they are copying the bad examples of those who were once considered role models. Violence in schools has risen significantly.
Despite this context, we believe that nothing justifies the use of force or weapons to respond to situations of adversity. Violence only multiplies, generating more violence.
The recent Security Updates in Cameroon
The wars in Cameroon affect the Far North, the North West, and the South West. They wound Cameroonian society with a shocking human impact.
Terrorist attacks by Boko Haram in Cameroon began in 2010 and still continue. In May 2021, numerous terrorist incursions by Boko Haram affected the Far North region. During the incursions, looting, barbarism, and attacks by Boko Haram jihadists have claimed at least 15 victims. In the locality of Soueram, six Boko Haram members were killed by Cameroonian defense forces; one person was killed on May 6 in a Boko Haram incursion; two other people were killed in another attack on May 16; and on the same day in Goldavi in the Mayo-Moskota Division, four terrorists were killed by the army. On May 25, 2021, following a sweep in the village of Ngouma (North Cameroon region), several suspects were arrested, including an alleged kidnapper who was part of a group of six armed individuals who had a dozen hostages and military equipment on hand. With the persistence of terrorist incursions and attacks, 15 villages in the Far North are reportedly threatened with extinction.
Since its inception in 2016, the so-called Anglophone crisis has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths and more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) according to local and international NGOs. As a result, insecurity is growing throughout the country, including an increase in the arbitrary use of firearms. In 2021, attacks by armed secessionist groups have increased in the English-speaking regions of the North West and South West. About fifty civilian and military victims in the various acts of aggression have been recorded.
The government precipitated the crisis when it began to repress lawyers and teachers who demanded fuller participation of anglophones in the government. It very quickly became radical demands a separate country for anglophone regions. Since then, attempts at resolving the situation have been bogged down time and again, despite efforts to bring peace, including a “Major National Dialogue” held in 2019. For most observers this was never intended to be a real dialogue since the main actors were not invited.
In just the month of May 2021, the crisis has claimed about 30 lives, including civilians, soldiers, and separatists. On the night of April 29-30, 2021, four soldiers were killed, one wounded, and weapons and military uniforms taken away. Separatist fighters had attacked a gendarmerie post to free three of their comrades held in custody there after being arrested. The drama continued on May 6 (according to the 8pm news of Equinox TV) with the kidnapping of six municipal employees in Bamenda in the North West region. On May 20, a Catholic priest was reportedly kidnapped. On the same day, the American magazine Foreign Policy announced a possible outbreak of violence in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon as a result of the coalition between separatist movements from the North-West and South-West and those from the Biafra region in South-East Nigeria. Several separatists were reportedly arrested by the defense and security forces in the town of Kumbo (North West region), and automatic weapons and narcotics seized. In the same region, on May 25, 4 gendarmes were killed by a group of separatists. 2 other soldiers were killed in a mine explosion by separatists in Ekondo-TiTi in the South West region on May 26. On May 31, two civilians (accused of betrayal) were killed and two others injured in an attack on a bar by separatist fighters in Kombou, in the West of the country. In June 2021, a report records that five military personnel were killed and six civil servants abducted, including one who was killed in custody. On the June 1, 2021, the Catholic priest kidnapped on the May 20 was released.
This war is intensifying day by day, with even more innovative and barbaric attack techniques; everyone is affected, from the smallest citizen to the administrative and religious authorities. No one escapes the attacks. A priest who had been detained for complicity with the separatists appeared for the second time before the military court on June 8 and was released on bail. An attack with two policemen wounded and other unknown casualties was recorded on June 14 in Muea in the South West. On June 15, six civil servants (Divisional delegates of ministries) were abducted in the Ekondo III sub-division in the South-West where one of them was murdered by the separatists who demanded a ransom of 50 million CFA francs for the release of the other five. On June 21, an attack on a gendarmerie post in Kumba by the separatists was recorded with significant material damage. Five soldiers were killed by the separatists on June 22.
Some Recent Responses to the Crisis
The illegal sale and proliferation of certain firearms exacerbate the conflicts. The Ministry of Territorial Administration reports that the number of firearms in circulation in the country far exceeds the number of firearms licenses issued. According to figures from three years ago, 85% of the weapons in the country are illegal. Since then, the government has implemented more rigorous restrictions for access to weapons. In December 2016, a new law was adopted on the Regime of Arms and Ammunition.
On June 10, 2021, the President of the Republic signed a decree appointing Public Independent Conciliators in the North West and South West. In public opinion, this decision remains highly controversial and is criticized (just as the Major National Dialogue of 2019 was contested); many believe that the choice of the Conciliators should emanate from national consultations, including the involvement of victims of the conflict. People still awaiting actions from the Conciliators that will lead to peace.
On June, 14 and 15, 2021, the first biannual conference of Cameroon’ s Governors was held. On this occasion, the Minister of Territorial Administration gathered the regional Governors. While taking stock of the security situation, conference leaders and the Delegate General for National Security, seemed intent on showing that the security situation in the country is under control. They indicated that there are no longer any major risks, only some minor security challenges. Without delay, armed groups attacked the town of Muea in the Southwest region.
On the same day, the Cameroon section of the Women’s International League for peace and Freedom (WILPF Cameroon) held a workshop as part of a project to counter militarized masculinities. The workshop highlighted authorities who are responsible for various forms of masculinity that maintain the cycle of violence in the country. According to WILPF Cameroon, it is important that government officials recognize that their handling of crises has generated further violence. The information reached these officials through coverage by the media that high-level officials of the country follow. As a result of the workshop, we estimate that more than one million Cameroonians were indirectly sensitized to the impact of militarized masculinity.
WILPF Cameroon has also set up a platform for Cameroon women to engage in national dialogue. Cameroon for a World Beyond War is part of the steering committee. The platform of 114 organizations and networks has produced a Memorandum and Advocacy paper, as well as a Statement that outline the need for to release of political prisoners and to hold of a genuine and inclusive national dialogue involving all parties. In addition, a group of twenty women CSO/NGO and other political leaders have signed and released two letters to international institutions (the UN Security Council and the International Monetary Fund) urging them to put pressure on the Cameroonian government to find a solution to the Anglophone crisis and ensure better governance.
WBW Cameroon’s Perspective on the Threats to Peace
WBW Cameroon is a group of Cameroonians who work together to find new solutions to the long-standing problems. Cameroonians have been facing these difficulties for the past few decades, and they have led the country into conflicts and a loss of human life. WBW Cameroon was established in November 2020, following exchanged with many peace activists around the world, especially on alternatives to force as a means of conflict resolution. In Cameroon, WBW works to consolidate acgtions of volunteers who adhere to the vision of rebuilding peace through methods that are not only non-violent, but that also educate for sustainable peace. The members of WBW Cameroon are former and current members of other organizations, but also young people who are involved for the first time in this particular work that contributes to the building of a more peaceful society.
In Cameroon, WBW is actively involved in the local implementation of UNSCR 1325 led by WILPF Cameroon. Members are part of the steering committee of CSOs working on 1325. From December 2020 to March 2021 with the lead of WILPF Cameroon, WBW members have conducted several national dialogues to develop consolidated recommendations to the Government, in order to frame a better second generation National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325. Building on the same advocacy model, Cameroon for a World Beyond War has made it part of its agenda to popularise the UN Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security, as a tool that can regulate the participation of youth in peace processes, as we noticed that very few youths in Cameroon know what roles they have to play as actors of peace. This is we why we joined WILPF Cameroon on the 14th May 2021 to train 30 young people on this agenda.
As part of our peace education program, WBW has selected a project team that will participate in the Peace Education and Action for Impact Program, which is designed to contribute to community dialogue for peace. Furthermore, Cameroon for a World Beyond War has developed a project targeting teachers and school children to design new models that the society can use as reference. Meanwhile, a social media campaign to end school violence has been going on since May 2021.
Mindful of our challenges, WILPF Cameroon and Cameroon for a World BEYOND War, Youth for Peace and NND Conseil, have decided to create young “Peace Influencers” among their peers, in particular, and among social network users in general. To this end, young peace influencers were trained on July 18, 2021. 40 young men and women, university students and members of civil society organisations, learned digital communication tools and techniques. A community of youths was then formed and will use the knowledge gained to run campaigns, with communication objectives such as the sensitisation of youths on the dangers of hate speech, the legal tools for repressing hate speech in Cameroon, the risks and impacts of hate speech, etc. Through these campaigns, using social networks, they will change the attitudes of young people, in particular, on cultural difference, show the benefits of cultural diversity, and promote harmonious living together. In line with our vision of peace education, Cameroon for a World Beyond War intends to mobilise resources to provide these young people with additional training to optimise their presence on social networks for the benefit of peace.
WBW Cameroon International Focus
We work in Cameroon and, at the same time, are totally open involving the rest of Africa. We are proud to be the first chapter of WBW on the continent. Although challenges vary from one country to another, the goal remains the same: to reduce violence and work for social and community cohesion. From the beginning, we have engaged in networking with other peace advocates on the continent. thus far, we have communicated with peace advocates from Ghana, Uganda, and Algeria who have expressed interest in the idea of creating a WBW Africa network.
Our core international commitment is to engage in North-South-South-North dialogue to improve relations among Africa countries, the global South, and the industrialized countries. We hope to build a North-South-South-North network through the International Peace Factory Wanfried which is a non-profit association committed to the implementation of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Networking is critical in that it can serve as a means of considering the realities of the North and the South with respect to peace and justice. Neither the North nor the South is immune to inequality and conflict, and both North and South are in the same boat that is currently drifting toward increased hate and violence.
A group determined to break barriers must engage in collective actions. These include developing and implementing projects whose actions take place in our countries and at the global level. We must challenge our leaders and educate our people.
In Cameroon, WBW looks forward to global projects framed in the current international political context marked by imperialism of the stronger states to the detriment of the rights of the less protected. And, even in states considered weak and poor like Cameroon and most African counties, the most privileged only work to ensure their own security, once again at the expense of the most vulnerable. Our idea is to enact a broad global campaign on crucial issues, such as peace and justice, which is likely to give hope to the weakest. One example of such a global project was launched by Jeremy Corbyn in support of justice seekers. Substantial support for such initiatives will inevitably influence leaders decisions and create space for those who usually do not have chance to express their fears and concerns. At the local African and Cameroonian level, in particular, such initiatives give weight and an international perspective to the local activists’ actions that may echo beyond their immediate area. We believe, therefore, that by working on a project as a branch of World Beyond War, we can contribute to bringing more attention to neglected justice issues in our country.