The following article was written by Dama, our Chapter Ambassador for Women’s March Bamenda, and gives detailed insight into the current situation in Cameroon, the history of the region and the necessity for immediate action and intervention on humanitarian grounds to address the volatility of the current crisis.
The ability for Women’s March Global to share Dama’s story is critical to our movement. We want to share with you, Our Community, the issues being faced on a local level from those who experience them on a daily basis.
Presentation of Cameroon
In 1884 Cameroon became a colony of Germany, known as Kamerun. After World War I the territory was divided between France and Britain; first as League of Nations mandate B territories and then as UN trust territories following the formation of the United Nations in October 1945. On January 1, 1960, the French-administered part of Cameroon gained independence as the Republic of Cameroun under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. The southern part of British Cameroon federated with it in 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Following the referendum on 20th May 1972, the federation was abandoned in favour of a unitary state.
Since 1984, the country has been known as the Republic of Cameroon and Paul Biya has been its President since November 6, 1982. French and English are the official languages of Cameroon; inherited from the country’s colonial past. Eight out of the ten regions of Cameroon are primarily French-speaking, while two are Anglophones (English-speaking).
The Eruption of the Anglophone Crisis
Anglophone Cameroon has been under curfew for the majority of the past two years with fighting between armed separatists and government forces in the administrative regions of Southwest and Northwest. This fighting has roots as far back as October 2016 following a crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding political representation and cultural rights for the Anglophone minority.
This crisis started on October 11, 2016, in Bamenda, when lawyers from the Southwest and Northwest regions held a strike to demand the exclusive practice of the Common Law in their area and the exclusion of French-speaking magistrates and notaries who are not familiar with this system. They were repressed, but reacted one month later, on November 8, 2016, with fresh demonstrations supported by the people.
English-speaking teachers followed suit on November 21, 2016, followed by thousands of protesters, calling for the strict application of the English educational system and exclusion of French teachers who cannot communicate in English. The social demands diversified as the protest gained popularity, including demands for roads, hospitals, jobs, and the cessation of the marginalisation of Anglophones. At least two people were killed by live ammunition in these protests. Sporadic riots took place during the days that followed in and around Bamenda, resulting in dozens of arrests.
Students of the University of Buea came into action on November 28, 2016, demanding a return to federalism in addition to social demands, such as the end of the ban of their association or the end of the financial exploitation of students by the university administration. News of brutalities, torture and state terrorism, of girls raped by security forces, or forced to roll in muddy waters began to spread. Around 100 arrests followed.
Deterioration of the Situation in Cameroon
The crisis has continued without a solution. The Consortium formed in December 2016 to coordinate demonstrations and carry out negotiations with the government if the opportunity arose, was banned one month later. Its leaders were arrested, accused before a military court of being “terrorists”. Some were released after months of imprisonment.
This triggered a transition from the social and political struggle to an armed struggle of asymmetric war with hundreds of deaths, tens of thousands of exiles in Nigeria. The Anglophone crisis is gradually turning into a civil war.
As a result of the clashes, more than 2,000 people have reportedly been killed with extra-judicial killings and kidnappings taking place on a daily basis. Civilians have fled their homes, dozens of villages have been burnt down and hundreds of Anglophones are in detention. Schools have been shut since 2016 with around only 20% of effective schooling in these two regions. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs and High Commissioner for Refugees, 437,000 persons from the Anglophone regions are internally displaced and 32,000 are refugees in neighbouring Nigeria, 65% of these are women and children.
Dialogue between the Anglophone community and the Government is essential to prevent further escalation.
The women of the Anglophone regions, as similar to women in other conflict areas, have been greatly affected by the ongoing conflict. We are calling on the national and international stakeholders to immediately address the crisis by first, imposing a ceasefire; secondly, arranging for an unconditional dialogue leading to a peace treaty; and finally, disarmament and post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction.
The humanitarian situation for women and children in these regions demands our immediate attention. This is especially the case for those who have been displaced and are now living without food, shelter, clothing or sanitary facilities. Unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape, armed violence, theft, killings and ‘settling of scores’ have become the order of the day. This calls for urgent and immediate international intervention in order to turn the tides. This Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is incumbent for the international community.
— This article was written by our Chapter Ambassador for Women’s March Bamenda.
Maya Hendler is the Programmes and Communications Associate at Women’s March Global.