Cameroon’s political crisis has witnessed what is possibly its most violent turning point. After months of clashes between security forces and regional separatist protesters, the bloodshed has worsened. But the international community has paid scant attention to the mounting crisis.
Over the past weekend, dozens were killed in the town of Menka in the country’s Northwest Region. One estimate put the death toll at 39. Security forces surrounded a hotel believed to be harboring leading secessionists which the government now labels as ‘terrorists’. “Several terrorists were neutralized”, according to an army spokesperson,
Independent journalists report of mass desertions of towns and villages that have already begun losing citizens to refugee camps in neighboring Nigeria. The recent violence comes shortly after leading secessionist voices were convicted on terrorism charges.
“The situation has got out of hand,” said a journalist who asked not to be named for fear of security reprisals. “People are being killed daily and no one is being held accountable.”
The crisis in Cameroon is yet another legacy of European balkanization and colonization of Africa—dating back to the end of World War I. German colonies, including what is present-day Cameroon, were split up and shared between the Britain and France. Southwest and Northwest Regions of present-day Cameroon form the English-speaking minority of a unified country whose central government is overwhelmingly dominated by those from the French-speaking regions. Years of passive fault lines and economic marginalization in what was touted as Africa’s version of Canada came to a head after sweeping new changes by the central government to implement the French civil law system and the use of French as the medium of instruction in schools and courts into the Anglophone regions.
In the last year, activists have called for a re-split to form an independent country, English-speaking country they call Ambazonia. Cameroon’s government has declared the move illegal.
Leading lawyers, teachers, journalists and other activists have been arrested or have simply disappeared. Early this month, the US ambassador in Cameroon, accused the government of “targeted killings, detentions without access to legal support, family, or the Red Cross, and burning and looting of villages.” Sections of the separatist movement have also resorted to horrific violence including bombings, killings of security personnel and arson.
In the aftermath of this latest killings, Ambazonia activists on social media have been sharing videos and posts comparing the attacks to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and have called for swift international assistance. The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, has stepped in to mediate but the reports of rising violence haven’t stopped. Perhaps the most tangible effect of Baroness Scotland’s diplomatic overtures was the brief lifting of weeks of an internet blackout throughout the Anglophone regions when she visited in January.
In his 35th year as head of state, Paul Biya is one of Africa’s oldest and longest running authoritarian figures—presiding over the capture of the judiciary and the muzzling of the independent press, rights group say. As elections near, the 85-year old is widely expected to contest and win.