What began as a series of peaceful strikes and protests due to perceived disenfranchisment in the Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in 2016, has now turned into violence between separatist groups and security forces. The unrest has caused dozens of deaths and prompted at least 15,000 people to flee to neighboring Nigeria.
Earlier this week, Cameroon deployed special forces in Northwest and Southwest Provinces following a series of attacks and kidnappings on government officials.
The decision came as a separatist group, the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), claimed responsibility for a missing government official, the second official to be kidnapped in recent weeks.
The two Anglophone regions have been rocked by months of violence, strikes, mass-arrests and clashes with security forces. Groups have taken to the streets demanding a return to a federal state system, the breakaway of the two provinces and the restoration of Southern Cameroons, also known as the Republic of Ambazonia, which was the southern part of the British Mandate territory of Cameroons during colonization.
«When the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue was supposed to be exploited, the government refused, and deployed military tactics against protesting civilians instead,» security analyst David Otto told Newsweek.
«The retaliation from pro-secessionist local militia groups and the counter-reaction from the government in sending more troops to these two regions have created dire consequences for both security services and civilians in the two regions.»
Violence has further increased after some groups declared the independence of Ambazonia last October, a symbolic gesture in retaliation against the arrest of some pro-independence leaders.
Rights group Amnesty International said in October that more than 500 people had been detained in overcrowded prisons, with witnesses claiming wounded protesters fled hospitals to avoid capture. The organization also claimed at least 20 people were «unlawfully shot dead by security forces» during demonstrations on October 1. The government has denied allegations of excessive force.
In December, in a rare address on the ongoing crisis, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya vowed to end attacks by separatists after four soldiers and two policemen had been killed. Attacks have continued, however.
According to Otto, the U.N, African Union and international players including U.S., U.K and France have done «very little to propose any practical steps towards a meaningful dialogue.
«These key stakeholder governments and others will only intervene when there is a direct threat to their national security, their people, and their assets and any other direct interest,» he said.
«For now, this is considered as a ‘Cameroonians killing each other’ situation. But it will soon be too late to intervene, at the detriment of innocent people.»
The fact that crisis has spilled over into neighboring Nigeria has also sparked a diplomatic standoff between the two countries, which have leveled accusations against each other.
A crackdown on separatists has also led some leaders of pro-independence movements to seek shelter in Nigeria, where the Department for State Service (DSS) has been accused of arresting some leaders, including Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, for engaging in a clandestine meeting «against Cameroonian authorities.» The DSS denied the allegations.
Nigeria and Cameroon officials have met to discuss the ongoing crisis. Both countries engaged in a long diplomatic dispute after Cameroonian troops allegedly crossed into Nigeria to pursue rebels without seeking Nigerian authorization. Cameroon denied the allegations and accused Nigeria of harboring pro-independence leaders.
David Otto Institutional Representative of SECINDEF (Security Intelligence and Defense) Israel-USA International Consulting Counterterrorism in the United Kingdom and collaborating analyst of OCATRY (Observatory against the Terrorist Threat and the Jihadist Radicalization) David Otto is the Director of TGS Intelligence Consultants Ltd and the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme – Step In Step Out (SISO) – based in the United Kingdom. He is also Senior Counter Terrorism Advisor for Global Risk International.