The Anglophone Crisis (French: Crise anglophone), also known as the Ambazonia War, or the Cameroonian Civil War, is a conflict in the Southern Cameroons region of Cameroon, part of the long-standing Anglophone problem. In September 2017, separatists in the Anglophone territories of Northwest Region and Southwest Region (collectively known as Southern Cameroons) declared the independence of Ambazonia and began fighting against the Government of Cameroon. Starting as a low-scale insurgency, the conflict spread to most parts of the Anglophone regions within a year. By the summer of 2019, the government controlled the major cities and parts of the countryside, while the separatists held parts of the countryside and regularly appeared in the major cities.
The war has killed approximately 3,000 people and forced more than half a million people to flee their homes. Although 2019 has seen the first known instance of dialogue between Cameroon and the separatists, as well as a state-organized national dialogue and the granting of a special status to the Anglophone regions, the war continued to intensify in late 2019. The 2020 Cameroonian parliamentary election brought further escalation, as the separatists became more assertive while Cameroon deployed additional forces. While the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic saw one armed group declare a unilateral ceasefire to combat the spread of COVID-19, other groups and the Cameroonian government ignored calls to follow suit and kept on fighting.
Background[edit source | edit]
- For further information, see Bakassi conflict
The name "Ambazonia" is taken from Ambas Bay and Ambozes, the local name of the mouth of the Wouri River. This is where the English language was permanently established for the first time in Southern Cameroons, when missionary Alfred Saker founded a settlement of freed slaves by Ambas Bay in 1858, which was later renamed Victoria (present-day Limbe). In 1884, the area became the British Ambas Bay Protectorate, with Victoria as its capital. Britain ceded the area to the German territory of Kamerun in 1887. Germany had some trouble establishing control over the hinterlands of Victoria, and fought the Bafut Wars against local fondoms until 1907.
Following World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, Kamerun was divided between a French and a British League of Nations Mandate. The French mandate was known as Cameroun, and comprised most of the former German territory. The British mandate was an elongated strip of land along the border of Colonial Nigeria, consisting of Northern Cameroons and Southern Cameroons, including the historical Ambas Bay Protectorate. This territory was organized as British Cameroons.
The British administered the territories through indirect rule, allowing native authorities to administer the population according to their own traditions. In 1953, the Southern Cameroons delegation at a conference in London asked for a separate region. The British agreed, and Southern Cameroons became an autonomous region with its capital still at Buea. Elections were held in 1954 and the parliament met on 1 October 1954, with E. M. L. Endeley as Premier.
The United Nations organised a plebiscite in the region on 11 February 1961 which put two alternatives to the people: union with Nigeria or union with Cameroon. The third option, independence, was opposed by the British representative to the UN Trusteeship Council, Sir Andrew Cohen, and as a result was not listed. In the plebiscite, 60% of voters in the Northern Cameroons voted for union with Nigeria, while 70% of voters in the Southern Cameroons opted for union with Cameroon. The results owed partly to a fear of domination by much larger Nigeria. Endeley was defeated in elections on 1 February 1959 by John Ngu Foncha.
Southern Cameroons became part of Cameroon on 1 October 1961 as "West Cameroon", with its own prime minister. However, the English-speaking peoples of the Southern Cameroons did not believe that they were fairly treated by the French-speaking government of the country. Then-president Ahmadou Ahidjo feared that Southern Cameroons would secede from the union, taking its natural resources with it. Following a French Cameroon unilateral referendum on 20 May 1972, a new constitution was adopted in Cameroon which replaced the federal state with a unitary state, and also gave more power to the president. Southern Cameroons lost its autonomous status and became the Northwest Region and the Southwest Region of the Republic of Cameroon. Pro-independence groups claimed that this violated the constitution, as the majority of deputies from West Cameroon had not consented to legitimize the constitutional changes. They argued that Southern Cameroons had effectively been annexed by Cameroon. Shortly afterwards, French Cameroun's political leadership changed the constitution again, appointed French-speaking Paul Biya as Prime Minister and successor to Ahmadou Ahidjo ostensibly to deny the Speaker of the House of Assembly Salomon Tandeng Muna - an Anglophone the possibility of becoming president by succession.
In a memorandum dated 20 March 1985, Anglophone lawyer and President of the Cameroon Bar Association Fongum Gorji Dinka wrote that the Cameroonian government led by Paul Biya was unconstitutional and announced the former Southern Cameroons should become independent as the Republic of Ambazonia. Dinka was incarcerated the following January without trial. Three years later, he escaped to Nigeria.
In 1993, representatives of Anglophone groups convened the first All Anglophone Conference (AAC1) in Buea. The conference issued the "Buea Declaration", which called for constitutional amendments to restore the 1961 federation. This was followed by the second All Anglophone Conference (AAC2) in Bamenda in 1994. This conference issued the "Bamenda Declaration", which stated that if the federal state was not restored within a reasonable time, Southern Cameroons would declare its independence. The AAC was renamed the Southern Cameroons Peoples Conference (SCPC), and later the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organisation (SCAPO), with the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) as the executive governing body. Younger activists formed the Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL) in Buea on 28 May 1995. The SCNC sent a delegation, led by John Foncha, to the United Nations, which was received on 1 June 1995 and presented a petition against the 'annexation' of the Southern Cameroons by French Cameroon. This was followed by a signature referendum the same year, which the organisers claim produced a 99% vote in favour of independence with 315,000 people voting.
SCNC activities were routinely disrupted by police. On March 23, 1997, about ten people were killed in a raid on a gendarme camp in Bamenda. The police arrested between 200 and 300 people, mostly SCNC supporters, but also members of the Social Democratic Front, an opposition party with significant support in the Anglophone regions. In the subsequent trials, Amnesty International and the SCNC found substantive evidence of admissions through torture and force. The raid and trial resulted in a shutdown of SCNC activities. In response to this, in April 1998 a small faction elected Esoka Ndoki Mukete, a high-ranking member of the Social Democratic Front, as the new chair of the SCNC. In October 1999, when many of the accused were found guilty in the 1997 trial, the faction led by Mukete became more assertive. On 1 October 1999, militants took over Radio Buea to proclaim the independence of Southern Cameroons, but failed to do so before security forces intervened. The leadership and many members of the SCNC were subsequently arrested. After clashes with the police, the SCNC was officially declared illegal by the Cameroonian authorities in 2001. In 2006, a faction of SCNC once again declared the independence of Ambazonia.
In 2006, Nigeria ceded the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, ending a decade-long territorial dispute. Local militias opposing the border change took up arms against the Cameroonian government, starting the Bakassi conflict. The conflict was a sea-based insurgency where the rebels used pirate tactics, attacking ships, abducting sailors and carrying out seaborne raids as far away as Limbe and Douala. While some movements (such as BAMOSD) sought to make Bakassi an independent state, others came to tie their cause to that of Ambazonia. In November 2007, the "Liberators of the Southern Cameroon People", a previously unknown group, killed 21 Cameroonian soldiers. Most militias in Bakassi laid down their arms in September 2009.
Prelude[edit source | edit]
On October 6, 2016, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, an organization consisting of lawyer and teacher trade unions in the Anglophone regions, initiated a strike. Led by Barrister Agbor Balla, Fontem Neba, and Tassang Wilfred, they were protesting against the appointment of Francophone judges in the Anglophone regions. They saw this as threatening the common law system in the Anglophone regions, as well as part of the general marginalization of Anglophones. The strikes were supported by peaceful protests in the cities of Bamenda, Buea and Limbe. The activists demanded protection of the law system of the Anglophone regions, and opposed the civil law system used by the Francophone magistrate replacing the common law system. They asked for several laws to be translated into English, and that the common law system should be taught at the University of Buea and the University of Bamenda.
The Cameroonian government deployed security forces to crack down the protests. Protesters were attacked with tear gas, and protesters and lawyers were allegedly assaulted by soldiers. Throughout November 2016, thousands of teachers in the Anglophone regions joined the lawyers' strike. All schools in the Anglophone regions were shut down.
Two weeks into the protests, more than 100 protesters had been arrested, and six were reported dead. Unconfirmed videos released over social media showed various violent scenes, including the beating of protesters by policemen.
In January 2017, the Cameroonian government set up a committee to initiate a dialogue with the lawyer activists. The lawyers refused to talk, demanding that all arrested activists be released before any dialogue. The lawyers submitted a draft for a federal state, and the government responded by banning their movements altogether. The protesters were now openly regarded as a security threat by the Cameroonian government, and more arrests followed. The government also implemented an Internet blockade in cities across the Anglophone regions.
At this point, the crisis began to attract international responses. More than 13,000 Anglophone Cameroonians living in Maryland protested against the Cameroonian government crackdown. On June 27, United States Congressman Anthony G. Brown filed a petition with the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to call for the government of Cameroon to immediately show concern and solve the ongoing crises. The United States condemned the loss of life and brutality against Anglophone protesters.
The government crackdown on the protests contributed to mainstream separatist movements. In September 2017, Ambazonian separatists began to take up arms against the government.
Timeline[edit source | edit]
2017[edit source | edit]
In early September, 2017, the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC), a separatist movement established in 2013 through the merger of several groups, formally deployed the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) in Southern Cameroons. On September 9, the ADF carried out its first military action, attacking a military base in Besongabang, Manyu. Three Cameroonian soldiers were killed in the attack, while the ADF claimed their soldiers managed to return to base unreduced. Throughout September, separatists carried out two bombings; one targeting security forces in Bamenda, and another targeting police officers. While the first bombing failed, the second injured three policemen. On September 22, Cameroonian soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing at least five and injuring many more.
On October 1, the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), an umbrella movement consisting of several independence movements, unilaterally declared the independence of Ambazonia. This declaration was followed by mass demonstrations across the Anglophone regions. The separatists strategically chose this date, as it is the anniversary for the unification of Cameroon and Southern Cameroons. SCACUF would later transform itself into the Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG). Several months into the war, the IG would reject the idea of an armed struggle, preferring instead a diplomatic campaign and civil disobedience. This stance would eventually change.
The Cameroonian Army moved into the regions in force to fight the separatists and quell the demonstrations. Throughout the day, at least eight demonstrators were killed in Buea and Bamenda. The Cameroonian military also reinforced the Nigerian border, and on October 9, it claimed to have stopped "hundreds of Nigerian fighters" from crossing into Cameroon.
Throughout November, eight soldiers, at least 14 civilians and five fugitives were confirmed killed due to the conflict. Separatists killed two gendarmes in Bamenda in the first week of the month. On the last two days of November, five soldiers and five policemen were killed in two separate separatist attacks near Mamfe. On December 1, the Cameroonian government ordered the evacuation of 16 villages in Manyu ahead of a military offensive, and on December 4 it formally declared war on the separatists. The Cameroonian Army moved into Manyu, retaking two villages on December 7 and securing Mamfe by December 15, partly with elite troops. During the offensive, the ADF carried out guerrilla attacks on the Cameroonian Army, killing at least seven soldiers throughout December. On December 18, the Cameroonian Army began to destroy dozens of civilian homes in retaliation, and killed several civilians. The December offensive also saw occasional spillover across the Nigerian border.
By the end of 2017, several separatist militias had emerged, with the ADF standing out as the most prominent one. During the guerrilla campaign in Manyu and Mezam, it had clashed with the army 13 times. The separatists had also spread out, and by the end of the year, they were active in five departments.
2018[edit source | edit]
The separatists suffered a major setback at the beginning of 2018. On January 5, members of the Ambazonia Interim Government were detained by Nigerian authorities, which proceeded to hand them over to Cameroon. A total of 69 leaders and activists were extradited to Cameroon and subsequently arrested, including President Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe. Since most of the individuals had submitted asylum claims, the deportation immediately became controversial, as it possibly violated the Nigerian constitution. They spent 10 months at a gendarme headquarters, before being transferred to a maximum security prison in Yaoundé. Samuel Ikome Sako was announced as Acting President on February 4, replacing Tabe for the time being.
January saw an escalation in guerrilla attacks on symbolic targets, as well as repeated spillover into Nigeria. The separatists began to target traditional village chiefs, as well as local administrators whom they accused of siding with the security forces. Attacks on gendarmes intensified, and gunmen also began to target schools to enforce a school boycott. On February 24, separatists abducted the government's regional representative for social affairs in the Northwest Region, apparently looking to exchange him for imprisoned separatist activists.
The Battle of Batibo was fought on March 3, producing unprecedented casualties on both sides and forcing over 4,000 locals to flee. On March 20, Cameroonian soldiers freed two Cameroonian and one Tunisian hostage in Meme Department. A similar operation freed seven Swiss, six Cameroonian and five Italian hostages on April 4, prompting the ADF to declare that it did not take hostages nor target foreigners. On April 25, separatists forced the Cameroonian Army to retreat from the town of Belo.
Throughout May, there were heavy clashes in Mbonge and Muyuka, resulting in heavy casualties. On May 20, in an effort to boycott celebrations of Cameroon's National Day, Ambazonian forces struck in several villages throughout Southern Cameroons, including Konye, Batibo and Ekona, and abducted the mayor of the town of Bangem. On May 24, Cameroonian soldiers killed at least 30 people while storming a hotel in Pinyin. By the end of May, Cameroon had also retaken Belo, though fighting continued around the town, which was almost completely abandoned by its inhabitants.
In mid-June, Ambazonian forces started a blockade of the Kumba-Buea highway at Ekona, a town located approximately 10 kilometers from Buea. A military assault on the separatists in Ekona failed to lift the blockade. While casualties related to the battle of Ekona remain unconfirmed, the Cameroonian government later declared that more than 40 soldiers and policemen died in the later half of June across Southern Cameroons. By now, the war had fully extended to Buea, with separatists mounting road blocks and attacking government soldiers on June 29. Attacks in Buea intensified in July, with one invasion on July 1, another on July 9 and another on July 30.
On August 16, separatists attacked a convoy transporting a member of parliament in Babungo, Ngo-Ketunjia Department, killing at least four soldiers. A civilian who got caught in the crossfire was also killed. Eight days later, a successful guerrilla attack killed two gendarmes and wounded a brigade commander in Zhoa in Wum, Northwest Region. As a response, the Cameroonian Army burned down the village.
September saw some setbacks for the separatists, as the government launched attacks into the rural areas they controlled. There was heavy fighting in Muyuka, where Cameroon launched an offensive. The Cameroonian Army enjoyed some success in weeding out separatist camps. In a particularly lethal raid on September 4, Cameroonian soldiers killed 27 suspected separatists near Zhoa. Another raid on separatist camps near Chomba killed at least 15 separatists. The separatists also had their successes; On September 9, 50 or more separatists successfully carried out three coordinated attacks on multiple targets in Oku, burning down the police station, destroying the Assistant Division Officer's belongings, stealing a police van and abducting three police officers. On September 11, separatists took control of two neighborhoods of Buea, blocking the main entrances to the city and killing a soldier from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR). An attempt was also made to abduct the Fon of Buea. On September 27, separatists forced the police and gendarmes to retreat from Balikumbat, Ngo-Ketunjia. Despite government offensives in September, the separatists remained in control of many rural and urban areas.
On September 30, in anticipation of the first anniversary of Ambazonia's declaration of independence on October 1, the authorities imposed a 48-hour curfew throughout the Anglophone region. This was done to prevent a re-occurrence of the mass demonstrations that took place the year before. People were forbidden from moving across sub-division boundaries, and gatherings of four or more people in public were prohibited. Businesses were shut down and motor parks were closed as well. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the Cameroonian presidential election on October 7, the separatists started enforcing a lock-down of their own, blocking major highways with trees or car wrecks. Throughout the day, security forces and separatists clashed in Buea, Bamenda and other cities.
By October, the conflict had spread to most of Southern Cameroons. The ADF alone had clashed with the army 83 times, separatist militias were now active in 12 divisions, and attacks were now more lethal. According to an International Crisis Group analyst, by October the war had reached a stalemate, with the army being unable to defeat the separatists, while the separatists were not militarily strong enough to expel the army. Others described the separatists as severely outgunned and on the verge of defeat, mostly due to their lack of access to proper weapons. On October 7, the day of the Cameroonian presidential election, there were clashes all over Southern Cameroons with both sides blaming the other; the Cameroonian government claimed that separatists moved to prevent what they considered a foreign election to take place in the Anglophone regions, while the separatists blamed the government for instigating the violence. This resulted in a very low turnout, as "more than 90 percent of residents" fled violence in some localities; and in many cases no officials showed up to man the polling stations. In Bamenda, at least 20 separatist fighters moved around openly to prevent people from voting. Two separatists were killed by government troops while attacking a polling station. Following the election, two people from Kumba were murdered for having voted. On October 17, SDF President John Fru Ndi's house in Bamenda was set on fire by armed men. On October 23, the Cameroonian Army launched simultaneous attacks on seven or more separatist camps in the Northwest Region, initiating battles that continued for more than 24 hours. At least 30 separatists were killed, as well as an unknown number of Cameroonian soldiers.
In the beginning of November, 79 students and four staff members were kidnapped from a school in Nkwen, near Bamenda. All 79 students were released without ransom three days later. The Ambazonia Self-Defence Council claimed that they not only had nothing to do with the kidnappings, but had also sent its own fighters to try to locate the children. November also saw several major confrontations. On November 11, according to the separatists, 13 Cameroonian soldiers and two separatists were killed when separatists carried out a successful ambush. The next day, Cameroonian soldiers ambushed and killed at least 13 suspected separatists in Donga-Mantung, and another 25 near Nkambé the next day. On November 22, around 40 Ambazonian fighters and unarmed civilians were killed in Bali by government soldiers, who then set their corpses on fire. With no trace of bullet wounds on any of the bodies, unconfirmed reports alleged the use of chemicals by the soldiers. On November 28, separatists blocked the Buea-Kumba Highway. The month also saw the first major spillover into other parts of Cameroon; On November 29, at least 30 people were kidnapped by ten unidentified gunmen in Bangourain, West Region, and transported with canoes across the Lake Bamendjing reservoir. A month later, two suspected separatists were lynched by the villagers, and the Cameroonian Army launched an offensive nearby. Bangourain was attacked once more on December 22, prompting the separatists to accuse the government of carrying out a false flag operation to incite Cameroonian Francophones. In Kembong, just south of Mamfe, a military vehicle hit a road bomb; no soldiers died, but the vehicle was destroyed.
December saw more burning of houses by government soldiers in Romajia, Kikiakom and Ekona. On December 15, at least five separatists were summarily executed, possibly by fellow separatists. On December 21, ADF General Ivo Mbah was killed during a military raid in Kumba.
On December 31, the presidents of Cameroon and Ambazonia addressed the ongoing conflict in their end of year speeches. President Paul Biya of Cameroon promised to "neutralize" all separatists who refused to disarm, while emphasizing that anyone who drops their guns can be reintegrated into society. President Samuel Ikome Sako of Ambazonia said that the separatists would switch from a defensive to an offensive strategy in the war, and announced that a Mobile Wing Police would be created to capture territory and defeat government militias. He also condemned anyone engaged in kidnappings of civilians, and promised to fight back against anyone involved in such practices. The same night, separatist fighters attacked the convoy of the Governor of the Northwest Region, injuring at least one government soldier. The Cameroonian Army also announced the killing of Lekeaka Oliver, Field Marshall of the Red Dragon militia, in Lebialem; the killing was denied by the Interim Government of Ambazonia, and was also denied by sources within the Cameroonian Army. Oliver resurfaced in a video a week later, proving that reports of his death were false.
2019[edit source | edit]
2019 started off with further escalation of the war. On January 6, Anglophone Cameroonians in the diaspora organized protests to mark the first anniversary of the arrest of the Ambazonian leadership. Throughout the day, armed clashes took place in Muyuka, Bafut. Mundum and Mamfe. In Mamfe, two Ambazonian generals were killed when their camps were raided by the BIR. On January 24, General Andrew Ngoe of SOCADEF was killed in Matoh, Mbonge.
January also saw the start of the trials of the Ambazonian leaders, including Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, who had spent a year in prison. The trial was complicated by all the Ambazonian leaders rejecting their Cameroonian nationality, which the court ultimately ignored. The leaders then refused to be tried by Francophone judges. On March 1, the trial took a diplomatic twist; a Nigerian court determined that the deportation of the Ambazonian leadership had been unconstitutional, and ordered their return to Nigeria. Nevertheless, the trial resumed.
The separatists got bolder with enforcing lockdowns. The same day as the start of the trial, the streets of Buea were almost completely deserted. On February 4, in anticipation of Youth Day on February 11, separatists declared a 10-day lockdown, telling people all across the Anglophone regions to stay at home from February 5–14. The lockdown was a matter of controversy among the separatists, with a spokesperson of the Ambazonia Defence Forces arguing that it would be counterproductive. The next day, large parts of Buea were closed down, while armed clashes took place in Muea and Muyuka. Most of Bamenda was also closed down, with smaller clashes taking place. In Muyuka, an Ambazonian Colonel was killed alongside two other separatist fighters. In Mbengwi, two separatists died while attacking the Divisional Office there. As a result of the lockdown, Youth Day celebrations had negligible turnout in Southern Cameroons. In Bamenda, the Governor of Northwest Region, Adolph Lele l’Afrique, was escorted by soldiers to attend a small celebration. The military escort came under fire while driving to the ceremony, possibly resulting in casualties. The celebrations were boycotted in most major cities in the Anglophone regions, including Buea, Kumbo, Belo, Ndop, Ndu, Wum, Muyuka, Mamfe, Tombem, Mundemba and Lebialem, while there was a comparatively significant turnout in Nkambe.
Early March saw two serious kidnapping incidents; one on the Kumba-Buea Highway, which was quickly foiled by the BIR, and one at the University of Buea, where more than 15 students were kidnapped, beaten and released. The separatists set up several road blocks, including an overnight mission where the Seven Karta militia blocked the Bafut-Bamenda Highway with concrete walls On March 14, Cameroonian soldiers burned down several houses in Dunga Mantung and Menchum, and killed at least 12 people (several of whom were burned alive). At the end of March, an ADF leader announced that they would take the war into the French-speaking parts of Cameroon. A week later, separatists – possibly the ADF – raided Penda Mboko, Littoral Region, and injured three gendarmes. This was done in defiance of the Interim Government.
On March 31, various Ambazonian independence movements agreed to form the Southern Cameroons Liberation Council (SCLC), a united front consisting of both separatists and federalists. On April 4, separatists imposed a 10-day lockdown on Buea. On April 9, the newly-established SCLC declared an early end to lockdown, citing how it mainly affected civilians. However, the Ambazonia Self-Defence Council, the armed wing of the Interim Government, declared that the SCLC had no authority to call off the lockdown without consulting it first.
On April 14, four Cameroonian soldiers and three separatist fighters were killed in Bali. In Ekona, at least six people were killed in a government offensive. The next day, security forces carried out mass arrests in Buea as they searched for separatist bases. On April 24, gunmen burned down the house of the mayor of Fundong. On April 27, SDF leader John Fru Ndi was kidnapped in Kumbo by separatists, but was released the same day. Fru Ndi had travelled to Kumbo to attend the funeral of Joseph Banadzem, the Parliamentary group leader of the SDF. Local separatist fighters had consented to the funeral taking place, provided that no Francophone Cameroonians attended it. On April 30, government soldiers killed one person and burned at least 10 houses in Kikaikelaiki, Bui.
May saw the Anglophone Crisis get some international attention. On May 5, following appeals by the European Union Parliament, it was announced that the Anglophone Crisis would be debated at the United Nations Security Council. Days later, the Cameroonian government announced it was ready for an "inclusive" dialogue where anything except Ambazonian independence could be discussed. Meanwhile, a leadership crisis erupted within the Interim Government of Ambazonia, forcing smaller separatist movements to pick their loyalties.
In June, the separatists announced that they had started producing their own weapons in the warzone. Shortly afterwards, a mine killed four policemen and wounded another six, convincing many that the separatists were no longer outgunned, but indeed well-armed. The same month, it was revealed that the government of Cameroon and separatist movements would enter negotiations. On June 27, John Fru Ndi was kidnapped for the second time in two months.
Heavy fighting took place in July. On July 3, separatists ambushed a military boat carrying 13 Cameroonian soldiers on the Ekpambiri river, Manyu Division. Three soldiers managed to escape, two were rescued, one was found dead after five days, and seven remain unaccounted for. The Cameroonian Army declared that they knew which base the attackers had come from, and that an operation would be launched to destroy it. On July 8, at least two gendarmes were killed and several more were wounded in an ambush in Ndop. On July 11, at least seven separatist fighters were killed in Esu. The next day, armed men kidnapped 30 bus passengers passing through Belo, in an apparent case of infighting among local separatist militias. One Cameroonian soldier and three separatists were killed in Buea on July 14, and at least one Cameroonian soldier and at least five separatists were killed in Mbiame three days later.
Towards the end of July, two major prison riots took place. On July 22, separatist inmates at Kondengui Central Prison took part in staging a protest against the prison conditions. The protest escalated into a riot, which was eventually quelled violently. A similar protest and crackdown took place at Buea Central Prison a few days later. More than 100 inmates were moved to undisclosed locations for detention, some of whom were subjected to torture, and there were speculations that some had been killed during the riots. The Interim Government of Ambazonia demanded that the Cameroonian government account for the missing inmates, threatening to impose a lockdown encompassing the entire Anglophone regions if it failed to do so. The lockdown started on July 29. Midnight to July 31, the ten detained members of the Interim Government, including Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, went on a hunger strike over the missing convicts.
On August 4, separatist fighters ambushed and killed a soldier and his civilian driver in Penda Mboko, Littoral Region, the second attack there since March. On August 14, in an effort to sabotage the new school year, separatist militias announced that region-wide lockdowns would be enforced on September 2–6 and 9–13, covering the first two weeks of the academic year. On August 15, at least seven soldiers from the BIR were injured when their vehicle skidded off the road in Kumba; while separatists claimed responsibility for the incident, the army claimed it was simply a road accident.
On August 20, the ten detained members of the Interim Government of Ambazonia, including President Ayuk Tabe, were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Yaoundé Military Tribunal. This was followed by a military escalation and a series of lockdowns, crushing hopes that the school year could start as normal in early September. Within a week, violence and uncertainty had triggered tens of thousands of people to flee from the Anglophone regions. Due to the escalation, a government-led effort to reopen at least 4,500 schools by September 2 ultimately failed.
In September, President Paul Biya announced the Major National Dialogue, a political dialogue that would be held before the end of the month. While separatists were quick to reject the initiative, citing the recent life sentences handed to the separatist leaders, opposition parties in Cameroon showed interest in the initiative and started submitting proposals. Meanwhile, the war continued; on September 20, separatist fighters launched a failed attack on a hotel in Bamenda where several government officials were staying. While the Major National Dialogue was happening, a significant number of Anglophones celebrated Ambazonia's third independence day on October 1. Nine people were killed in clashes all across the Anglophone regions that day, while "Field Marshall" Lekeaka Oliver of the Red Dragon militia used the occasion to declare himself Paramout Ruler of Lebialem. October also saw the public surrender of Ambazonian general Ekeom Polycarp, who was subsequently assassinated by other separatists. The separatists also started opening "community schools" across the Anglophone regions, providing an alternative to the government-run schools which they had boycotted for years.
On December 1, separatist fighters carried out their first attack on an airplane, firing at a Camair-Co passenger plane while it was landing at Bamenda Airport. No one was wounded in the attack, although several bullets penetrated into the cabin. This incident was the first of its kind, and possibly indicated that the separatists would take on larger government targets. The AGovC announced that the airline in question often transported soldiers, and that they thus considered their aircraft to be legitimate targets. The separatists also started their campaign to sabotage the upcoming 2020 Cameroonian parliamentary election, and within a week they abducted some 40 politicians, including two mayors and at least 19 councilors. A separatist attack on a civilian truck with a military escort left some three civilians dead on December 19. Cameroon also launched a series of operations in Mezam, Boyo, Donga Mantung, Bui, Ngo Ketunjia and Boyo that would, over six days, force around 5,500 people to flee their homes. In their respective New Year speeches on December 31, President Paul Biya of Cameroon and Samuel Ikome Sako of Ambazonia both promised to intensify the war in 2020.
2020[edit source | edit]
Separatist forces started the new year by declaring a five-day lockdown for February, intended to prevent the upcoming parliamentary election from taking place in the Anglophone regions. Clashes took place in Buea and Muyuka, where separatists burned down the office of the Divisional Officer. On January 6, after failing to listen to demands from fellow separatists not to terrorize civilians, separatist commander "General Divine" was assassinated by his own men. Following instances of popular uprisings against the separatists in Balikumbat and Babungo, the ADF ordered its fighters to take action against anyone caught terrorizing civilians. January also saw what was possibly the most serious instance of separatist infighting to date; the Southern Cameroons Restoration Forces (loyal to the Interim Government) abducted 40 fighters from the Ambazonia Defence Forces, six of whom were subsequently murdered. "General Chacha", the separatist commander responsible for the abduction, was captured and summarily executed by Cameroonian soldiers a week later.
A parliamentary election was held in February, and was marked by unprecedented escalation on both sides. Hundreds of additional troops were deployed to combat separatist attempts to sabotage the election, while the separatists abducted 120 politicians within the two weeks preceding the election. Efforts by the Cameroonian government to prevent a repeat of the debacle surrounding the 2018 presidential election ultimately failed, as the turnout in the Anglophone regions was very low. The Ambazonians, who claimed that 98 percent of the population boycotted the election, hailed this as a great victory. The results in 11 constituencies were later nullified due to separatist activities, triggering a partial re-election in March. The results were largely the same, with a marginal turnout and clashes taking place throughout the day. Less than a week after the February election, Cameroonian soldiers and armed Fulani carried out the Ngarbuh massacre, killing at least 23 civilians in Ntumbo, Northwest Region and drawing international condemnation.
On March 7, around 20 separatist fighters carried out attacks on a police station and gendarmerie in Galim, West Region, killing two gendarmes, two police officers and four civilians. This was the third separatist attack in West Region. The next day, an improvised explosive device killed one soldier and injured four soldiers, two police officers and one civilian in Bamenda. Cameroon subsequently carried out an offensive in Ngo-Ketunjia, where it claimed to have destroyed 10 separatist camps and killed at least 20 fighters, including some of those who had participated in the Galim raid.
On March 26, SOCADEF declared a two-week ceasefire to give people time to get tested for coronavirus, a move that was welcomed by the United Nations. The Interim Government and the AGovC declared their willingness to have their armed groups follow suit, but conditioned it on international monitoring and Cameroonian troops being confined to their bases. The same day as SOCADEF's unilateral ceasefire went into effect and, coincidentally, the same day as the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the Anglophone regions, President Sako declared the shutting of Ambazonia's borders and restriction of movement and public gatherings in order to limit the spreading of the virus, effective from April 1. However, the danger posed by COVID-19 did not bring about an immediate end of hostilities on the ground; just the day before Sako's declaration, separatists attacked an armored car, killing a soldier and 11 officials, including two deputy mayors. On April 8, responding to claims by the Cameroonian government that the war was nearing an end, separatists attacked military bases and destroyed infrastructure in villages all across the Anglophone regions. While SOCADEF extended its unilateral ceasefire, separatists carried out coordinated attacks on several villages, assassinated members of a traditional council and abducted three government officials. Towards the end of the month, Cameroon initiated Operation Free Bafut, a series of raids in and around Bafut that aimed at completely rooting out separatist presence in the area. On May 1, Cameroon announced the deaths of two separatist commanders known as General Alhaji and General Peace Plant; separatists confirmed the loss. There were also civilian casualties; one person was killed by soldiers on the first day of the operation. Local villagers claimed that 13 civilians were killed in the fighting; this was denied by the Cameroonian Army.
Strategy[edit source | edit]
Military strategy[edit source | edit]
The Cameroonian Army is fighting a counter-insurgency war, aiming to hit the separatists' support base. This includes burning houses where weapons are found and, according to locals but denied by the army, carrying out revenge attacks. In August 2018, the Defence Minister of Cameroon announced that the army would be expanded with 2,600 new recruits, 2,000 of whom would go to the BIR. In addition to expanding the army, the government has supported local vigilante groups, which there were more than 30 of as of October 2019. The government has also set up rehab centers in Bamenda and Buea to reintegrate separatists who have surrendered into civil society. With no military victory in sight, the Cameroonian Army has sought to at least contain the conflict to rural areas. As of late-2018, the Cameroonian Army aimed to control all urban areas as well as strategic points on the countryside, and did not seek to recapture the entire Anglophone regions.
The Ambazonian separatists are fighting a guerrilla war. Numerically and materially disadvantaged, the separatists carry out hit-and-run attacks, ambushes and raids. According to the ADF, as of June 2018 there were 1,500 soldiers in the ADF, spread across 20 camps throughout Southern Cameroons. In May 2019, independent sources measured the total number of separatist fighters to be between 2,000 and 4,000, a figure that included numerous ex-soldiers and ex-policemen, a significant number of female combatants, and dozens of Nigerian mercenaries. The Nigerians among the rebels mostly consisted of criminals and ex-insurgents who had previously taken part in the conflict in the Niger Delta.
At the start of the war, the separatists struggled with gaining access to firearms, having to rely on hunting rifles and in some cases single-shot pistols. As the war went on, they gradually gained limited access to some more sophisticated weapons, capturing some from the Cameroonian Army and buying some in Nigeria (where they enjoyed the support of officers in the Nigerian Army). They also benefitted from fundraising campaigns (including the introduction of their own cryptocurrency, the AmbaCoin), launched by diaspora activists to purchase guns for the separatist militias. This began to yield visible results in the first half of 2019. From being severely outgunned in the fall of 2018, by the summer of 2019 the separatists had become well-armed. They also declared that they had started producing their own weapons within Southern Cameroons, a declaration followed shortly by an explosion in Mamfe that killed four policemen.
The militias enjoy significant local support, with civilians giving them food, informing them on troop movements, or outright assisting them in carrying out attacks. The Interim Government of Ambazonia has stressed that the war will take place solely within Southern Cameroons, and claims that attacks across the border have been false flag operations by the Cameroonian government. In March 2019, the ADF announced that it would take the war into the French-speaking parts of Cameroon, defying the Interim Government.
Unlike most Cameroonian soldiers deployed in the region, the separatists are locals, and are thus more familiar with the terrain. Cameroonian General Melingui stated that the separatists have a leverage over the army when it comes to familiarity with the battleground; "They know the terrain. These are youths from local villages. We try to seek them out but we can't find them. Our men aren't familiar with the forest." Cameroonian authorities have admitted that they have little control over the security situation outside the cities. Journalist Emmanuel Freudenthal, who spent a week with ADF rebels in 2018, stated that the separatists control much of the countryside because the infrastructure in Southern Cameroons is so poorly developed, making it hard for the Cameroonian government to access those areas.
AGovC leader Ayaba Cho Lucas summed up the ADF strategy in the following way: "60% of the GDP of Cameroon is earned in Ambazonia. [...] We must try to raise the cost of the occupation to higher than the profits they get here."
Retired American diplomat Herman Jay Cohen has argued that Cameroon's military approach to the conflict plays straight into the strategy of the separatists. Drawing parallels to the Eritrean War of Independence, he has claimed that the growing bitterness resulting from prolonged warfare will only serve to close the window of opportunity where reconciliation and territorial integrity is still an option, thereby - ironically - increasing the likelihood of Ambazonian secession.
Political, diplomatic and propaganda strategy[edit source | edit]
According to Millan Atam, chairperson of the Southern Cameroonians Congress of the People, the separatists are building up support for their cause through two distinct phases. The first phase was to build internal capability to resist the Cameroonian Army and raise faith in the cause. Once a significant portion of the population of Southern Cameroons clearly wanted separation, the separatists would approach the international community with their cause.
The Cameroonian government has tried to limit the extent of which the conflict affects everyday life in Southern Cameroons, and portrays the war as a battle between chaos and stability in which the government represents the latter. To this end, local authorities have penalized businesses that respected "ghost towns" declared by the separatists. The government has fired and replaced local administrators who fled from the region, despite their fears of kidnappings. In September 2018, the army physically prevented people from fleeing their homes.
In August 2018, Minister of Territorial Administration Atanga Nji offered amnesty to separatists who surrender their weapons, saying they would "be received as prodigal sons". The minister also announced a plan to rebuild infrastructure that had been destroyed due to the conflict.
Both sides have used WhatsApp to spread propaganda. Cameroonian authorities have arrested journalists on the accusation of propagating false information, the punishment for which is six months to two years in prison.
War crimes[edit source | edit]
By Cameroon[edit source | edit]
There is photographic evidence that shows a consistent strategy of burning down villages. The army has claimed that the soldiers who were filmed were separatists wearing stolen Cameroonian Army uniforms, a claim that has been denied by local residents. Satellite images show extensive damage to villages. Journalists have been denied entry to the conflict zones, and soldiers have been forbidden from carrying mobile phones. In August 2018, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa published a list of 106 villages that had been raided by government forces since October 2017. Citing eyewitness accounts, videos and photos as evidence, the Centre claimed that 71 of these villages had been completely destroyed and depopulated, while the remaining 34 had been partially deserted.
By Ambazonia[edit source | edit]
At the end of 2017, the separatists declared a school boycott, and have attacked and burnt down schools that refused to shut down. Between February 2017 and May 2018, at least 42 schools were targeted. Some separatists consider schools to be legitimate targets because the French language is taught as a mandatory subject. As of July 2019, close to 6,000 schools had shut down across the Anglophone regions, affecting more than 600,000 children. In October 2019, separatists began opening their own schools.
In their effort to make the Anglophone regions ungovernable, separatist elements have maimed employees at state-owned corporations. Kidnapping for ransom has also occurred frequently, as well as blackmailing of civilians into transferring money to fund the struggle. Owing to the obscure nature of many of the separatist militias (see list), some attacks attributed to separatists may as well be the acts of local criminals. Notwithstanding, it is beyond doubt that separatist elements have carried out numerous such acts, sometimes drawing condemnation from the Interim Government of Ambazonia.
Throughout 2017, there were no reports of ADF using violence against civilians. As of October 2018, five such incidents had been reported, though these attacks were for the most part not lethal; one civilian death was attributed to an ADF attack. Other separatist groups had attacked civilians 25 times within the same time frame, and were responsible for 13 civilian deaths. Separatists have also been accused of using schools and churches as military barracks; in July 2019, Cameroon accused the separatists of occupying more than 50 schools.
Casualties[edit source | edit]
Between September 2017 and February 2018, Cameroon claimed to have lost 22 soldiers and policemen in the conflict. By May, at least 44 soldiers and policemen had been killed. In June 2018, the official figure rose to 84 dead. Within two weeks in the later half of June, the official figure went up to more than 120 dead. By October 2018, the military and police had lost at least 175 servicemen. Separatist losses were estimated to be in the hundreds.
The war intensified in early 2019. By June, Cameroonian military and police casualties were estimated to be around 500 dead. The separatists had lost around 1,000 fighters. While civilian casualties are hard to determine, in May 2019 they were estimated by independent sources to be around 650 killed. In January the same year, the Diocese of Kumbo had been able to document 385 civilian deaths in Kumbo alone within the past seven months. In September 2019, independent sources stated that the conflict had claimed the lives of around 3,000 people, counting both combatants and civilians. By February 2020, between 800 and 1,000 Cameroonian soldiers had been killed.
Anglophone groups have disputed these figures. While federalist movements claimed that the conflict had taken 3,000–5,000 lives as of the summer of 2019, separatists claimed that between 5,000 and 10,000 people had been killed.
Humanitarian consequences[edit source | edit]
By January 2018, 15,000 people had fled from Southern Cameroons to Nigeria. This number increased to at least 40,000 people by February. By August 2018, more than 180,000 people had been displaced due to the war. As of May 2019, 530,000 people had been internally displaced, and 35,000 had fled to Nigeria. In June 2019, UNICEF said that 1.3 million people in the Anglophone regions needed humanitarian aid.
Other consequences[edit source | edit]
The conflict has severely harmed the local economy. In June 2018, Cameroon Development Corporation, a state-owned company with 22,000 employees, declared the conflict could lead to the loss of 5,000 jobs on the short term. In July 2018, Cameroonian NGO Human Is Right reported that the war had caused a 70 percent increase in unemployment in the agricultural sector. The palm oil and cocoa sectors in Southwest Region had taken a severe blow, with state-owned company Pamol abandoning plantations in some areas. The private company Telcar Cocoa reported that the cocoa production had fallen 80 percent. The NGO suggested that companies make deals with the separatists in order to safeguard their facilities. The separatists aim to prevent the Cameroonian state from getting any income from the Anglophone regions, in order to make cost of controlling the region surpass the benefits.
The conflict has triggered an exodus of the Nigerian business community from Southern Cameroons, as well as Nigerian traders who used to run key markets.
Thousands of displaced people have fled to protected natural areas, endangering the wildlife there.
Reactions[edit source | edit]
Within Cameroon[edit source | edit]
The Anglophone Crisis has become a divisive question in Cameroonian politics. The Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), the ruling party, regards the separatists as terrorists and supports a military solution to the conflict. The CPDM supported both the carrying out and conclusion of the Major National Dialogue, which was organized by the Cameroonian government.
Meanwhile, the opposition has been vocal in its criticism of the government's handling of the conflict. In January 2019, the Social Democratic Front announced it would oppose any future elections in the country while the war is still ongoing. The party supports a negotiated solution to the conflict, and has demanded a ceasefire, the opening of a dialogue, amnesty for everyone jailed because of the crisis, the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, and decentralization of the country. In March 2019, the SDF accused members of the Cameroonian government of supporting certain armed elements in the Anglophone regions. In May 2019, the SDF announced it would boycott National Day celebrations in sympathy with people in Southern Cameroons living in a state of civil war.
Smaller opposition parties, such as the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), also blame the government for failing to solve the Anglophone Crisis. On January 26, 2019, supporters of the MRC invaded the Cameroonian embassy in Paris, citing – among other reasons – the Anglophone Crisis. In May 2019, the MRC joined the SDF in boycotting National Day celebrations. The Cameroon People's Party has taken a nuanced approach, condemning both the government and the separatists. Party leader Kah Walla has said that the crisis can be solved by turning Cameroon into a federation.
Countries and international organizations[edit source | edit]
The Anglophone Crisis has become a diplomatic challenge to Cameroon, and has damaged the country's relations with some of its allies. While member states of the African Union and France have taken either a neutral stance or sided with the Cameroonian government, several European countries and the United States have criticized Cameroon. The United States have been particularly vocal in its criticism; In July 2019, following a fact-finding mission by some of its members to the country, the House of Representatives called for a reintroduction of a federal system in Cameroon.
In June 2019, Switzerland announced that both the Cameroonian government and the separatists had asked it to act as a mediator, and that negotiations would take place. This would be the first known case of talks between the two warring sides, and has been met with international endorsement.
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