On Monday, Paul Biya, the president of the Republic of Cameroon celebrated 35 years in power. But the people of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, which they call Ambazonia, were fleeing the violent crackdowns by Biya’s regime.
Anglophone Cameroonians have been protesting the French government’s colonisation of the English-speaking region. In November last year, the fight between the English and French regions escalated when teachers and lawyers in the Anglophone regions embarked on a strike to protest the imposition of the French language and judicial system.
The crisis in Cameroon has been raging for years and in recent months things have escalated. The Daily Vox rounds up exactly what’s been happening in Cameroon.
Looming refugee crisis
The violent military clampdowns on dissent in the north-west and south-west majority Anglophone regions have spurred people to flee their homes and make treacherous seven-hour journeys on foot to Nigeria. On 1 November, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 5 000 people, mainly women and children, have gone into southeastern Nigeria. There are fears that there may be some people trapped in the forest between the two countries. It was reported that the UNHCR is working with Nigerian authorities to prepare for at least another 40 000 Cameroonian refugees.
The governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade, told Nigeria’s Daily Post that there has been an influx of about 2 430 Cameroonian refugees into the region. Cross River State shares a border with the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Ayade has welcomed those fleeing Biya’s government into the state.
Mass protests and violent crackdowns
Anglophone Cameroonians and those part of the diaspora held marches on 1 October to bring to the world’s attention their fight and declare their independence. The marches in other countries were peaceful but those in the south-west and north-west of the country were met with brutal suppression.
The number of deaths varies depending on the source. Amnesty International said that 17 people were killed by the military during the protests, while the government claims that 10 people were killed. The Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network published a report of the number of killings by the government before and during the 1 October protests. It puts the death toll at at least 100 people.
Professor Carlson Anyangwe, retired law professor and Southern Cameroons exile told The Daily Vox this is the style of Biya’s regime – to use deadly force against any demonstrators. “We don’t know why but when they shoot you, the body is taken away. Whether you’re dead or not, we don’t know,” said Anyangwe of the killings. Demonstrating Anglophones are using a peaceful civil disobedience strategy because they have no guns, he continued. “I’m sure if our people had arms, you would’ve heard of skirmishes between our people and the military. But because they don’t have guns or anything, they’re just protesting with their bare hands and taking the risk of being shot at and being killed.”
Bannings and shutdowns
Cameroon’s border with Nigeria in the south-west region was closed from 28 September to 2 October by the Cameroonian government. According to Reuters, the government did this days before the 1 October mass protests to maintain order. The Anglophone regions have support from eastern Nigeria so authorities shut the border down to diminish protesters’ support base. Reuters reported that inter-city transportation was also shut down, and gatherings of more than four people in public locations, and any port activity were banned during this time.
The Guardian of Nigeria also reported the Mfum border post in Nigeria’s Cross River State was shut down on 28 September. It visited the border post in October and reported that Cameroonians weren’t allowed to cross the Ekok bridge into Nigeria because it was closed.
Commenting on the government’s closing of borders, Anyangwe said, “One of the strategies of the colonial oppressor is to make sure our people are hemmed inside and so they can increase the number of people they’re terrorising and also killing.”
The Biya regime blacked out the internet in the Anglophone regions on two occasions this year. The first shutdown happened on 18 January and lasted 93 days. This was done to quell dissent. The second time it happened, activists noticed that they couldn’t easily access social media on 30 September. MTN, the biggest network provider in Cameroon, sent SMSes alerting people to technical difficulties.
Anyangwe said Biya’s government shuts down the internet because that is how Southern Cameroonians are showing the true nature of their colonisation. They started using social media to show how they are being gunned down in the street and disappeared. Anyangwe said the government got frightened and adopted the strategy of shutting down the internet. “They want to carry on these killings without the world knowing, without people being able to take photographs or videos to show the world,” he said.
Anyangwe also mentioned that La République has essentially exiled Ambazonia’s government, created about a week ago, and prevented the appointment of ministers.
The crisis in Cameroon is a people’s fight for liberation from colonisers but Anyangwe said it isn’t being taken seriously by international communities because of the nature of the colonisation. “People don’t think you can have one black country colonise another black country, and this is just as bad as white colonialism,” he said of the Francophone government’s rule of Ambazonia. Anyangwe, who has been in exile for his involvement in the separatist movement since the 60s said that President Biya has never been interested in dialogue. He said the United Nations has asked Biya to resolve the root cause of the crisis in Cameroon. “The root cause is that the French Cameroon have decided to annex and colonise this side. What our people are asking for is a decolonised nation but he’s not interested,” he said.