In recent years, Africa has become a focal point for various foreign interests, including the US, Russia, China, the EU. Various conflicts throughout the continent have mostly began due to Islamists, separatists or different ethnic groups. These conflicts could be considered as internal for each respective country, but they have a tendency of spilling into their neighbors, as well as the attract the attention of the foreign actors, who only wish to spread their influence in the region.
Thus, every crisis can’t simply be viewed as a regional issue, but rather it becomes a sort of battlefield of foreign interests there attempting to push their influence forward.
China – with its “soft approach” via investment, loans and various economic incentives. Russia – with its, rather mixed approach, through military cooperation, as well as various investments. The US – through AFRICOM and military presence.
And the EU through promises of assistance and attempts to transform the African continent into a singular market, with which it could trade and help prosper, with the principal aim of not receiving any more migrants, hidden behind the humanitarian claims of EC head Ursula von der Leyen:
“We need to invest a lot in Africa to reduce the flow of migrants … Our political approach should be focused on ensuring that people don’t have to get into rubber boats.”
The crisis in Cameroon, and specifically in the NWSW (North-West and South-West) region has been on-going for a while now.
Longstanding grievances among the Anglophone population based in Northwest (NW) and Southwest (SW) regions concerning marginalisation, particularly in the education and legal systems, by the Francophone-dominated government led to widespread protests in October 2016.
The situation remained tense, but with little change until late 2017, when Cameroonian security forces began exercising force against protesters. Following that, the situation rapidly deteriorated into an armed conflict with increasing support in the Anglophone region to seek independence from Cameroon as an independent English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia.
The breakdown of basic services in the Anglophone region has sparked the displacement of more than 536,000 people to NW, SW, West, and Littoral regions as well as over 42,000 people to Nigeria.
Separately, Boko Haram remained active along the borders of the region. Since 2017, there’s been reports of Boko Haram militants killing hundreds of civilians, taking hostages, and frequently kidnapping children.
Boko Haram trained suicide bombers, with reports of a 10-year-old and 15-year-old suicide bomber carrying out an attack on a refugee camp in Northern Cameroon, killing 9 and injuring 30.
According to the BBC, in 2017 there were 32 attacks by the Boko Haram group in Cameroon, two in Chad and seven in Niger. On November 5th, 2018, militants kidnapped about 80 students from a Presbyterian high school in the capital of the northwestern region. The children were released a few days later. On February 16th, 2019, armed men entered the campus of St. Augustine College in the northwestern region of Cameroon and abducted 170 students, 2 college guards, one teacher and three of his children. On June 10th, 2019, Boko Haram militants carried out an attack on the northern border of Cameroon and 88 people, soldiers and civilians died in the battle, with more than 300 militants attacking from neighboring Niger. In 2019, the situation appears to be ramping even further out of control.
So much so that in July, the UN Security Council held two meetings on the situation in the country. The Russian representatives at both meetings were cited as having said the following:
“The situation in Cameroon, previously characterized by relative stability, has become much more complicated in recent years. The reasons for this were the general deterioration of the situation in the Sahel zone, the unresolved conflict in the neighboring CAR, the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the noticeable intensification of the Boko Haram cross-border terrorist group, carrying out attacks and terrorist attacks, including in Cameroon, as well as the degradation of the humanitarian situation due to the increase in the number of refugees from neighboring countries.
Forced to note the increase in tension in the English-speaking South-Western and North-Western provinces of Cameroon. The division of the former colonial possessions of European states without regard to religious, linguistic and ethnic differences laid many hotbeds of tension on the African continent. Cameroon was no exception.
We consider the Central African region to be key in terms of combating the spread of terrorism throughout the continent. The penetration of radical and terrorist elements into Central Africa is accompanied by the illegal movement of weapons, drugs, and income from the exploitation of minerals.
With the support of the international community, certain successes have been achieved in countering Boko Haram (banned in Russia – ed.). At the same time, the group retains combat potential and is capable of conducting resonant sorties. The activity of the Bokoharamovites in Chad, including in the border areas with Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, where extremists attack civilians, UN employees and NGOs, checkpoints of the Chadian military.
The challenges and threats currently facing the Central African region are closely interconnected, and the states themselves are interdependent. The destabilization of the situation in one country is capable of stirring up the entire subregion, bringing down the security of neighbors.
It is extremely important not to cross the line between prevention and meddling in internal affairs.”
And, of course, this isn’t only a Russian standpoint, as other UN officials have also admitted the severity of the situation there.
“Cameroon has become the country in Africa, where the crisis is growing most rapidly. Security is deteriorating, and the country is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. The situation with the Anglophonous minority of Cameroon is getting out of control,” VOA Africa reported, citing a UN statement of May 13th this year.
“Last year, 160,000 people from the northwestern and southwestern regions of the country needed humanitarian assistance. Today, more than 1.3 million people — eight times more, need help,” said UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Operations Mark Lowcock.
In an attempt to resolve the crisis internally, President Paul Biya on September 10th, 2019 nnounced a grand national dialogue to discuss issues relating to the crisis in the NWSW. The dialogue took place from September 30th to October 4th 2019. Chaired by the Prime Minister, the dialogue gathered political leaders, members of the diaspora, armed groups, representatives of civil society organizations, the army as well as religious and traditional authorities.
Separatist leaders, non-state armed groups (NSAG) and many anglophone representatives rejected it based on the perception that it was not neutral.
From September 20th to 22nd , separatist leaders, mostly in the diaspora met in Switzerland. They declared their non-participation in the national dialogue called by the Government of Cameroon and expressed their commitment to a negotiated resolution of the crisis.
The Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG) wrote an open letter to the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Cameroon welcoming UN intervention in the NWSW and requesting the Humanitarian Coordination Office to continue its activities.
The call for a national dialogue came after the social and economic life of the affected regions had been further crippled by a three-week lockdown called by NSAGs, observed until September 13th
In attempt to somehow calm the situation, President Biya announced that there would be parliamentary elections on February 9th, 2020. But it is questionable if the elections would bring about any change or stability to the situation.
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The division of the former colonial possessions of European states without regard to religious, linguistic and ethnic differences laid many hotbeds of tension on the African continent. Cameroon was no exception.
Let’s all pretend these border placements weren’t deliberate.