Updated: May 21
Today Reuters published an article describing how Daniel, a man living in the village of Bole in Southwest Cameroon, had his home torched and his village attacked by Cameroonian soldiers. The European Union also called on Cameroon today to ensure its security forces use "proportional force". What is happening in Cameroon?
On September 22nd of last year renewed protests broke out in major towns and villages in Cameroon’s English-speaking north-west and south-west regions. Protesters had placards postered with flags of Southern Cameroon or Ambazinia, a country that does not exist but is being called for by separatists within the country.
Let’s back up a bit. Cameroon has a population of about 23 million people, 20% of which are English speakers. The rest of the country is predominantly French speaking.
English speakers are largely based in the South West and North West of Cameroon, and this minority has long claimed that they have faced discrimination from the French majority. This includes being excluded from top civil service jobs and, as of last year, having French imposed in schools and in the courts. This is apparently what sparked protests last year.
Since then dozens have been killed in a violent crackdown on these separatist protests. The violence has prompted an estimated 30 000 Cameroonians to flee to neighbouring Nigeria.
President Paul Biya condemned the protests in an October Facebook post but has done little else to quell the violence. It has also been reported that Cameroon has been disrupting internet connection to these restive areas, affecting social media sites like Whatsapp and Twitter that have become integral to Africans' capacity to organise protests under authoritarian governments in recent years.
Back to Daniel. The Bole raid, as it has come to be known, has apparently been mirrored in other villages across southwest Cameroon. The police and army have been deployed to English-speaking regions in large numbers and reports from the BBC have pointed to potential human rights violations by the Cameroonian army.
With calls for secession growing and the government labelling secessionist leaders terrorists and stating that national unity is non-negotiable, and despite calls by the US and EU to respect the rights of separatists and the Anglophone minority, responses by government and the military suggest that the situation in Cameroon is likely to get worse before it gets better.