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Series: Evaluating International Mediation Acceptance – Case of the Ongoing Anglophone Dispute in Cameroon (2)

Part 2 of 5

     When the crisis started, the government of Cameroon offered to dialogue with the adversaries as the best means of solving the problem, but secessionist elements gained momentum and increased the demands to include independence. The regime motioned that a dialogue will not hold with separatist because it is not in line with republican legality – the one and indivisible nature of the republic. The Roman Catholic Bishops called upon the president to begin an inclusive dialogue but the regime will not dialogue with separatist, so the crisis gradually moved from shutdowns and school boycotts to an armed conflict and has kept on spreading. In this part, the characteristics of the dispute are going to be examined to appraise the possibility for a mediated dialogue acceptance by parties to the conflict.

The Characteristics of the Dispute

  • Conflict ripeness

      Conflict ripeness is the assumption that a conflict passes through a series of phases and that there is a certain stage that is good for intervention and therefore mediation should be initiated at such a “ripped moment.” Conflicting views exist about what constitute or how to recognize a ripe moment. Some analysts believe that conflicts follow the logic of “clock time” hence more emphasis is laid on the duration, in terms of days, months or years and is linked to the persistence or change of attitudes of the adversaries towards the conflict. The author highlighted that the late entry makes mediation more successful as it is a sign that conflicting parties have failed to reach an agreement. Other analysts think that early entry well before adversaries cross the threshold of violence and begin to inflict losses on each other will be successful. At this early stage, it is possible to consider possibilities for settlements before the conflict becomes entrenched and parties become inflexible in their attitudes. The study found out that the longer a dispute, the less amenable it is to mediate and that mediation efforts initiated between 12 and 36 months have proven successful.[1]

      The Anglophone crisis which started in late 2016 is entering its third year with a failed attempt to negotiate and reach a settlement even though government claims to have agreed to the demands which did not lead to a détente.[2] The Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) which was formed to negotiate with the government was immediately banned alongside the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) after a failed attempt to reach a settlement on the basis that they jeopardize the security of the state.[3] On 17 January 2017, Agbor Mballa and other front liners were arrested and detained by the Cameroon Police with orders from the Cameroon government in connection to the Anglophone crisis. In August 2017, President Paul Biya signed a decree ordering the Yaoundé military court tribunal to release Mballa and others in connection to the protests in the North West and South West Regions.[4] This gesture of the president did not lead to a relaxation of tension as the crisis kept spreading.

      After a failed attempt to reach an agreement in January 2017 the chairperson of the African Union Commission called for restrain and encouraged a continuation of the dialogue initiated by the government in order to find a solution to the social, political and economic issues motivating the protests and that the AU Commission stands ready to assist the parties in this endeavor.[5] Since early 2018, the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU), the United States (US), France and Equatorial Guinea called for dialogue to end the violence. More precisely the UK government said it was ready to help Cameroon resolve the dispute should the UK’s good offices be requested but that this would in practice, mean an invitation from the Cameroon Government.[6] The Minister for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Harriett Baldwin wrote to President Paul Biya seeking progress on commitment he made in his New Year message. She reiterated the UK’s readiness to help and her continuous soliciting for ways to engage in the issue. She finally met with senior members of the Cameroon government during her visit in February 2018 where she encouraged restraint and a relaxation of tension.[7] In April 2018, the US Ambassador to Cameroon Peter Henry Barlerin expressed his country’s willingness to assist in finding a solution to the crisis. He said his country could help provided both sides would approve of its wish to intervene as a peace mediator.[8] Going by the logic of the clock, early entry of a mediator was not successful perhaps because the government of Cameroon undermined the potential of the separatist to resist military repression. Kleiboer found out in her research that mediation acceptance was most likely between 12 -36 months and this crisis falls net between this timing but there are no hopes for a mediated dialogue. The rivals are left now with a late entry of a mediator as mediation acceptance depends solely on the regime’s acceptance. The conflict is persisting, and antagonists haven’t changed their attitudes and in this case late entry could mean many years in future. While the government says dialogue can only happen if the country’s legality is not disputed, secessionists want a country called Ambazonia while federalists want a two-state federation.

      Kleiboer highlighted that the feeling of emergency will strongly increase the disputants’ motivation to moderate and or revise their expectations. Conflict is also seen as ripe when it is marked by an impending catastrophe, existing mutually hurting stalemate, and when power relations have changed hands in such a way that the party that previously had the upper hand in the conflict starts slipping and the underdog starts rising. In contrast, other analysts assert that developments within the contending camps are critical for the emergence of ripe moments like the rise of new leaders, emergence of divided leadership, or split in government previously unified war aims.[9] President Paul Biya is in power since 1982 and retains a strong grip on power as he was declared winner of 7 October 2018 Presidential elections. Dion Ngute, Biya’s close aide previously Minister in charge of special duties now Prime Minister, Head of government said that the President deserved the victory because he has done much for the good of the country.[10] During the President’s inaugural speech, he insisted that there are elements using the socio-professional grievances to roll out a secessionist agenda and that this action undermines the constitution which established the “indivisible” nature of the republic.[11] This statement confirmed that the government has not changed its war aims and the leadership of the regime is still intact. Separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe and President of the virtual country called Ambazonia rallies support from splinter groups.

  • The intensity of the conflict

      The intensity of conflict in terms of threats, the magnitude of violence or number of fatalities is another variable that is contested. It is ambiguous what is meant by the “intensity” of conflict. Is it the degree of threat or tension or the magnitude of violence or number of fatalities? Analysts usually strongly disagree about its impact, however some indicate that the greater the intensity, the more polarized the positions of the disputants will become, resulting in a greater inclination to reject any mediation effort, instead they will try to win at all cost. Some analysts weigh intensity in terms of fatalities experienced by adversaries and gains empirical support for the hypothesis that as the number of fatalities in a dispute increases, the likelihood that mediation will prove successful suffers a corresponding decline. They advise that protracted and intense conflicts should therefore be managed in a different way. Other analysts argue that the higher the intensity of the conflict, the higher the likelihood that mediation will be both accepted and successful as a method of minimizing losses.[12]

      Violence increased significantly inthe Anglophone regions in October 2017 when Anglophone militants carried out attacks against the military and police and a new group called the Ambazonian Defence Force claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.[13] Separatist murdered gendarmes, kidnapped government officials and burned schools. On their part, the Cameroon military affect targeted killings, burning and looting of villages and detention without access to legal support, according to reports.[14] Early June 2018, Amnesty International reported that the situation in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon is becoming increasingly desperate with no one spared from the violence which is spiraling out of control and that up to 400 ordinary people have been killed since a year by both the security forces and the armed separatist. The authoritative organization claimed it had also recorded more than 260 security incidents since the beginning of the year, ranging from clashes between armed separatist and security forces, kidnappings of members of the general population and the killing of security forces by armed separatist. The incidents also include unlawful killings by the security forces, and the destruction of private properties by both sides. Since the start of the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in late 2016, Amnesty International has documented the deaths of more than 160 members of the security forces at the hands of armed separatist. However, the death toll could be much higher as some attacks go underreported.[15]

      Amnesty International report in September same year which was said to be based on in-depth interviews with over 150 victims and eye-witnesses, and material evidence including satellite images saw how the general population is paying the highest price as violence escalates in Anglophone Cameroon. They reported that security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians. On the other hand, separatists’ fighters had killed dozens of members of the security forces, carried out attacks designed to strike fear amongst the population, going as far as burning down schools and targeting teachers who did not enforce the school boycott.[16] Since late 2017, 1200 cases of civilian protection rights violations have been registered, mainly physical abuse or threats, and lack of legal protection. More than 400.000 people have fled their homes.[17] Recently and especially in the months of January and February 2019, the crisis has been marred by kidnap of school children and burning of hospitals with patients with both camps accusing one another for the acts. It should be noted that school boycott and shutdown has been going on since the crisis started and this has affected the economy of the region and their way of life. The intensity of the crisis in terms of the threats, magnitude of violence and the number of fatalities is high but the government of Cameroon as well as separatists’ fighters are determined to win at all costs.

      At the onset of the crisis, the separatist movement and federalist started calling for mediation under the auspices of especially the UN, UK, USA, AU and it is generally thought that this is the reason why they escalated the conflict. So far, the government of Cameroon has the upper hand and mediation cannot take place without the consent of all the parties to the conflict. Perhaps the antagonists did not foresee that even the UN, US or other bodies with political power may not oblige a sovereign state to accept a mediated dialogue.

  • The Nature of the Issues

      Lastly, the nature of the issues which include ideologies, securities, self-determination and other residual characteristics of other types of conflicts was also studied. Here analysts distinguished between five types of conflict issues which include sovereignty issues involving adversaries with incompatible claims to a specific territory. Ideological issues focus on the nature of the political system, basic values or beliefs, security issues concerning frontiers, borders, and territories, issues of self-determination and national self-hood, independence conflicts and a residual category of other types of conflict like poor governance.The research found out thatdisputes involving territorial or security issues are far more amenable to successful mediation than those of ideology or independence. Many conflicts involved more than one set of issues which render it increasingly difficult to separate security or territorial issues from independence and or ideological issues. To circumvent such problems, analysts frequently move to higher level of abstraction – issues such as disputes that rise from deep-rooted values or ideologies are basically zero-sum leaving no room for negotiation. And in contrast more interest related, positive-sum issues would be more amenable to conflict management. Other analysts assumed that even if a conflict issue seems to be completely zero-sum, it may be possible to redefine or fractionate it into negotiable sub units and to try to trade those off against one another. Fractionating issues may be useful if interests are decoupled from values. However, when conflicting interests are derived directly from underlying values, disputes are difficult to resolve.[18]

      The constitution of the newly established Federal Republic of Cameroon guaranteed respect for the cultural identity of the West Cameroon but as years passed by, the government of Cameroon repressed the Anglophone minority’s identity and separatist longed for an independent Ambazonia.[19] A forced assimilation with dominant French-speaking politicians in government has been at the rise since the Federal Republic of Cameroon of 1961 became a United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and later a Republic of Cameroon in 1984. In October 2017, the separatists’ leader Julius Ayuk Tabe declared the independence of the Republic of Ambazonia laying claim to a territory whose borders are the same as the UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons under British rule.[20] Several Anglophone associations and pressure groups emerged that have protested Anglophone marginalization, assimilation and exploitation by the Francophone-dominated state. They placed the problem on the national and international agenda, laying claims to self-determination and autonomy by primarily returning to two-state federation and then to an independent state. The relative underdevelopment of the region shows that it has not benefited sufficiently from its rich resources, particularly oil and this is reinforcing the feeling of being recolonized and marginalized in all spheres of life. By reuniting with French Cameroon, they had hoped for a loose federal union as a way of protecting their territory’s minority status and cultural heritage.[21]

       The Cameroon government has attempted to offer solutions ranging from multicultural and bilingualism commission to decentralization, rejecting the inclusive dialogue or a mediated dialogue that will discuss self-determination supporting Kleiboer’s findings that issues that had to do with self-determination and values are not easy to be resolved. It is also a reality that the poor governance in Cameroon is affecting not only the Anglophone Regions but partly all of Cameroon creating an atmosphere that make other Cameroonians to think that the quest for separation based on marginalization is not genuine.

In part 3, focus will be on parties involved in this crisis and their interrelationship, if they are united towards a unique war aim and if there are any internal threats.


[1] Ibid., Keliboer, 362 – 363.

[2] Human Rights Watch et al, These Killings Can Be Stopped: Abuses by Government and Separatist Groups in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions, Human Rights Watch, July 19, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/07/19/these-killings-can-be-stopped/abuses-government-and-separatist-groups-cameroons (accessed February 4, 2019).

[3] The Economists, Two Anglophone Activist Groups Banned, January 23, 2017, http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=1365034320&Country=Cameroon&topic=Politics&subtopic=Forecast&subsubtopic=Political+stability&u=1&pid=95350593&oid=95350593&uid=1 (accessed February 4, 2019).

[4] Encyclopedia Article, “Felix Agbor Balla,” Wikipedia, February 20, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Felix_Agbor_Balla&oldid=884305950 (accessed February 22, 2019).

[5] African Union, AU Expresses Concern on the Situation in Cameroon, African Union, January 18, 2017, https://www.au.int/web/en/pressreleases/20170118-0 (accessed January 20, 2019).

[6] Lunn and Brooke-Holland, The Anglophone Cameroon Crisis: June 2018 Update, 12.

[7] Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cameroon: Human Rights: Written QuestionHL7788, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Parliament, May 11, https://www.parliament.uk/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/lords/2018-05-11/HL7788 (accessed January 17, 2019).

[8] Journal du Cameroun.com, U.S wants to be honest broker in Cameroon crisis, Journal du Cameroun, April 20, 2018, 2019, https://www.journalducameroun.com/en/u-s-wants-to-be-honest-broker-in-cameroon-crisis/ (accessed January 20, 2019).

[9] “Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation.Pdf on Egnyte, 363.”

[10] BBC, Cameroon’s President Biya Wins Seventh Term, BBC Africa, October 22, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45940414 (accessed January 27, 2019).

[11] Presidency of the Republic, Inaugural Address by H.E. Paul BIYA, President of the Republic of Cameroon, on the Occasion of the Swearing-in Ceremony,  Presidency of the Republic, November 6, 2018, https://www.prc.cm/en/news/speeches-of-the-president/3153-inaugural-address-by-h-e-paul-biya-president-of-the-republic-of-cameroon-on-the-occasion-of-the-swearing-in-ceremony-6-november-2018 (accessed January 27, 2019).

[12] Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation, Pdf on Egnyte, 364.

[13] Lunn and Brooke-Holland, The Anglophone Cameroon Crisis: June 2018 Update, 9.

[14] Dakar Reuters, U.S. Accuses Cameroon of ‘targeted Killings’ of Anglophones, Reuters, May 18, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cameroon-usa-idUSKCN1IJ23Y (accessed January 17, 2019).

[15] Amnesty International, Cameroon: Horrific Violence Escalates Further in Anglophone Regions, Amnesty International, September 18, 2018 last modified 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/09/cameroon-horrific-violence-escalates-further-in-anglophone-regions/ (accessed January 20, 2019).

[16] Amnesty International, Cameroon: Anglophone Regions Gripped by Deadly Violence, Amnesty International, June 11, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/06/cameroon-anglophone-regions-gripped-by-deadly-violence/ (accessed January 21, 2019).

[17] OCHA, Cameroon: North-West and South-West Situational Report No. 2, 2018, 1 – 5.

[18] Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation, Pdf on Egnyte, 364.

[19] John Campbell, Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon Was Decades in the Making, Council on Foreign Relations, August 16, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/blog/anglophone-crisis-cameroon-was-decades-making (accessed January 27, 2019).

[20] Phyllis Taoua, Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis Has Brought the Country to the Brink of Civil War, Quartz Africa, June 26, 2018, https://qz.com/africa/1313745/cameroons-anglophone-crisis-has-brought-the-country-to-the-brink-of-civil-war/ (accessed January 27, 2019).

[21] Nantang Jua and Piet Konings, Occupation of Public Space Anglophone Nationalism in Cameroon, Cahiers d’études africaines 44, no. 175, 2004): 609–633, http://journals.openedition.org/etudesafricaines/4756 (accessed January 27, 2019).

5 Comments on Series: Evaluating International Mediation Acceptance – Case of the Ongoing Anglophone Dispute in Cameroon (2)

Awesome.This way of analysing gives us an outstanding opportunity to understand the situation in that part of Cameron. Well done, Madame Keble Babey.

Above 36 months now the anglophones crisis have been ruining Cameroon. I believe more time is still to be given as both camps are still resistant and it is difficult to intervene when none is failing or recognizing or forecasting of failure.

    Dear Lamfu,

    thank you for these insights. Can you suggest how to handle such a hardened process? What should be done, from your perspective?

    Best regards,

    Daniel Erdmann

I must say, this organized way of analysing the issues at hand is quiet laudable. It helps to reduce the overbearing influence of social media liars in fueling tension in Nw/Sw.

The English speaking diaspora who are far off from the realities on the ground, are deceived that there is a strong support on the field. The black leg syndrome which has taken away so many civilian lives is a serious point of weakness for the separatists. Ghost towns have not been respected for the past two years. The population, for fear of the ghost (unknown), have simply been dancing to the bitter tone. Many of the fighters have read the handwriting and have fled instead to the enemy’s camp.

On the other extreme, the govt continue to count on the superiority of her forces to pay a blind eye to blood flow, hence a deaf ear to cries for dialogue. The weary, traumatized civilians are helping them in targeted killings and burnings. The DDR camps are still a shadow of themselves. Instead of dropping guns at the camps, the boys just look for means to flee to the Eastern side for lack of confidence on the DDR commission.

The villages have therefore been abandoned the aging class and those who fine it difficult to move out. Many countryside roads are frequently blocked. Farmwork is resuming timidly. Schools are in bushes, with equipment destroyed or looted.
So, mediation time was yesterday, is now, or the next hour, not years.

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