Series: Evaluating International Mediation Acceptance – Case of the Ongoing Anglophone Dispute in Cameroon (1)

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Summary: Fighting between separatists in the Anglophone regions and the government of Cameroon is ongoing and little international attention is being paid to it. This crisis started in October 2016 following a perceived marginalization of the Anglophone community whereby schools and courts in the North West and South West Regions were allegedly flooded by French-speaking professionals to the detriment of the Anglophones. Teachers and lawyers strike sequel to this that demanded the removal of French teachers and judges from English schools and courts was later hijacked by secessionists elements when the government of Cameroon turned down a request for further negotiation with the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and issued a ban on them. This ban instead led to the escalation of tension that has led to about three years of armed conflict involving high rates of fatalities, destruction of properties, several persons internally displaced with others crossing into Nigeria as refugees. The UK, AU, and the US have formally offered to mediate if they are given the opportunity, but mediation acceptance is based on the government of Cameroon’s willingness. Though the secessionists are ever ready for mediation, unfortunately, mediation cannot take place without the consent of all the parties to the conflict. Separatist fighters’ war aim is to liberate what they call Ambazonia which is a portion of the territory previously known as the British Southern Cameroons. On its part, the government of Cameroon is fighting to maintain the integrity of the one and the indivisible Republic of Cameroon, a legacy that was handed down at independence (1960) and Reunification (1961). This crisis is therefore not about religion, tribe, or toppling of a regime but about a piece of territory and the legacy that was left behind by colonial masters – English culture for the Anglophone region and French culture for the Francophone region making the situation one of the most unique in history. According to Marieke Kleiboer in the article titled “Understanding the Success and Failure of Mediation” published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, international disputes, and international diplomacy turn to be complex in such a way that evaluating the criteria for their mediation acceptance or success raises more questions than answers. She stated in her research that there are four frequently used yardsticks to measure mediation acceptance and success and they include; the characteristics of the dispute, parties involved and their interrelationships, characteristics of a mediator, and lastly the international context. This piece examines these variables in the context of the ongoing Anglophone crisis in Cameroon for a possibility of mediation acceptance and success by the disputants. The article will be divided into five parts including the background to the anglophone dispute, the four frequently used yardsticks and the conclusion will focus on; the conclusion from the analysis, if there are similar ongoing conflicts around the globe, some resolution relevant insights, new options for a settlement, and lastly an outlook for the future.

Part 1 of 5

Background to the Anglophone Crisis

      Present-day Cameroon was a German protectorate called Kamerun. After World War I, the Germans were defeated by the allied powers notably the French, English, and Belgian forces. The territory was then effectively partitioned between Britain and France in 1919. Britain administered the two portions given to her as part of Nigeria. They called these portions Southern Cameroon and Northern Cameroon. The rest of the territory that was administered by the French was referred to as East Cameroon.[1]

      When the wind of change was blowing across Africa in the 60s, a plebiscite was organized by the United Nations (UN) and Southern Cameroons opted to join East Cameroon which already gained its independence from France on 1 January 1960 as La République du Cameroun while Northern Cameroon opted to join Nigeria.  The new Federal Republic of Cameroon thus comprised of two states; one comprising of the former French zone referred to as East Cameroon and one comprising of the former British colony referred to as West Cameroon. In June 1972, the federal system was abolished through a referendum as the country moved into a unitary system and was named United Republic of Cameroon[2] and in 1984 the country was renamed the Republic of Cameroon.

      Since this reunion, tension has been mounting with West Cameroon (Southern Cameroon) otherwise known as the Anglophone Regions convinced of marginalization and a bad feeling reinforced by the difficulties experienced in capturing the fallouts from the exploitation of natural resources and the political systems.[3] The immediate trigger of the current Anglophone crisis is the Anglophone lawyers’ strike in October 2016, joined by all Anglophone teachers’ sit-in strike in November 2016 as they all protested against the appointment of French judges and teachers to English courts and schools.[4] Local lawyers demanded their removal and restoration of the federal system of government which was abandoned in 1972. University students and other activists got involved and the security forces responded with force.[5] The President of the Republic in his end of year speech to the nation on 31 December 2016 said;

“As I reminded you recently, it is my duty to ensure republican order, social peace, the unity of the nation, and Cameroon’s integrity. I set up the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism which will play a key role in promoting our togetherness. It is in the same light that at the onset of the crisis, I requested the government to engage in constructive dialogue with English-speaking teachers and lawyers to seek solutions to their demands. The government took many actions following the dialogue, even going beyond the vital demands. Others are still ongoing or in the pipeline. To my mind, dialogue has always been and will always remain the best means of resolving problems, so long as it is strictly in line with republican legality.”[6]

      It should be noted that before the President’s speech, secessionist movements had started gaining momentum. They started with the school boycott, shutdowns, and civil disobedience, and later picked up arms as a strategy to lure the government of Cameroon for a dialogue. From the above speech, the President made it clear that his government was ready for dialogue, but this dialogue was not going to discuss anything that is contrary to republican legality, in other words, secession will not be part of the discussions on the dialogue table. On the other hand, separatists have started calling not only for dialogue but for a mediated dialogue under the auspices of the UN.

      In 2017 the Roman Catholic Bishops called for the President to begin an inclusive dialogue to find a sustainable solution to the crisis during their 43rd plenary meeting of the National Episcopal Conference.[7] This inclusive dialogue means the inclusion of secessionist elements which was contrary to the President’s end of year speech and will therefore not be accepted by the government of Cameroon.

      In the next part, the characteristics of the dispute will be examined in the context of the crisis. The variables embedded in the characteristics of the dispute to define a mediation acceptance or success include conflict ripeness, the intensity of the conflict, and the nature of the issues.[8]

[1] Wikipedia, “Kamerun,” Wikipedia, December 25, 2018, (accessed January 20, 2019).

[2] Jon Lunn and Louisa Brooke-Holland, The Anglophone Cameroon Crisis,” House of Commons,  June 6 2018, Briefing Paper Number. 8331, in House of Common Library (accessed January 20, 2019).

[3] Joseph T. Kenfo, Le ‘Probleme Anglophone’ Au Cameroun: La Reponse Par Le Processus Participatif Au Developpement Territorial. (Universite de Yaounde I, 2017), 5.

[4] Camilla A. Tabe and Isaac Fieze Njofie, A CRITICAL DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF NEWSPAPER HEADLINES ON THE ANGLOPHONE CRISIS IN CAMEROON, British Journal of English Linguistics Vol.6, no. 3 (2018), 66, (accessed January 20, 2019).

[5] Lunn and Brooke-Holland, The Anglophone Cameroon Crisis: June 2018 Update, 8.

[6] Cameroon Radio and Television, President Paul Biya’s end of year message to the nation. (accessed January 17, 2019.

[7] Killian C. Ngala, Cameroon Bishops Urge President to Resolve Anglophone Crisis with Dialogue. Crux, April 21, 2018, (accessed January 2019).

[8] Kleiboer, Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation, 362 – 363.

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