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  On February 11th, this year, the Cameroon military raided the small village of Tiben, in Batibo, in western Cameroon.  A village family, including a father named Jonas Ndi, fled their home, fearing arbitrary arrest by the military.  A child, sleeping, was left behind.  In the attack, the military torched a quarter in the village, including Jonas Ndi's home.  His child was burnt to death. 

Atrocities such as this and ongoing human rights abuses and crimes against humanity against the Anglophone communities of northwest and southwest Cameroon are happening every day. These abuses are being diligently documented by the University of Toronto's "Cameroon Anglophone Crisis, Database of Atrocities."  

The growing number of atrocities in the conflict has caught the attention of the new administration of U.S. President Joseph Biden. Indeed the Biden administration has acknowledged the severity of the crisis in Cameroon. 

Jan Egeland, a former senior Norwegian diplomat who is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a partner of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, served in 2019 as a panelist at a UN Security Council meeting about the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.  According to an NRC survey utilizing four criteria to evaluate humanitarian crises in areas of conflict and disaster globally (number of displaced persons deriving from a crisis; political will to solve a crisis; international media attention on a crisis and level of financial aid for crisis relief), the NRC ranked Cameroon FIRST out of ten countries as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world for two consecutive years (2019 and 2020).

 During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19th, Secretary of State Blinken said that the administration would uphold US values in defending human rights in Africa and expressed concern with the conflict in Cameroon.  Secretary Blinken said,

“The United States must actively participate in the resolution of the situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where populations are victims of multifaceted violence.”  

 

 

soldiers in Cameroon
Cameroonian troops deployed in response to the Anglophone uprising, with a billboard featuring President Paul Biya in the background. Photo via (AFP)

Ngala Hansel

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has asked three UN special rapporteurs to investigate exactly what led to the death of Cameroonian journalist Samuel Wazizi.

The government of Cameroon has announced that Wazizi died on August 17, 2019 while in military custody. He had been arrested in August 2019 for allegedly providing logistics to separatist combatants in the Southwest of Cameroon. Prior to the announcement which was made in June, the journalists fate was unknown to the public. His lawyer and family members were not allowed contact with the journalist during his incarceration.

Cameroonian authorities initially denied that Wazizi was in custody. Waziz's family says they have yet to receive his body from the government.

 “I call on the authorities to shed light on the events that led to Wazizi’s demise and ensure that any contravention to his rights as a journalist and as a detainee are brought to justice," said Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in a statement in response to the announcement of his death in June.

Wazizi whose birth name is Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe was born on June 6, 1984 and was a cameraman and journalist for Chillen Media Television (CMTV) in Buea, Southwest Region of Cameroon.

RSF states that they believe Wazizi was targeted because of his critical reporting regarding the way the government was handling the conflict in English-speaking regions.

Journalists working in Anglophone regions have found it difficult to report on the conflict at times. A 2014 law enacted to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the north of the country critics believe is being used to silence journalists reporting on this seperate conflict. The two conflicts have offered severe challenges to the rule of President Paul Biya who has ruled the country since 1982.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned this practice, with Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Director stating that “Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press. When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal”.

No arrests have yet been made in the Wazizi case, but Quintal speaking to New Africa Daily asked for the release of other detained Cameroonian journalists:

“We repeat our call for the remaining 7 journalists in jail to be released. Several have been in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods. Wawa Jackson Nfor for more than 2 years and Paul Chouta for more than a year” she said over the phone, adding that “Some are in poor health, including Thomas Awah Junior. We wrote to President Paul Biya asking that he be released on humanitarian grounds. More recently we wrote to several African presidents, including Biya, to release the journalists amid Covid-19, Their continued incarceration in Cameroon’s overcrowded and shocking prisons, is a death sentence. That letter was co-signed by more than 80 media freedom and rights organizations”.

Cameroon ranks 134 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

RSF’s full statement can be read here (https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/un-allegation_letter-wazizi.pdf )

The flag designed by the Southern Cameroons National Council, which supports independence for Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, features a dove with an olive branch in its beak and thirteen stars representing thirteen counties, or divisions.
The flag designed by the Southern Cameroons National Council, which supports independence for Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, features a dove with an olive branch in its beak and thirteen stars representing thirteen counties, or divisions.

Since protests began in Cameroon against the marginalization of the minority Anglophone community—about 20 percent of the population—in the Northwest and Southwest regions in 2016, several armed separatist groups have emerged.

The first bloodshed occurred when at least six people were killed in December 2016 in Bamenda during anti-government protests, but the conflict has its origins in the colonial period when the United Kingdom ruled part of the modern state of Cameroon from the end of World War I until 1960. Upon independence, the now English-speaking British Mandate Territory of Southern Cameroons was integrated into the broader Republic of Cameroon.

It is unclear exactly how many armed separatist groups operate in the two Anglophone regions, but in a May 2019 report the International Crisis Group put the figure at seven main rebel militias with an official name, a known leader, and at least 200 members. Between them, they had an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 fighters. Besides these seven militias, the Crisis Group had identified another twenty smaller armed groups.

Their common goal is the creation of a new country called Ambazonia. The name is derived from Ambas Bay, a geographical feature that early Portuguese explorers named after the local people in the fifteenth century, and which some consider as the boundary between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon.

The militias don’t collaborate and, in some cases, they have fought against each other, but their hit-and-run tactics are similar. Many of them seem to be armed only with basic one-shot hunting rifles, although some modern assault rifles have been obtained during fighting against government forces or by other illicit means. Under a 2016 law, illegal possession of a firearm is punishable by a fine and between five and ten days in jail. The government estimates there are about 30,000 firearms in circulation in Cameroon. Other improvised weapons include traps and what media reports sometimes refer to as cutlasses but are actually machetes.

New Africa Daily has culled information from open sources to develop this primer on rebel militias in Cameroon.

Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF)

This group, led by Benedict Kuah, is by far the best known and likely the largest of the militant groups fighting for independenceIts clear and observable ties to diaspora groups also mean it is likely the best funded. It wa founded as the armed wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC), whose leader, Dr. Cho Ayaba, is based in Norway. 

Ayaba says the ADF’s fighters number about 1,500 who are spread among twenty camps. In 2018, French journalist Emmanuel Freudenthal spent a week embedded with some of the ADF militants, the first journalist to do so. He could not confirm Ayaba’s claim, as he saw only about 100 fighters during this time though he did not visit every camp the group claims to operate.

According to the monitoring group Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), the ADF significantly expanded its reach in the Northwest and Southwest regions in 2018. The ADF apparently launched operations in Manyu, Southwest, and in Mezam, Northwest, in 2017 before shifting its focus to six other administrative divisions.

Southern Cameroons Defense Forces (also known as SOCADEF)

Along with the ADF, SOCADEF is one of the more active militant groups. It is headed by Ebenezer Akwanga, who, like Ayaba of the ADF, is a former student trade unionist. According to Agence France-Presse, Akwanga and Ayaba were students in the 1990s at the University of Buea in the Southwest Region, and they challenged the moderate strand of separatism at the time, taking their slogan about “the force of argument” and reversing it to “the argument of force.”

In January 2019, a commander of SOCADEF’s ground forces in Matoh, Southwest, “General” Andrew Ngoe, was killed during a raid by Cameroonian soldiers. It remains to be seen if the strike will be crippling for the group or if it will be able to revive its fortunes.

Southern Cameroons Restoration Forces

This rebel militia, which is also known as the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (similar to SOCADEF’S name), is mainly active in the Boyo administrative division in the Northwest Region. Led by Nso Foncha Nkem, the group had an estimated 100 fighters in 2019. In January 2020, the group was involved in clashes with the ADF, which led to the abduction of some forty ADF fighters, six of whom were later murdered.

Red Dragons

The Red Dragons, a group based predominantly in Lebialem in the Southwest Region, is led by “Field Marshal” Lekeaka Oliver. Oliver started his career in the Cameroonian Army but, after witnessing massacres perpetrated by his colleagues, he defected and joined the separatists. As a former soldier, Oliver is a priority target of the Cameroonian government. Yet, thus far his group has taken advantage of the rugged terrain and dense forest of the region to build a series of camps where the group also manufactures improvised weapons. The group, which had an estimated 200 fighters in May 2019 and has proven effective in clashes with the government -- perhaps because Oliver understands his opponents’ tactics. 

The Red Dragons is also adept  atuse of social media to advance their cause, often posting videos on YouTube. The group pays allegiance to the Southern Cameroons Liberation Council, one of the splinter groups of a group known as Interim Government of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia (IG).

Tigers of Ambazonia

This militia is mainly based in the Manyu administrative division in the Southwest Region. Along with other rebel groups, it is reported to have started operations in the fall of 2017 with just ten to thirty fighters. In September 2018, the Tigers’ leader, Nchia Martin Achuo, claimed the group had some 2,000 fighters. He confirmed to Reuters that members of the Tigers had attacked a prison in the town of Wum and freed about 106 “innocent people." The Tigers reportedly collaborate with other militias, notably the ADF and SOCADEF.

Vipers

This militia, which has an estimated thirty members, tends to cooperate with larger groups such as the ADF. The group has claimed responsibility for burning down government buildings. In May 2018, Vipers were blamed for setting fire to an examination center in Bamenda and some police stations in the area.

 

First Peace Talks

Attacks by these militias have led to the death of more than 3,000 civilians and the displacement of an estimated 730,000 people.

Following calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire, representatives of President Paul Biya’s government and nine separatist leaders—all currently in jail in the capital Yaoundé on terrorism charges—held talks on July 2. The nine separatists are members of the Interim Government of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia (IG), which claims to be the legitimate government, as dose Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC). Unfortunately, the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) at present has split from the IG and it is unclear if it is willing to hold talks with the government.

 

Hans Ngala is a freelance journalist who focuses on Christianity in Africa, politics, and health.

 

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