Tensions are elevated in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions of Northwest and Southwest following recent protests in the former which left two people dead. The recent protests which, occurred in the town of Ndop in the Northwest region, began on 10 February 2017 sparked by community complaints over the quality of teachers being deployed to the region. The protesters claimed that the central government was sending French-speaking educators with a poor grasp of English to work at schools in the Anglophone region.
However, this was the most recent in a series of protests in the Northwest and Southwest regions since November 2017 when lawyers in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest, demonstrated against the imposition of French courts in the Anglophone region. This initial demonstration led to a series of protests in the two Anglophone regions resulting in several deaths and over 100 people being arrested. Eventually the government shut down the internet in the both Northwest and Southwest regions in an attempt to curtail the protests.
There has long been simmering resentment in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions over the perceived marginalisation by the country’s Francophone majority. Although constitutionally French and English have equal standing, with the French court system being used in Francophone regions and English Common Law in the Anglophone areas, the majority of Cameroonians are French-speaking making up eight of the country’s ten regions. The long-time ruler, President Paul Biya, rarely speaks English at official events and is perceived to prioritise Francophone communities over their English-speaking counterparts.
These tensions are expected to continue in the short-to-medium term at least, as several of the leaders of the November demonstrations are expected to be prosecuted in the coming weeks. They have been charged with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, secession, revolution, insurrection and inciting civil war. The charges, which the accused have denied, have been condemned by human rights groups.
This trial will likely be a recruitment boon for the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) which is a non-violent pro-secessionist group operating in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
Due to the continued tensions, further protests and demonstrations are likely in the coming weeks, including the so-called “ghost town strikes” which call on citizens to stay home from work. The majority of future incidents will likely occur in Bamenda which has, thus far, been the epicentre of the protests. It should be noted that any street-level protests have an associated risk of violence resulting from clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
The risk of violence is also heightened given the national government’s hard-line stance towards the demonstrations, opting to deploy security forces rather than engage and negotiate with the protesting communities. It is possible, given the anti-incumbent post-election violence in neighbouring Gabon and The Gambia, that Biya is concerned of the anti-government sentiment spreading beyond the Anglophone regions into the rest of the country.