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Unearthing Neglected Conflicts: International Crisis Group urges AU to Prioritize Largely Ignored Bloody Conflict in the Cameroons

By February 17, 2024No Comments
Southern Cameroons' bloody conflict claiming ever more lives (c) The Hilltop Mail

February 11, 2024. School kids in Nkambe, former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons were supposed to be celebrating. They had rehearsed their marching steps for weeks, hoping to impress their parents, teachers, government authorities and the general population of Nkambe-the one town that for over seven years now, has largely stayed out of the struggle of the people of the former UN Trust Territory to assert their right to self-determination.

Then, an explosive went off. The person responsible didn’t care who he would kill, as long as he made a statement. He was fighting for a cause; he was a freedom fighter, not a terrorist.

The blast killed two children. Over 40 others suffered burns, fractures, shrapnel wounds. Some lost limbs, or eyes, or hearing. Some would never walk, or talk, or smile again. Some would be scarred for life, physically and mentally.

AU Delegates meet in Addis Ababa but as usual ignore core conflict hotspots on the continent (c) Palestine Chronicle

The man who detonated the bomb escaped. He had struck a blow against the oppressors, the invaders, and the enemy.

The government condemned the attack, calling it a cowardly act, a barbaric crime, a senseless tragedy. It said such acts won’t be tolerated and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Detonation of an IED in Nkambe left security operatives scampering for a response while a contested youth celebration came to an abrupt end- many were wounded and one person reported dead.

National media came up with shouting headlines, but like other kids who have been killed in the ongoing conflict in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, they will soon be forgotten, their names will not be remembered, their stories will not be told, and their dreams will not be fulfilled.

They are just numbers, statistics, and casualties. They are collateral damage, in a war with no end in sight.

Violence continues unabated in Southern Cameroons with casualties reported daily (c) Jurist

The attack on Nkambe was the latest in a conflict that has raged on for more than seven years now. It’s resulted in the killing of at least 6,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group, but that figure probably pales in comparison to the actual casualties. More than a million people have been forced to flee from their homes, over 70,000 of them fleeing across the border to Nigeria as refugees.

The bloody conflict in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons has been raging since 2016, when lawyers, teachers and students in the region protested the marginalization and assimilation of their territory by the Francophone-dominated government in Yaounde.

The protests were met with a brutal crackdown by the authorities, who arrested hundreds of activists and accused them of supporting secession. On October 1, 2017, some pro-independence leaders declared the independence of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, sparking a violent conflict with government forces from Yaounde.

Cameroun Soldiers record ever more deaths, usually turning ire on civilians whom they accuse of not cooperating well enough to foster their campaign against Ambazonian self-defense forces

Since then, a loose network of armed groups has emerged in the region, imposing school boycotts and lockdowns on the local population, and clashing with the army and pro-government militias.

The Norwegian Refugee Council has repeatedly qualified the bloody conflict in the region as “one of the most neglected conflicts” in the world.  The International Crisis Group now ants the dynamic change.

The non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts has identified the Southern Cameroons Conflict as one of eight priority issues the African Union must address in 2024. The Brussels-based NGO says, “The AU should explore new ways to address governance crises; work to save Sudan, resolve Ethiopia’s conflicts and steady the DR Congo; maintain diplomatic channels in the central Sahel; put Cameroon’s separatist conflict on the agenda; refresh its partnership with Somalia; and help ready South Sudan for elections.”

Putting the Southern Cameroons and Cameroun’s Conflict on the Peace and Security Agenda

“The Anglophone conflict in Cameroon is entering its eighth year with no resolution in sight,” the ICG notes, explaining that insurgents in the North West and South West – the region corresponding to the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons- are still attacking government soldiers but increasingly one another as well. Government forces are also guilty of committing heinous war crimes.

The bloody conflict has no end in view as efforts at beginning a peace process have always hit a snag

“Civilians bear the brunt of the fighting. Killings, abductions, and sexual violence are almost an everyday occurrence, while almost half the area’s schools have stopped functioning,” the Crisis Group notes.

“The AU should put the Anglophone crisis on its peace and security agenda, throwing its weight behind efforts to reach a settlement, before political intrigue in Yaounde makes negotiations even more difficult,” writes Enrica Picco, Central Africa Director at the International Crisis Group.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, the ICG official accused the Cameroon government of refusing to allow for AU involvement.

Enrica Picco, Central Africa Director at the International Crisis Group has been unrelenting in her advocacy for a mediated settlement to end the bloody conflict (c)

“The upcoming summit will bring another chance for the AU to pay serious attention to Cameroon,” she asserted.

She said one way forward would be” to table Cameroon’s Anglophone conflict as an agenda item for periodic discussion at the AU’s Peace and Security Council.”

She said the AU would be fulfilling its mandate of keeping peace and security if it disregards Cameroon’s efforts to discourage its involvement. She also referred to ‘the Canada Initiative’ that had also been touted as a way of resolving the conflict, noting that it remains “the most viable diplomatic track for dialogue on Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.”

“The AU Peace and Security Council should urge Yaoundé to resume these talks,” she noted, and advised the AU Commission chairperson to consider naming an envoy for Cameroon to facilitate engagement.

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