Cameroon’s Anglophone problem grows into an armed conflict

The militant independence movement that has been brewing in the Anglophone regions since December led to a marked escalation in hostilities in April and May. National elections planned for October are unlikely to appease the situation. On the one hand, the government will do anything it can to stifle the unrest; on the other, secessionist militants will attempt to disrupt the poll. This points to a further deterioration in Cameroon’s security environment in the three-month outlook.

INDICATORS

8 November 2017: Two gendarmes are killed in an overnight armed attack in Bamenda, Northwest region
February 2018: Tunisian customs seize 24 containers of undeclared arms destined for Cameroon
20 March 2018: Abducted Tunisian national confirmed dead
3 April 2018: Group of foreign tourists are briefly detained by armed militants in Mungo-Ndor, Southwest
27 April 2018: Separatist militants force Cameroonian soldiers to retreat after a contact near Belo, Northwest region
25 May 2018: The bodies of more than 34 people discovered in Menka, Southwest region

ANALYSIS

Cameroon’s secessionist movement, which began with a series of marches by lawyers and teachers in October 2016, has transformed into a full-fledged armed conflict over the past six months. Since the first armed attacks on gendarmes and government forces in November 2017, several incidents have occurred to support A2 Global’s assumption that things will get a lot worse in the months to come.

Hostilities have also become more frequent and increasingly deadly

Since last November, several non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have formed. These include the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) and the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (SCDF), as well as a number of smaller self-defence units such as the Tigers, the Vipers and the Ambaland Forces. In total, there are about ten different smaller militias, each numbering between ten and 30 fighters, while ADF and SCDF each account for approximately 100. These groups are increasingly well-armed and well-organised, and are employing new tactics, such as kidnap-for-ransom (K&R), in their campaign. They are also increasingly targeting civilians.

Furthermore, hostilities have spread across the Northwest and Southwest from their initial hotspot in the Manyu Division of Southwest, which borders neighbouring Nigeria’s Cross River state, where almost 30,000 refugees have fled since the beginning of the conflict. Southwest and Northwest host approximately 40,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Also read: Trend Assessment: Cameroon’s Anglophone problem

The hostilities have also become more frequent and increasingly deadly. In the past few months, there has been one K&R incident on a near-weekly basis. In early April, a group of tourists, including 12 Europeans, was briefly detained by a group of unidentified men.

Since the beginning of the year, over 100 civilians and around 40 security forces personnel have been killed in the unrest. The Anglophone militants have been so successful in their campaign against Cameroonian armed forces that in December they killed more people than the Islamist NSAG Boko Haram, which is active in the Far North region and was the world’s deadliest NSAG only a few years ago. This underscores the extent of current conflict in the south-west. Over the weekend of 26 to 28 May, more than 34 bodies were found in the town of Menka, Northwest, representing the single-deadliest incident since the beginning of the conflict.

Business implications

The Anglophone crisis is damaging the Cameroonian economy, which the African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates will grow by 4.1 per cent this year, and by 4.8 per cent in 2019. Economic activity in Northwest and Southwest has dropped in the past six months, with thousands of farmers of cocoa – a key cash crop – abandoning their homes and plantations. Cocoa farmers in Southwest typically account for 60 per cent of the approximately 230,000 tonnes produced nationally each year. By mid-December last year, the quantity of cocoa arriving at the port of the second-largest city, Douala, had dropped by one fifth on the previous season.

This downward trajectory is likely to continue ahead of the next harvest, which typically falls in late September. This is likely to have an inflationary impact on global cocoa prices, as Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest cocoa exporter. Other key sectors of the Cameroonian economy which are located in the Anglophone regions, such as timber and palm oil exports, are also suffering. So are the over 500 infrastructure construction projects, which the government had initially planned in early 2017; many of these are likely to be delayed.

ASSESSMENT

Against this backdrop, and given the central authorities’ crackdown on dissent and refusal to recognise the legitimate grievances in the Anglophone regions, particularly with regards to their linguistic and cultural rights, the security environment is likely to continue to deteriorate in the six-month outlook at least, unless the combatants – either the government or the militants – change tack. In fact, the crisis is likely to continue escalating over the next six months.

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