A colonial past continues to divide people in Cameroon
By Eileen Schuhmann | Presbyterian Hunger Program
There have been tensions between Anglophone (English-speaking) and Francophone (French-speaking) populations in Cameroon for years with roots in colonialism.
At the end of World War II, Britain and France, as victors, divided up German assets in Africa. Most of Cameroon went to France and a small portion of the country went to Britain.
In 1960, at independence, English-speakers were given the choice of remaining within the borders of Cameroon or joining Nigeria, a former British territory. They voted to stay within Cameroon but have since felt ignored and marginalized by the centralized French-speaking government.
English-speakers have experienced underrepresentation in government, they have been forced to speak French when the opposite was not true for French-speaking Cameroonians, and they have suffered from inadequate investment and development while the government profits from exploiting rich oil resources in Anglophone regions.
Since 2016, hostilities between Anglophone and Francophone populations in Cameroon have been growing.
In October 2016, Anglophone lawyers and teachers organized a strike to protest the effective barring of the use of English in schools and courtrooms. The Francophone controlled government responded to the peaceful protests with force, beating and imprisoning many protestors.
The military’s response and presence in the North-West and South-West Anglophone regions, rather than calming the situation, has escalated the conflict and grown the secessionist struggle there. It is estimated that at least 400 civilians have been killed in addition to 150 members of security forces since 2016. As of August 2018, 246,000 Cameroonians have been displaced from the South-West Region alone. And it is estimated that at least 26,000 Anglophones have fled to Nigeria.
A growing group of Anglophones are demanding secession and have announced plans to create an independent country called Ambazonia. The government of Cameroon has, at this point, refused to sit around the table and have a conversation with the separatists and has repeatedly said the unity of Cameroon is non-negotiable. The government instead has chosen a military solution.
On October 23, 2018, an American Baptist missionary was shot in a car while traveling with his family to a market, less than 2 weeks after arriving in the country. Three priests have also been killed since the conflict started.
And then on November 4, 2018, 79 students and 3 staff members were abducted from the campus of the Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS) at Nkwen, Bamenda in the North-West region. The students were later freed. This was the second abduction from the PSS in less than a month.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a long-term relationship with the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon and issued a call to prayer after the kidnapping.
The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) has developed strong partnerships with organizations and individuals in Cameroon over the years. We have grant partners that are doing work in the Anglophone regions including our partner Community Initiative for Sustainable Environment and Gender Development (CISEGD) that works in Mankon, Bamenda.
Our partners at CISEGD point out that “the Anglophone crisis that has displaced thousands of people both internally and externally is causing a negative impact on the agricultural productivity” in their area of intervention. The conflict has made their work to promote integrated farming systems and sustainably increase production/productivity so much more important.
The coordinator of RELUFA, our Joining Hands network in Cameroon, Jaff Bamenjo is from the Anglophone North-West region. He is very worried for the safety of his family there. Jaff says, “Civilized people cannot afford to remain indifferent to the unfolding silent humanitarian disaster in Cameroon.” Jaff encourages Christians to support efforts to meet the basic needs of displaced Cameroonians and to call on the government of Cameroon to end the violence.
The PHP Associate for International Hunger Concerns, Valery Nodem, is from Cameroon. “Violence is now tearing entire regions of Cameroon apart, day by day. It is unlike anything I’ve seen before in my lifetime. I believe this crisis can be ended with political will. I urge our international partners to bear witness and be the voice to compel the government of Cameroon to peacefully resolve this conflict, so the country may begin to heal.”
Tell the U.S. Secretary of State to Support Peaceful Dialogue and an End to the Violence in Cameroon
You can support the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s work in Cameroon by giving online.
We hope and pray for reconciliation and peace in Cameroon. May our actions help others to feel God’s presence working through us and Christ’s love surrounding this conflict and all those who suffer.