Cameroon’s language war, explained

Since about late 2016, Cameroon has been embroiled in a violent conflict due to language. The source of the conflict stems from imperialism, a common root of conflict in today’s world. France and the United Kingdom obtained the territory that now constitutes from Germany in 1916 and divided it between the two countries. This created a bilingual country where about 80 percent of people speak French and a minority speaks English. The conflict did not begin to intensify until around 2016 when the Cameroon government started showing favoritism to French-speaking officials. Teachers and lawyers began peaceful protests that resulted in the jailing and killing of some activists. The government’s brutal response incited a dramatic escalation in the conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in the violence since, and there have been many deaths. Cameroon’s government claims that the English-speaking minority have been harassing civilians and acting violent towards government officials and officers. The government has also claimed that these “Anglophones” want to create a new nation named Ambazonia. According to Cameroonian Anglophones, the government and other Francophones have unleashed unprovoked violence on Anglophone villages and have gone as far as burning down their houses. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, government brutality has incited many Anglophones to join an extremist separatist group that supports the idea of an independent Ambazonia. These separatists are called “Amba boys” among locals.

The recent roots of the language war are somewhat more mundane. The Cameroonian government has neglected to create adequate infrastructure in most English-speaking villages, leading Anglophones to consider the move proof of discrimination. Since the conflict has escalated, the Cameroon government has blocked off roads and transportation in or around English-speaking villages so that they have no access to trade and other resources. This extremely divisive war has engulfed Cameroon as both sides continue to blame each other for the violence. Anglophones claim the Cameroon government has raped, killed, and tortured men, women, and children. While the government and Francophones have claimed that the separatists have violently attacked government officials and threatened its security forces.

The conflict continues to intensify and become more violent. The government’s U.S. and Israeli-trained security forces are constantly being accused of human rights violations. Due to the conflict, a tens of thousands of Cameroonians have fled to seek asylum in Nigeria. Most of the Cameroonian refugees are women and children because their husbands have either stayed in Cameroon or been killed in the conflict. Multiple humanitarian organizations are currently working with the Nigerian government to give land or other resources to help the constant influx of Cameroonians seeking refuge.

Cameroon’s most recent election, held in October of 2018, may stoke tensions even further. Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president for the past 36 years, was re-elected president of Cameroon with 71 percent of the vote. Many commentators suspect voter fraud and intimidation contributed to this result. Biya declared himself the victor just hours after the polls closed. many Anglophone Cameroonians said the election was pointless and Biya would win no matter what. In light of military raids of Anglophone villages, many Anglophones are fearful to speak or act against Biya because of the potential risk. As a result, many Anglophones try to keep a low profile to prevent themselves from being kidnapped, tortured, or even killed.

The language war in Cameroon sees no end in sight as Biya remains president and the military elites continue to raid and torture English-speaking villages and inhabited areas. Along with the increasing violence, the Anglophone population continues to decrease as large numbers of them flee to Nigeria and other neighboring countries to escape the violence. As the English-speaking population continues to decrease, their voice in government steadily diminishes and leaves them with few methods to fight back. It is uncertain if the rebels will stand their ground against the Cameroon government and fight back for their language or if they will be crushed by the military elites and get pushed out of Cameroon.


Author: Jessica Lobaccaro

Jessica Lobaccaro is a staff writer at The Compass.