Cameroon's Anglophone Crisis: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress Page: 3 of 4
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sought to suppress critical media commentary. President Biya later offered concessions,
restoring internet access, releasing some protest leaders, creating a National Commission for
Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, and appointing more Anglophone magistrates.
Anglophone activists have portrayed these actions as largely symbolic and decried an ongoing
Anglophone protests again erupted on October 1, 2017, the anniversary of the unification of
French- and English-speaking areas in 1961 (see below). Some proclaimed the independence
of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia-a reference to a bay that once marked the boundary
between French- and British-held areas. Security forces reportedly responded by killing at
least 20 protestors and arresting over 500. Officials also restricted public gatherings and travel
within affected areas. Armed separatist groups emerged around the same time and attacked
state security forces. As violence escalated in early 2018, Cameroonian soldiers reportedly
besieged villages, opened fire on civilians, and burned down homes. In January 2018,
Nigerian authorities forcibly returned 47 Anglophone activists, including reported asylum
seekers, to Cameroon, where they have been detained as "terrorists." In apparent retaliation,
suspected Anglophone militants have reportedly seized at least 40 civilian and government
hostages. The U.N. has registered over 20,000 refugees fleeing western Cameroon for Nigeria.
France and the United Kingdom each colonized parts of Cameroon. French Cameroon became
independent in 1960 and was joined in a federation by part of British Cameroons in 1961
following a U.N.-supervised referendum. In 1972, a unitary republic replaced the federal
system. Both English and French are official languages and a dual justice system permits
Anglophone and Francophone regions to follow different legal codes. Anglophones have long
complained of underrepresentation in government and unequal access to public goods and
services; fringe groups have periodically called for secession of "Southern Cameroons," a
British colonial-era term referring to current-day Anglophone areas. The Social Democratic
Front (SDF), the largest opposition party, has its stronghold in Anglophone regions and has
advocated a return to federalism, which the government rejects.
Anglophone unrest adds to a broader context of domestic and regional strains. In the north, the
Boko Haram conflict has caused a humanitarian crisis. In addition to 241,000 internally
displaced persons, Cameroon hosts some 88,000 Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram and
249,000 fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic.
Issues for Congress
Amid uncertainty surrounding President Biya's future tenure, the crackdown in Anglophone
areas has added to concerns about Cameroon's stability and the behavior of its security forces.
Such issues are of interest to Congress given recent U.S. counterterrorism investments in
Cameroon, as well as long-standing concerns about human rights, democracy, and stability in
Africa. Notably, Cameroon's military campaign in Anglophone areas comes on the heels of
reports by Amnesty International in 2016 and 2017 alleging torture and killings by elements of
Cameroon's elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), a recipient of U.S. counterterrorism
support. Some BIR units have reportedly deployed to Anglophone areas.
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Arieff, Alexis. Cameroon's Anglophone Crisis: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress, report, April 6, 2018; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1156994/m1/3/?q=terrorism: accessed April 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.