The death toll, the destruction and carnage left behind, the hundreds of thousands of refugees running away from their homes not wanting to just be another body count, is the reality for most people living in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
What shocks most people is the amount of money and resources the Biya regime and secessionists are bent on spending to sustain their course of action and most of which is spent on acquiring foreign arms and foreign lobbyists.
Late in the fight and woefully unprepared, a silent majority of Cameroonians are stuck between two stark choices. They find themselves having to choose between Biya who doesn’t offer much hope and the Ambazonian group that is yet to figure out what it can realistically achieve.
With no dialogue or negotiation in sight, each side wants the other to first lay down their arms or withdraw troops. That seems unlikely given the TV and social media rhetorics from the government and the separatists.
Mr. Biya, ever the autocrat who sees compromise as weakness and Ambazonia leaders making demands for separation, demands Biya considers unreasonable, the conflict has only one direction to go, downwards. Should no third party strong enough to force these parties into a room, there is very little hope for the region.
The harsh indiscriminate military response by the government to peaceful protests against institutional and structural discrimination, corruption, lack of major government projects in the region and the exploitation of resources without due compensation has only served to embolden many Anglophone groups. With nothing in place to contain grievances, the Northwest and Southwest regions quickly descended into anarchy as frustrated youths deprived of their sense of direction decided to form ragtag resistance groups. Ill-advised, they took up arms to fight.
Biya responded by deploying an elite group of forces trained and equipped by the US with helicopter gunships and armored vehicles. The results are gruesome images of people in different stages of decay streamed on social media daily.
Ambazonian groups who had been fringe elements before the protests started quickly saw a vacuum and took advantage of it, much to the delight of the regime. The regime saw this as an opportunity to rally support before the elections. The poor and inexistent coordination of the protest movement after the arrest of its leaders saw these Ambazonian groups easily hijack the struggle started by lawyers and teachers. Today some elements of these groups even kidnap lawyers and teachers and ask for ransoms. What an irony!
Moderate Anglophones and a large segment of Francophones have largely been silent and unable to form any meaningful initiative to resolve the growing crisis. This significantly contributes to the worsening situation. Given that any such groups would have had to be sanctioned by the government, it would seem Cameroon’s current crisis was in the making a long time ago and unavoidable.
Having displaced hundreds of thousands of people in his military campaign, Biya further antagonized Anglophones when he declared himself winner in the region and even in abandoned villages during the last October presidential elections.
At 86, Biya confident in the loyalty of his military and the unsustainability of poorly funded Ambazonian groups demands an unconditional surrender of these groups. That is a no-go for Ambazonians given that his regime is yet to offer any tangible and credible solution to the crisis.
Ambazonians will tell you their fight has been ordained by God and all the deaths, displacement and carnage is the suffering they must endure because freedom is not free. Some cling onto magic spells and charms for protection. Judging by the body count, it is sad their leaders do not see the futility of these. Where you see a loss, they see victory even as death approaches and offer biblical quotes to prove their point. At the other end, Mr. Biya goes to church to get the blessings of Men of God who pray and repeatedly tell him God has chosen him again to serve the people. Apparently, since God is omnipresent, you find God in whatever direction you look.
Where the Conflict Stands Today
At the end of the day, what counts in any struggle is how much progress has been made. Rendering a region ungovernable is hardly progress, although Ambazonia leaders would like to tell us otherwise. They have championed a blanket approach of collective self-punishment with the destruction of property and freezing of economic activity.
Today many Anglophones migrate daily to predominantly Francophone regions for safety. They will not swing back the next day to start all over. This trend apparently defeats the goal of trying to create an Ambazonia for Ambazonians.
In signs Ambazonia leaders have little control over the security vacuum they have created, there are daily kidnappings and intimidation of the local population by Ambazonian forces or gangs hiding under their name. As some Ambazonian leaders tacitly incite violence against regime supporters, their sympathizers have come to accept these acts as a necessary means to their cause, ignoring that no two wrongs make a right.
Many locals are silently sympathetic to the cause rendering the military unable to take back control of the regions as no one is willing to provide the intelligence it desperately needs. The conflict has devolved into a stalemate. The government unable to reclaim it with no intelligence and the poorly equipped ragtag rebel groups incapable of overpowering the military.
Breaking the Stalemate
Ambazonian leaders say their fight is not against Francophones. They say it is the marginalization of Anglophones by the Biya regime. Yet when the opportunity arose to join sympathetic Francophones and get rid of the regime, they were a no show. Their unwillingness to build bridges with like minded Francophone voices and Anglophones who support a federal state structure in favour of an ordained promise land has deprived them of supporters local and foreign that actually count.
What is strange is the absence of Francophone Cameroonians showing genuine concerns about the carnage in the Anglophone regions. This is perhaps a result of how some Ambazonia leaders had pursued their cause from the start and Biya’s tact of divide and rule. Ambazonian leaders continually label Francophones as colonialists. How do you expect support from a group you demonize?
The seeming indifference of the Francophone community in pushing for an inclusive atmosphere significantly contributes to the toxic political atmosphere. The absence of any major Francophone groups actively advocating for peace and dialogue on the plight of Anglophones speaks of a major cultural divide in the region. A divide Biya is too trigger happy to sustain as he falsely believes this ensures his stay in power.
Today, groups timidly rise to protest Biya’s re-election, but few call attention to the violence rocking the Northwest and Southwest provinces. Their interests would garner more support if they seek common political grounds with their Anglophone friends. This form of solidarity will not only help cement Cameroon together, but will elevate reasonable voices seeking change from both sides of the Mungo.
Fighting a war is costly and expensive. Money Ambazonians do not have. Many people are angry and with good reason, but there is no reason to let anger dictate a course of action. With no army, taking up arms to fight a dictatorial regime is hardly a good choice. However you look at it, you end up losing the moral ground.