Rebellion in Cameroon poses New Year headache for Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron
Cameroon, a former British responsibility in Central Africa, is facing a secessionist threat from rebels from the English speaking region of south-western Cameroon who have declared the independence of their region, naming it “Ambazonia”.
The regional crisis, that has been brewing for years, erupted into an open revolt earlier this year. It has resulted in some 40,000 people fleeing into neighbouring Nigeria. Even this figure – admits the UN refugee agency – may be an underestimate.
The English speaking western regions of the country – and about one fifth of the population – have been dominated by the French speaking remainder. The country has been under the dictatorial rule of President Paul Biya since 1982, who shows few signs of relinquish control. Trained as a layer at the Sorbonne in Paris, Biya has been accused of ruthlessly repressing the Anglophone minority. The President tolerates little dissent and has just ordered the deportation of the US based author and scholar Patrice Nganang, who is a fierce critic of Biya's rule.
The English speaking minority has now taken up arms to resist his rule. Protests in September, including a general strikes in the largest towns, resulted in the security forces opening fire, leaving several demonstrators dead. The government cut internet access for several months and a night-time curfew was imposed.
In October, the rebels raised the flag of their movement over government buildings. They declared the independence of “Ambazonia” and announced that Julius Ayuk Tabe, an information technology executive with the American University of Nigeria, was their president. The Ambazonians have an official website, complete with flag and national anthem.
Cameroon says separatist fighters have been receiving military training in Nigeria, and government troops are accused of crossing into Nigeria in pursuit of the rebels. Ties between peoples on both sides of the border are strong, and the Niger delta region is awash with weapons, following years of conflict between bandits and rebels and the Nigerian authorities. Al-Jazeera broadcast a report showing young Cameroonians in a camp inside Nigeria.
This has posed a serious problem for the Nigerian authorities, who have been attempting to co-operate with Cameroon to fight Islamist insurgents of Boko Haram.