Paul Biya is Africa’s longest-serving President and one would think he has an idea when it comes to responsible leadership but the years have only cemented his ineptitude. His response to the Cameroonian Anglophone region’s secession demands has been heavy-handed and unnecessary but for a man who never gets questioned, it is to be expected. Social media is awash with atrocity after atrocity that the Cameroonian army is committing against its own people which unfortunately justifies their demands for independence. If their army is going to treat them like foreigners, then maybe they are foreigners.
The world seems to be waking up from its slumber and paying more attention to Cameroon but 200 soldiers, gendarmes, and police officers, 600 separatists and at least 500 civilians have died in the violence. 30,000 Anglophone refugees are in Nigeria while 437,000 have been internally displaced in Cameroon. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Cameroon, Ms. Allegra Baiocchi has said, “attacks against civilians have increased and many conflict-affected people are surviving in harsh conditions without humanitarian assistance due to the dramatic underfunding of the response.
Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis; it needs to be high on our agenda.” However, as the world drags its feet, civilians are being killed in Cameroon. Paul Biya is unhinged. The separatists are unhinged. The common citizenry bears the brunt of the fire. The United Nations estimates that around 4.3 million people in Cameroon – one in six people and mostly women and children – require lifesaving assistance.
The conflict is rooted in the arbitrary borders imposed by imperialists. In 1961, Britain’s Cameroons colonies were divided between Nigeria and Cameroon after a referendum. Becoming an independent state was simply not on the table. “Logically, I would have expected the UN to give them the option of gaining independence and stand on their own,” Henry Baaboh, a legal expert told DW before adding, “I think it is that third option which is disturbing Southern Cameroonians up to this day.”
That the crisis is called the “Anglophone problem” is telling as to the nature of the issue: it is a problem imported from the West. Jürgen Zimmerer of the University of Hamburg identifies the elephant in the room quite aptly, “The problem is that when European powers partitioned Africa, they split up families, relatives, and communities that got along very well, whereas in some cases, communities that were enemies or competed against each other were bundled together into one territory.”
Now that one country is made up of people on two different ends of the spectrum, people are dying. The murderous regime of Biya cannot be exonerated as it has been instrumental in the violence but the West is just as culpable. This is a conflict of the West’s making being exploited by an unhinged despot. It is quite arrogant for the West to pretend nothing is happening, and wait for the body-count to reach a certain threshold yet it planted the seeds of this harvest of thorns. The practice of pretending loss of African lives does not warrant swift action must come to an end. This is the 21st century!