REFRAME HOUSE for the VICTORIA RELIEF FOUNDATION
A FRACTURED HISTORY
Kamerun became a German colony in the late 1800s, following a history of slave-trade initially run by the Portuguese and later taken over by the Dutch. French and British troops then forced the Germans to leave after World War I.
In 1919, the country was divided into 80% French, and 20% British zones. The British territory was separated into Northern and Southern Cameroons. In 1960, French Cameroon became the independent Republic of Cameroon (La Republique du Cameroun). The following year, part of the British territory joined Nigeria, and the rest was annexed to the Republic of Cameroon.
Following a referendum in 1972, the Republic of Cameroon, which now had both Francophone and Anglophone citizens, was re-named the United Republic of Cameroon, alluding to French and English sides coming together.
In 1982, the current president, Paul Biya entered into power, following many years of having worked in government. He decided to change the country's name back to the Republic of Cameroon (La Republique du Cameroun) - the name that was used exclusively for the French side in the 60s. A strong feeling of "not belonging" started to brew on the Anglophone side.
Clashes between Nigeria and La Republique erupted in the 90s over oil. By 1998, Cameroon was named the "most corrupt country in the world' by Transparency International. By the turn of the millenium, tensions between the French government and Anglophone separatists led to three deaths and various arrests. By 2007, unrest with Nigeria resulted in nearly two dozen deaths.
In 2008, the constitution was amended to allow President Biya to run for a third term. A few years later, invasions by Boko Haram took place and troops were deployed to counter the on-going threat.
THE ANGLOPHONE CRISIS
A 'slow boil' approach, where English teachers started to be replaced by French-speakers to impose the French language in schools took place. French magistrates were being sent to operate in the Anglophones' common law judicial system. By 2016, Anglophone teachers and lawyers protested against this. Violence erupted when military officers were sent to quash the uprising, and many were imprisoned. In 2017, separatists declared autonomy over Anglophone Cameroon. More than half a million people were forced to leave home due to the on-going unrest. In 2018, Paul Biya won a seventh term with an election surrounded by claims of fraud, corruption and voter intimidation.
Government security forces have resorted to the burning of villages, killing of civilians, various forms of torture, and prisoner abuses. For more on this, read PRISONERS. Armed separatist groups have also taken up arms, killed, kidnapped and tortured civilians.
AMBAZONIA & THE 'NERA 10'
Decades-long frustration on the Anglophone side (South-West and North-West Cameroons) had already led to a strong desire to become an independent nation called Ambazonia, referencing Ambas Bay, located in South-West Cameroon. Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, leader of Ambazonia, along with ten other separatists commonly referred to as the "Nera 10" were abducted from the Nera Hotel in Nigeria in January 2018, deported back to Yaounde capital, and given life sentences by military court. Charges included complicity in terrorism, rebellion, fake news propagation, insurrection, and hostility against the state. Defence lawyers withdrew from the proceedings after accusing the judge of fabricating the charges and being biased. A fine of 250bn Central African CFA francs ($422m; £359m) was imposed on the Nera 10 for civil damages to the government.
JOURNEYS THROUGH THE JUNGLE
The Anglophone Crisis taking place in Southern Cameroon is one of the most neglected conflicts happening in the world today. Hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the cross-fire between the Francophone military forces and the Anglophone separatists have become refugees and asylum seekers. Moving from one country to the next, they often spend months in the jungle, never able to settle or find 'home'.
Many separatists view the current situation as an inter-generational plight that has forced them to pick up arms. "When we started, our fathers had been fighting using diplomacy, but there came a point where [...] if you're pushed to a river to drown, you pick up guns to survive. I decided to fight back with guns."
"You have to have that scar"
"If you just pick a gun without preparation, that psychological effect, the impact is there. It's not easy to carry that burden but I cannot stand to see armies burning our houses, our villages, burning our people alive... If they knew this was part of their blood, they would not commit these atrocities."
PLANNING AN ESCAPE
Those who have managed to escape, have encountered a life of displacement. Never belonging to any given country, they bounce between many, risking their lives, living in precarious conditions for months at a time, and facing extreme poverty. With their remaining family always at risk, and hardly ever in contact, they face a prison in their own way. "Throughout this journey through Ghana and Tanzania, I had to spend days on the street, sleeping in hotel lobbies. I was completely out of touch. In Tanzania, I was even sleeping in front of UNHCR" - Asylum-seeker. Whether it be POWs in Cameroonian prisons treated like animals, or refugees and asylum-seekers desperate to make ends meet in some form of safety, the prison follows.