President Paul Biya has sent in the army to deter Anglophone secessionists from declaring their independence as massive protests break out. But this appears to have done little to weaken their resolve.
The Cameroon government has deployed thousands of troops to the anglophone northwest and southwest of the country in an attempt to stop separatist groups from declaring independence on October 1.
Authorities also announced temporary restrictions on travel into Nigeria in the wake of violent protests, sparked by ongoing complaints of economic and political discrimination and demands for more Anglophone rights in the predominately Francophone country.
But at the border locality of Ekok, at least 700 people are ignoring calls for peace by political leaders and civil society groups, and continue to hold demonstrations and attack government buildings while proudly hoisting what they call the flag of their new independent state, Ambazonia.
27-year-old Tambe Elias, who claims to be the head of the group, says they no longer recognize President Paul Biya as their leader.
“He is nobody and he will never mean anything to the Ambazonians. This is the border between southern Cameroon and Nigeria, at the frontier Ekok. You can see the flags, this is the border. Now they have closed the border, they don’t want us to cross to Nigeria, but we are already there. Biya must go.”
The demonstrators attempted to cross over to the Nigerian border state of Enugu, with whom they have strong cultural ties, in order to inform authorities that a new nation had been born, however Nigerian immigration police ultimately prevented them from doing so. So they returned to Ekok, loudly singing their new national anthem while hoisting their blue and white flag and chasing away any Cameroon government workers who crossed their path.
A looming crisis
Despite the setbacks, the separatists have vowed to secede from Cameroon on October 1 – at least symbolically – and have appointed the exiled Julius Ayuk Tabe as their interim leader.
In response, the Cameroonian government has deployed troops to major towns in the country’s English-speaking region in an attempt to stop the demonstrations, although many separatists have simply relocated to smaller regions like Ekok where there is little to no military presence.
French-speaking Cameroonian, Debong Ignatius, is concerned that the military getting involved may only make matters worse. He spoke to DW about his own recent experience.
“Men in uniform and the police circled our neighborhoods, entered the various houses insisting that people should bring out any Ambazonian flags which they were hiding. But I do not think it is their duty to go harassing people at this precise moment because it can exacerbate the situation.”
Government ministers step in
Almost all English-speaking government ministers and senior state workers in the capital Yaounde have been sent home by President Biya with orders to convince people not to support the separatists.
Secretary of State in the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Technological Development, Fuh Calistus Gentry, told DW he plans to focus on speaking with his constituents about the dangers of believing in false hope.
“First of all this is a psychological war where people are frightened because some groups of people have taken their minds hostage. Secondly there is a false hope that is put into peoples’ minds. We have tried to assure people that the state will go to any extent to assure the fundamental rights of every person. We have also gone out to detoxify the minds of people which is built around false hope.”
Schools remain shut
Schools have been closed in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions since November 2016, when lawyers and teachers called for a strike against what they believe is the overuse of the French language.
Many of those involved in the strike were arrested, with pressure groups calling for their immediate and unconditional release. Fifty-five of the 75 protesters were released and charges were dropped, with observers viewing this as a significant concession to the strikers’ demands.
But with separatists now calling for complete independence from Cameroon, President Biya has made it clear that he is not open to any form of negotiation over the issue, saying the country will remain indivisible.