26, August 2019
The separatist crisis in Cameroon deepened this week after a military tribunal handed down life sentences to the separatist movement’s leader and nine of his followers. As observers warned that the sentences would make it harder to bring the two-year conflict to an end, separatist militias launched reprisal attacks that killed at least two people and forced dozens more to flee their homes.
The conflict has its roots in concerns within Cameroon’s minority English-speaking population that they have been historically marginalized by the French-speaking majority. A 2016 strike in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions culminated in a declaration of autonomy in October 2017. The situation rapidly deteriorated from there.
As Robbie Corey-Boulet detailed in an April briefing for WPR, long-time President Paul Biya responded to the declaration with a brutal state crackdown, with security forces killing civilians, sexually assaulting women, and burning and looting homes. The separatists in turn have reacted with a campaign of kidnappings and assaults. Hundreds of people have died and more than 500,000 have been displaced in the past two years.
The sentencing this week of separatist leader Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and his followers further undermines any opening for dialogue between the two sides. The 10 separatists were arrested in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, last year and deported to Cameroon, where they faced charges of rebellion and complicity in terrorism, among others. In addition to the life sentences, they were ordered to pay a fine of $50 million.
Few domestic observers agreed with the assessment of government officials, who said the sentencings would not halt efforts to start a dialogue. Prince Ekosso, an opposition leader, told Voice of America, “The decision would intensify tension in the North-West and the South-West. It would intensify killings and it would intensify the destruction of properties.”
Source: World Politics Review