Cameroon's Crisis: Inside the Language Bloody War

Ambazonia, Cameroon — The road to Cameroon’s breakaway region of Ambazonia is a long and arduous trek along a dirt trail from the mist-covered highlands on the border with Nigeria, winding down through steep rainforest hillsides, fast-flowing rivers, and across a bridge woven from jungle creepers that dangles over a rocky torrent.

Before the war broke out two years ago, these remote forested borderlands were part of a national park maintained with aid funding from the German government. 

Now, they’re the heartland of an insurgency fighting an increasingly brutal and bloody war to carve out an independent state from President Paul Biya’s repressive control. Ordinary cocoa farmers are now willing to fight and die to preserve their English-language culture and institutions.

“This track that you are seeing here like this is only because of the military that is killing civilians,” claimed "Raphael," a 29-year-old cocoa trader turned commander in the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), the outgunned and chaotically organized militia group fighting for the Anglophone region’s independence. 
Cameroon Crisis 

“The military are blocking all the good roads. They kill everyone from 13 years to 50 years old,” said Raphael. “That is why we are using hunting roads that our foreparents were using to go to the forest and hunt.”

The total lack of infrastructure in this part of Cameroon, perceived by Ambazonians as neglect by the French-speaking central government, is one of the main drivers of the insurgency. 

Yet at the same time, the general inaccessibility of this region preserves a fragile independence for these fighters and the local communities they recruit from — at least in rainy season. Wherever there are paved roads and towns, Biya’s forces are in total control, conducting a scorched-earth counterinsurgency campaign to put down the runaway region. 

International human rights organizations warn that the government’s heavy-handed response amounts to crimes against humanity.

The origins of this bitter conflict go back to World War I, when French and British troops invaded the then–German colony of Kamerun, dividing the region between themselves in a compact later formalized by the Versailles Peace Conference. 

Britain secured the border regions flanking its then colony of Nigeria, naming them the British Cameroons, while France assumed the mandate for the rest of the country. For the 50 years of colonial rule before independence, English became the dominant language of trade, education, and administration in what would become Ambazonia, while French was imposed on the rest of the region. 

In 1961, the inhabitants of the southern British Cameroons made the fateful decision to vote to rejoin their French-speaking neighbors in the new state of Cameroon, unlike their neighbors in the northern British Cameroons, who voted to join Nigeria.

“The military are blocking all the good roads. They kill everyone from 13 years to 50 years old.”

In the decades since then, according to Ambazonian activists, discrimination by the French-speaking majority and the suppression of the region’s British-derived educational and legal institutions finally crested in 2016, when the Cameroonian government responded to peaceful protests with a violent crackdown that soon transformed into oppressive military rule.

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