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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Westerners in Cameroon

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Cameroon Facts
Area:    475,442 sq. km.
Capital:    Yaounde
Total Population:    15,029,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The condition of Westerners in Cameroon is unclear as the major Anglophone demand is to return to the 1972 federal political structure, thereby obtaining substantial autonomy from the dominant Francophone political culture. In the meantime, Francophones fear that all Anglophones are seeking eventual independence. As a result of the increased oppositional mobilization, Biya has endorsed the concept of decentralization, but has not yet considered a return to a federal structure. However, Biya has conceded the autonomy of Anglophone education and a potential signal for the future may lie in Biya’s appointment of an Anglophone as prime minister. Although the Prime Minister is Anglophone, his appointment has done little to address the political discrimination Westerners face in Cameroon. If militants in the opposition can be restrained by continuing political concessions, the likelihood of violent rebellion is probably small despite the fact that Westerners face several risk factors such as recent repression, consistent past protest and discrimination. However, if the conventional SDF and its leader Fru Ndi continue to face repression, this will cause extreme tensions between the Anglophones, who are trying to achieve reform through the system, and the ruling Francophones. In short, Anglophones are continuing to protest until much of their demands are met; Biya’s counter-actions will prove whether nonviolent means (combined with threats of secession and rebellion) will be continued in expressing Anglophone grievances, or if more militant means will eventually be sought.


Analytic Summary

Established as a confederation between former French and British territories, Cameroon was later consolidated under a strong executive during the term of President Ahidjo (1958-82). Ahidjo (a Fulani from the the north) favored the northern minority by recruiting them for the civil service and security forces. Still, the Bassas remained prominent in the civil service and the Bamilekes maintained their dominance in the trading sectors. Paul Biya, a southerner of the Boulou tribe and party rival of Ahidjo, came to power in 1982 promising more freedom, fairer policies, and competent government. He gained much support from the Christian peoples of the South, including the Bulus (Boulou), Betis, and Bassas, and from the Bamilekes in south-western Cameroon.

Westerners in Cameroon represent one-fifth of the total population and are English-speaking Christians (GROUPCON = 3; LANG = 1; BELIEF = 1). With the consolidation of power in President Biya's hands since 1982, and the resulting increase in southern Francophone power, major cleavages have developed between the state's dominant Francophone population and the highly mobilized and politically active Anglophone West. Anglophones have blamed Biya for worsening social conditions and the increased feeling of second-class citizenship within the country. In addition, Anglophones have complained about linguistic discrimination and the brutality of security forces who "occupy" the region (CULPO206= 2; CULGR06 = 1).

Conventionally, the Western Anglophone community has sought political reform through the support of John Fru Ndi and the formation of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the main opposition party in Cameroon that boycotted recent elections with concerns of voter fraud (GOJPA06 = 3). Yet, English-speaking advocacy political parties are essentially barred from the system, because the SDF has no real opportunity for power (POLDIS06 = 4). They also do not have equal access to military and civil service jobs because they are required to pass exams that are written in French. The President appoints all Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and directly appoints the governors of each of the 10 provinces. The governors wield considerable power in the electoral process, interpreting the laws and determining how these should be implemented. The President also has the power to appoint important lower level members of the 58 provincial administrative structures, including the senior divisional officers, the divisional officers, and the district chiefs. Some experts have noted a shift in support away from the SDF towards more separatist organizations because of frustration with political realities in Cameroon, shifts that have not been reversed by the appointment of a Westerner Prime Minister.

Arrests and beatings of government opponents such as pro-Anglophone radio managers are commonplace (REPNVIOL04 = 4), and security forces been deployed in large numbers after secessionist demonstrations and protests occur in Cameroon's English-speaking South-West Province (PROT01-03 = 3; PROT05-06 = 3; REB06 = 0). In 2005 and 2006, police shot and killed student protesters (REPNVIOL05-06 = 5). Although the SDF continues to try and work within the system, the smaller SCNC (formed in 1994) has pushed for complete independence of the southwest (POLGR06 = 4). The security force presence in the West intensified in 2001, as an April 2001 protest resulted in the deaths of three people and the arrest of more than 100; in reaction, the government imposed a ban on protests, implementing a curfew with hundreds of troops deployed to the area in October 2001. However, by the end of 2003, these conditions seem to have returned to pre-2001 levels. In 2004, following the death of John Khotem, a member of the SDF, a week-long protests is launched with an overall participation estimated at about 50,000 (PROT04 = 4). Additionally, while English-speaking Cameroon provides much of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Cameroon, it gets minimal returns in infrastructural and other developmental investment (ECDIS06 = 3).



Amnesty International. Various reports. 2001-2006.

Derrick, Jonathan 1992. "Cameroon: One Party, Many Parties, and the State." Africa Insight. 22:3.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events. 1990-2000.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Kofele-Kale, Ndiva. 1986. "Ethnicity, Regionalism, and Political Power: A Post-Mortrem of Ahidjo's Cameroon," in Michael Schatzberg and William Zartman eds. The Political Economy of Cameroon. New York: Prager Special Studies.

Minorities Rights Group. 1989. World Directory of Minorities, St. James International Reference. Chicago and London: St. James Press.

Murray, Jocelyn, ed. 1993. Cultural Atlas of Africa. New York: An Equinox Book

Takougang, Joseph. 1993. "The Demise of Biya's New Deal in Cameroon, 1982-1992." Africa Insight. 23:2.

US Department of State. 2004-2006. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cameroon.

Worlf, Hans-Georg. 1997. "Transcendence of Ethnic Boundaries: The Case of the Anglophones in Cameroon.” Journal of Sociolinguistics. 1:3. 419-426.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006