Biya ignoring Boko Haram, regime using foreign counterterrorism aid to fund the brutal Southern Cameroons war
Paul Biya’s regime is ignoring the battle against Boko Haram and the Islamic State and using foreign counterterrorism assistance to fund its brutal repression of citizens with legitimate grievances.
Cameroon was once thought to be an island of stability in a sea of instability, but that mirage started to crumble in 2016, as President Paul Biya mishandled what many in the outside world call the “Anglophone Crisis,” but what to many Cameroonians (English and French speakers alike) is just further evidence of the lack of political freedom, accountability, and competence that has plagued the country since 1961.
For the second year in a row, the Norwegian Refugee Council selected Cameroon as the most neglected displacement crisis in the world. More than 1 million Cameroonians have been displaced internally, tens of thousands have fled to Nigeria, and thousands more from other countries have escaped to Cameroon to flee Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), or violence in the Central African Republic.
Both the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide report that Cameroon is at risk for mass atrocities and urgent action is needed. Since the beginning of 2020, violence has surged both in the Anglophone Southwest and Northwest regions and in the Far North region, where Boko Haram and ISWAP are resurgent.
The Cameroonian government has conflated the Far North jihadist threat with the Anglophone crisis in an effort to maintain the flow of international support. The Cameroonian government has conflated the Far North jihadist threat with the Anglophone crisis in an effort to maintain the flow of international support. At the U.N. General Assembly in September, Cameroonian Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella asked for increased international cooperation in support of the country’s ongoing struggle against “terrorism.” His belabored attention to “multilateralism,” however, belied Cameroon’s usual intemperate reaction to any international comment about its internal politics, economic policies, or conduct of its military operations.
Cameroon does all it can to reduce the international consequences of its failed militarization strategy against legitimate grievances in its Anglophone regions. Rather than seeking peace through political compromise and better governance, the regime confuses the international community by describing the crisis as a two-front war against “terrorists” and “criminals.”
After two years of painstaking research using GIS tools and open-source data analysis, we have drawn the conclusion that Cameroon’s military operations against Anglophones in the Southwest and Northwest regions have noticeably weakened Cameroon’s efforts against Boko Haram and ISWAP, leading to broader regional insecurity.
Since 2019, Boko Haram and ISWAP have conducted larger-scale operations again, attacking Nigerian, Cameroonian, Nigerien and Chadian military targets and inflicting heavy casualties on soldiers and civilians alike. In late September, Nigeria’s Bornu state governor’s convoy was attacked twice in two days not far from the Cameroon border. But the Cameroonian regime is willing to ignore Islamist resurgence around Lake Chad because it perceives the Anglophone crisis as a bigger threat to its tight grip on power. And, unfortunately, it is confident the international community will again ride to the rescue if the situation appears out of control. Call it the moral-hazard problem of the global war on terrorism.
Culled from Foreign Policy