The central African nation of Cameroon does not often make international headlines. Governments within Africa and beyond have recognized Cameroon’s military efforts against Boko Haram, and the country has also been known for welcoming refugees from neighboring countries and for the peaceful coexistence among its hundreds of linguistic groups. But over the last few years, violence has engulfed the country’s Anglophone regions.
The United States has particularly important stakes in Cameroon. Following a decade of military cooperation with Cameroonian forces, Washington is obligated to ensure that assistance is not tantamount to complicity. With investment comes the responsibility and leverage to ease the extent of human suffering.
Tensions between Anglophone and Francophone populations in the Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions (NWSW) have been simmering since the 1970s. In late 2016, however, the government imposed Francophone teachers and lawyers in Anglophone schools and courts, prompting peaceful protests that were met with military action. This fueled existing separatist sentiment among the Anglophone population and led to the formation of several non-state armed groups.
Clashes between these armed groups and Cameroonian forces, as well as attacks on civilians, have forced more than half a million people into the NWSW’s dense forests, without proper shelter and little access to food and basic services. Separatist groups have enforced school boycotts since 2017, leaving a generation of children without education for three years.
Warring parties have tortured and killed civilians and burnt down hundreds of villages. Basic services have almost completely collapsed, and, coupled with insecurity, left 1.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the NW/SW alone—numbers the government of Cameroon staunchly denies.
Most efforts by interested political powers and typical humanitarian donors, such as Canada, Switzerland and the United States, are focused on finding a political solution to the conflict. But amidst these efforts, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate and remains largely ignored.
Such meager support signals that the United States is not concerned with civilian suffering in the NWSW. In addition, the United States has done little to encourage international donors to respond to the Anglophone crisis. So far, the emergency has only received nine percent of funds requested in a United Nations international appeal, rendering most humanitarian organizations incapable of effectively addressing the mounting needs.
At a time when none of the warring parties seem willing to talk, focusing efforts solely on dialogue is not only ineffective but irresponsible. The people of the NWSW require more than that. They require sustained engagement by the United States and other international powers to boost humanitarian aid until all parties are prepared to end the conflict, with the ultimate goal of facilitating the safe, voluntary, and dignified return to their homes. Washington has the resources to quickly and effectively respond to such pressing needs.