Cameroon’s conflict with English-speaking separatists has been rated by the Norwegian Refugee Council as the most-neglected crises in the world for the second year running.
Exactly one year ago, Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee said there have been “no systematic mediation efforts, no large relief programme, little media interest and too little pressure on the parties to stop attacking civilians. This conflict, like many on the African continent, has roots in European interference and risks garnering little attention until the worst happen.”
Like Jan so predicted, mounting violence, political paralysis and an aid funding vacuum contributed to Cameroon topping the list of the world’s most neglected crises for a second year running.
Three separate crises continued to pound Cameroon in 2019: an exacerbation of Boko Haram attacks in the Far North region, a political crisis in the North-West and South-West regions, and a refugee crisis in the eastern part of the country, NRC says.
The Far North became a hotbed of hostilities due to conflict between the armed group Boko Haram and government forces. The former carried out over 100 attacks in the region over the course of the year, killing more than 100 civilians. By the end of 2019, close to half a million people had been forced to flee.
Violence increased hunger levels, wiped out livelihoods and destroyed infrastructure.
Tensions in the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions turned violent in 2017, spawning a humanitarian emergency which intensified during 2019.
Government forces carried out large-scale offensives and armed groups retaliated. Civilians were trapped in the middle. Over 3,000 people have been killed in the violence since the crisis began in 2016. Unlawful killings, torture and razing of villages were widely reported by human rights groups.
The crisis has displaced nearly 700,000 people within the country since it began, while another 52,000 have fled to neighbouring Nigeria for safety, NRC figures suggest. The North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon were already suffering from poverty prior to the crisis, and 80 per cent of all health and education services were not functioning.
A national dialogue was held to address the crisis in September 2019, resulting in the regions being given a special status, and hundreds of political prisoners being released.
A total of 280,000 refugees had fled to Cameroon from the Central African Republic by the end of 2019. A tripartite agreement between the two countries and the UN Refugee Agency set up in June only succeeded in assisting about 3,000 people to return home by the end of the year. Prospects for large-scale return looked unlikely entering into 2020.
Despite Cameroon struggling to respond to three separate crises, it rarely made the headlines, garnering little international media attention. Reporters Without Borders ranked it 134th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, and reported frequent arbitrary detention and prosecution of journalists. Few international journalists gained access to the conflict areas. This likely contributed to the lack of media coverage of the country.
Cameroon was also one of the lowest funded international humanitarian appeals in the world, with donors showing little appetite to help the struggling African nation. Only 43 per cent of the appeal had been funded by the end of the year.
2019 was another year devoid of successful mediation and saw little pressure on conflict parties to stop attacking civilians.
The first quarter of 2020 failed to see the violence ease, with armed group attacks forcing close to 8,000 people to flee the Far North in March and April alone.
Mimi Mefo Info