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Amine Sahli, Nancy Lattimer, AFRICOM

Rohan Rajesh, Editor; Demetrios Giannakaris, Senior Editor

September 27, 2022

Aftermath of separatist violence in Southwest Region, Cameroon[1]

Geographical Area | Central Africa

Countries Affected | Cameroon

On September 13, the Cameroonian government rejected Swiss mediation to resolve the Anglophone Crisis in favor of continued military operations against Anglophone militant separatists.[2] Violence between the Cameroonian Armed Forces (FAC) and separatist groups erupted in 2017; Switzerland agreed to mediate peace talks in 2019.[3] Anglophone separatists in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions seek to establish a new country, Ambazonia, from Francophone Cameroon.[4] Violence between militant separatist groups and the FAC escalated in 2022, and both sides have committed human rights abuses.[5] Separatist groups have attacked churches,[6] schools, and healthcare facilities,[7] while separatist lockdowns, designed to prevent Francophone assimilation of Anglophone students, have hindered the humanitarian response to the region.[8] The Cameroonian government’s decision to continue its military response will very likely prolong the crisis. Fighting and poor access to healthcare will almost certainly result in military, separatist, and civilian deaths, and military forces and separatists will very likely continue committing human rights abuses.

Security Risk Level:

Areas of High Security Concern: Fighting between separatist groups and the FAC will very likely continue at pace or increase after Cameroon’s rejection of Swiss-mediated peace talks. Limited access to Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions will very likely disrupt humanitarian organizations’ efforts to provide healthcare and food assistance to civilians, almost certainly leading to civilian deaths. Violence will likely lead to additional internally displaced people (IDPs) and more refugees fleeing to neighboring Nigeria. Separatist groups will very likely continue attacking perceived symbols of Francophone Cameroonians’ marginalization of Anglophones, including schools, churches, and healthcare facilities, very likely kidnapping and killing civilians. The FAC will almost certainly continue its crackdown on separatist groups, likely conducting arbitrary arrests and committing extrajudicial killings. The FAC will likely attack Anglophone villages, very likely destroying property and committing war crimes.

Current Claims: Cameroon; Interim Government of Ambazonia; Switzerland; Nigeria; United States; European Union; Russia; humanitarian organizations

Groups Involved in Conflict: the FAC; Ambazonia Defense Force (ADF); Ambazonian militia groups; Cameroonian civilians

Current Conflicts: Since 2016, The Anglophone regions of Cameroon, where 20% of the population resides, have been actively protesting against a perceived systemic marginalization,[9] which the Francophone government repressed violently,[10] leading to the rise of several armed secessionist groups.[11] By 2019, the separatist groups’ arsenal became sophisticated enough to inflict heavy losses on Cameroon’s security forces.[12] Separatist groups, who seek to establish dominance in Anglophone regions, have been increasingly active in 2022, declaring lockdowns and targeting civilians and institutions refusing to obey them with little accountability from authorities or their own leaders.[13]

Major Capital Industries: Mining industry; hydrocarbon industry; agriculture sector; education sector; humanitarian sector; the Roman Catholic Church

Potential Industry Concerns: Fighting in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions will likely threaten mining, oil drilling, and agricultural operations’ continuity and worker safety. Separatist group lockdowns and damaged infrastructure will very likely force intermittent work stoppages, almost certainly resulting in reduced production and revenue. Militant separatists are likely to attack FAC-guarded oil fields in the Southwest Region and attack workers at State-controlled rubber, banana, cocoa, and palm plantations, seeing these as extensions of Cameroon’s central government. Separatist group lockdowns will very likely hinder humanitarian groups’ efforts, and there is a roughly even chance that these groups will reduce operations due to safety concerns. Separatist groups will very likely continue targeting schools and churches, very likely leading to civilian casualties and abductions of students, educators, worshippers, and clergy. Many regional schools will very likely remain closed to avoid being targets of separatist violence, almost certainly limiting students’ opportunities for education, preventing some students from entering university, and limiting their future prospects.

Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: The prolonged conflict risks increasing geopolitical tension. The USA and EU provide military assistance to Cameroon[14] but have expressed concerns over Cameroon’s human rights abuses.[15] Cameroon and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement this year, despite the Western condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[16] Nigeria and Cameroon cooperate in providing security along their shared border, but Nigerian separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the ADF allied last year.[17]

  • Political: The assimilationist policies of Paul Biya, who has been Cameroon’s authoritarian president since 1982,[18] are partly responsible for separatist unrest in Cameroon.[19] In 2020, the ruling party swept Cameroon’s regional elections, and President Biya attempted to quell conflict through decentralization,[20] while the Social Democratic Front (SDF), supported by the Anglophone minority, boycotted the elections.[21] The separatist conflict in Cameroon is rooted in the perceived Francophone marginalization of the minority Anglophone community, particularly following protests against the appointment of French-speaking officials to top positions in English-speaking regions in 2016.[22] In 2017, Anglophone Cameroonians called for secession[23] before separatist groups unilaterally declared independence from Cameroon to form the Interim Government of Ambazonia.[24] The Ambazonian movement was not unified,[25] as the leadership crises caused internal conflicts and hindered peace talks with the Cameroonian government.[26]

  • Military: Cameroon security forces, notably the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR), are involved in a two-front insurgency to counter Islamist extremism[27] and Ambazonian separatism.[28] Human rights organizations have reported several cases of human rights abuses by Cameroon’s security forces, including extrajudicial killings[29] and acts of arson to terrorize Anglophone communities.[30] The Ambazonian independence movement is comprised of decentralized armed groups with different allegiances, including the ADF, which was formed in 2017 by the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC).[31] Human rights organizations also accused separatist groups of human rights abuses, including unlawful civilian and combatant killings[32] and kidnappings.[33] Boko Haram has been present on Cameroon soil since 2011, first attacking in 2014,[34] and has been waging an insurgency in the Far North Region ever since.[35] The EU and the USA provide financial and technical support to the African Union’s (AU) Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to combat Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin, including in Cameroon,[36] and the USA provided military training to the BIR.[37]

  • Economic: Cameroon’s GDP growth fell from 5.8% in 2015 to 3.9% in 2019, indicating that the separatist conflict was partly responsible for the economic recession.[38] Biya ordered an Internet shutdown in Anglophone regions in 2017 that lasted 230 days,[39] leading to an $846 million loss of revenue.[40] Restrictions of movement, lockdowns, and checkpoints imposed by security services and separatist groups hindered the local economy by restricting the flow of goods and services.[41] The illegal arms trade is a sector of the economy that benefited from the conflict, especially in the Anglophone regions.[42]

  • Social: Cameroon’s Anglophone society is at risk of continued violence and disruption. Over 80% of the Northwest and Southwest Regions’ schools are indefinitely closed, and the FAC has set fire to Anglophone villages.[43] Militant separatists have attacked religious institutions because they believe the Catholic Church collaborates with the Cameroonian government.[44] The separatist conflict exacerbated ethnic tensions between nomadic and sedentary communities in the Anglophone regions, with Anglophone communities accusing nomadic groups of cooperating with the Cameroon government to justify the attacks.[45] In June 2022, a land dispute between the Oliti and the Messaga Ekol ethnic groups led to the deaths of 30 people,[46] and ethnic-based hate speech on social media has driven ethnic conflict, compounding Cameroon’s broader security issues.[47]

  • Emergency Management: Humanitarian organizations estimate that 3.9 million people need humanitarian aid across Cameroon, including 2 million displaced internally or as refugees in neighboring countries.[48] As of May 2022, 2.9 million people were facing acute food insecurity exacerbated by the security situation, climate change, and rising prices.[49] Humanitarian organizations face difficulties operating in Cameroon, including government accusations of supporting separatist groups[50] and arbitrary arrests.[51]

  • Health: Medical facilities in Anglophone regions are at risk of separatist attacks, which have already forced 34% of them to close indefinitely.[52] IDPs are at higher risk of disease due to unsanitary living conditions and lack of access to healthcare facilities.[53] In December 2020, the Cameroonian government accused Doctors Without Borders (MSF) of aiding separatists and suspended MSF activities, causing the organization to leave many in the Anglophone region without medical care.[54]

Predictive Analysis:

  • Who: The ADF and splinter separatist groups will very likely continue attacks against the FAC and civilians in Cameroon’s anglophone regions. The Cameroon government will very likely proceed with its military response to the insurgency. Non-combatants, including clergymen, civilians, business owners, and healthcare and education workers, will almost certainly suffer attacks from separatists and FAC alike. The USA and EU are likely to limit financial support for Cameroon’s military operations, and there is a roughly even chance that Russia will sell military equipment to Cameroon.

  • What: Separatist groups will very likely intensify their insurgency, very likely leveraging their knowledge of the area and their local networks to conduct disparate attacks in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. Separatist groups will very likely continue to enforce lockdowns and will very likely punish citizens who refuse to comply, almost certainly hurting the local economy and worsening the humanitarian situation. The FAC will very likely intensify their counterinsurgency campaign, very likely conducting arbitrary arrests and attacks against Anglophones indiscriminately. The FAC will very likely carry out retaliation campaigns and commit further acts of sexual violence against civilians.

  • Why: The failure of Swiss mediation will very likely encourage separatist groups to continue the insurgency, almost certainly to pressure the government into leaving the Anglophone regions. The Cameroonian preference for a military response to the conflict will very likely lead to an intensification of the military campaign against insurgents, very likely to bring the Northwest and Southwest Regions under central control. The FAC will very likely target non-combatants to discourage support for separatists. Continued human rights concerns will likely reduce US and EU military aid, but they are very unlikely to affect Russia’s military cooperation agreement with Cameroon.

  • When: The violence will continue at pace or worsen in the immediate aftermath of the rejected mediation attempts. Attacks will very likely increase over the next few months unless both parties agree to initiate peace talks. Without international intervention, the Ambazonia separatist conflict is very unlikely to be resolved in the near future..

  • How: The decentralized nature of the separatist movement will likely lead to uncoordinated attacks against the FAC and non-combatants in the Anglophone regions, as splinter groups are unlikely to respect the Interim Government of Ambazonia’s directives. Separatist group attacks will likely include hit-and-run operations against military targets, kidnapping and extortion against non-combatants, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The ISWAP and Boko Haram insurgency in the Far North Region will almost certainly continue to require significant military resources, very likely leaving the Anglophone regions vulnerable to separatist attacks.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends that civilians in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions monitor the media for reports of regional violence and be vigilant against FAC or separatist attacks, especially while visiting schools, churches, and healthcare facilities.The FAC should prepare for potential terrorist attacks by strengthening its intelligence collection capabilities without resorting to human rights abuses to extract information from civilians. The FAC should refrain from retaliating against non-combatants to avoid unintentionally strengthening separatist recruitment. The Cameroonian government should provide extra security to humanitarian organizations operating in risk areas to ensure aid is delivered to people in need. The Cameroonian government should reengage Switzerland to mediate the conflict and cooperate with international investigations into human rights violations. CTG’s AFRICOM Team will continue to analyze Cameroon’s security situation and provide warnings of identified threats. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Team will monitor events in Cameroon to provide early warnings of violent events or hazards in the country.


[2] Regional Overview: Africa 10-16 September 2022, The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, September 2022,

[3] Swiss government to mediate Cameroon peace talks, Reuters, June 2019,

[4] Cameroon, Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, September 2022,

[5] Ibid

[6] Cameroon Says Separatists Are Keeping 8 Abducted Clergy and Christians on Nigerian Border, Voice of America, September 2022,

[7] Cameroon: Situation Report, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 2022,

[8] “They Are Destroying Our Future”: Armed Separatist Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Cameroon’s Anglophone Region, Human Rights Watch, December 2021,

[9] Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis at the Crossroads, Crisis Group, August 2017,

[10] Rights groups call for probe into protesters’ deaths in Cameroon, CNN, December 2016,

[11] BREAKING NEWS: Explosions in Bamenda and Killings in Besongabang Military Base, ADF Claims Responsibility, Daily News Cameroon, September 2017,

[12] Death by a thousand cuts: Cameroon struggles in fight against separatists, African Arguments, August 2021,

[13] Cameroon: Separatist Abuses in Anglophone Regions, Human Rights Watch, June 2022,

[14] Cameroon: Boko Haram Attacks Escalate in Far North, Relief Web, April 2021,

[15] Cameroon’s human rights record questions by UN, EU and US, Africa News, March 2019,

[16] Cameroon signs Russian military deal, Africa News, April 2022,

[17] Why separatists in Cameroon and Nigeria have united, BBC, October 2021,

[18] Cameroon presidential elections: Biya's record in multi-party era, Africa News, September 2018,

[19] Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis at the Crossroads, Crisis Group, August 2017,

[20] Paul Biya Is Offering Cameroon’s Anglophones Too Little, Too Late, Foreign Policy, November 2020,

[21] Régionales au Cameroun : les premières leçons d’un scrutin inédit, Jeune Afrique, December 2020,

[22] Bamenda protests: Mass arrests in Cameroon, BBC, November 2016,

[23] English speakers protest in Cameroon, demand equal rights amid calls for secession, DW, September 2017,

[24] Who are Cameroon's self-named Ambazonia secessionists?, DW, September 2019,

[25] Detained Sisiku Auk Tabe Dissolves Interim Government As Infighting Bedevils ‘Ambazonia’, The National Times, May 2019,

[26] Cameroon: Anglophone secessionists split on Swiss mediation, The Africa Report, July 2019,

[27] Avec les troupes d’élite camerounaises face à Boko Haram, Paris Match, April 2016, (translated Amine Sahli)

[28] Cameroon’s Military Frees Senator, Other Separatist Hostages, Voice of America, May 2022,

[29] Cameroon: New Attacks on Civilians By Troops, Separatists, Human Rights Watch, March 2019,

[30] DIVIDED BY LANGUAGE Cameroon's crackdown on its English-speaking minority is fueling support for a secessionist movement, The Washington Post, February 2019,

[31] Cameroon: I spent a week embedded with Anglophone armed separatists, RFI, June 2018,

[32] Cameroon: Horrific violence escalates further in Anglophone regions, Amnesty International, September 2018,

[33] Cameroon school kidnap: More than 70 pupils seized in Bamenda, BBC, November 2018,

[34] Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram, Crisis Group, November 2016,

[35] Cameroon Deploys Hundreds of Troops to Protect 40,000 People Displaced by Boko Haram, Voice of America, June 2022,

[36] Cameroon: Boko Haram Attacks Escalate in Far North, Relief Web, April 2021,

[37] Cameroon: Africa’s Unseen Crisis, Foreign Policy Research Institute, May 2022,

[38] IMF Staff Completes Review Mission to Cameroon, IMF, November 2019,

[39] This documentary tells the story of Africa’s longest internet shutdown, Quartz Africa, August 2018,

[40] The ramification of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis: conceptual analysis of a looming “Complex Disaster Emergency”, Journal of Humanitarian Action, January 2022,

[41] Ibid

[42] Cameroon alone can’t stop illicit arms flooding into the country, Institute for Security Studies, August 2021,

[43] Cameroon, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, September 2022,

[44] Cameroon Says Separatists Are Keeping 8 Abducted Clergy and Christians on Nigerian Border, Voice of America, September 2022,

[45] Ethnic Clashes in Cameroon Aren’t About Religion, Foreign Policy, May 2022,

[46] More than 30 die in ethnic violence in Cameroon, News24, June 2022,

[47] Social Media a Major Factor in Cameroon’s Domestic Tensions, Report Finds, Voice of America, December 2020,

[49] Ibid

[50] Doctors Without Borders unequivocally rejects allegations of support for armed groups in Cameroon, Doctors without Borders, July 2021,

[51] MSF statement on closure of operations in South-West Cameroon, Relief Web, July 2022,

[52] Violence and obstruction: Cameroon’s deepening aid crisis, The New Humanitarian, March 2020,

[53] The ramification of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis: conceptual analysis of a looming “Complex Disaster Emergency”, Journal of Humanitarian Action, January 2022,

[54] World Report 2022: Cameroon, Human Rights Watch, 2022,


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