Human Cost of the Crisis in Cameroon

Over 2,000 people have lost their lives in the ongoing crisis in Cameroon. Hundreds of thousands are displaced while about 30,000 have crossed the southern border into Nigeria. Unfortunately, Nigeria has its own Internally Displaced Persons problem to deal with and might not have the capacity to accommodate the influx from Cameroon. These migrants are already exposed to challenges including unemployment, food security and access to medical facilities in both countries. But Nigeria can still be of help; It should ensure that refugees who are already in distress are given the adequate support they seek.

Thousands of people from the Anglophone areas of Cameroon have had to flee over the border to Nigeria. — Sky News

The Roots

The problem in Cameroon started in 2016 with demonstrations that turned violent. Anglophone lawyers, students, and teachers had protested their marginalization by the francophone majority government. 

In Cameroon, though, most official documents are only available in French, and judges, administrators and teachers with little understanding of English are often sent to work in English-speaking regions. If all documents—like the constitution—and laws are written in French, the English speaking population will not feel inclusive. The anglophones constitute 20 percent of Cameroon’s population and the constitution clearly recognized the fact that both English and French were inherited from colonial times, hence the need for a balance. 

Anglophones have felt like second-class citizens in their own country, they have been kept out of jobs and opportunities at better education. They are also hardly in any high ranking political office. For decades, this marginalization has made it almost impossible for anglophones to consider themselves equal citizens in their own country. 

According to the United Nations, some 530,000 people have fled their homes with over 1.3 million in urgent need of assistance. Those that fled to Nigeria are hosted by local communities in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Benue, and Taraba states. 

But as these refugees struggle to access food, health care, education, and water, they still have to endure temperatures that are easily over 100 degrees Fahrenheit without proper shelter. There are also reports of the violation of refugees’ rights with cases of sexual assault and abduction into gangs. 

Nigeria to the Rescue?

According to a report by the Population Reference Bureau, Nigeria is gradually becoming overpopulated. It is listed among the 9 countries that will account for half of the world’s population growth—from 7.6 billion in 2017 to 9.8 billion—by 2050. As at the end of 2018, the population of Nigeria was 200 million. But with the continuous inflow of refugees who will also multiply through childbirth in the next few years if the crisis in Cameroon persisted, Nigeria could have some serious demographic problem to address including security and others mentioned earlier.  For years now, the geographical border between Nigeria and Cameroon has been porous and that has given rise to insecurity in both countries. These are two potentially serious problems. 

Whereas, this can all go away if the government of Paul Biya commits to doing the right thing. It must realize that the solution to the country’s crisis lies within; It is more about accommodating diversity. Official bilingualism, which is the language policy in Cameroon has provided more job opportunities for citizens who speak either language or both, especially for those that leave the country afterward. Bilingualism is an asset for any serious country, not a reason to instigate a humanitarian crisis. 

Oluwaponmile Orija is a Writing Fellow at African Liberty and a graduate of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. She can be reached on Twitter via @BrownySaysblog.

Photo Credit: Frederik Schweiger