Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: Youth Is the Key to Peace

26 April 2021   ·   Achaleke Christian Leke

In the ongoing violent conflict in Cameroon, youth run crucial programs to build peace. In doing so, they face violence from separatist militia and government soldiers who misunderstand their role. Germany should increase its funding for youth-led initiatives, promote the inclusion of youth as key partners for peace and work to protect young Cameroonian peacebuilders.

Young people in Cameroon (defined as aged 15 to 35) still face exclusion and lack support in their efforts to contribute to peace in the country. Government, traditional, religious, and community leaders continue to see them as perpetrators of violence and victims rather than solution providers and key partners for peace. The UN Security Council resolution 2250 and other related resolutions assert that the most sustainable way to build peace is to recognise and invest in young people as equal partners in peace processes. To increase the chances of resolving the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, the government and development stakeholders such as Germany should make youth participation in peacebuilding and conflict resolution a priority.

Until the First World War, Kamerun was a German colony. After its independence from British and French rule in 1961, Cameroon was renowned for the absence of violent conflict. However, this changed in the 2010s, notably with a wave of violent conflict in 2016 starting the “Anglophone crisis”. The Anglophone population, which is based in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon and makes up 20 per cent of Cameroonians, has long held grievances against their lack of political representation and marginalisation from government services. The initially peaceful protests grew into a violent conflict as repressive government action and a military crackdown as well as internet cuts radicalised protesters. The escalation was completed when the Anglophones eventually declared the English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia.

The Anglophone Crisis Takes an Enormous Toll, Especially on Children and Youth

The Anglophone crisis has led to the internal displacement of over 705,000 people, while over 623,500 fled to Nigeria and over 3,000 people were killed. To enforce civil disobedience and fragilise the regions, secessionist armed groups placed a ban on education, which has resulted in the closure of over 80% of schools, affecting more than 600,000 children, with over 74 schools destroyed and hundreds of parents, students and teachers kidnapped. The Anglophone region, which used to be the melting pot of the country’s economy with one of the best educational output, known for its agricultural wealth, touristic attractions and minerals, has become inaccessible, causing a huge deficit on the Cameroonian economy and social life.

Cameroonian Youth Run Wide-Ranging Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution Initiatives

In responding to the crisis, the government’s hard hand and negotiations have not yet shown success in resolving the conflict. Instead, evidence uncovered from my work in the field highlights young people’s crucial role in promoting peace and restoring security in the region. Since the escalation of the Anglophone crisis, young people are leading peacebuilding efforts through civil society, student groups and faith-based movements. For example, Local Youth Corner Cameroon (LOYOC), a youth-led organisation, is working on providing training and capacity building activities to their peers to enable them as peace mediators. LOYOC provides a safe space for dialogue among young people to effectively engage them in the peace process and mobilises them into networks to effectively coordinate and channel youth efforts. The organisation NewSeta is working on promoting youth participation in governance and democracy. Young people have also focused on working with victims of the conflict, supporting their recovery and social reintegration. Other organisations, like Defy Hate Now, are building media and information literacy, sensitising their peers to combat hate speech and misinformation, which are driving the conflict. Similarly, young people engage in mapping the conflict and evidence-based research to properly understand the crisis and to develop early warning and response mechanisms.

Yet, many young peacebuilders are accused of being traitors, arrested, kidnapped or even killed by the separatist armed groups, with little to no attention given to the victims. They lack societal recognition, financial and technical support as well as protection by the national government and the international development partners, who are investing in humanitarian responses and provide military support to resolve this conflict. The challenges Cameroonian youth face stifle their possibilities of amplifying their efforts and developing new conflict responses. They need the collaboration and support of different stakeholders like the German government, especially considering its former colonisation of Cameroon.

International Actors Should Invest In the Training of Young Cameroonians

For youth to effectively design, implement, monitor, and evaluate their peacebuilding initiatives, they need project management skills, and increased capacities to act as facilitators in domains such as training, mediation, or dialogue. Many young Cameroonians have stated that their lack of skills in these areas is a key challenge in their peacebuilding work and fear that this affects their impact negatively. The German government and its development partners should increase their investments in projects which focus on building the skills and providing the tools for young people to effectively engage in peacebuilding, for instance through international training programs.

Germany Should Support the Protection of Young Peacebuilders

Young peacebuilders suffer from the violence and human right abuses committed against them due to their activities. The fear of being killed, harassed or captured by separatist forces substantially limits young Cameroonians’ ability to design and implement their peacebuilding initiatives. Germany should, thus, pressure the Cameroonian government and armed separatist groups to ensure the protection and fundamental rights of youth. Similarly, in situations when youth fall victim to kidnapping or arbitrary arrests by either the government or armed groups, the German embassy should support negotiations for their release as well as an accountability mechanism to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.

Donors Can Make Funding More Accessible For Youth-Led Peacebuilding Efforts

Over 60% of youth-led peacebuilding organisations worldwide operate under 10,000 USD per annum. Donors prefer to give large sums of money to bigger NGOs and INGOs over entrusting small resources to youth-led projects – although they are often the ones who penetrate through to local communities. Where donors do include young people in their funding opportunities, the procedures are lengthy and complex, discouraging youth from applying.

Donors like Germany should, therefore, both work on making their programs more accessible and support mentorship and training programs in organisational and financial management for youth-led organisations. Notably, the German government already contributes to the budget of GIZ’s Civil Peace Service which is funding peacebuilding projects in the Southwest and Northwest Regions as well as the Defy Hate Now campaign. Nevertheless, considering the important impact youth have on the resolution of the Anglophone crisis, German programs should scale-up their financial support of youth-led peacebuilding efforts in Cameroon.

Collaborative Planning Between Funders and Youth Activists Is Crucial

Where international partners collaborate with young people, they most often do so in a tokenistic and cursory way. They frequently consider young people only as beneficiaries of aid and hardly involve them in the design, monitoring, and evaluation of their interventions. Thereby, international actors marginalise a group that understands the realities of violent conflict and has been actively involved in its resolution. Young Cameroonians are decisive stakeholders and leading initiatives for peace with little or no support. Thus, beyond increasing their funding, the German government and other Germany-based development organisations like the GIZ should also ensure the active engagement of youth in all stages of peacebuilding programs in the Anglophone crisis. After all, around 80% of the Cameroonian population are children and youth, who will be decisive for progress, peacebuilding, and stability in the long-term.

This is the third piece in a series of articles on the PeaceLab blog which give insights into the roles of children and youth in conflict and post-conflict situations around the world.

Jugend in Konflikten Children Peacebuilding

Achaleke Christian Leke

Achaleke Christian Leke is 31 years old and a peacebuilding, counter violent extremism and development expert from Cameroon with 14 years of experience. He has been named trice in the list of 100 Most Influential Young Africans, won the Luxembourg Peace Prize in 2018 and was named a UNESCO RealLife Hero in 2020 as well as the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2016. @achaleke1