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Voices from ‘Ground Zero’: Interrogating History, Culture and Identity in the Resolution of Cameroon’s ‘Anglophone’ Conflict

Voices from ‘Ground Zero’: Interrogating History, Culture and Identity in the Resolution of Cameroon’s ‘Anglophone’ Conflict

Women in Lamentation Campaign. Credit: South West/North West Women Task Force (SNWOT); https://web.facebook.com/SNWOT/?_rdc=1&_rdr 

Funder

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Value

£149,922

Collaborators

Coventry University (Lead); African Leadership Centre, Nairobi (Co-Lead). Other partners include: 
Authentique Memorial Empowerment Foundation (AMEF), Cameroon
Big Steps Outreach Network (BONET), Cameroon
Women for a Change (WFAC), Cameroon
Finders Group Initiative (FGI), Cameroon

Team

Prof Gordon Crawford (CTPSR, UK), Nancy Annan (CTPSR, UK)

Duration

1st September 2020 - 31st August 2021


Project Overview

This research seeks to contribute to peaceful resolution of the current 'Anglophone conflict' in Cameroon. The so-called 'Anglophone crisis' in bi-lingual Cameroon is an internationally neglected conflict between government security forces and armed separatist groups calling for an independent state in the two Anglophone regions of South-West and North-West Cameroon. What started in October 2016 with peaceful protests led by 'lawyers in wigs and teachers in suits' to protect the English legal and education systems against francophone assimilation, subsequently degenerated into a civil war as separatist groups emerged in 2017 following government repression of the mass protests. However it is the civilian population in the Anglophone regions that has borne the brunt of the conflict, with almost daily local reports of violence and atrocities, which often remain hidden from general awareness and scrutiny. Thousands have been killed, with numbers varying from official figures of 3,000 people to reports that 12,000 people have died. Moreover, 700,000 children are out of school, with 80% of schools closed, but gradually reopening since the start of the 2020/201 academic year. A June 2019 human rights report documents killings, rape, kidnappings, torture and unlawful imprisonment. There is an urgent need for ending the violence and resolving the conflict, and this research is oriented to that objective.

It does so innovatively by giving voice to those civilians most affected by the conflict, namely internally displaced persons forced to flee their homes and those who remain in the conflict zones, known locally as 'ground zero'. This is important as such voices have hitherto been largely ignored and excluded from any official dialogue. Through participatory arts- based methods such as collage-making, the research will document and report on their diverse experiences and perspectives, highlighting in particular those of women and young people. The current conflict has a long history, with its roots embedded in the colonial period as well as in post-independence events. The research thus includes a historical dimension to facilitate full understanding of the historical context and to draw lessons that can help provide solutions to the conflict. In addition, language, culture and identity are central to the conflict, notably the alienation of 'anglophone Cameroonians' as a distinct linguistic and cultural group, leading to the initial peaceful protests in 2016. Therefore the research uses sociolinguistic analysis to understand the cultural, identity and linguistic elements of the conflict, and explores linguistic strategies to help resolve the conflict.

At the time of writing, official dialogue aimed at conflict resolution had failed. The government's 'Major National Dialogue' in October 2019 was criticised for excluding key actors, not only separatist groups but also peaceful civil society groups, and the war intensified following the failed dialogue. Calls for more 'inclusive dialogue' have come from Catholic bishops and the Swiss government, offering to mediate peace talks. However, such external calls remain top-down and elite-driven and continue to exclude those civilians most affected by the conflict. There is an urgent need for the views of Anglophone civilians on conflict resolution to be heard locally, nationally and internationally. This research aims to enable that through its outputs, while simultaneously addressing the historical, linguistic and cultural dimensions of the conflict. The project collaborates with key humanitarian NGOs that operate at 'ground zero' and who provide a further conduit by which the voices within affected communities can be expressed to the wider world. The research project thus includes a capacity building element aimed at strengthening the network of civil society organisations working for peace in Cameroon, and at enhancing their ability to bring the voices of most-affected people into the public domain and to influence future dialogue for peace.

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