The international community is ‘asleep at the wheel’ when it comes to the crisis in Cameroon – the burning of villages by the Cameroonian state has been met with silence and indifference.

This article seeks to (a) raise awareness about specific violent events perpetrated by the Cameroonian state, (b) provide an explanation as to why Western states are complicit, and (c) encourage activism and support for the ‘Students for Cameroon’ movement.

(a) What were you doing on the 14th of February this year?

On the 14th February 2020, a government militia razed the town of Ngarbuh – this was Cameroon’s ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’. According to Human Rights Watch, 21 people were killed, including 13 children and an unborn baby. This was not an isolated incident of violence, but part of a state-sponsored campaign against Cameroon’s Anglophone population.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about Ngarbuh is that it has gone entirely unreported in Western media outlets. It begs the question as to why a crisis which has resulted in more than 2,000 people killed, and 700,000 displaced, been ignored. How could the mass slaughter of children on Valentine’s Day be ignored so callously?

(b) The complicity of Western interests in Cameroon – An unfree people

(i) The impact of slavery

The Law Faculty’s Cameroon Conflict Research Group has suggested that the silence around the Anglophone Crisis could be because Western interests are complicit in maintaining the status quo in Cameroon. After hundreds of years of subordination through the institution of slavery, then decades of domination by the majority francophone state, many individuals in Cameroon cannot be declared as free. The suffering of modern Cameroonians is inextricable from the slave trade narrative, which makes Western nations complicit.

(ii) The complexity of financing aid

Another issue is the dozens of oil and gas firms based in London, all of which are involved in the extraction of natural resources from the African continent. A 2014 report by a group of NGOs argues that the British government are especially implicated in this wider practice, both by use of aid packages as a PR smokescreen to cover up the inequity of resource extraction and by housing the ‘world’s largest network of tax havens that enables the theft of billions from Africa each year’. Wealthy countries, including the UK, benefit from many of Africa’s losses. While aid to Africa amounts to less than $30 billion per year, the continent is losing $192 billion annually in other resource flows, mainly to the same countries providing that aid. Thus, Cameroon’s losses and Western profits are inextricably linked.

(ii) The use of morally equivalent language

Another issue is that of assigning blameworthiness. Linguistically, there is a tendency to state that there are ‘crimes on both sides’ occurring in Cameroon. In a House of Lords debate in 2018, Lord Boateng repeated this, condemning ‘the long-standing grievances and current abuses of human rights on all sides’.

Ngarbuh should be seen as a decisive turning point in the way the conflict is covered and that the worst of the atrocities are those of the Cameroonian state. The events in Ngarbuh should be condemned internationally without evasive language. To do otherwise, and use relative language, risks tacit approval of the killing of vulnerable people.

The international community has failed in the past to act proactively to prevent genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Thus, there is an imperative to ensure that Cameroon does not follow the same path in terms of international attention.

(c) What can you do about it?

With a situation such as the one in Cameroon, solutions are both unclear and inaccessible to the average Oxford student. However, there are areas of recourse – the University Cameroon Conflict Society has over 100 members and is providing informative newsletters on the subject of the Anglophone Crisis. Even a tweet about #Ngarbuh would go some way in acknowledging that some of the worlds most neglected people suffer in silence. The Society has linked a petition, aiming to start a conversation and have a Parliamentary debate on the issue. Above all, to acknowledge one’s privilege and be prepared to seek out further materials on this topic is an essential starting point.

Max McGiffen

Max is the Co-President of the Students For Cameroon Advocacy movement. He has recently spent the summer working as a Research Intern for the Oxford Law Faculty's Cameroon Conflict Research Group. Outside his degree, he is a keen triathlete and coxswain.