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Key findings
  • Only one in eight anglophone Cameroonians (12%) see their country as “a democracy with minor problems” or “a full democracy,” down from 52% in 2015. Francophone citizens are almost four times as likely (45%) to say they live in a functioning democracy.
  • The proportion of anglophone Cameroonians who are at least “fairly satisfied” with the way their democracy is working has dropped from 43% in 2015 to 7% – less than one-fourth the share of francophones who express satisfaction (33%).
  • Eight out of 10 anglophone respondents (81%) say people have less freedom than “a few years ago” to say what they think about politics, compared to 22% of their francophone counterparts.
  • Anglophone citizens are more than twice as likely as francophones to say they fear political intimidation or violence, 46% vs. 20%.
  • The proportion of anglophone respondents who identify more strongly with their ethnic group than their nationality has quadrupled since 2015, to almost one-third (31%), compared to 13% among francophones.

After more than a half-century as a single nation with a dual colonial heritage and two official languages – French and English – Cameroon is in danger of coming apart. Protests against perceived discrimination and lack of inclusion began peacefully in the anglophone regions in October 2016 but have escalated into violent conflict with a harsh government response (Africa Times, 2018; Morse, 2017; Confédération Suisse, 2018). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has voiced grave concerns about reported extrajudicial killings by state armed forces as well as abductions and killings by armed anglophone secessionists (AfricaNews, 2018; Atabong, 2018). Nearly half a million Cameroonians are internally displaced, and at least 30,000 have fled to neighbouring Nigeria (Africa Times, 2018).

The October 2018 presidential election, which extended the 36-year reign of President Paul Biya, was marred by violence, irregularities, and a boycott by most residents of the anglophone regions. An opposition leader was later jailed after his party staged demonstrations against the election result (France24, 2019; International Crisis Group, 2018).

These tensions between the two major linguistic zones have taken a clear toll on the country’s unity. Anglophone and francophone Cameroonians, who have lived as friends and neighbours for decades, are deeply divided on fundamental questions of democracy and state legitimacy, an analysis of 2018 Afrobarometer survey data shows. Major divisions have emerged as many anglophone Cameroonians have abandoned their support for and belief in the durability of Cameroonian democracy, as well as their fundamental trust in the state.

Mircea Lazar

Mircea Lazar is a PhD student at Michigan State University in East Lansing. <br />