Shrinking Civic Space and the Role of Civil Society in Resolution of Conflict in Anglophone Cameroon

Gordon Crawford, James Kiven Kewir, Nancy Annan, Maurice Beseng

    Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper

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    Abstract

    With over 3000 people killed, more than 200 villages burnt, over 750,000 people internally displaced and 1.3 million people in need of assistance, there is an urgent need to resolve the Cameroon Anglophone conflict. This is a highly neglected conflict between the Cameroonian military forces and armed separatist groups which has been ongoing since October 2017. The armed separatist groups are fighting for an independent state called ‘Ambazonia’, comprising the country’s two English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. This report captures the voices and experiences of local civil society organisations (CSOs) – an important but largely marginalised voice – in their efforts towards conflict resolution in a challenging environment. Findings stem from an empirical pilot study conducted by Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR) and partners from the African Leadership Centre, Nairobi, and the University of Buea (UB), Cameroon. The pilot study brought together 15 CSOs from the two English-speaking regions in a one-day workshop to learn about their organisations’ experiences in conflict resolution, the challenges they faced, and the strategies adopted to overcome such challenges. The workshop discussions were then followed up with six in-depth interviews with selected CSO leaders. The voices and experiences of the diverse CSOs are examined within the framework of two contrasting discourses: the important role of CSOs in conflict resolution and the phenomenon of ‘shrinking civic space’ for CSO action.
    The study notes that while the operational structures of CSOs are increasingly constrained by government restrictions and by security threats stemming from the civil war situation, local CSOs from the affected English-speaking regions of Cameroon have, nonetheless, made significant efforts to resolve the conflict. These issues are elaborated in this report, which is laid out in seven sections.
    The introduction briefly examines the current conflict and efforts towards conflict resolution before justifying the need to examine the role of local CSOs within the context of increasing restriction of civic space in Cameroon. It concludes by briefly elaborating on the research methods. Thereafter Section Two locates the research within two strands of relevant scholarly literature: the local turn in the conflict resolution literature towards ‘peacebuilding from below’; and that of ‘shrinking civic space’ for civil society activities. The third section provides the historical background to the longstanding ‘Anglophone problem’ in Cameroon that morphed into a civil war in 2017 and which has pitted Cameroonian government forces against separatist armed groups in the English-speaking regions. It notes that the current conflict has its roots in the legacies that stem from Cameroon’s unique colonial history and the nature of post-independence settlements. The subsequent empirical sections focus on the three main objectives of this pilot study: Section Four on the contributions of CSOs in conflict resolution; Section Five on the challenges they face; and Section Six on the strategies that CSOs adopt to counter the civic restrictions and to contribute to conflict resolution efforts. Section Seven concludes by summarising the findings, noting the following:
    • CSOs within the English-speaking regions of Cameroon are in a difficult and paradoxical situation that pits their important role in peacebuilding from below within the context of shrinking civic space for their actions. Such restrictions are due to a tightening of government legislation and military crackdown on protests and gatherings that have not received written authorisation.
    • CSOs have reoriented their activities towards resolution of the conflict by engaging with most-affected communities to provide humanitarian relief and psychosocial support, by building an evidence base of human rights violations and war crimes by both parties, and by highlighting the conflict’s adverse consequences for citizens.
    • CSOs have worked to rally community support, built coalitions with other CSOs and networked with international NGOs in advocacy work towards peaceful resolution of the conflict. Such strategies have enabled CSOs to counter shrinking civic space and remain visible as conflict resolution actors.
    • Working through coalitions and interacting with both government and non-state armed actors has given CSOs more power to maintain pressure for conflict resolution.
    • Dialogue with local communities has also enabled CSOs to act as mediators in bottom-up processes, enhancing local agency and bringing the views of those affected into policy spaces
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages1-42
    Number of pages42
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2021

    Keywords

    • Cameroon, Anglophone conflict, civil society organisations, conflict resolution, shrinking civic space

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Sciences(all)

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