Beyond the Headlines: The Underreported Tragedy of the Anglophone Crisis

a cameroon dignitary bows in front of the cameroonian 2f243e 1024

This essay won 3rd place in the 2023 YRIS High School Essay Contest for its response to the following prompt: “What is a current issue in international relations or world affairs that does not receive enough attention in global media?”

Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, one of Africa’s most recent struggles for liberation, has rapidly escalated into a political conflict that poses a grave threat to the country’s unity. With the potential to escalate into a complex emergency, it is casting a shadow of uncertainty over Cameroon’s future.

The crisis can be traced back to the country’s complex colonial history, which shaped its heritage with French and English as official languages. Originally a German colony from July 14, 1884, Cameroon was later divided between Britain and France after World War I. In 1960, the French-speaking region (Francophone) gained independence as La République du Cameroun, while the English-speaking counterparts (Anglophones) voted to reunite with the former German Kamerun (French section) to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.[1] 

However, the grievances of the Anglophone population, which comprises approximately 16% of the total population, have been growing, fueled by a sense of marginalisation and perceived discrimination. A significant turning point occurred on February 4, 1984, when President Paul Biya changed the country’s name to La République du Cameroun, the original name of the French-administered Cameroon. Many Anglophones interpreted this change as an attempt to erode their minority Anglophone identity and forcibly assimilate them into the majority French system.[2]  As such, they engaged in numerous protests to express their discontent, demanding an end to marginalization, more equitable economic opportunities, and fair representation in public administration appointments.

In response, the government of Cameroon employed lethal force, deploying security forces to suppress the protests, which have been marred by serious allegations of human rights abuses, including the use of excessive force, extrajudicial killings, torture, and the ill-treatment of suspected separatists. Notably, the alleged massacre of 21 unarmed civilians in Ngarbuh village on February 14, 2020,[3] drew significant attention and highlighted the need for justice. In turn, more than 30 armed separatist groups have emerged, advocating for the independence of the Anglophone regions. Operating under the name of Ambazonia, these groups seek to establish the “Republic of Ambazonia” as a separate entity.[4]

As the crisis continues unabated for the sixth year, over 712,000 people have been internally displaced in the Anglophone and some Francophone regions as of August 2021, and at least 2.2 million people were in need of humanitarian aid.[5]

Political freedom has severely declined in the crisis region of Cameroon, particularly for Anglophones. According to Freedom House, a non-governmental organisation that assesses political rights and civil liberties, Cameroon received a score of 15 out of 100. During the October 2018 presidential election, President Paul Biya secured his seventh term, but the election process was marred by irregularities, including the use of unsigned results sheets. The prevailing climate of intimidation and fear in the Anglophone regions resulted in low voter turnout and a lack of genuine democratic competition.[6] 

Education has also emerged as the core of the dissenting voices in the Anglophone crisis. Due to separatist demands for educational establishments in the region to shut down, schools have become targets of violence, resulting in widespread destruction, threats against teachers and students, and even incidents of abductions and killings. As a result, a significant number of educational facilities have been abandoned, resulting in over 700,000 children being deprived of access to education.[7] 

Additionally, the economic repercussions of the crisis are substantial. Cameroon’s GDP growth rate, which was 5.8 in 2015 prior to the crisis, was downgraded to 3.9 in 2019.[8] The imposition of weekly “ghost town” days disrupted business transactions and led to threats against businesses, resulting in the paralysis of hundreds of them.

The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, with its far-reaching implications, is a pressing issue that demands global attention. However, it remains largely underreported in the global media, which can be attributed to a multitude of factors that hinder accurate and comprehensive coverage. Cameroon, along with two other countries in Africa, has scored highest on all three criteria used to assess neglected displacement crises: lack of funding, lack of media attention, and political neglect.[9]

One significant challenge is the conflict’s occurrence in inaccessible areas, which makes it difficult for journalists to document the situation on the ground. They also face violence from both state security forces and armed separatist groups, deterring them from covering the crisis. Another reason is that media outlets often prioritise stories that are dramatic, unambiguous, and easy to explain, as these elements are assumed to resonate more with their target audiences. The complex nature of the Anglophone crisis may not neatly align with these criteria, resulting in less attention being given to it. Moreover, with daily reports of human rights abuses by major powers like China, threats from Russia, and horrific violations in Middle Eastern countries, the crisis may struggle to gain public attention. The presence of these more attention-grabbing stories can divert focus away from the Anglophone crisis, further contributing to its underreporting.

Unfortunately, the lack of attention given to the Anglophone crisis can be partly attributed to the perception that it is merely another cycle of retaliatory violence between the government and non-state forces. This viewpoint, which downplays the gravity of attacks on civilians as part of the “usual” conflict, shields the perpetrators of severe human rights violations and allows such atrocities to persist unchecked. By minimising the conflict, the evidence indicating that the violence is spreading beyond the Anglophone regions and posing a threat to the entire sub-region, is disregarded.

In conclusion, the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon represents a pressing and underreported issue in global media, despite its profound implications for international relations. It is essential to recognize that this crisis goes far beyond a routine conflict, as it carries the potential to destabilize the entire region if left unaddressed.[10] By prioritizing the Anglophone crisis in global media, the path towards a peaceful resolution can be paved, ensuring the protection of human rights and regional stability.


[1] Orock, R. “Cameroon: How language plunged a country into deadly conflict with no
end in sight.” The Conversation. March 17, 2022.

[2] Azevedo, M. “The post-ahidjo era in Cameroon.” Current History, 86(520): 217-220. 1987.

[3] “The snail’s pace of military justice in Cameroon.” (n.d.). ReliefWeb.

[4] Craig, J. “Violence in Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis takes high civilian toll.” Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera. April 1, 2021.

[5] “World report 2022: Rights trends in Cameroon.” Human Rights Watch. January 12, 2022.

[6] “Cameroon: Freedom in the world 2022 country report.” Freedom House. February 23, 2022.

[7] “Violence in Cameroon, impacting over 700,000 children shut out of school.” UN News. December 6, 2021.

[8] Bang, H. N., & R. A Balgah. “The ramification of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis: Conceptual analysis of a looming ‘Complex disaster emergency.'” Journal of International Humanitarian Action, 7(1). 2022.

[9] “The worlds most neglected displacement crises.” NRC. (n.d.).

[10] “Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis: How to get to talks?” Crisis Group. May 3, 2019.


Gerselle was a sophomore at the Cedar Girls' Secondary School in Singapore when she submitted this piece to the 2023 YRIS High School Essay Competition.