Terrorism vs Freedom Fighting in Cameroon

By Published On: 3rd July 2018

By Kimal Harvey

On Friday, the 25th of May 2018, Cameroon’s military court in Yaounde found radio journalist and leader of the country’s English-speaking community, Mancho “BBC” Bibixy, guilty of “acts of terrorism, hostility against the homeland, secession, revolution and insurrection.”[1]

On the face of it this case may seem cut and dry, however it is highly important that international actors and transitional justice experts look at this case with Cameroonian context specificity. Primarily, we need to dissect our understanding of ‘terrorism’ and how it can effect the mentality and attitudes of a populace. After which we can analyse the historical context of the AngloFrank relationship in Cameroon and determine whether this sentencing is apart of a wider political agenda or in the interest of justice.

Politicians and media houses have used terrorism, the word as well as the sentiment, across the globe more often than not with the intention of striking fear down the spine of a certain populace. This was no doubt the case with George Bush Jr’s US administration post-9/11, moreover this seems to be the case as well in Cameroon. The sentiment that the word forces a populace to fear for their safety, even in the comfort of their home country. This is not to deny the existence of terrorist/extremist groups but rather to highlight how modern politicians use this knowledge to gain legitimate authority within their own state. Whether or not the threat of terrorism in your country is real, the local politician of that area can capitalise on that fear for an almost certain election/re-election. The promise simply needs to be that terrorism will be thwarted.

Terrorism is not a new concept and throughout history it has been used in order to delegitimise one’s enemy. The apartheid government in South Africa would regularly label Nelson Mandela and his affiliate ANC liberation agents as terrorists. Therefore the majority of the white South African’s feared ANC members despite the fact that they were only fighting the liberation of all black citizens and their safety. This gave the state license to use any measure of force to thwart the ANC and other liberation movements. Therefore, as South Africans, we should immediately question the legitimacy of BBC’s guilty verdict in Cameroon.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the English speaking community in Cameroon have since 2016 become significantly more frustrated by the ostracism they experience as a minority group.[2] Cameroon is a majority French-speaking state. This majority therefore controls the social, political and economic sectors within the Cameroonian borders leaving the English-speaking minority feeling marginalised in education, the judiciary and the economy.

President Paul Biya, the key representative of the francophone majority and the leader of Cameroon for the last 35 years, has long been opposed to bilateral reconciliation of the AngloFrank conflict. However recently he has allowed for the establishment of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. The Commission has been tasked with listening to the population and has since drawn up 18 proposals from English speakers to end the conflict.


One key proposal highlights the need for a federal system in the state, while the more radical of the English-speaking persons going as far as to push for a separatist state. Another key proposal is to do with the 2014 anti-terrorism legislation that advocates for capital punishment[3]. Given BBC’s guilty verdict in May, this proposal becomes particularly important. The state needs to clarify what it means by terrorism/ists as the establishment of the Commission would indicate the illegitimacy of BBC’s trial and verdict. If BBC, like Mandela, is simply a revolutionary leader then he should be given amnesty in the interest of this new bilateral path. Moreover all English-speaking separatists tried under the guise of this 2014 legislation should be given a second chance to appeal this clear act of propaganda and oppression.


AFP further reported that some of the other proposals highlighted key issues to do with unemployment, corruption, tribalism, nepotism, and the arrogance that the Cameroonian government have shown during this crisis. In the North West and South West regions of the country, in the self-described “Republic of Ambazonia”, 120 civilians and 43 security personnel have been killed, 160 000 people have been internally displaced and 20 000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Nigeria.


The reality seems to be that there is a deeply rooted AngloFrank political divergence within the Cameroonian state. The findings of the Commission reveal that there are a wide set of issues between the differing groups, and that there is a very clear power dynamic. The francophone population have certainly benefitted from this dynamic. Therefore it is important to understand BBC’s guilty terrorism verdict within this context. He is no more a terrorist than Mandela, Biko or even Che Guevara. His trial is an obvious attempt to confuse and influence, the media and the public’s perception. It is a gross misappropriation of justice as well as the judiciary system. President Biya and the Commission need to revisit cases such as BBC’s and repeal any indication of injustice. If the state has any hope of bilingualism and multiculturalism then there needs to be a clean slate for all the wrongfully accused during this crisis. To paint freedom fighters as terrorists in order to strike fear into the hearts of your own constituents is surely the true act of terrorism.

Kimal Harvey is an Intern for the Peacebuilding Interventions Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

[1] 2018. Cameroon English speakers want terror law repeal and amnesty to end violence. Agence France-Presse. May 27.

[2] Ibid.

[3] 2018. Cameroon English speakers want terror law repeal and amnesty to end violence. Agence France-Presse. May 27.

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