This work is divided into two distinct parts: part one concerns the protest march of secession demanded by the English-speaking (Southern Cameroon or Amnazonia) part of the country due to the French-speaking part dominance over them and the second part concerns the French-speaking part of the country which is protesting to overturn a system that has ruled the country for over 38 years.

The article clearly states that the state should not interfere with people’s right to protest just because it disagrees with protesters’ views, because it’s likely to be in convenient and cause a nuisance or because there might be tension and heated exchange between opposing groups. Instead it must take reasonable steps to enable people protest and to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations from disruption by others. Contrarily in Cameroon, the government thinks that protest marches will affect the integrity of the state and style protesters as terrorists. The questions we ask are: How does the government of Cameroon restrict the protest marches of protesters? How do the protesters and the general public react to these restrictions? Our objective is to explain how human rights are abused in Cameroon through protest march restriction and how Cameroonians react to the restriction.

It is worth-noting that article 11 of [ 3 ] states that everyone has the right to associate with others and gather together for a common purpose and it stresses that it is fundamental for people to be free. People must protest peacefully, join trade unions and hold the powerful to account. People have the right to come together with others and peacefully share their views. Authorities must allow people to take part in marches, protests and demonstrations. There is the freedom of expression as it applies to protests, marches and demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, press conferences, public and private meetings but it does not protect intentionally violent protest. However, this right is limited if it is covered by law, for the interest of national security or public safety, prevention of crimes or disorder, the protection of health or morals and the protection of others’ rights and freedoms.

A protest group is, by definition, a collectivity of actors who want to achieve their shared goal or goals by influencing decisions of a target group. In our case the protest group is either the Anglophones who are fighting for secession because they have been marginalized for over 50 years or the French-speaking Cameroonians who are protesting to kick out a system that has been in power for over 38 years. In this case, the shared goal of the Anglophone is different from that of the Francophone while one is protesting against a change of state, the other is protesting against a change of government. Does this differing shared goals and collective identity affect their various mobilization and collective action? Our objective is to examine how protest marches in both the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon differ.

All these as [ 1 ] puts it, is a mode of political action oriented toward objection to one or more policies or conditions, characterized by showmanship or display of an unconventional nature, and undertaken to obtain rewards from political or economic systems while working within the system. Equally, [ 2 ] states that, a protest act includes the following elements: the action expresses a grievance, a conviction of wrong or injustice; the protesters are unable to correct the condition directly by their own efforts; the action is intended to draw attention to the grievances; the action is further meant to provoke ameliorative steps by some target group; and the protestors depend upon some combination of sympathy and fear to move the target group in their behalf”.

Since 2016 the government of Cameroon has been doing everything to stop any collective action organized by the population in the English-speaking part of the country to denounce their marginalization by sending security forces to roughly brutalize the population in order to discourage protest march. Lawyers and teachers in Southern Cameroon went on strike in 2016 and they were later on joined by the general public. The call by asking for a federation in which the Anglophone could manage their own affairs, a situation which existed before the referendum in 1972 later on turned into a call for independence. Equally, in French-speaking Cameroon, the government too have done everything to quell protest march against electoral frauds and the departure of the government which has been ruling for over 38 years and which is doing everything to maintain itself in power. In Cameroon, there are two groups of people with distinct colonial heritage: the Anglophone in the minority are dissatisfied with their relation with their French-speaking brothers and want total freedom while the French-speaking citizens are protesting for better governance and a change of system.

In this age of smartphones images or video-making is easy as most people even in the third world possess a smartphone with a built-in camera. They film relevant events in their daily lives: usually the remarkable, the extraordinary, the exceptional and not the ordinary or everyday activities [ 8 ]. We decided then to collect videos of protest marches in Cameroon in order to analyze them because they provide information that other types of data do not provide. They are ‘proofs of facts’ because a picture or video is more, and different, than a thousand words since they contain much more visual information on bodily movement and include acoustic data. Although images are specific reality constructions ambivalent, subjective and diffuse, their interpretation must be substantiated in words [ 9 ]. The questions we asked concerning each of the videos were similar to those asked by Becker, 1974 [ 10 ]: What are the acts of violence and human rights abuses in each video? How can they be interpreted and linked to our theoretical concept? What insight do they generate and substantiate? What different kinds of people are there? We link observations to theoretical concepts such as status, groups, norms, rules, and common understandings, deviance and rule violation, sanctions and conflict resolution.

Activists posted many materials online to keep their audiences abreast of the difficulties of organizing a protest march in Cameroon and to awaken their consciousness of the importance of protest marches to either secede from the country and restore their independence or to change the government that has been in power for over 38 years. Therefore Facebook was a fruitful site of the way as [ 7 ] puts it, hundreds of millions of Cameroonians and other nationals connect to one another and share protest march information: it provides an entirely preserved archive of data featuring, write-up, friends’ comments, pictures, about the protest marches in English and French speaking parts of Cameroon. We judged the information as a true reflection of participants’ minds, uses and behavior. Therefore, the participants were ‘doing’ things with their postings. As may be expected from our theoretical stance, our questions focused on how people talked and interacted on Facebook of events of protest marches in Cameroon. The symbols of the posts to the public drew our attention as well as the people’s reactions. We considered their comments in order to understand how both English-speaking and French-speaking Cameroonians differ in the appreciation of the posts of protest marches in Cameroon.

We collected the qualitative data of acts of protest marches in English-speaking and French-speaking Cameroon from the Internet, using the accounts of seasoned activists who had sent out numerous posts on different protest marches to their targeted population. Those posts are important textual material: videos, blog posts, comments, social networking posts which are all as [ 4 ] calls them, essential parts of the expanse of qualitative material online. Equally, [ 5 , 6 ] considers them as “a new continent, rich in resources but in parts most perilous.” which had “lain undiscovered, unmined and uninhabited” for about 30 years.


3. Protest march restrictions in English-speaking Cameroon – Ambazonia

This part dwells on three main protests marches in Southern Cameroon, two of which triggered the Anglophone or Ambazonia crisis: the common lawyer and the university of Buea students’ strike. Both of them were clammed down by a heavy police force and the second was the 22nd September, 2017 massive and pervasive march protest that took place all over Ambazonia; it took the government off-guard.

The Southern Cameroon crisis is an Ambazonians’ attempt to break from the dominant Francophone cultural hegemony. La République du Cameroun has dominated and tried to absorb them into the broader Francophone cultural system since 1972 by silently destroying their dignity and statehood because they came into union with them from a weaker position: a numerically smaller population [11].

The relationship that exists between Southern Cameroon and La République du Cameroon is one of two people, two inheritances, and two divergent mentalities: one struggles for its liberation while the other suppresses and abuses its human rights or struggles to maintain control over it by using its mighty state military. They speak different languages with little or no rapprochement although they live in the same country [11].

3.1 The police and the Southern Cameroon common law lawyers confrontation

The protest which was led by Barrister Agbor Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Tassang Wilfred began on October 6, 2016 as a sit-down strike initiated by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), an organization consisting of lawyer and teacher trade unions from the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.

According to Wikipedia 20 [12], the common lawyers of Anglophone Cameroon had written an appeal letter to the government complaining of the use of French at schools and courtrooms in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. Desirous to protect the English culture, they began a sit-down strike in all courtrooms on October 6, 2016. Peaceful marches began in the cities of Bamenda, Buea, and Limbe calling for the protection of the common law system in Anglophone Cameroon and the practice of the Common Law sub-system in Anglophone courts and not the Civil Law as the French-speaking magistrates were using in court. They equally asked for the creation of a common law school at the University of Bamenda and Buea.

In addition, Francophone occupied all the outstanding positions at the Supreme Court. Although Francophone had little or no knowledge in English and the Common Law, they were mostly magistrates and bailiffs in the Anglophone zone. As a result, Anglophones lawyers were disgruntled of the domination of the Civil Law to the detriment of the common law as if Cameroon was uniquely a Civil Law country. Equally, the Business law for Africa (OHADA) uniform acts, CEMAC code, and others were not translated into English because Francophone wanted to assimilate the Common Law sub-system.

In Africanews, Morning call 2016 [13], Barrister Bobga Harmony lamented that the government of Cameroon had completely ignored them which violated their right to self-determination. He said that “since 1972, they have been a progressive, an inexplicable, illegal and illegitimate erosion of the common law.” He regretted the Francophone gradual replacement of the Common Law with the French Civil law as if Anglophone “were a conquered people”. The lawyers had complained to competent authorities through writing for years before taking concrete actions in order not to be swallowed up by the dominant Francophone system. They held a Common Law conference on the 9th May 2015 which was followed by a 2nd conference in Buea where they made a declaration to reinforce their position.

Although they had sent a communiqué to the presidency of the Republic of Cameroon, nobody paid attention to them. The Minister of Justice insulted the Common Lawyers in the government newspaper: Cameroon Tribune instead of defending them. Having exhausted all negotiation with the executive and the legislature, they protested and insisted to talk only with the president of the Republic of Cameroon or his properly mandated agent. They had filed a petition to the National Assembly and the Senate and they were planning to file another petition to the constitutional council to determine the question of whether they had been any act of union between West Cameroon and East Cameroon. They equally planned to proceed to the following international jurisdiction: African Commission for Human and People’s Right, the Human Right Commission if the government failed to listen to them. Bobga Harmony insisted “We are going to seize the international community because these are grave abuses of human rights. The international community cannot fold its arms and allow us to be brutalized in our land,” [14].

3.2 Molestation of lawyers

The government sent over 5000 troops to thwart the Anglophone crisis. The crisis was considered to be “a strong organized and well-coordinated violence from angry protesters and the government did not want to allow that part of the country to be destroyed and the protesters too said they would not stop protesting until the government solved their problems [15].

Policemen hit the ‘the men in uniform’: lawyers with their batons in Buea. The Special Rapid Response (ESIR), the police and gendarmerie locked down and monitored the entire city. There was also a heavy police presence to confront the demonstrators. The policemen demanded that the lawyers hand over their black robes to them [16].

The demonstration of lawyers in Buea in the Southwest region on the 10th November, 2016, met with heavy-handed police response. Law enforcement officers reportedly brutalized, ransacked the offices of lawyers, seized their wigs and gowns, injured and harassed many in their cars, seized and destroyed their phones, barred some from joining the demonstrations, raided hotels in search for them and harassed them (Figures 1 and 2).

A video [18] went viral showing how police brutalized lawyers and the commotion that took place in the Muea police station. It clearly shows a police officer pursuing a young lawyer, then another lawyer is pushed into the police station by yet another policeman. Another man in robe is brutalized and pushed out of the police station. The police hit another who falls down and his watch falls off but the police pull him up by dragging his coat. A policewoman encourages her colleagues to hit the lawyer by clearly articulating the phrase in French “frappe,” “frappez-lui” over and over.

The episodes of police brutality in Ambazonia were not limited to lawyers only; it extended to the University of Buea students as well as the general public. Police molested many and a lot of disturbing videos show armed police officers hitting or rolling them in water, invading students’ quarters and beating them [11].

3.3 Police confrontation with students

Teachers and the general public joined the lawyers in the strike by vehemently opposing what they described as the “imposition of French at schools in Anglophone parts of the country.” Students either struggled on their own at school because even private schools teachers had deserted classroom in support of the public sector teachers and so many classrooms and schools across Ambazonia were empty. They did not want the government to continue sending teachers who spoke only in French or Pidgin English. Even students supported the strike action because they were unemployed after completing school. “For over fifty years Anglophone students have not been able to have a headway in Cameroon in most disciplined that bring about development: science and technology because the government has refused to train teachers for our schools,” declared Tassang Wilfred over Aljazeera (2016) [19].

The University of Buea strike pulled a mammoth crowd of students who came protesting in order to attract the attention of the authority of the university to their plights. One student carried a placard on which it reads: “enough is enough”. They had a variety of complaints: the non-payment of the 50,000frs CFA that the government had promised them, the cancelation of the 10,000frs CFA penalty fees for the late payment of school-fees, the payment of fees before being given a semester result and as it was the general cry with the secondary and high schools in the Anglophone zone, they also demanded the removal of French-speaking lecturers from the faculty of the university [19].

They stood firm in front of the Administrative Block in order to meet the Vice Chancellor to complain to her but instead security forces took her away and a huge number of security forces were sent to dispatch the students. As they arrived, the students ran into different directions and the atmosphere became very tense and misty because the security officers had thrown teargas and fired gun-shots in the air. The students shouted “no violence” as they darted away for safety. Despite beating and arresting them, the spirit of the strike action was not dampened so the students left and marched into the street (Figure 3).

3.4 The Ambazonia massive and pervasive protest march

According to [20, 21] renewed mass protests broke out early morning on Sept. 22, (Friday) 1st October 2017, in major towns and villages across the North West and South West regions thereby intensifying the crisis. Close to 80,000 people of demonstrators in across thirty Anglophone towns and communities (Bamenda, Buea, Kumba, Kumbo, Limbe, etc.) marched through the streets on Friday in protest against the continuous detention of some of the inhabitants of the regions and demanded their independence from French Cameroon as well as the release of Anglophone political prisoners, the departure of President Biya, the implementation of federalism, and secession. The demonstrations was at the time President Paul Biya was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Paul Biya’s speech ended without mentioning the Anglophone crisis in his country. This infuriated some protesters who spoke to the media (Figure 4).

The demonstrations took off in Bamenda in the North-West Region on Friday morning by defying a ban on movement of persons imposed on Thursday night by the region’s Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique, following a bomb attack on Thursday that injured three police officers. Local media reported that security forces were stationed at vantage points in the town and the protesters peacefully waved banners with inscriptions calling for the release of their compatriots and independence. The demonstration spread to Buea in the South-West Region where women spearheaded the march with hundreds behind them carrying leaves, tree branches and flags of the Cameroon separatist movement. The aggrieved population also took to the streets placards, whistles and flags of Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia; a country they clamor to create when they secede from the Republic of Cameroon. Protesters moved to public places, hoisting blue-white flags and seeking to meet with administrative and traditional authorities. It was the same scene in other towns like Fontem, Bafia, Kumba and Mamfe among others in the same region where separatists demanded independence from French Cameroon. The civil disobedience call was made by the Ambazonia Governing Council and amplified by Anglophone activists in the diaspora, as a build up to Oct. 1, the day the pro-secessionist groups intended to restore their independence (Figure 5).

Other Anglophone also protested at the UN headquarters in New York. According to [23], in the diaspora Southern Cameroonians took hostage the UN headquarters in their host countries. It was hot at the UN headquarters in New York where the two distinct peoples of Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroon challenged each other.

According to [24] the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon escalated on 1st October 2017, when militant secessionist groups symbolically proclaimed the independence of Ambazonia. Violence left dozens of protesters dead and over 100 injured. The event was to commemorate the 1961 reunification between the Cameroon under French mandate and the British Southern Cameroons.

On 1 October, tens of thousands of people began a peaceful march holding a plant symbolizing peace and chanting “no violence” to proclaim the independence of Ambazonia (the name given by secessionists to their hypothetical state. In Bamenda, Buea and across dozens of towns and communities, people marched and hoisted Ambazonian flags at intersections and on top the residences of traditional chiefs as well as at police stations and gendarmerie posts. Independence was symbolically proclaimed in chiefs’ compounds.

The march protest showed to the Biya’s regime that the Anglophone minority is a potential time bomb that will destroy national unity and reconciliation if the government failed to respect their cultural and linguistic traditional. Hon Joseph Wirba of the Jakiri Special Constituency while addressing his colleagues of the national assembly made it clear ‘when the people shall rise, even if you bring the whole of the French army and add to yours, you shall not be able to stop them.”

3.5 Government’s response

According to [20, 25] security forces responded with bullets and teargas, injuring some protesters in Santa and Ekona in the North West and South West Regions and arrested dozens of people. Government ordered the banning of all radio and television discussions on the political situation in the region. President Biya subsequently signed a decree establishing the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to solve the matter. In August 2018, the president signed a decree releasing Anglophone leaders detained for months because of the protests. Several others including journalists are still behind bars facing terrorism charges.

Crisis Group [26] states that defense and security forces responded with disproportionate force, leading to at least 40 deaths and over 100 injured protesters between 28 September and 2 October. This death toll is the result of live ammunition and excessive use of tear gas on those at homes as well as faithful going to church. Defense and security forces arrested hundreds of people without warrant, including those who were in their homes. They made use of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. Sexual abuse, destruction of property and looting of homes by soldiers and police, as well as shooting from helicopters at protesters in Kumba, Bamenda and near Buea were reported by a dozen residents, local politicians, senior officials, the press, human rights organizations and the Catholic bishops of the two regions.

According to Primus F. [27], the villages of secessionist leaders such as Ewele, Akwaya, Eyumodjock and Ekona were targeted by the defense and security forces, forcing thousands of young men to flee to the bush for fear of being killed or arrested and tortured. Violence, arrests and looting by military and police continued throughout the following week, notably in the department of Manyu. Suspected of secessionism, Deputy Mayor of Ndu was reportedly killed at home by the military on 2 October.

This widespread violence took place during a de facto state of emergency and martial law, imposed by the two regional governors from 29 September to 3 October: they enforced curfews, banned demonstrations and gatherings of more than four people, closed regional land and sea borders, broght in military reinforcements, banned all movement from one department to another, banned motorcycling, and cut off social networks, followed by the internet and electricity. On 1 October, people were also forbidden from leaving their homes [21].

Some senior officials and high-ranking officers explained that the excessive measures were due to lack of police officers, insufficient police equipment, the lack of blank cartridges and an inadequate stock or misuse of tear gas. Their claim was that gendarmes and police officers mismanaged their insufficient stock of tear gas by using it at homes, and ran out when facing protesters.

They also accused protesters of inciting unrest by burning vehicles that belonged to the sub-divisional officers and Divional Officers in Boyo and Fundong (in the Northwest), snatching weapons from gendarmes in Kumba (in the Southwest), ransacking the police stations of Ikiliwindi, Mabanda Teke and Kongle, and reportedly throwing stones at police and military in Buea and Bamenda. Finally, they point out that some police officers and military personnel refused to participate in the violence, which meant that the security apparatus was understaffed [21].

The government official missions abroad to discuss with Cameroonians in the diaspora in August failed and it led to increased cases of arson and sporadic violence by unidentified splinter groups, violent repression of Anglophone activists by security forces on 22 September, bomb blasts in the Northwest, and a de facto state of emergency from 29 September to 3 October. Due to such murderous repression, secessionist ranks grew, and they firmly evoked the idea of an armed struggle or “self-defense”. The crisis needed political solutions through the mediation of a credible mediator, such as the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) or the African Union and superficial measures and take responsibility in order to find political solutions to the crisis [26].

3.6 Social dynamic: the change of stance

According to Billy A et al. [28], the Anglophone conflict has escalated since 2016 because more Anglophone movements including those that praised the decentralization of power and those which supported federalism have joined pro-independence movements. They are armed and are committing violence as well as petitioning international and regional organizations such as the United Nations and the African Union to seek for a solution to the crisis. The current spate of violence that has caused a lot of deaths, bloodshed, and the destruction of properties started when lawyers and teachers protested. How have Ambazonians changed their stance for the past four years of the crisis?

When Southern Cameroonians watched the video [28] which describes in detail the massive and pervasive protest march which took place on the 22nd September and the 1st October 2017, they did not only considered the event as one “that gave nightmare for LRC” but noticed the enormous change that had taken place so far. In 2017, they wanted a federation but presently, they are fighting for total freedom: The analyses below are based on Ambazonians’ views on the ABC (The Ambazonia Broadcasting Corporation) television programme: Remembering September 22 2017.

“This is a rebroadcast of 2017 by then we wanted a federation. We have moved on to total independence,” “No to Federation,” “They have been killing our people with no remorse on daily bases big no to federation,” etc. [29].

They gladly acknowledged their pledge to fight for a free Ambazonia because as they said it is not given but won and that the spirit of a free Ambazonia dwells in them all. And they praise Honorable Wirba who shook the House of Assembly with his declaration and considered him a true prophet when he said: “When my people will raise even if you join your forces with that of France you will not win them,” Then they affirmed that until independence is achieved, there will be no peace in Cameroon.

“Ambazonia must be free,” “Independent or no peace” “the Ambazonian spirit lives on in every Ambazonian,” “We Ambazonians in the majority have consciously chosen freedom”. This freedom, we Ambazonians shall earn and it is not given. God help us » “I wish I will be alive. The Ngoketugia Marines will be there” [29].

This shows that the crisis has taken a dynamic and dramatic change from federation: staying with la République du Cameroun and managing their own affairs to total independence, that is, having nothing to do with French-speaking Cameroon because no political solution had been sought for the crisis but superficial and martial solutions. This was seen by the war draft that the Interim Government organized that almost 2 million dollars were raised to prosecute the war for independence.

Being assured of achieving their independence, they recommended the keeping of the videos because as they said many people in the crowd had been either killed or imprisoned by the Yaoundé regime:

“God gave us leaders. Look at that young man. Hope he is still alive,” “God cover you all with his blood brothers and sisters” “Videos like this must be kept. Many in that crowd have disappeared or they are in underground prisons” [29].

They considered those who spoke contrary to their views as foreigners or francophone; “All those speakers are Bamilikes and so we don’t expect anything better from their responses,” “They are all Bamis,” “So funny to listen to them, who the hell are these men? In who’s name are they talking?” “All francophone, federalists or unionists have no more voice in the Ambazonian revolution,”

They also question why soldiers were killing only Anglophones “Look at the protests today. No Francophone Camerounian was killed” [29].

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