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January 17: A turning point in Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis

The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon took a different dimension on Tuesday, January 17 last year, after Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, the president of the Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, and Dr. Fontem Neba, the group’s secretary general, were arrested. On that same day, the government deemed two groups and their activities illegal in a letter made available to local media.

“All activities, meetings and demonstrations initiated or promoted by the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), any other related groups with similar objectives or by anyone partisan to these groups, are hereby prohibited all over the national territory,” the letter said.

The Cameroon Common Law Lawyers Association immediately condemned the arrest, they were backed by the association some international lawyers as well as right groups and civil society organizations. Yet they were dragged to court back and forth for months, and others joined them in prison.

On this same day the authorities ordered the country’s telecommunications providers to shut off internet connections across the country, for a couple of hours all 10 regions in Cameroon had no access to internet connection. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, internet was reinstated, but for the Northwest and Southwest regions.

An appeal was made by civil society organizations including; Internet Sans Frontières, Access Now, The World Wide Foundation, Or Pen International, condemning internet shutdown in the Northwest and Southwest regions as a violation of Human Rights in an open letter. Using the hashtag Bring-Back-Our-Internet, many on social media expressed their outrage at the government’s response to the protest. But the internet remained shut for a very long time.

All of these marked an end to a peaceful protest against what activists call the marginalisation of the English-speaking regions.

Months after all these happened the internet was restored and some of the arrested were liberated, but then, something else had been cooking while these leaders who wanted federation were away. A new course for was born; secession, with a separatist group fortified.

Today, many are still locked up, many have died the exact figures are not known, many have been displaced, over 30,000 have fled and are residing in Nigeria as refugees, the ghost towns have paralyzed so many businesses, and students have remained home for over a year without education in some areas.

Dialogue has been promised for months, but then with the recent arrest of the Anglophone separatist leaders in Nigeria, prior to the long awaited dialogue, and the level of insecurity in these restive regions, it is uncertain how the situation will look like in the future.

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