Former US Ambassador to Cameroon Peter Barlerin talks to Nigerian ace journalist David Hundeyin on the anglophone crisis

Nigerian writer and international journalist David Hundeyin who is equally the 2020 People’s Journalism Prize for Africa winner has shared his interview with former US Ambassador to Cameroon Peter Barlerin.



1. During your tenure, what was the U.S. position on the fundamental basis of the conflict, which is the perceived cultural expansionism of the government in Yaoundé and its refusal to implement the conditions of the 1966 merger?

I am retired from the U.S. Department of State and write in a private capacity. That said, the U.S. government’s position was and continues to be that there is no military solution to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. The only way forward is for both sides to come together in an open-ended dialogue without preconditions. The U.S. government does not support the territorial partitioning of Cameroon.

2. In your opinion, is Yaoundé’s ongoing fight against Ambazonian insurgency a winnable one? If so, why? If not, what alternate course of action should be taken?

It may be winnable over a very long period of time — say, 20 or 30 years, but at a horrific cost in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. The civil war that raged in Cameroon between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s is a cautionary tale, and no one wants to repeat that.

3. There have been several credible reported instances of severe human rights violations by the Cameroonian military in the Anglophone region including extrajudicial execution, rape and arson. Has the US government made any move to engage robustly with Yaondé over these issues? As the world’s foremost Anglophone country, does the US see the survival and cultural preservation of Cameroon’s Anglophone regions as one of its foreign policy objectives in Central Africa?

There have been gross violations of human rights on both sides, though the government bears the responsibility to ensure that its security forces protect all Cameroonians. The U.S. government dramatically reduced security assistance to the Government of the Republic of Cameroon because of a lack of cooperation on human rights; it continues to pursue a robust program of — among other things — assisting the Cameroonian people in improving health outcomes and providing humanitarian relief and development for refugees and internally displaced persons, including for the Northwest and Southwest.

4. The region in question is bordered by Nigeria, which is the continent’s largest English-speaking country as well as its largest economy. What role do you think Nigeria should be playing in resolving the crisis?

As a friend to Cameroon with a long border, Nigeria can and should play a supporting role, possibly in facilitating dialogue. Anglophone separatists are understandably concerned about traveling to Nigeria, however, out of concern that they be arrested and forcibly deported to Cameroon as has happened in the past.

5. The oil-bearing Bakassi region which used to be part of Nigeria, is now part of the Cameroonian territory witnessing conflict. What is your analysis of how the politics of oil interplays with the Ambazonian independence/restoration movement?

It’s not just about oil, and while oil and gas revenues certainly play an important role, they are not as important as in the economies of most of Cameroon’s neighbors. Cameroon is more diversified: the Northwest and Southwest regions were and could again be agricultural export powerhouses for Cameroon. Before the conflict started, Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, was developing as a high-tech center for Central Africa. Fishing resources off the coast are underdeveloped but have great potential. And having a bilingual, educated populace with diverse cultures is not a thing to be squandered. Nigeria’s and Cameroon’s ability to resolve peaceably and through dialogue tensions over the Bakassi peninsula provide hope for the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.



1. During your tenure, what was the U.S. position on the fundamental basis of the conflict, which is the perceived cultural expansionism of the government in Yaoundé and its refusal to implement the conditions of the 1966 merger?

I am retired from the U.S. Department of State and write in a private capacity. That said, the U.S. government’s position was and continues to be that there is no military solution to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. The only way forward is for both sides to come together in an open-ended dialogue without preconditions. The U.S. government does not support the territorial partitioning of Cameroon.

2. In your opinion, is Yaoundé’s ongoing fight against Ambazonian insurgency a winnable one? If so, why? If not, what alternate course of action should be taken?

It may be winnable over a very long period of time — say, 20 or 30 years, but at a horrific cost in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. The civil war that raged in Cameroon between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s is a cautionary tale, and no one wants to repeat that.

3. There have been several credible reported instances of severe human rights violations by the Cameroonian military in the Anglophone region including extrajudicial execution, rape and arson. Has the US government made any move to engage robustly with Yaondé over these issues? As the world’s foremost Anglophone country, does the US see the survival and cultural preservation of Cameroon’s Anglophone regions as one of its foreign policy objectives in Central Africa?

There have been gross violations of human rights on both sides, though the government bears the responsibility to ensure that its security forces protect all Cameroonians. The U.S. government dramatically reduced security assistance to the Government of the Republic of Cameroon because of a lack of cooperation on human rights; it continues to pursue a robust program of — among other things — assisting the Cameroonian people in improving health outcomes and providing humanitarian relief and development for refugees and internally displaced persons, including for the Northwest and Southwest.

4. The region in question is bordered by Nigeria, which is the continent’s largest English-speaking country as well as its largest economy. What role do you think Nigeria should be playing in resolving the crisis?

As a friend to Cameroon with a long border, Nigeria can and should play a supporting role, possibly in facilitating dialogue. Anglophone separatists are understandably concerned about traveling to Nigeria, however, out of concern that they be arrested and forcibly deported to Cameroon as has happened in the past.

5. The oil-bearing Bakassi region which used to be part of Nigeria, is now part of the Cameroonian territory witnessing conflict. What is your analysis of how the politics of oil interplays with the Ambazonian independence/restoration movement?

It’s not just about oil, and while oil and gas revenues certainly play an important role, they are not as important as in the economies of most of Cameroon’s neighbors. Cameroon is more diversified: the Northwest and Southwest regions were and could again be agricultural export powerhouses for Cameroon. Before the conflict started, Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, was developing as a high tech center for Central Africa. Fishing resources off the coast are underdeveloped but have great potential. And having a bilingual, educated populace with diverse cultures is not a thing to be squandered. Nigeria’s and Cameroon’s ability to resolve peaceably and through dialogue tensions over the Bakassi peninsula provide hope for the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

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1. During your tenure, what was the U.S. position on the fundamental basis of the conflict, which is the perceived cultural expansionism of the government in Yaoundé and its refusal to implement the conditions of the 1966 merger?

I am retired from the U.S. Department of State and write in a private capacity. That said, the U.S. government’s position was and continues to be that there is no military solution to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. The only way forward is for both sides to come together in an open-ended dialogue without preconditions. The U.S. government does not support the territorial partitioning of Cameroon.

2. In your opinion, is Yaoundé’s ongoing fight against Ambazonian insurgency a winnable one? If so, why? If not, what alternate course of action should be taken?

It may be winnable over a very long period of time — say, 20 or 30 years, but at a horrific cost in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. The civil war that raged in Cameroon between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s is a cautionary tale, and no one wants to repeat that.

3. There have been several credible reported instances of severe human rights violations by the Cameroonian military in the Anglophone region including extrajudicial execution, rape, and arson. Has the US government made any move to engage robustly with Yaondé over these issues? As the world’s foremost Anglophone country, does the US see the survival and cultural preservation of Cameroon’s Anglophone regions as one of its foreign policy objectives in Central Africa?

There have been gross violations of human rights on both sides, though the government bears the responsibility to ensure that its security forces protect all Cameroonians. The U.S. government dramatically reduced security assistance to the Government of the Republic of Cameroon because of a lack of cooperation on human rights; it continues to pursue a robust program of — among other things — assisting the Cameroonian people in improving health outcomes and providing humanitarian relief and development for refugees and internally displaced persons, including for the Northwest and Southwest.

4. The region in question is bordered by Nigeria, which is the continent’s largest English-speaking country as well as its largest economy. What role do you think Nigeria should be playing in resolving the crisis?

As a friend to Cameroon with a long border, Nigeria can and should play a supporting role, possibly in facilitating dialogue. Anglophone separatists are understandably concerned about traveling to Nigeria, however, out of concern that they be arrested and forcibly deported to Cameroon as has happened in the past.

5. The oil-bearing Bakassi region which used to be part of Nigeria, is now part of the Cameroonian territory witnessing conflict. What is your analysis of how the politics of oil interplays with the Ambazonian independence/restoration movement?

It’s not just about oil, and while oil and gas revenues certainly play an important role, they are not as important as in the economies of most of Cameroon’s neighbors. Cameroon is more diversified: the Northwest and Southwest regions were and could again be agricultural export powerhouses for Cameroon. Before the conflict started, Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region, was developing as a high-tech center for Central Africa. Fishing resources off the coast are underdeveloped but have great potential. And having a bilingual, educated populace with diverse cultures is not a thing to be squandered. Nigeria’s and Cameroon’s ability to resolve peaceably and through dialogue tensions over the Bakassi peninsula provide hope for the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Former US Ambassador to Cameroon