Cameroonian elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) members patrol the abandoned village of Ekona near Buea in the Anglophone southwest region, Cameroon, October 2018.
Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS

In recent months, political violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon has escalated dramatically. So far, at least 400 civilians and 160 state security officers have been killed in the conflict between the government and an armed separatist movement that, just two short years ago, started as a peaceful strike of lawyers and teachers. How did such upheaval come to a country that has prided itself for decades as a bulwark of stability in a region of violent conflict? And why has it escalated so quickly?

THE ROOTS OF THE VIOLENCE

The Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon have a special historical legacy that sets them apart from the country’s other eight regions: between 1922 and 1960, they were ruled as a British trust or protectorate while the rest of the territory was administered by France. This is why today, 3 million residents of the Northwest and Southwest regions—roughly 20 percent of the Cameroonian population—speak primarily

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  • NATALIE LETSA is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University and the Wick Cary Assistant Professor of Political Economy at the University of Oklahoma.
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