Mamfe Carnage: Can Someone Reassure Cameroonians We Are Not Moving Toward a Failed State?

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Mamfe Carnage: Can Someone Reassure Cameroonians We Are Not Moving Toward a Failed State?

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“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”
Chinua Achebe, referencing William Butler Yeats in ‘The Second Coming’

As Muteff village in Boyo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon engages the final ancestorship rites this weekend for Bobe Clement Fuchi, a man who risked his life during the existentialist conflict pitting Abuh and Muteff in the 70s and 80s, by extolling humanitarian virtues and urging Muteff parents not to involve innocent children in their greedy quarrels over goat heads,  their counterparts of Egbwekaw in Manyu Division of the South West Region, are still in total shock and consternation following the last November 6, 2023, deadly attack that claimed the lives of close to  30 innocent civilians, including a pregnant woman and a nine-year-old girl.

The blood-dimed tide that was loosed on the people of Edgwekaw in Mamfe Central last Monday 6, 2023, was the microcosm of the macrocosm of the mere anarchy that has constantly visited non-combatants in the restive two English-speaking regions of the country, as over 10,000 innocent civilians are already recorded to have joined their ancestors since the start of this conflict.  With the ceremony of innocence completely drowned since the outbreak of the conflict waged by separatist fighters in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, one would not be wrong in concluding like W.B. Yeats in his acclaimed WW2 poem ‘The Second Coming’ when he wrote: ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’

The best in the Cameroon situation lack the conviction to speak the truth which can lead to the end of this senseless conflict,  while the worst have developed a passionate intensity to kill with reckless abandon as the State seems helpless. And that’s where the debate on a failed State begins.

In International law, the notion of a failed State is invoked when a State has lost its effective ability to govern its populace. Although the State may continue to maintain legal sovereignty over its territory, it may experience a breakdown in political power, law enforcement, and civil society, leading to a state of near-anarchy.  Experts of international human rights law have identified common characteristics of a failing State including the inability of the government to collect taxes and police its populace, control its territory, fill political or civil offices, or maintain its infrastructure. When this happens, widespread corruption/extortion and criminality, the intervention of the State, and non-State actors, the appearance of refugees and involuntary movement of populations, sharp economic decline, and the intervention of the military, are likely to occur.

Although it is never easy to state with authority at what level a State has failed,  it must be noted in the Cameroon case that the above-mentioned characteristics do not favor the situation on the ground, including the fact that a recent communique from the Ministry of Interior was summoning civil administrators (who are the symbol of State authority) that have abandoned work in the restive regions, to resume or face sanctions. The Mamfe incident significantly speaks to the conscience of the nation.

Max Weber in one of his famous political theories on the State defines that State as ‘maintaining a monopoly on the use of physical force within its borders.’ When this is broken through the dominant presence of warlords, para military groups, corrupt policing, armed gangs, or terrorism, the very existence of the State becomes dubious. Given that according to Max Weber, only the State has the means of production necessary for physical force, discussions on the possibility of a failed State in Cameroon become rife given the magnitude of violence being produced by non-State actors, as was witnessed last week in Mamfe. The fact that the State is unable to enforce its laws uniformly across the two English-speaking regions of the country is a call for concern.

While other International experts have argued that the situation in the two English-speaking regions may qualify Cameroon as a ‘fragile’ rather than a ‘failed’ State, Charles T. Call disagrees with both notions and proposes the ‘gab framework’ theory as a means of assessing the effectiveness of State authority. This theory considers the State’s ability to effectively deliver basic goods and services to the population; the State’s ability to provide security to the population under threats from armed groups; and finally, whether a significant portion of the political elite and the population abide by the rules regulating power and the accumulation and distribution of wealth.

Whatever definition one settles for in the Cameroon situation, the government needs to find a way to assure peace-loving Cameroonians that they can sleep with both eyes closed in the two English-speaking regions without the Edgwekaw fate awaiting them.

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