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Background of the Study

Globally, political conflict is a pervasive and complex phenomenon that manifests in various forms, including inter-state wars, civil wars, ethnic violence, and political protests. As described by Alabi, Jamiu & Lawal (2023) political conflict arises from disagreements over power, resources, ideology, identity, or governance systems and political scientists have extensively studied the causes, dynamics, and consequences of political conflict, drawing on various theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence. Notably, one prominent perspective on political conflict is the structural approach, which emphasizes socio-economic inequalities, political exclusion, and institutional weaknesses as root causes. According to Garimu (2020), individuals and groups are more likely to engage in political violence when they perceive their grievances as unaddressed by existing political systems. This perspective highlights the role of structural factors such as poverty, inequality, and lack of political representation in fueling conflict. Another important framework for understanding political conflict is the primordialist approach, which emphasizes the role of identity, ethnicity, and religion. Scholars like Horowitz (2018) argue that deep-seated ethnic or religious divisions can escalate into violent conflict, especially in contexts where these identities are politicized and manipulated by elites for strategic purposes. the constructivist perspective highlights the importance of ideas, narratives, and social constructions in shaping political conflict. According to Kriesberg (2018), conflicts often arise from competing interpretations of history, collective memories, and identity narratives. Political actors may mobilize around certain symbols or ideologies to advance their interests or challenge existing power structures.

In many African countries, post-colonial governments inherited complex ethnic landscapes characterized by diverse linguistic, cultural, and religious groups. These governments often struggle to manage and accommodate these diversities within the framework of a unified nation-state. As argued by Chabal and Daloz (2019), the failure to address ethnic grievances and inequalities has fueled resentment and competition for political power among different ethnic groups. Englebert, (2020) stated that the legacy of colonialism has left behind institutions and structures that perpetuate ethnic favoritism and exclusion. Neopatrimonial systems, characterized by clientelism, patronage, and ethnic-based distribution of resources, have entrenched ethnic politics in many African states. Horowitz (2018) maintained that economic disparities along ethnic lines also contribute to political tension. Unequal access to resources, land, and opportunities often exacerbates ethnic rivalries and conflicts. Ethnic mobilization becomes a potent tool for political elites to rally support and maintain power, often at the expense of national unity and stability.

Concurrently, Cameroon, a country located in Central Africa, is renowned for its rich cultural diversity, comprising over 250 ethnic groups, each with its own language, customs, and traditions. However, this diversity has also been a source of political tension and conflict, deeply rooted in historical, socio-economic, and institutional factors. Historically, Cameroon was colonized by both Germany and France before being divided into British and French territories after World War I. This colonial legacy has left a complex ethnic landscape, with Anglophone and Francophone populations coexisting within the same national boundaries.  Consequently, the post-colonial period witnessed the consolidation of power by authoritarian regimes, particularly under President Paul Biya's rule since 1982 (Chabal and Daloz 2019).

Bizarrely, ethnicity has played a significant role in shaping political dynamics in Cameroon. The country's political institutions and governance structures have often been characterized by ethnic favoritism, exclusion, and marginalization. The dominance of Francophone elites in government, business, and the military has fueled grievances among Anglophone communities, leading to demands for greater autonomy or secession in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Institutionally, Cameroon's centralized governance system has struggled to accommodate its diverse ethnic groups' aspirations and grievances. Calls for federalism or decentralization to address ethnic grievances have been met with resistance from the central government, exacerbating political tensions and impeding conflict resolution efforts. Given the complex interplay between ethnicity, politics, and conflict in Cameroon, understanding the underlying causes and dynamics is crucial for promoting peace, reconciliation, and sustainable development.

Statement of Problem

The Cameroon nation thrives on a dicey patchwork of national unity and integration that have become nebulous concepts. Though traceable to the Ahidjo era and adopted by the Biya regime, ethnic jingoism became rife with the re-introduction of multiparty politics in the 1990s. Evidently, the political and economic equation is marked by divide et impera policies leading to the proliferation and fragmentation of stark ethno-regional cleavages. Udolumba (2023) averred that political and ethnic tensions unleashed by the disputed 2018 presidential election still roil Cameroon, already facing a separatist insurgency in its Anglophone regions. Defeated opposition politician Maurice Kamto continues to challenge the vote’s outcome, while President Paul Biya shows no sign of wanting to relinquish power after 38 years in office. Their supporters are now insulting each other with ethnic slurs online, especially in the country’s most popular social media forum, Facebook. Ethnic strains are rising alongside hate speech, trends that, if they escalate, could endanger Cameroon’s stability.

Morgan (2022) in their study stated that the politicization of ethnicity by the ruling regime has the tendency to further deepen divisions and fueled conflicts. The government's heavy-handed response to Anglophone protests and demands for decentralization has led to human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests, and the displacement of thousands of civilians. The secessionist crisis has escalated into a protracted conflict, characterized by violence, displacement, and humanitarian suffering. Moreover, economic disparities along ethnic lines have exacerbated political tensions. The predominantly agrarian Anglophone regions have long felt neglected in terms of infrastructure development, access to education, and job opportunities compared to the more prosperous Francophone regions. This disparity has fueled resentment and fueled separatist movements like the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), seeking to create an independent state called Ambazonia. In the process, the state machinery is rendered fluid with ethnocentrism, ethno linguistic regionalism; separatism and the bifurcation of regional groupings and minorities as the order of the day. 

Although there is a considerable body of research on the influence of identity politics on nascent democracy. However, there is a noticeable dearth of studies examining the relationship between ethnicity and political conflict in Cameroon landscape. Against the backdrop the study seeks to investigate the role of ethnicity in fueling political conflicts in Cameroon.

1.3 Objective of the study

The objective of this study is focused on an investigation on the role of ethnicity in fueling political conflicts in Cameroon. Specifically, the study seeks to:

Examine the extent to which ethnicity influences fueling political conflicts in Cameroon.

Assess the socio-economic factors contributing to ethnic grievances and political tensions in Cameroon,.

Ascertain the impact of ethnicity on Cameroon’s political stability.

Identify strategies for mitigating ethnic ethnic grievances and political tensions  in Cameroon.

1.4 Research Question 

The study is guided by the following research questions constructed in line with the research objectives

What is the extent to which ethnicity influences fueling political conflicts in Cameroon?

What is the socio-economic factors contributing to ethnic grievances and political tensions in Cameroon?

What is the impact of ethnicity on Cameroon’s political stability?

What are strategies for mitigating ethnic grievances and political tensions in Cameroon?

Research Hypotheses

Ho:  Ethnicity plays no significant role in fueling political conflicts in Cameroon

Ha: Ethnicity plays a significant role in fueling political conflicts in Cameroon

Significance of the study

Understanding the role of ethnicity in fueling political conflicts in Cameroon is essential for policymakers and stakeholders involved in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and governance reform. Insights from this study can inform the development of more inclusive policies and strategies aimed at addressing ethnic grievances and promoting national unity and cohesion. By identifying key drivers and patterns of ethnic conflict in Cameroon, this study can contribute to the development of effective conflict resolution mechanisms and peacebuilding initiatives. It can help stakeholders to better understand the root causes of conflicts and to design interventions that address underlying socio-economic, political, and institutional factors.

For humanitarian organization, the ongoing conflict in Cameroon has led to significant humanitarian suffering, including displacement, violence, and human rights abuses. Understanding the role of ethnicity in fueling these conflicts is crucial for humanitarian organizations and advocacy groups working to alleviate the plight of affected populations and address their needs effectively.Empirically, this study adds to the body of scholarly literature on ethnic conflict, governance, and peacebuilding in Africa, particularly in the context of Cameroon. It provides new insights and empirical evidence that can inform further research and theoretical developments in the fields.

Scope of the study

The study scope is bordered on is focused on an investigation on the role of ethnicity in fueling political conflicts in Cameroon. In content, the study will assess the historical evolution of ethnic relations and political dynamics in Cameroon, with a focus on how ethnicity has influenced governance structures, power distribution, and conflict resolution mechanisms, determine the .socio-economic factors contributing to ethnic grievances and political tensions in Cameroon, the impact of ethnicity on Cameroon’s political stability and identify strategies for mitigating ethnic grievances and political tensions  in Cameroon. Geogrphicall, the study will examine both Anglophone and Francophone regions, with a particular emphasis on areas where ethnic tensions have been most pronounced, such as the Northwest and Southwest regions.

limitations of the study

One of the primary limitations of this study is the availability and reliability of data, particularly in conflict-affected areas. Limited access to official records, surveys, and other sources of information may constrain the depth and scope of the analysis. Additionally, the politicized nature of ethnic conflicts in Cameroon may result in biased or incomplete data, further complicating the research process. Conducting fieldwork in conflict-affected regions, such as the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, may pose significant challenges due to security concerns, logistical constraints, and restrictions on movement. More so, since  Cameroon's ethnic landscape is characterized by diverse linguistic, cultural, and historical identities, which may be fluid and overlapping,  the study may face challenges in accurately capturing the nuances of these identities and their implications for political conflicts. The researcher's interpretation of ethnic categories and affiliations may not fully reflect the complexities and variations within and between ethnic groups.

Definition of term 

Ethnicity: Ethnicity refers to the identification with, and affiliation to, a particular cultural, linguistic, or ancestral group. It encompasses shared customs, traditions, language, and sometimes geographical origins. In the context of this study, ethnicity pertains to the diverse ethnic groups present in Cameroon, including but not limited to the Anglophone and Francophone populations.

Political Conflict: Political conflict encompasses disputes, disagreements, or struggles over power, resources, governance, or ideology within a political system. In the context of this study, political conflict refers specifically to conflicts in Cameroon that have ethnic dimensions or are influenced by ethnic identities, grievances, or dynamics.

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