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In Cameroon, A Violent Flank Spoils Separatist Movement and Increases Violence

In Cameroon, A Violent Flank Spoils Separatist Movement and Increases Violence


The goals of a mostly nonviolent separatist movement in Cameroon are being jeopardized by a violent minority. Peace research shows that these “violent flanks” often decrease the likelihood of campaign success and expose their nonviolent counterparts to violent retaliation.

In the News:

“Northwestern and southwestern Cameroon have seen relentless bloodshed over the past few weeks. Something akin to civil war has broken out since factions of a separatist movement in English-speaking areas adopted violent tactics — including abductions and guerilla-style attacks — following years of nonviolent struggle against the Francophone government headed by despot Paul Biya.”

“While the majority have stuck with nonviolent resistance, a violent flank of separatists have armed themselves, using guerrilla tactics to abduct and kill agents of Biya’s government. This has enabled Biya to brand the military occupation of Ambazonia as a struggle against terrorism. And scorched-earth tactics have increased since late 2017 as a result.”

Insight from Peace Science:

In case studies, armed movements were consistently shown not to protect nonviolent activists but rather to put them at greater risk, as authorities used the presence of armed actors to justify widespread repression against all resistance movements, violent and nonviolent alike.

  • Violent flanks that emerge from within otherwise nonviolent campaigns appear to decrease these campaigns’ likelihood of success.
  • Mass participation is the strongest determinant of nonviolent campaign success, and violent flanks have a negative effect on participation levels, suggesting that violent flanks can indirectly contribute to campaign failure.
  • Research shows that, “on average, maximalist nonviolent campaigns often succeed despite violent flanks—rarely because of them.”


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