Food Security and Conflicts. Case Study: Anglophone Crisis, Cameroon
Author: John Carlvin Piyinchu
There is a tragic link between conflict and hunger and how it still pervades far too much of the world. We need better and quicker access in all conflict zones, so we can get to more of the civilians who need our help. But what the world needs most of all is an end to the wars.”
José Graziano da Silva (WFP Executive Director)
A brief overview of the conflict
We live in a time of rapid and revolutionary change, unparalleled to any period in history. However, one thing remains constant and almost inevitable; conflicts, always in a state of cyclical transformation and causing existential threat to people. In a sense of realism and high standard of probity, Abdalla Amr (2009) acknowledged this fact.
Most contemporary conflicts are unconventional (ideological), and a lot more complex to resolve than conventional wars. In the context of Cameroon, it is the Anglophone conflict, popularly known as the Anglophone crisis. The five-year conflict remains one of the most under-reported in the world, with the plight of English speaking Cameroonians emanating from political, social, and economic assimilation. In the likes of the Rohingya, and Tigray conflicts, it is almost a 21st century slow replay of the Rwandan genocide
There has been several failed attempts by the government to dialogue with its aggrieved citizens. However, the government’s vehement denial to look for a solution that address the root cause of the crises gradually led to the rise of the Anglophone separatist movement, with its roots being at the very heart of Cameroon’s history, marked by the ‘voluntary’ re-unification of Francophone and Anglophone Cameroons as two equal states in 1961.
Some Anglophone intellects informed their populace that the repercussions of igniting such a one-sided battle would be a devastating loss on the part of the Anglophones if they did not stop the quest for self-determination. The basis of this assertion was both on a historical context and on the strong alliances Francophone Cameroon had formed over the years with a major of world actors on both sides of the global-political spectrum (including the European Union, African Union, China, Russia, Canada, United State, and many others).
Five years into the conflict, it is worth acknowledging that Anglophone Cameroon is by far the under-dog in the conflict. I have come to understand the complexity of the United Nation’s system, and why intervention in this case is limited to recommendations, given the dimensions (sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of states) of conflict intervention as spelled out in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.
Beyond the political lens, the main aim of this article is to look at the repercussion of this five-year conflict on the country’s food security systems, perhaps food remains vital for the existence of every human, be they the oppressor or the oppressed, the victims or the villains. It is the lifeblood of human existence.
A growing symbiotic relationship between conflicts and food security crises in the world
The very basis of our existence as a specie is threatened and under siege by anthropogenic climate change, which leads to global resource depletion, and further widens the gap in the uneven distribution of these natural resources. To add a bit of context, self-interest and greed becomes the norm and makes us culprits and victims of our own actions.
A prime example of the consequences of human greed and entitlement mindset is war, which exudes a disservice to our fragile climate resilience and adaptation systems especially in countries of the global South. The result; acute food shortages in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world. In fact, according to the 2021 global report on food crises, a minimum of 155 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity.
In 2020, Africa alone accounted for over 98 million chronically hungry people, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where this situation is persistent, with an estimated 237 million people going hungry on a daily basis (FAO, 2019). This is the equivalent of one in every five persons being hungry. Global food production is sufficient to feed everyone on the planet, but vices like conflicts greatly distort Food Supply Chains, exacerbating the global food security crisis.
Most contemporary wars are accompanied by mass starvation as with the case of South Sudan. In the past, conflicts principally emanated from resource scarcity, including food scarcity, today the latter is borne of the former. The direct and imminent consequence of these problems is rising global food security crises.
Through time immemorial, conflicts have been the primary cause of global food security crises, only varying in intensity and timescale. For example, over 4.2 million Soviets died between 1941 and 1944 under the Nazi Hunger Plan (Carlisle & Linnea, 2020). Despite the dawn of the 21st century ushering in an iota of hope with respect to global peace, several conflicts spiraled, and in some cases, starvation used as a weapon (National Geographic Society, 2020).
This situation coupled with the already unbearable weight of climatic shocks, has excercabated the proliferation of conflict related food crises in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. The WFP (World Food Program) 2021 global hotspot report has mapped out red zones of food insecurity based on the risk of growing intensity of conflicts.
With the exception of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Afghanistan where there is increased vulnerability of attacks from the Taliban militia given the withdrawal of U.S troops from the country, all other high-risk zones are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Take for instance, the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region seems to have no end in sight, the horrendous intercommunal conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan remains on the spot-light, meanwhile the central Sahel region continues to record one of the highest levels of displacements due to rising insurgencies of terrorist groups. These are just a few examples of many other outlined cases in the report.
They all pose a direct threat to food security in the region, not just to farmers but to consumers too, as their employment and sources of income are adversely affected, making the acquisition of food difficult (Kennard & Cornell, 2018). All these provide a workable equation; Cameroon is engulfed by conflicts both within and without, it will be politically and morally incorrect to assume that this would have little or no effect on its food security systems.
Is Cameroon just a stoical defender of food security in itself and the Central African Sub-region (CEMAC-region)?
The World Bank (WB) in 1986 defined food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”. Looking at the current situation in the country, it is apparent that its food safety net is galloping downhill.
With a population of over 25 million people, a strategic geo-political location, and with a GDP of over 44 billion US dollars (O’Neill, 2021), Cameroon prides itself as the economic power-hub of the CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa) zone. Its economy is built on the pillars of agriculture, producing varied food and cash crops, which are exported mostly to neighboring countries and beyond. This has earned it the nickname ‘bread-basket’ of the sub-region, giving outsiders a false picture of a hunger-free Cameroon.
The ongoing conflict has exacerbated a myriad of challenges in the domains of gender based violence, education, health, water and sanitation, and most importantly food security. SHUMAS Cameroon, a local humanitarian NGO estimates that the conflict has driven about 1.5 million people into food insecurity, with 60% being North Westerners, 40% being South Westerners, and 8% being acutely food insecure.
The Cameroon government needs to be able to define the priorities and posteriorities of Cameroon’s food systems when it comes to fighting internal and regional hunger. As a Cameroonian, I have grown up seeing excessively many people who cannot afford two square meals a day; and so many destitute on the streets to earn a token that can permit them have a single meal.
The country currently suffers from skyrocketing food prices, greatly limiting access to basic foodstuffs even by the country’s middle-income class. All this happening in a so called ‘food haven’. Increased desertification and the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northern regions pose another major challenge to the country’s volatile food security situation (Belek, 2012).
Like every conflict, the Anglophone crisis uncovers structural inequalities that exist in the Cameroonian society, directly affecting the two English-speaking regions with the combined highest contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The aggregate effects of denying the existential threat of this conflict on the food systems of the country is like a putting a ticking time bomb in the heart of the country, a sheer catastrophe in the making.
Challenges in addressing this crisis and building a utopic food secure Cameroon
A utopic state is a state of perfection, and remains the strife of many countries around the world. This is however never without challenges as with the case of Cameroon due to the lack of a spot on commitment by the conflicting parties in resolving the crisis.
Firstly, the approach of the Cameroon government in labelling and tackling the crisis as a terrorist upheaval sets a rather dangerous precedence, a recipe for greater disaster, and a divergence from addressing its root cause. In retrospect, Anglophone Cameroonians have always felt that disconnection from the central government.
As a socio-political crisis, finding a sustainable political resolution is quite a challenge. The more delay in resolving this crisis, the more acute the number of economic downturns and food insecure Cameroonians continue to grow. Again, food insecurity continues to gain traction, threatening the very foundation of the Cameroon economy, as farmers in the affected regions are not able to work in their farms, or harvest leading to enormous food spoilage and food waste.
The existence of a causal link from conflict through a deterioration of income diversification to a reduction of adaptive capacity weakens food security (Brück & d’Errico, 2019). To buttress this point, personal stories are heard from affected persons on their inability to cope with the high costs and related consequences of unwillingly moving to a new location. The high costs of food in their areas of refuge makes most of these IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) go hungry and have irregular diets.
Finally, there is the failure of both warring parties to respect basic International Human Rights Laws (IHRL). For example, the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2417 acknowledges conflicts to be the driver of inhumane levels of hunger, and clearly states that all parties in a conflict have a moral responsibility to protect civilians and objects necessary for the production and distribution of food.
In the Anglophone crises, villagers are killed in their farms, markets are burnt, food supplies are intentionally destroyed, and herders’ cows and other livestock are seized and slaughtered. All of these pose a great challenge to building a utopic food secure Cameroon, worthy of the title; ‘bread basket of Central Africa’.
The way forward using the synergy of recommendations by multi-stakeholders
Looking at all the salient points that have being succinctly covered above, it is evident that the superficial reforms currently in place will only further plunge the country’s peripheral food insecurity crisis to greater peril. Abraham Maslow; the humanist psychologist once acknowledged that our needs are a direct consequence of our actions.
Following his theory, the safety and physiological needs of most Cameroonians is crumbling, and there is great need for solutions that are more pragmatic, including emergency relief framework actions. It is commendable to acknowledge the relief efforts of organizations such as USAID, UNHCR, Danish Refugee Council, and various diplomatic missions (Consulates) in the country.
A plethora of studies shed light on the way out of this crisis both in the social, political and economic domains. Different governments and international organizations have equally laid out a sensible case for the devolution of power, and have given a vast array of recommendations that seek to address the root cause of the crisis without jeopardizing the territorial integrity of the state.
Given the unequal power dynamics between the warring parties, the responsibility rest on the stronger party (the Cameroon government) to come out with policy reforms aimed at addressing the crisis, including the resulting food security crisis through inclusive dialogue and reconciliation.
Perhaps, gone are the days when the right to food used to be a prerogative of the rich and powerful; nowadays it is a basic human right as echoed by the acting under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator during the United Nations Security Council’s sitting on Tigray-Ethiopia.
Conclusively, war is immoral. The only wars we should wedge should be those against threats to our shared existence as a specie. In this context or any other context, a delay to resolve any given conflict be it conventional or unconventional (Guerrilla warfare), speechifies using hunger as a weapon of war.
List of References
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Belek, A. (2012). The Channel of Demand in the Fight against Food Insecurity in the Northern Regions of Cameroon: A Retrospective Analysis. International Journal of Business and Management, 7(21).
Brück, T., & d’Errico, M. (2019). Food security and violent conflict: Introduction to the special issue. World Development, [online] 117, pp.167–171. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X19300130.
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Kennard, C. and Cornell (2018). AFRICA HUNGER AND POVERTY FACTS. www.africanspreventingpoverty.org. Available at: https://africanspreventingpoverty.org/africa-hunger-and-poverty-facts/ [Accessed 2 Jul. 2021].
National Geographic Society (2020). Hunger and War. National Geographic Society. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/hunger-and-war/ [Accessed 2 Jul. 2021].
O’Neill, A. (2021). Cameroon – gross domestic product (GDP) 2026.Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/446648/gross-domestic-product-gdp-in-cameroon/ [Accessed 2 Jul. 2021].
WFP & FAO (2021). United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) – WFP.org. Available at: https://www.wfp.org [Accessed 2 Jul. 2021].
WFP & FAO (2019). Monitoring food security in countries with conflict.A joint FAO/WFP update for the United Nations Security Council January 2019 ISSUE NO 5.
Author’s Short Bio
John Carlvin Piyinchu is a recent graduate from the University for Peace, with an M.A in Environment, Development, & Peace, specializing in Climate Change Policy. He holds a Bachelor in Business Administration from the University of Bamenda, Cameroon. He is a member of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassador’s Network (CYPAN), and has volunteered with a non-profit called; Youth Advocates for Peace & Community Empowerment in Cameroon (YAPCEC). He has strong interests in Environmental Policy, Social Justice, and, Peace & Conflict Resolution.