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Inter-community conflicts at the local level (ICLL)

I. Outline of the study

The Institut pour la Gouvernance en Afrique Centrale (Institute for Governance in Central Africa) has recognised that identity-based conflicts are a major research issue. A certain number of reasons linked to the context of Central Africa and particularly Cameroon justify this:

  • Local level clashes between groups or communities, who justify their reciprocal hostility through their ethnic, religious or regional belonging, are regularly reported by the media and sometimes take on worrying proportions. At their root are often land disputes, political disturbances or unimportant events.
  • At the national level the workings of the State and national cohesion, are weakened as a result of a the plural nature of society, and the instrumentalisation to various ends of the range of identities (positioning of the elites, organisation of political parties, elections) and access to privileges (both material and symbolic) of the State etc. This instrumentalisation, because it very often generates exclusion and therefore frustration, has the potential to generate conflict.
  • These phenomena, whilst they have been touched upon by isolated research initiatives, and stayed within the sphere of academic interest, remain only partially documented. This kind of conflict has up until now not been the object of any deliberately constructed political action from which we could expect effective solutions in terms of the governance of diversity.

In the measure that any victim is one victim too many the work of public actors needs to consist of finding just remedy to these conflicts, and to prevent their occurrence whenever possible. This is the issue at the basis of the global IGAC research programme into conflict.

Through the development of the conflict analysis tool for inter-community conflict at the local level (ICLL), the IGAC is seeking to have at its disposal a tool to comprehend the dynamics of such conflicts. This would entail an understanding of how these conflicts emerge, and how they are linked with reality as well as with the subjective views of the populations who are its protagonists. Fieldwork was put carried out to this end: with the aim of observing and analysing the evolution of relations between the Kotoko and Choa Arab communities in the Far North of Cameroon, with a focus on their apparent tendency towards conflict. The town of Kousseri was chosen for the application of this method.

-  1. Methodological choices

The following phases were defined:

  • a. The theoretical development of the conflict analysis tool ICLL that was used for the implementation of the case study.
  • b. Field research in order to collect data. This was done through three basic methodological approaches consisting essentially of qualitative research methods: observation, in depth interviews, and group discussions. Three methods were used in order to be able to cross-reference the data collected. We included in our research sample a wide range of people, selected to include a spectrum of: origins, age, gender, socio-economic statuses, people of influence within the two communities, and people with different roles in past events.

-  2. The context of the case study

The town of Kousseri was the site of bloody confrontations between the Kotoko and Choa Arabs, the two main populations of the town, at the start of the 1990s [1]. The Kotoko and Choa Arabs have long been engaged in a struggle for predominance and control of local political positions. When new rules came into play as part of the process of democratic reform, the former, who are at a numerical disadvantage, feared that they would be totally ousted. The latter (the Arabs) converted their demographic advantage into a resource for the “democratic” conquest of key positions at the local level.

-  3. And the wider context of Cameroon

In Cameroon there are regularly conflicts between different communities [2], who are mobilised in violent battles on the basis of ethnic rivalries. The size and impact of these conflicts are strongly dependent on context, stakes, and the capacity of the State to preserve public order when it is shaken in this way. It is important to understand the importance such incidents by remembering the risks that such conflicts can present in the context of a fragile State [[“The specificity of fragile situations is a result not only of the fact that there can be competition between the carriers of as many sources of legitimacy, but equally from the fact that these different sources do not necessarily re-inforce each other’

[1The bloody clashes of January 1992 in Kousseri started as a dispute over the fraudulent distribution of polling cards. Polling cards were apparently distributed to non-Cameroonian Arab populations (from Chad and Nigeria) with the complicity of Choa Arabs from Logone-Chari, which provoked anger from the Kotoko. Presented by Antoine Socpa, in “Le problème Arabes Choa - Kotoko au Cameroun: Essai d’analyse rétrospective à partir des affrontements de janvier 1992”, text published in the report of Tribus Sans Frontières on the confrontations between the Choa Arabs and Kotoko.

[225 June 2010: Inter-ethnic confrontations in Ebolowa, between the Bamoun community and the local population; 10 March 2011: Confrontations between the Balikumbat and Bambalang communities in the North West region of Cameroon; May 2011: Confrontations between the Mafa and Glavda, two populations from district of Mayo-Moskota in the far North of the country; 20 July 2011: In the town of Mandjou, principle town in the district of the same name, in the region of Lom and Djerem, 5km from Bertoua, the regional capital of the East. Confrontation between Gbaya and Bororo communities.