For the past five years, factions of a secessionist movement in southeastern Nigeria and a pro-independence movement in western Cameroon have been gathering momentum, mobilizing supporters through social media, and clashing with government security forces in both countries.
Last month, leaders from both movements announced a formal alliance, which could ignite violence and instability in the two countries and across the West and Central African regions where violent extremist organizations affiliated with the Islamic State and al Qaeda are establishing a strong foothold.
In Nigeria, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a secessionist group that advocates for the creation of the independent country of Biafra.
The pro-Biafran movement, led by Nigeria’s minority ethnic Igbo community, has deep historical roots.
In 1967, following two failed military coups and targeted ethnic violence and persecution, the Igbo people came together to form the secessionist state of Biafra, triggering a brutal two-year civil war during which the Nigerian military imposed a blockade of the state, which caused between 500,000 to 2 million civilians to die from starvation.
Ultimately, Biafra surrendered to the federal government, but pro-Biafran and anti-government sentiment remained and has hardened in recent years.
Just over the border, armed separatist groups are fighting to carve out Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions into a breakaway state called Ambazonia. Grievances of Anglophone Cameroonians date back to 1961, when the region was granted independence from Britain.
In 2016, the Ambazonia movement turned violent when government security forces cracked down on teachers and lawyers protesting the marginalization of Anglophone Cameroonians in a majority Francophone country.
In response, armed separatist groups—with substantial funding from Anglophone Cameroonians living abroad, according to a local aid worker who asked to remain anonymous—rapidly mobilized against government security forces. Violence in the regions has since displaced over 700,000 people and resulted in at least 4,000 civilian deaths, according to the United Nations and the International Crisis Group.
In early April, Cho Ayaba, the leader of the Ambazonia Governing Council, one of two major Anglophone separatist groups, and the well-known Biafran leader Nnamdi Kanu appeared in a press conference, livestreamed on social media, to announce a strategic and military alliance.
“We have assembled here today in front of our two peoples to declare our intentions to walk together to ensure collective survival from the brutal annexation that have occurred in our home nations,” Ayaba said.
“The Ambazonia and Biafra Alliance is critical in an area where Nigeria and Cameroon have established two autocracies that have used violence as political tools to suppress our own peoples.”
The scope of the alliance will include joint operations and training bases, Capo Daniel, the deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, the military wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council, told Foreign Policy.
The groups will work to secure their shared border and ensure an open exchange of weapons and personnel, representatives of both the Ambazonia and IPOB movements said