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Drivers Of Violent Extremism In Cameroon

by Atlantic Chronicles

By Akem Kelvin Nkwain

Extremism can be referred to as the adoption of a particular ideology with the intention to use violence to remove the state or ruling structure and its elites. Violent extremism is a multifaceted phenomenon. Its root causes are complex and often intertwined; it has both the push and the pull factors. The push and pull factors related to  violent extremism  are  interrelated and  vary significantly between different contexts, groups and individuals. The Push factors can be seen as “the negative social, cultural, religious and political features of one’s societal environment that assist in ‘pushing’ vulnerable individuals onto the path of violent extremism”. These variables are also commonly known as “underlying/root causes” and spring from dissatisfaction relating to personal or political circumstances. 

In contrast, to push factors, pull factors refer to the characteristics of an extremist group that are perceived as positive by new recruits and may persuade vulnerable individuals to become drawn in.  For example, a violent extremist group may be a source of services and employment for some of its recruits. Simultaneously, vulnerable young persons may view the very same organisation as a promised sense of belonging, acceptance and a pathway to establishing identity. Other individuals may be pulled towards extremist groups due to their ideology, or by social ties, recruitment narratives and the media. Causes of violent extremism include inter alia:


Lack of Quality and Relevant Education:

Education is one of the most important tools to reach young people and can be used to address some of the “push and pull factors” that may drive them towards violent extremism. Education can act as a preventive measure by making young people more resilient citizens and by strengthening their emotional, intellectual and psychological  development,  but  it  can  also  play  a  role  in  promoting respect  for  diversity,  inclusion  and  human  rights.  Furthermore,  good  education  enables  people  to obtain  jobs,  qualify  for  higher  income  levels  and  generate  productivity  gains  which  fuel  economic development.  Education can also help youths to counter violent extremist narratives by helping them to become critical thinkers and equipping them with, for instance, media and information literacy. However, the lack of quality and relevant education in some parts of Cameroon and most especially in the Far North, East, North West and South West Regions have triggered a high rate of illiteracy, causing most youths to be manipulated into joining extremist groups without clear knowledge of what they are engaging in. 


As youths are often marginalised from local and national development gains, they are particularly vulnerable  to  economic  mishaps,  social  instability,  and  conflicts. Young people are frequently left behind despite widespread development in other age groups. The government particularly is made of persons of extreme old age; people of 80years and above who are void of developmental ideas are still being appointed to serve in high profile and key positions in the government while young and talented graduates are side-line and encouraged to go to the farm. They are also often left out of decision-making processes, which limit their potential to determine their own future. This therefore pushes them to take up arms and fight against the state and elites perceived to be benefitting from the political system.


Intolerance is a contextual factor that renders some individuals and groups susceptible to violent extremism in Cameroon. For instance Cameroon is a country united in its diversity with different cultures, religions and political ideologies. However, people turn to be intolerant with other person’s beliefs, triggering chaos and violent extremism. The Boko Haram insurgency in the Far North Region of Cameroon is a practical example of socio-religious based-extremism. The orthodox followers of its ideology see other Muslims who engage in formal education and other diverse practices as infidels. This therefore pushes them to be so intolerant to such practices such as attending schools where western education is taught, thereby leading to attacks on such ‘infidels’.

Armed fighters


When people are poor and cannot afford their needs, they become vulnerable and prone to being recruited by extremist groups. One of the underlying causes of poverty is the lack of jobs and employment. Most violent extremist groups serve as a source of employment to idle youths and because of the revenue they derive from it, they turn to see everything about their violent actions as positive and the drive to continue with the violence increases. In the context of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon, a new phenomenon has cropped up which is kidnapping for ransom. Many of the young fighters engage in the abduction of individuals in communities because they believe a certain amount of money can be extracted from them. Such ransoms serve as their source of income and they see everything positive in continuing with the job. An ex combatant from the Disarmament and Demobilisation Commission confessed that he aroused from impecuniosity to making over 3 million XAF every week from the on-going armed conflict.


Misinformation/Fake news:

We live in an era where youths are very active social media users; they are particularly vulnerable to extremist narratives which are propagated across various online platforms. Although violent extremist groups have been found to use the internet and social media to their advancement, it is unclear whether this kind of internet usage, or the resulting exposure of extremist narratives to the public, that stands in direct correlation to an increase of extremist attacks or the attempted recruitment through extremist organisations. However, extremists’ propaganda is often associated with misinformation and fake news and has a direct impact on the psychological and social mind-set of the youths and they are attracted to such extremist ideologies leading to a rise in extreme violence. Cameroonians in the diaspora are the main brain behind this ideology. In the context of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, they keep manipulating the youths with promises of jobs in ministries, embassies, and the military in an imaginary state called ‘Ambazonia’ wherein they shall be appointed to serve when the independence of the country is finally achieved. They manipulate the young people through the internet to put their lives on the line while they are living in safe havens abroad. 

Exclusion and disengagement of youths in Governance:

Young people who feel disengaged and isolated by the government may, in turn, be more vulnerable to being influenced by ‘pull’ factors and therefore more susceptible to violent extremism. Besides the likelihood  of being drawn  into  violent  extremism,  young  people  are  also high  targets  of  recruitment strategies of violent extremism. When young people are excluded or disengaged in the governance of their communities, their sense of patriotism is lost, and they are likely to fight against those they perceive to be in government and enjoying the benefits of the national cake discriminatorily.


Repression or abuse by state and security services, persecution, denial of rights and civil liberties, inequalities, lack of access to justice, discrimination as well as corruption are just elements of vices which are prompting the youths to pick up arms against the state and the regime in power.

Some young persons who belong to extremist groups never could have imagined bearing weapons in the bushes, but because of state reprisals and excessive use of force instead of addressing mere grievances raised by the youths, they have been pushed to turn against the state. This especially in the context of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon is the reason why there are numerous armed groups fighting against the state in the bushes. Not all the fighters are joining the ranks of combatants because they want to restore the independence of Southern Cameroons. Some have been radicalised by the state defence and security forces. In its attempt to contend the separatist armed groups, the military usually employs excessive force, committing gross human rights violations such as horrific massacres, burning down of homes and villages and sometimes together with their inhabitants, looting of property, raping of women and young girls, torture, arbitrary arrest and illegal detentions as well as poor treatment of detainees by the penitentiary administrators. Victims of such atrocities believe that the only way to end such systematic abuse by the military is by joining extremist organisations to defend themselves against such violence.

In light of the above discussion, preventing violent extremism in Cameroon may require the government to act on the causes as they are themselves the solutions.Akem Kelvin Nkwain is a Human Rights Officer at Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), a paralegal at Agbor Nkongho Law Firm and an LLM research fellow in International Law at the University of Buea. He has conducted field work across Anglophone Cameroon and lives in Buea. Follow him on twitter @NkwainAkem. 


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