Encountering Cameroon’s Garrison State: Checkpoints, Democratic Aspirations, and the Anglophone Revolt

Monday, 17 February, 2020 - 15:00

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This paper is a work in progress. I offer an ethnographic account of everyday encounters with the state in Cameroon that, following Harold D. Lasswell, I describe as a garrison state. Specifically, I discuss encounters with the state in a context of war: the civil war in the two Anglophone provinces (the North West and South West Regions). Focusing on my experiences of military checkpoints and identification documents as material objects that mediate everyday life in these settings, I recount and discuss my encounters with this Cameroonian state during my recent travels there in 2018 and 2019. Since 2017, these two regions have been plunged into a deadly civil war, over separatist claims by young Anglophone activists owing to deep-seated and highly complex cultural and political differences between an Anglophone minority and the leadership of a Francophone majority. My experiences are embedded in a context of violence and predation by state security forces and the militias of the separatist state of Ambazonia. I situate my discussion within recent anthropological studies on the materiality of the state that take roads and government ID documents seriously as objects of analysis. In Africa, state power is wielded in brazen and naked forms even as it is negotiated along multiple registers of dissimulation. Thus, the everyday state is lived as an aporia, simultaneously as excess and abjection. In the context of Anglophone Cameroon, I demonstrate that security checkpoints are an important factor in Anglophone nationalist claims. Anglophone Cameroonians see checkpoints as the physical expression of the state’s violent excesses against their aspirations for democratic freedoms of expression and movement. My observations illustrate how these security checkpoints serve as a critical infrastructure of state repression and predation. In this garrison state, soldiers and Ambazonian militants (though much more so with the former) alike, define an economy of terror and seizure that is inscribed in the everyday life of people living in the Anglophone war zone.


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