A Biafra and Ambazonia separatist alliance could destabilize West Africa

The Nigerian separatist group the Indigenous People’s of Biafra, under pressure from the Nigerian military, recently met with representatives from the Cameroonian separatist forces who operate under the banner of the Ambazonian Defense Force.  If these two organizations form an alliance, it could represent an existential threat to both Nigeria and Cameroon and lead to civil war.

Ekene Lionel

As the world focuses on Boko Haram, ISWAP and some of the other outlaw crazies rampaging around West Africa, very few people keep an eye on the civil war currently ongoing in Southern Cameroon.

All that may be about to change, as after half a century as one of Africa’s most stable and peaceful states, Cameroon is sliding into a vicious, though largely unreported, civil war.

The Ambazonian War has since caused the death of more than 2000 people while 530,000 have been displaced. About 180,000 Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria putting more pressure on the already stressed infrastructure in the country’s Eastern flank .

The Belligerents in Ambazonian War

On one side, Cameroon’s dictator, strongman, and friend to France – President Paul Biya ( a former rebel leader), who has clung to power since 1982, and absolutely refuses to listen to demands for equity. While on the other side, more than five million impoverished English-speaking southern Cameroonian citizens who are demanding a fairer share in the dividends of democracy.

Cameroonian soldiers in pursuit of the ADF

Leading the President Biya camp is the feared Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (BIR), a US-trained special force unit known by Anglophones as ‘The Beer’, alongside elements of the Cameroonian military is also in the fray.

Countering the Cameroonian Military’s assault is the Ambazonia Defence Forces, a “rag-tag” military organization that is fighting for the independence of Ambazonia, a self-declared independent state in the Anglophone region of Southern Cameroons. Not really surprising is the fact that several different armed groups have since emerged in support of the ADF such as the Red Dragons, Tigers, ARA, Seven Kata, ABL amongst others,

ADF fighters during an operation in southern Cameroon

The Cause of the Ambazonian War

The Ambazonian civil war began when Anglophones protesters marched against plans to impose French-speaking judges and other administrators on them. The government responded with a violent crackdown on protestors.

This oppression led to protests across the Southern Cameroon region. Biya responded by cracking down on the protesters resulting in at least 17 people killed.

Biya has been accused by Amnesty International and the United States for purposefully committing human rights atrocities like burning of houses, arbitrary murder, residents displacement and kidnappings.

The ADF and its various factions have also been named as likely culprit in some atrocities, however, this has yet to be substantiated till date.

Biafra and the Nigerian Government

Across Nigeria’s eastern border towards Cameroon, the threat posed by another highly organized separatist group known as the IPOB and led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu; a Nigerian with British citizenship has been temporarily curtailed.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which was formed as a breakaway group of the Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra with the sole purpose of completely severing ties with Nigeria through non-violent secession.

For now, as the Nigerian Government’s continuously pursues a “divide and destroy” tactics, coupled with the constant intimidation of the Biafran separatist members, IPOB continuously lose focus, ground, and drive.

This has created an avenue for resentment to flourish amongst the Biafran rank and file as well as its sympathizers.

A Military Alliance between Biafra and Ambazonia

These two separatist forces are leveraging on cultural and historical sentiments since they share a common history and heritage, are banding together to present a more formidable front to national forces in West Africa.

Early 2018, the top hierarchy of the Biafran separatist group under the banner of the Pro Biafra Groups, met in Enugu State, with the Prime Minister of Biafra Government in Exile (BGiE) in attendance and some other diaspora leaders of other pro-Biafra groups.

The Biafran leaders resolved to work together with the leadership of the Ambazonian Republic from Southern Cameroon, some of the issues discussed is a bilateral relationship as well as a strategic alliance in achieving their objective.

Regional Consequences of a Military Alliance between Biafra and Ambazonia

If these two groups successfully form an alliance, in an asymmetric conflict, the separatist allies could “easily share valuable scarce resources, bolster their depleted ranks, accumulate valuable combat experience, provide a safe haven for fighters and also acquire human intelligence through the notoriously porous Nigeria/Cameroon border.”

Such an alliance poses an existential threat to the unity and existence of both Nigeria and Cameroon given that at the moment, Boko Haram and ISWAP are constantly pushing and probing from the Northeast of Nigeria, bandits are ravaging the Northcentral along with the current farmer/herder crises still troubling Nigeria’s centre. The Nigerian military, although quite tenacious, cannot really hold these multiple forces at bay without crumbling.

Since Nigeria is the largest oil and gas producer in Africa, with the majority of its crude oil coming from the delta basin, an area currently under future Biafran territory. Nigeria desperately needs its oil revenue to keep its battered economy running. Also, the bulk of Cameroon’s industrial output, including its only refinery, is in the Ambazonian region. Hence, the economic impact of such an alliance could threaten the integrity of the West Africa, the future of the Economic Community of the West African States, also known as ECOWAS, and the overall security, stability and progress of the entire subcontinent. 

With the Nigerian and Cameroonian military already stretched thin and battered by years of constant war, if an alliance of ADF and Biafran separatist is allowed to succeed, it would open up opportunities for Boko Haram, ISWAP and even other ruthless marauders to grow stronger and overrun several key cities in the region, destabilize the economic balance and also the equipoise of the military region in Africa.


About the author: Ekene Lionel presently writes for African Military Blog as a defence technology analyst.  His current research focuses on how technology intersects national defence.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Michael Okpara University.  He can be found on Twitter @lionelfrancisNG.  


This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019, to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.

Ekene Lionel

Techy, Futurist, Award-winning defense technology writer.