Updated: Sep 9
*Note: The Red Dragon militia group do not have an official flag. This is the flag of the self-proclaimed State of Ambazonia which they represent.
The Red Dragons are a Cameroonian separatist militia originating from western Cameroon who, since 2017, have engaged in an armed conflict with the national government in order to separate and gain recognition for The Republic of Ambazonia in what is known as the Anglophone Crisis. The Anglophone Crisis is an active conflict in Cameroon that has taken an estimated 4000 lives and displaced 700,000 people. The conflict originated from English speaking minority groups in Western Cameroon who declared their region's independence and called themselves The Republic of Ambazonia.(1)
History & Foundations
The Red Dragons were set up in 2017 and led by Lekeaka Oliver in order to support the Ambazonian claim to independence and engage Cameroon's armed forces in the territory of Ambazonia. (2) 20% of Cameroon's population are English speaking (anglophone) and have been marginalised and discriminated against by the majority-French speaking population. Cameroon did not recognise Ambazonias independence and has brutally cracked down on protests and Ambazonian activists which led to the creation of multiple militia groups such as the Red Dragons who have declared their loyalty to the interim government of Ambazonia whose members had all fled Cameroon. Most of these leaders had fled to neighbouring Nigeria.(3)
The Cameroonian government used heavy handed tactics, such as forcefully shutting down peaceful protests, against moderate Ambazonian separatists which pushed much of the local population to support the militias and this has allowed the Red Dragon militia to create a vast network of safe houses and support systems to keep their militia going.(4) They began engaging government forces in small towns and villages of Cameroon's English speaking western regions and attempted to make the area ungovernable for the Cameroonian armed forces.
The Ambazonian separatists have, since 2017, announced a boycott of French speaking schools and these schools have since become one of the prominent targets in this conflict as many separatist groups, including the Red Dragons have regularly attacked schools and murdered children for not adhering to the boycott.
In 2020 there were brief and unsuccessful peace talks between the Ambazonian government and Cameroonian government.(5)
In 2022 The Red Dragons leader, Lekeaka Oliver was captured and killed by Cameroonian soldiers. His corpse was displayed publicly and the Cameroonian military claimed they displayed his corpse as a warning to other separatists, however, it is likely that they did this just in order to prove they had actually killed him. This is believed to of happened as the Cameroonian army had claimed multiple times before that he had been killed and he would repeatedly appear publicly or in videos denying the claims surrounding his death and announcing that he was still alive.(6)
Ideology & Objectives
The objectives of The Red Dragons is to expel the Cameroonian government from the western Anglophone regions of Cameroon and to establish an independent internationally recognised Republic of Ambazonia. They see themselves strictly as a military force loyal to the Ambazonian government.(3)
The Red Dragons can be compared to other resistance or terrorist groups, such the IRA who, in its early years, regarded their sole duty as removing those who they considered the oppressors from their territory and leaving the political manoeuvring and ideology to other people.
Military & Political Capabilities
The Red Dragons exact membership numbers are unknown but it is said to be in the hundreds. This is not a huge number for an active separatist group but they do work in conjunction with other Ambazonian separatist militias who share intel, supplies and resources which strengthen their abilities. (7)
Heavily reliant upon local farmers and villagers to provide them with food and safe houses, which their fighters use when they are on the run, much of the group's weaponry and equipment comes from Anglophone (English speaking) deserters within the Cameroonian military. There are very big drives from Ambazonians to convince Anglophone Cameroonians in the Cameroonian army to desert and donate their supplies and weaponry to the separatist groups.
Politically The Red Dragons are loyal to the exiled Interim Government of Ambazonia and all actions they carry out are carried out to support the control over Ambazonia by the interim government. There has been no indication that The Red Dragons have desires themselves to exert political power and they appear to simply be a militia which intends to lay down its arms and its members to return to civilian life once the Cameroonian government is pushed out of Ambazonia.(7)
Approach to Resistance
Red Dragon has been described as operating a classic rural insurgency. They do not hold territory but rather operate in the shadows and launch attacks at Cameroonian institutions and security forces with the objective of weakening their hold on the region. The Red Dragon targets anything that is seen as part of the infrastructure of the Cameroonian state therefore they have burnt down state schools and bombed hospitals. These same acts have also been committed by the Cameroonian government in their fight against the separatists.(5)
The Red Dragons gained most of their notoriety for the way they have attacked and burned down schools as well as murdering, maiming, kidnapping and torturing students. They have also used many schools which they have forcibly closed down as bases or makeshift prisons.
The Red Dragons and other separatists have also utilised workers strikes as a means of resistance against the Cameroonian government and have also regularly used roadblocks to prevent humanitarian aid getting into Francophone towns.(1)
International Relations & Potential Alliances
The Red Dragons are loyal to The Republic of Ambazonia and are recognised and supported by the interim government. There are dozens of smaller militia groups fighting for The Republic of Ambazonia who mostly all work together under an alliance known as The Ambazonian Defence Forces. The Republic of Ambazonia is not officially recognised by any other country in the world but many of its leaders and activists have been granted asylum in the United States and in neighbouring Nigeria.
The Republic of Ambazonia has many supporters in the English speaking world and there have been some calls from people in The UK to support the separatists.(8) There is a belief in Britain that there is an obligation to help their fellow English speakers in Cameroon. Labour plans to put a motion through parliament calling on The UK to help in finding a solution to the conflict and to increase humanitarian aid to the anglophone regions. It also states that “the history of Southern Cameroon is inseparable from the history of violent imperialism and that, as much of the current dispute stems from the British Empire’s refusal to grant independence to the Anglophone region of Southern Cameroons in 1961, the UK is complicit in this present day suffering; holds that the Government has a moral duty to act to end the suffering”.(9)
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - 2021. “Cameroon: Witness testimony and satellite images reveal the scale of devastation in Anglophone regions” Amnesty International
(2) - 2022. Arreyb “Field Marshall: The Rise & Fall Of The Dreaded Ambazonian Commander” Arreyb
(3) - 2018. Chothia, Farouk “Cameroon's Anglophone crisis: Red Dragons and Tigers - the rebels fighting for independence” BBC News.
(4) - 2018. Maclean, Ruth “Deaths and detentions as Cameroon cracks down on anglophone activists” The Guardian.
(5) - 2020. “Cameroon: Civilians Killed in Anglophone Regions” Human Rights Watch
(6) - 2022. Etahoben, Bisong. “Cameroon Troops Kill Separatist Leader, Leke Olivier” Humangle Media
(7) - 2020. Tebei Nwati, Morgan “The Anglophone Crisis: The Birth of Warlords, the Impact of Warlords Activity on the People of North West and South West Region of Cameroon” Central China Normal University
(8) - 2018. Fearnley, Jack “UK must take lead on injustice in Cameroon” The Guardian
(9) - 2022. UK Parliament tabled motion