Institutt for sosialantropologi

"They say we have peace". Perceptions and practices of peace in Northern Cameroon


Master's thesis submitted at Department of Social Anthropology, autumn 2016

By: Audhild Steinnes Heum
Supervisor: Professor Frode Storaas

The research question that this thesis sets out to answer is: “What are the perceptions and practices of peace found amongst the population in Northern Cameroon?”. Much research on war and peace has focused on the state level; however, this study takes an emic, people-oriented approach. The study draws on the distinction between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ peace. Whereas an understanding of peace as negative peace only implies the absence of war and other forms of wide scale conflicts, a conceptualization of positive peace also involves issues such as social, economic, political and legal injustices. Positive peace thus encompasses the absence of not only direct violence, but also of other forms of violence that are not direct, but which, all the same, hamper the well-being of the population or even result in people dying. A theoretical starting point is also that peace is something that is socially constructed. The study therefore discusses practices that characterize and ensure peace in the different local settings.

It was found that in a context where there is a lack of trust in governmental institutions, the traditional chiefs and the customary courts play an important role in ensuring peace at the local level. Furthermore, the study contrasts the different perceptions of peace in the area under study with the discourse of peace propagated by the state. While some informants agree on the notion that Cameroon is a country of peace, others oppose this notion as they believe that peace needs to be understood as something more than just the absence of war. Accordingly, this latter group conveys grievances related to poverty, economic, political and legal injustices, as well as lack of freedom of speech. Although this study has identified different approaches to peace, the population in the area under study seems to agree on one point: The norm in the society is social peace between the various ethnic and religious groups. The study points to the ethnic diversity in the country as one possible explanation for the historical absence of war in the country.

In the concluding chapter, the Cameroonian scene is contrasted to that of the more conflict-ridden neighboring countries, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. Insights from the study propose that regional differences in the ethnic composition are a possible factor to explain why we have not seen the same kind of violent conflicts in Cameroon. However, the study also points out why the existing peace in Cameroon can be termed as an uneasy and, therefore, also a fragile peace. The quote which is used as a heading of the thesis is a reflection of the discrepancy between the state-driven discourse proclaiming negative peace and the conceptualization of positive peace expressed by the population. The study suggests that in order to ensure a stronger peace than the one that exists today, the leaders must make sure to focus more on human security for all its inhabitants, not just state security.