The roasting of a baby on February 11, 2021 in Batibo in the North West region of Cameroon seems to be shocking to millions around the world, but very few people remember that the burning of homes during an insurrection or insurgency in Cameroon is a government policy which dates back to the days of the marquisard movement in East Cameroon.
The burning of a baby in Batibo on the country’s Youth Day by government army soldiers is a clear reminder that peace and stability are still illusory in Cameroon though the government is giving the impression that things are stabilizing in Southern Cameroons.
The roasting of vulnerable people is nothing new during this conflict that has already sent more than 7,000 Cameroonians to an early grave.
Kwakwa and Ngarbuh are still fresh in many minds. In Kwakwa, an old woman and a sick old man were roasted alive by army soldiers who are supposed to protect innocent civilians.
In Ngarbuh, government troops gunned down scores of people and set homes ablaze, leaving many calcinated in their homes. These were young children and pregnant women who had nothing to do with the insurgency that has been playing out in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon for over four years.
The government clearly holds that burning the homes of the poor and innocent people will cause the population to discontinue its support to the insurgents even when it has not been really proven that the population is supporting the fighters.
From every indication, it is also clear that the population has been caught between the devil and deep blue sea. The same population is being threatened by the Southern Cameroonian fighters when the fighters feel that they have been betrayed by somebody.
The population is confused and does not know who to turn to. The government is supposed to support these people who have lost their source of livelihood due to the fighting that is playing out in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country.
The government of Cameroon has no pity for anybody. The death of children and pregnant women during this fighting does not arouse any pity in government officials. The government has one objective – proving that it can win a war – and the generals leading the troops clearly hold that the insurgency is an opportunity for them to enrich themselves.
The same government has been unleashing its army soldiers on the population just to demonstrate its strength. In Santa in the Northwest region, government forces mowed down some 20 young men in a hotel and the country’s territorial administration minister, Atanga Nji Paul, argued that the boys were fighters even when it was proven that it was the same government that had invited those boys to that hotel for reasons only known to Atanga Nji.
In Muyengue, the government was caught with its pants down with its soldiers setting homes ablaze though the soldiers were wearing blue helmets just to implicate the United Nations.
Government atrocities during this conflict have been carefully documented and whenever the war ends, those who committed these acts or commandeered these acts of extreme violence will be brought to book.
A government has the duty and responsibility of protecting its population but in Southern Cameroons, the Yaounde government is instead working hard to demonstrate that it is more devilish than the ragtag military that is fighting for the total liberation of Southern Cameroons.
Instead of seeking ways of ending the violence and engineering peace in the two English-speaking regions of the country, the Yaounde government is doing its best to prove a point that has no raison d’etre.
This is a war that could have been clearly avoided if the government had used known instruments of conflict management and resolution. Genuine dialogue, a key thrust of conflict resolution, was clearly ignored and to deceive the people of Southern Cameroons and the international community, the despicable Yaoundé government organized a semblance of dialogue wherein it chose who had to participate in it, which issues had to be discussed and what resolutions and conclusions had to be reached by the participants; an idea which only caused the conflict to escalate by multiple notches.
The roasting of a baby in Batibo is no accident and let nobody be deceived by whatever the government would say.
The Yaounde government is in the business of winning an argument and it will stop at nothing to prove its point. As usual, it will order an investigation, the findings of which will remain a dead letter like most of the other investigations conducted over the last 39 years by a government that has been conducting itself like a crime syndicate made in the same mould as the Sicilian Mafia.
Despite its efforts, the Yaounde government must understand that regardless of the ferocious brutality it is inflicting on the population, a clear military victory is a clear impossibility.
The more atrocities the government commits in Southern Cameroons, the more it creates more determined and angry fighters whose cardinal objective is to avenge the death of their loved ones.
The only way out of the quagmire the government has created will be sincere dialogue held with key Southern Cameroonian factions in a neutral place in the presence of a neutral third party.
But such dialogue cannot take place when the poster boy of the rebellion, Julius Ayuk Tabe, and other key elements of the Southern Cameroons struggle are still being held in the dungeons of East Cameroon.
A good first step will be releasing all those who have been arrested within the framework of the struggle and granting a general amnesty to all those who have directly or indirectly played a role in this struggle!
The burning of homes, babies and the old will never bring peace to Cameroon. On the contrary, it will only sow bitterness, revenge, death and destruction. The government must learn from history and it must acknowledge that times have changed.
If it defeated the marquisard movement in the 60s, it must understand that there was no internet and those involved in the marquisard movement were not many.
Today, there are some four million Southern Cameroonians out of their country and each one of them has been affected by the senseless fighting. And this is causing many of them to contribute money, ideas and time to ensure that the government stews in its own juice in Southern Cameroons by killing army soldiers and police officers who are collaborating with the corrupt Yaounde regime.
Despite the death and destruction that have already played out in Southern Cameroons, there is still room for genuine and sustainable reconciliation; an opportunity the government needs to seize if it is really looking forward to making Cameroon one and indivisible.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai
Concord News Group