As Christmas approaches, a Cameroonian bishop whose diocese has been engulfed in the country’s Anglophone crisis hopes it will bring a period of peace to the region.
“The coming of Christ this year 2020 will have a very significant meaning for the people of God in Kumbo,” Bishop George Nkuo told Crux. Kumbo is located in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest Region.
The Anglophone crisis began in 2017, after teachers and lawyers went on strike over perceived attempts by the central government to assimilate the common law and English education systems Cameroon’s Anglophone regions inherited from their previous British colonial government. The two English-speaking regions contain about 20 percent of the country’s population. The rest of Cameroon is Francophone, and inherited France’s civil code legal system, and French educational system.
The strikes were violently suppressed, giving rise to a separatist movement attempting to establish an independent state to be known as Ambazonia.
At least 3000 people have been killed in the conflict, and more than a million forced from their homes.
“It’s nearly five years now our people have experienced one of the horrors of a senseless war, hatred and enormous suffering. It’s very difficult to preach a message of peace, of love, of reconciliation, of justice and of fraternity when daily people are killed, homes are destroyed, pain is inflicted on innocent people and the forces of darkness seem to be overwhelmingly in control,” Nkuo said.
“Yet the birth of Christ assures us that evil cannot have the last word,” he said.
“We need to come up with a powerful message and a prophetic witness that can move our people to a faith in Jesus who gives them love, peace, healing and joy in the simple vulnerable signs that surround the birth of Christ. This is a challenging task and as ministers of the Gospel we must find ways to help our people experience Jesus born among us in our hopelessness and suffering,” he said.
The world was shocked when on Oct. 24, attackers armed with guns and machetes stormed Mother Francisca Memorial College in Kumba – located in the Southwest Region, the other Anglophone province in Cameroon – killing at least seven students and wounding a dozen others.
Government officials blamed Anglophone separatists for the attack, although they denied responsibility. The separatists have insisted that all schools in the Anglophone regions remain closed and have been enforcing their decree by burning schools and kidnapping teachers and students from any institution that defies them.
Carine Bongadzem, a member of the Catholic Women’s Association in Yaounde, told Crux that because “Jesus is justice and peace,” her request is for justice to take its course “so that peace should reign in my homeland.”
Kiven Brenda, another member of the association, said she believes Christ’s coming would be a time of forgiveness and national cleansing.
“My first request is for God to forgive us all, have mercy on us,” she told Crux.
“We have sinned against Him and we are reaping the consequences. I wish he can intervene and calm down heart’s, reduce egos, give wisdom to our leaders, so that we can have peace in the Anglophone regions,” she added.
Tensions in the country have been rising since Dec. 6 regional elections that the separatists boycotted. The rebels threatened any traditional rulers that took part, and at least four have been kidnapped and one killed since the vote.
Last month, Cardinal Christian Tumi, the 90-year-old retired archbishop of Douala, was kidnapped and held for a day by separatist after accompanying a traditional leader of his home village of Nso in the country’s Northwest Region. The cardinal and the traditional ruler, along with nine members of their delegation, were traveling from the capital Yaoundé to Kumbo when they were abducted.