The Southern Cameroons crisis that started as a protest by lawyers and teachers has finally morphed into a civil war with more than 4,000 Cameroonians killed in the course of the war and the region’s economy begging for a huge cash infusion. Many experts around the world are surprised that a little internal problem has been allowed to escalate to the point where it has become a nasty civil war.
After more than two years, the government should have figured out that military violence cannot do the job. If the objective is to hold the country together, then dialogue could have produced better results than the burning of houses and people in the two English-speaking regions of the country.
Some people hold that the killings only make it hard for both communities to love together and this endangers the government’s philosophy which holds that Cameroon is one and indivisible. It also calls into question the whole notion of living together.
Over the last six months, especially after the fake presidential election that was cooked and handed over to the country’s president, Paul Biya, the government has stepped up its attacks in the two English-speaking regions and the greatest victims have been innocent civilians who do not know where to go to for protection and solace, as government troops have been killing them while the armed groups have been kidnapping them if they are suspected of collaborating with the Yaounde government.
In Bui Division, especially in Kumbo, government troops have torched almost all the homes and shops in the town. Some 30 elderly people have also been roasted to death in the process and survivors are at a shock for words to describe the government’s evil plan.
The government’s strategy is to ensure that the people are robbed of their sources of income so that they can be desperate. This also implies that the people will then turn to the government for survival and they will have to denounce the fighters whom they claim have been protecting them against government brutality.
This is reminiscent of what happened in Kembong and Kwakwa in the South West region in early 2018 where these towns were visited by a brigade of alcohol-inflamed and sex-starved soldiers whose actions defied all modern law enforcement logic. Houses were burnt down, with the old and vulnerable consumed by the flames in a campaign that will never bring peace to the region.
What is usually more disturbing is the fact that the government never orders any investigation into these barbaric atrocities. It usually does not express any remorse for such acts of inhumanity committed by its forces.
It should be recalled that the government is an organized structure with institutions whose capacity to investigate crimes has been built over the years. Its actions in retaliation to acts committed by unknown gunmen only serve as a testament to its failure to rein in the tough Southern Cameroonian fighters who are determined to take the war to the enemy.
The government clearly understands that in seeking out those who commit such odious crimes against government forces, it must partner with the local population but it has refused to walk such a noble and logical path because it wants to prove that it is tough. It knows it must use the local population to gather intelligence that will help it in its efforts to restore peace and security in the region.
The government’s violent reaction to crimes committed by a few gunmen speaks volumes to its inability to keep the country safe and together through meaningful dialogue. For long, it has been giving the impression that it cherishes dialogue, but its actions over the last two years have proven that it has been paying lip service to the whole notion of dialogue.
Kwakwa had been considered as a flash in the pan by many government apologists and many people hoped that this unfortunate drama would not repeat itself. But the government seemed to have chosen the burning of homes as its strategy of choice. Since the Kwakwa incident, many other towns have been visited by reckless army soldiers who seem to be enjoying the burning game.
From every indication, this seems to be the government’s modus operandi and it is determined to use it, as long as Southern Cameroonians stick to their guns. The government seems to have sworn that theirs will be the kingdom of tears and homelessness for as long as they continue to challenge its authority. The same destruction has been spreading to other parts of Southern Cameroons.
The government that is supposed to protect civilians has resorted to killing them just because some of them do sympathize with Ambazonian Restoration Forces. The civilians are clearly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. They have no control over the fighters who consider themselves as freedom fighters and the beleaguered government seems to be at its wit’s end as it faces tough challenges from the determined freedom fighters.
This week’s burning of homes in Kumbo which started after some three army soldiers were killed on Monday at a water tank speaks to the fact that a ceasefire is not in the offing and that the government’s hastily created and poorly conceived Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Commission is just another project designed to fool the international community.
In many countries in the world where destructive wars have taken place, the trend is usually that both parties in the war have to meet, discuss the details of their ceasefire and once there is an agreement, then a DDR commission is established to ensure all the guns on the streets are yielded to the government. And such an effort is usually marked by honesty and trust from both sides with the objective of ensuring that the demons that have produced such hard and wicked feelings in a country should never rear their ugly heads again.
But in Cameroon, everything seems to be done through presidential decrees. It was a verbal presidential decree that announced the war in Cameroon. The country’s president, Paul Biya, seems to be above the law and his word is always the law. He single-handedly pushed the country into a nasty civil war and he has warned both the country’s legislative body not to discuss an issue that is today affecting the entire country.
Efforts by opposition parliamentarians to table this issue in 2017 were thwarted by the ruling party and this has proven to the world that the country belongs to one person – Mr. Biya who has rigged all elections in Cameroon just to be in power.
For now, Cameroonians have lost hope. They know the creation of a DDR commission will surely not end the war. They have figured out that wars do not get laid to rest through presidential decrees and they know that Southern Cameroonian fighters will not down their weapons as that will be tantamount to committing suicide.
As the war protracts, so too is the country’s economy declining and many things are already falling apart in the country. Just last week, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the continent’s football governing body, stopped Cameroon from hosting the 2019 tournament following an inspection of the sites where the events were supposed to be held.
Though the government’s inability to deliver the required infrastructure for the tournament was cited by the CAF inspection team as its main reason, the fear of the military brutality and slaughtering taking place in the two English-speaking regions were considered as key factors for the abortion of Cameroon’s efforts to organize the tournament.
The country’s economy is almost bottoming out. The government is starring down the barrel of frustration as the fighting in Southern Cameroons takes a turn for the worse. It had thought it would wrap up things in a matter of months, but the conflict is already in its second year and huge amounts of resources have been poured into this war that is threatening to tear the country apart and there is no end in sight. Scarce resources are being diverted to the war, while key economic development projects are being systematically put on hold.
The country’s cities are an eyesore. Most of them are vast slumps. The country is bereft of modern hospitals and its railway system is suffering from chronic ageing. CAF could not be blind to all of this. The country’s treasury is almost empty and civil servants are permanently in fear that they will soon not be receiving their salaries.
Despite these issues, the government has chosen the war path and its measures to tackle Southern Cameroonian fighters are crude and ineffective. They are indeed counterproductive and many experts hold that the government’s response to the insurgency is only fetching it many enemies around the world. The war has seen the killing of foreigners and the most prominent of these slaughtering is the killing of an American missionary.
A situation that has strained relations between Cameroon and the United States. It should be recalled that the United States and some of its allies consider Cameroon as unsafe and they have warned their citizens not to go to the country. The issue of insecurity was also raised recently by an American senator who urged CAF not to let Cameroon organize the 2019 edition of the continental tournament.
So far, the international community has turned a blind eye to the death and destruction that army soldiers are wreaking in the two English-speaking regions of the country. Some Cameroon observers hold that the international community is under the influence of France that has been the greatest beneficiary of Southern Cameroons’ wealth. It should be recalled that the French government is solidly behind the Cameroon government that is slaughtering its own people and many people around the world are shocked at French behaviour, especially as it is a country that prides itself on its human rights record.
From the behaviour so far displayed by the international community, it is clear that Southern Cameroonian lives do not really matter. Many Southern Cameroonians have been sent to an early grave as a result of the government’s ill-advised decision to pursue a military option instead of a political approach to the conflict. Could the Biya regime have been successful in corrupting the entire international community? Why would a people who simply want the world to know that they are hurting become a target of a government that is supposed to protect them?
The international community might have called for inclusive dialogue at different stages of the conflict, but its passivity and lack of interest in the whole situation speaks to the connivance between it and the Biya regime to decimate the indigenous people of Southern Cameroons. If the international community does not come out of the “Omerta” it has imposed on itself, Southern Cameroonians will continue to consider it as an accomplice in the genocide that is currently playing out in their country.
It is time for the international community to get tough on a government that is considered by its own citizens as a crime syndicate. Its corruption has robbed its own people of happiness and prosperity. Today, it is fiercely promoting the principle of political tribalism as a means of sustaining itself in power. The market-dominant minority that has enriched itself through unorthodox means has brought untold hardship to Cameroonians.
This government has to go and Cameroonians in general hold that the intervention of the international community will be a welcome relief. Turning a blind eye to the problem will not make it go away. The international community must step in to restore peace in a country that is anything but democratic. The government’s approach is counterproductive and it causing many death in the English-speaking regions of the country. The international community must come in to play its role, it not, it will soon be seeing another Rwanda in Cameroon.
By Kingsley Betek in Yaounde.