Southern Cameroons Crisis: Singers Embark on Caravan for Peace
In Cameroon, hundreds of singers are using their voices to call for a cease-fire between the military and separatist forces in restive western regions. The conflict has killed thousands of people and displaced 750,000 since 2017.
In the courtyard of the Yaoundé city council, the singers performed songs calling for an end to the killing and destruction of property in the restive Northwest and Southwest regions.
Among the several hundred civilians listening to the singers is Dieudonne Bitam, a 24-year-old university student. Bitam said the songs speak to the conscience of Cameroonians who live in fear and uncertainty.
The peace singers are pulling in crowds because their music includes traditional rhythms from all the regions of Cameroon, he said, so the songs appeal to people of all generations and of different social, cultural, religious and professional backgrounds.
Similar events, organized by Cameroonian Artists for Peace, will take place in towns and villages across the central African state, the organizers say.
In the songs, the artists ask communities in safer localities to accommodate displaced persons. They also request fighters and government troops in conflict areas to observe a cease-fire so peace can return.
The singers say they will not travel to towns and villages prone to regular separatist attacks. They say singers and choral groups in western towns and villages where clashes are ongoing should sing in public squares when possible.
Ateh Francis, board chair of the Cameroon Musical Art Corporation SONACAM, said the singers are tired of the bloodshed, rape, maiming, stealing and abduction for ransom in the two western regions where separatist forces are fighting to set up an English-speaking state.
He said SONACAM assisted the artists in their peace caravan.
“These songs that call for peace and reconciliation are released by artists who are expressing concerns on the sufferings of the people and hoping to touch hearts,” he said. “The artists themselves are living and suffering with the people and decide to put it in song, hoping to touch the hearts of the government [officials] and the boys [fighters] to sit down and solve this problem, which is bringing untold suffering to our people.”
The large-scale appeal for peace by singers in Cameroon is the first since separatist crisis degenerated to an armed conflict in the central African state in 2017.
The peace singers say they rely on personal contributions and assistance from well-wishers to organize the musical peace caravans.
The governors of Cameroon’s restive northwest and southwest regions say they support all efforts to restore peace but insist that fighters who do not surrender and drop their weapons will be killed. Separatists also say they support the initiative, but fighters will continue their struggle for self-determination.
The separatist conflict broke out in 2016 when Anglophone Cameroonians protested what they said was discrimination by the Francophone majority.
The U.N. says fighting has since killed at least 3,500 people and displaced at least three-quarters of a million.
The singers are performing songs in both English and French, hoping to appeal to both sides of the conflict.