Southern Cameroons Crisis: The chaos is spreading
Since the Southern Cameroons crisis started in 2016, the Yaounde government has been struggling to contain it to the two English-speaking regions of the country. Its initial attempts to pit Anglophones against Francophones fell flat on their face as Anglophones quickly checked any acts of violence against ordinary Francophones who have peacefully co-habited with their Anglophones compatriots for decades.
But the conflict which has been confined for two years and which has resulted in the death of some 5,000 Cameroonians, including more than 2,000 soldiers, is gradually rippling out into East Cameroon. The economic and political frustrations generated by the ailing and crumbling Yaounde government have finally pitted the French-speaking majority against the government.
The climax was reached in October 2018, when the Yaounde government which is popularly unpopular stole the people’s victory. Professor Maurice Kamto, the opposition candidate, was the clear winner, but since the country’s president, Paul Biya, has bought over the military, he used it to stay in power and ever since the Cameroon Diaspora has vowed to flush him out of power and even Cameroonians back home have begun to display a rare form of boldness that is gradually causing the country’s authorities to lose sleep.
On Saturday, January 26, 2019, the country was once more put in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Professor Maurice Kamto, the winner of last year’s presidential election had called for a peaceful march across the country and this time, many Cameroonians back home turned out. Faithful to its principle of intimidation and manipulation, the Biya government dispatched troops to confront demonstrators in many cities across the country.
Yaounde, Douala, Ebolowa, Bafoussam, Bafang and others witnessed huge crowds which passed on a clear message to the government. The demonstrators were clear. They called for an end to the slaughtering taking place in the two English-speaking regions of the country, an end to the electoral hold-up and an end to the corruption that has become the country’s hallmark.
To prove that it was still in control, government troops responded by firing live bullets at the demonstrators. A prominent Douala-based lawyer, Michelle Ndoki, and a popular opposition politician, Celestin Djamen, were among those who took bullets. This unfortunate situation has provoked a different situation in faraway France where Cameroon’s Diaspora is actively seeking to unseat Mr. Biya and his corrupt government.
The “Brigade Anti Sardinard” (BAS), a group born out of the need to counter the government’s corrupt practices which consist in giving bread and sardine to locals for them to vote the ruling party’s candidates in every election has swung into action. The group has vowed to disrupt all Cameroon government operations in Europe and North America and Saturday’s invasion of the country’s embassy in Paris was a demonstration of what they are capable of doing.
The BAS used the occasion to call for an end to the killing of Southern Cameroonians, adding that the shooting of an unarmed lawyer and others on Saturday was unacceptable. Members of the group brought down pictures of the head of state at the embassy and shattered the glasses. They also burnt pictures of the head of state and his wife, adding that each time a Southern Cameroonian is killed they would take over the embassy.
A BAS spokesperson declared that Biya was no longer the president of Cameroon and new embassy staff would be announced by Professor Maurice Kamto in the days ahead. He urged the military to stop taking orders from Mr. Biya, as the embassy takeover was Cameroon’s fall of the Bastille.
Speaking to the Cameroon Concord News Group during the embassy takeover in Paris, a member of the BAS stated clearly that “We are going to prove to Biya and his government that the country belongs to all Cameroonians. The government has killed 3,000 of our Anglophone brothers and we will no longer be mute while a brutal 86-year-old dictator continues to mow down our fellow citizens.”
He added that “more demonstrations have been scheduled and next time, all Cameroon embassies abroad will be taken over by the people. There will be a huge takeover in Washington and Berlin in the days ahead. The country belongs to us and not to the gerontocracy that has decided to take the country down with it.”
Meanwhile, the fighting in the two English regions of the country has intensified with army soldiers killing indiscriminately. On Friday, January 25, 2019, some sex-starved and alcohol inflamed soldiers opened fire on ten young men who had nothing to do with the conflict that is spreading pain and suffering among the population. The killings occurred in Mpondo Balong, a small settlement some 5km from Muyuka, a town not far from Buea, the southwest regional capital.
The killings have reignited tensions in the region as Southern Cameroonian fighters in the region have vowed to revenge. Early on Saturday, it was reported that soldiers and administrative officers were seen leaving the town for fear of being attacked by Southern Cameroonian fighters.
It was also reported that Southern Cameroonian fighters in Muyenge, a village on the foot of Mount Cameroon, had decided to join forces with those in Mpondo Balong and Muyuka to give army soldiers a run for their money. It is obvious that more lives will be lost and, from every indication, the southern Cameroons crisis still has many more scenes which will be playing out in a manner that will be far from being pleasant.
In the Northwest, the fighting is still going on, and many more lives have been lost. Over the last two weeks, government forces have been shooting down anything that crosses their path. Nurses, teachers and civil servants have all been targeted by the trigger-happy soldiers who want to let their masters in Yaounde know that they are doing a good job. Nobody in the region is safe, even children are being targeted by soldiers and many of them are quick to brand even 3-year-old children as terrorists. The military’s killing of a baby last week in Kumbo has left many people wondering about the government’s real objective.
From every indication, the crisis in Southern Cameroon will not be over anytime soon, as the cycle of violence has finally taken root. With the Yaounde government ignoring all calls for an inclusive dialogue and given that it has a huge appetite for military action, it is obvious that the fighting will go on for a long time, especially as more armed groups are emerging on a daily basis in the two English-speaking regions.
According to an audio clip sent to the Cameroon Concord News Group chairman, a new armed group has been born in the Muyenge-Muyuka-Kumba area. The Southern Cameroons Liberation Organization (SCLO) has clearly indicated that it would use some of the worst methods to make its presence known in the region. Its objective is to fight for the total liberation of Southern Cameroons and it holds all is fair in war and love.
Also speaking over the phone with the Cameroon Concord New Group Chairman in the United Kingdom, the military commander of the SCLO said his group would use the most gruesome methods to send Yaounde army soldiers packing from the region.
“We are in the business of war to kill and we will stop at nothing to prove that Southern Cameroons belongs to us. Our method of choice will be the beheading of soldiers and traitors and these shows will be captured on video. The world should therefore be prepared to watch the newest show in town. Our brothers have been slaughtered by soldiers like animals. We are prepared to bring death and pain to them and their families. We have nothing to lose. We have been robbed of our happiness, our oil and our land. Our faith is worse than death. Dying will therefore be a better condition for many of us. Our fighters, who are God’s fighters, will be carrying bombs and other destructive explosives to cause maximum damage. We are ready to take death and destruction to East Cameroon so that those who have been indifferent to our plight can also have a taste of what we have been going through for two years,” he said.
The 31-year-old SCLO commander who elected anonymity, urged the Southern Cameroons Diaspora to stay united. He said “unity will take us closer to our goal and we will be able to defeat the enemy who has beaten our dust many times. The enemy may be well equipped, but its equipment alone will not give it the victory it needs. We are prepared to put our lives on the line and we hope that our brothers in the Diaspora will keep on encouraging us by providing bullets and guns. We need those dangerous weapons to teach Biya and his people that we are not scared. They might have killed some of our people, but we will never surrender. Their strategy will fail. They thought they could strike fear into us, but they are mistaken.”
“We know the French are supporting the enemy. We are therefore determined to ruin French business interest in Cameroon. The French are backing the wrong horse and we are prepared to kill that horse. The French have just lost Congo and it is clear that they will soon lose Southern Cameroons and La Republique as they continue to support a dying horse,” he pointed out.
The Southern Cameroons crisis that started as a joke some two years ago has finally become a millstone around the government’s neck. For many decades, Southern Cameroonians have been complaining about marginalization with a view to seeking a peaceful resolution of the issues facing them. But the Yaounde government has been ignoring them, holding that the country’s minority could be easily brought under control.
Despite numerous letters to the country’s president, Paul Biya, for more than three decades, the situation has never been the subject of any discussion in Yaounde. Mr. Biya and his government have never considered the Southern Cameroons question as an issue that can threaten national security and integration.
Mr. Biya and his bunch of ministers are used to looking down on their citizens and they hold that paying attention to all the memos on Southern Cameroonian issues will be dignifying a bunch of people who are just second-class citizens.
They have simply not gotten it right. They have failed to understand that those who make peaceful change impossible only make violent change inevitable and this is what is happening today in Cameroon. The refusal to listen to the plea of the people of Southern Cameroons has finally exposed the government and made the country ungovernable.
Since the conflict started, the Yaounde government has made one mistake after another. In January 2017, it arrested and jailed Southern Cameroonian leaders who had called for a federal system that would guarantee that the people take ownership of their own development projects.
Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mr. Mancho Bibixy were captured and hastily taken to Yaounde in the belief that the population’s anger would be doused. This only inflamed Southern Cameroonians, and things took a turn for the worse following the arrest of Sisiku Julius Ayuk and Co. in Nigeria one year ago.
When the government kidnapped Julius Ayuk Tabe and others and dumped them in jail, it felt it had cut the “snake’s head.” But it was mistaken. The Southern Cameroons crisis is a hydra. It develops a new head each time the old one is cut off. This makes it hard for the rebellion to be crushed, especially as most Southern Cameroonians are living abroad.
The crisis has ruined many businesses and the unemployment rate in the region has reached alarming rates. Silicon Mountain, a hub for many start-up firms in the South West regional headquarters of Buea, has been put out of business and even state corporations have been forced to close shop by the determined fighters who have been spreading fear in the region by amputating those who dare to go to work during ghost town days. Rather than seek to appease a people who have been hurting for decades, the Yaounde government has proceeded to employing tricks and violence in the hope that it will come out of the conflict victorious.
The fighting is going on with both sides committing incredible atrocities. Cameroon, once an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos, has finally become a massive killing field. The two English-speaking regions are awash with arms. The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is living up to its word. It had promised to destabilize Cameroon and the country has been caught up in a downward spiral.
The Diaspora is still pouring weapons into the country and this is giving the pool of willing fighters on the ground, a reason to fight to a bitter end. The Diaspora has the capacity to reduce Cameroon to a small unstable nation. Many Southern Cameroonians are living abroad because of the marginalization that the government had orchestrated against them and, today, the government is being hoist in its own petards. The pouring of weapons into the region has reduced the country’s army into a boys’ scout team. Pressure from the fighters is being felt even in Yaounde. The Diaspora is finally punishing the Yaounde government for its sins and crimes against Southern Cameroons.
From the look of things, Cameroon will never be the same again. That is the message the Yaounde government is yet to understand, but it must understand it if it wants peace to return to that region of the continent. Southern Cameroonians have crossed the Rubicon and they are not ready to make any giant steps backwards. The government must accept that only dialogue can bring back peace to the country. The reality on the ground clearly indicates that it will never win this war. The Diaspora is a huge factor and it will continue to play its role until the Yaounde government collapses.
By Kingsley Betek in Paris with contributions from Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai in the United Kingdom