As days go by, the Southern Cameroons crisis that has put Cameroon in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons is taking a turn for the worse. Over the last weeks, Southern Cameroonian fighters have changed their strategy from killing soldiers and gendarmes to kidnapping senior administrative officers, in the hope that they will create a huge impact on a government that is noted for its do-nothing attitude.
Over the last two weeks, the Batibo Divisional Officer and Social Affairs delegate have been kidnapped and taken to the jungle where they are living wild and rough. In Manyu Division, senior CPDM officers have had to face the wrath of Southern Cameroonian fighters. A senior official of the CPDM in the Upper Bayang Sub-division was visited and his car was burnt.
Similarly, many local chiefs in Manyu and Ndian Divisions are on the run as the people have resorted to attacking them. They are accused of being government pawns and have collaborated with the corrupt Yaounde government to rob the people of their freedom and wealth. This series of events is not only frustrating to many families, especially those of the kidnapped administrative officers, but also to the government which has been unable to put the determined Southern Cameroonian fighters out of business.
Today, many administrative officers in Southern Cameroons are living in fear. Ambazonian Tigers have struck fear into them and many are not living a normal life as they are permanently looking over their shoulders. Regardless of the heavy presence of troops in Southern Cameroons, most administrative officers hold that the government can never provide them with the type of security they need to operate normally. Besides, they understand that corruption, divisions and frustration are making it hard for the country’s defense forces to effectively play their role.
Within the military, there are different schools of thought regarding how the Southern Cameroons crisis should be addressed and this is making it hard for the government to beat a more determined Southern Cameroons army that has proven that it can punch well above its class.
These divisions and frustrations in the military can be seen in an anonymous letter written to the president by some disappointed soldiers about issues facing current efforts to roll back Southern Cameroons fighters who have been making huge gains in the North West and South West regions.
“We are advising you that there is disorder and non-compliance with the instructions given by the field operations hierarchy in the two regions in crisis. The decisions taken by the higher military hierarchy are not implemented by those expected to implement them in the field, especially in the Southwest region where the instructions of General Sali are not respected by the commander of operations, Colonel Ousmanou, who by flouting these instructions, is putting our forces at risk where they are killed by the separatists. This way of acting has already encouraged or facilitated the secessionists to kill some of our troops and seize our equipment (weapons and ammunition). During meetings of the General Staff chaired by the Manyu Divisional Officer, Colonel Ousmanou is always against everyone, sometimes urging the prosecutor of the republic to support ideas relating to the respect of human rights. He declares that the President of the Republic and his government in Yaoundé must find a political and non-military solution to this crisis and that he will never accept that a man under his command use his weapon against anyone,” the memo said.
The memo adds that “Other senior officers are engaged in maintaining and protecting the underground economy that sustains and supports the enemy camp. Colonels Ntsama and Ngongang are engaged in despicable acts that do not honor our military. They are involved in the breaking of shops in Ekok, and other localities of Manyu, carting with them freezers, money and other property. Any questions from a subordinate in this regard always result in the subordinate’s redeployment further into the zone or he is given a harsh punishment.”
This does not only reveal that there are cracks on Mr. Biya’s wall. It is also a clear demonstration that the Southern Cameroons crisis is causing the government to implode. Southern Cameroonians have succeeded to split the military and even the ruling party is gradually falling apart. Their corrupt practices are being exposed by some of theirs who have elected anonymity. The huge pain and death left by Ambazonian fighters’ attacks on the country’s military are gradually splitting the Francophone population that was for a long time indifferent to what was happening in Southern Cameroons.
Over the last three months, Southern Cameroonian fighters have been giving the country a good run for its money and this has given the government a black eye. The government, which has refused all appeals for dialogue, has seen its reputation eroded, and this is making many analysts to hold that the government will come back on its word. The government had already branded Southern Cameroonian restorationists as terrorists and based on the declarations of fascists elements within the regime, the government will never negotiate with those it considers as terrorists.
This new strategy of kidnapping senior administrative officials is designed to put an enormous amount of pressure on the aging and ailing government for it to release Southern Cameroonian leaders who had been abducted and extradited to Cameroon where they have been held incommunicado for almost two months. The extradition has angered many Southern Cameroonians, especially the fighters.
Currently, Southern Cameroonian fighters hold that the more administrative officials they hold, the greater their chances to get their leaders released. They have therefore sent word all over the place that any administrative officer operating in Southern Cameroons is a target. There are even prices on the heads of some administrative officers such the governor of the Southwest region, Okala Bilai, who has been judged in absentia by the Southern Cameroons people’s court and has been sentenced to death.
It is being secretly said that anyone who kills the southwest governor will be given about US$20,000. He is being charged with describing Southern Cameroonians as dogs and Ambazonians Tigers have clearly stated that such a crime must be punished, and death is a befitting punishment for the crime.
Another administrative officer who is in the cross-hairs of the Ambazonian Tigers is the Manyu Senior Divisional Officer who had issued a press release that caused many residents of Manyu to quit their homes to seek refuge in neighboring Nigeria which is playing host today to over 50,000 Cameroonian refugees.
Fear has gripped the entire Southern Cameroons and the country’s leaders in Yaounde are losing sleep. This new atmosphere has been captured in a press release issued by the Manager of the South West Regional Station of the CRTV which drew the government’s attention to a possible takeover of Buea, the Southern Cameroons capital, by Ambazonian fighters.
The release stated that “I wish to draw your attention to the fact that an unidentified person called my collaborator, Ms. Charline FloreDemgne, Chief of Service for programmes and information at Mount Cameroon FM, on Monday, February 26, 2018 at 7am.
His message was frightful; that they are coming to Buea to kidnap the Divisional Officer for Buea, the Governor and take over CRTV.
I,therefore, appeal to you to reinforce security at CRTV South West and put the whole city on alert.”
This desperation is a clear representation of the mood across the country. Government authority has been chipped off by small, but important events. In Kembong a small town some 10 km Mamfe, the Manyu Divisional headquarters, workers of timber companies were kidnapped and given strict others on what to do. Their heavy equipment was burnt, and the workers released, although one of them was not lucky. He was sent to an early grave for reasons that are not yet known.
Though there are rumors about the presence of French soldiers in Manyu Division, Ambazonian Tigers have said the French will surely meet their Waterloo in Kembong where it is believed to have been stationed. Speaking to the Cameroon Concord News Group, a captain in the Ambazonian Tigers said “the French are looking for someone to kill them and we will do just that. We are not scared of anybody. We are determined to regain our land and we will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. Mr. Biya can bring the entire European military to Southern Cameroons, but we will never be defeated.”
A lot is happening in Cameroon. The country’s leader is missing in action. For many weeks now, he has not been seen regularly in public and there is rumor that his cancer and failing heart have reduced his ability to government the country.
With all what is happening, Mr. Biya and his inner circle are at their wit’s end. Violence has not been able to intimidate Southern Cameroonians into submission. Southern Cameroonians have proven that military action alone will not solve the problem. Though government officials have been saying they will not negotiate with terrorists, it is clear that they will be doing that very soon, as Southern Cameroonians are determined to win back their independence. The Southern Cameroonian Diaspora is making good on its promise to provide arms to the pool of willing fighters back home that is inflicting pain on the country’s military.
From every indication, things are turning out badly for the government. Families of soldiers killed in Southern Cameroons have begun asking questions and the war itself is becoming very expensive for the government. Mr. Biya and his government have to sue for peace. They haveto reconcile with the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora.
The Southern Cameroons Diaspora is rich and it has made its influence felt in Cameroon. The Yaounde government is frustrated and does not know how it can rein in a Diaspora that has transformed marginalization into an opportunity. The government must seek ways to work with this Diaspora. It must look for ways to bring some key elements of the Anglophone Diaspora to the country’s governing bodies. Without such compromises, the country will never be stable. With more than three million Southern Cameroonians out of the country, it is clear that Cameroon is in for very tough times. It is time to talk peace and any discussions must include the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora. Cameroon has been caught in a downward spiral. If the government does not change its policies and strategies regarding this crisis, it might be swept away by a crisis that has become as violent as a tornado.
By Kinsley Betek and Fosuh Tamajung in Bamenda, with contributions from Rita Akana and Ebong Ngole in Buea