For almost two years, Southern Cameroons has been reduced into a slaughter house with government troops killing innocent citizens as if they were not human beings. In many parts of Southern Cameroons, many young men, many of whom are innocent and have nothing to do with the ugly fighting that is playing out over there, have been arrested and taking to unknown destinations. Many have been buried alive, while others have been used by the country’s trigger-happy soldiers as shooting targets.
A recent video that has gone viral online speaks to the accusation that the Yaounde government is committing gross human rights violations in the country’s English-speaking regions. The video, which has shocked many across the globe, is being documented as evidence of human rights abuse by many rights groups which have been seeking to draw the world’s attention to the genocide that is unfolding in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions.
A crisis that started as protests by lawyers, teachers and students in Buea and Bamenda was allowed to spiral out of control due to the government’s firm belief in tough and violent means to address issues. The government’s decision to slaughter hundreds of Southern Cameroonians on October 1, 2017, has turned out to be a very bad mistake. Many Southern Cameroonians who have been victims of the government’s marginalization program simply wanted to express their grievances and frustration. But wont to violence and dictatorial ways of doing things, the government resorted to its legendary violence which has transformed an entire region into a huge killing field.
After October 1, 2017, a date many Southern Cameroonians consider as their independence day, the country has been pushed into a spiral of violence. Southern Cameroonians hold that it behooves them to protect themselves as their protector- the government – has decided to mow them down. Many Southern Cameroonians have unfortunately been sent to an early grave and this is what is making any dialogue or reconciliation impossible.
Today, there are many armed groups in the two English-speaking regions of the country. Over the last four months, many innocent civilians have met their death as the government pursues its policy of collective punishment. Many civilians have seen their homes burnt down by government forces which have opted for a “scotch-earth” policy that is hurting many vulnerable people who have nothing to do with the conflict.
A few weeks ago, villages such as Kembong and Kwakwa in the South West region 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 more disturbing is that, for more than a month now, the government has not ordered any investigation into these barbaric atrocities. It has not even expressed any remorse for such acts of inhumanity committed by people who are supposed to serve and protect the population.
In all fairness, what caused the government to adopt the obnoxious “Code of Hammurabi” was the killing of army soldiers by some unidentified gun men. This act should never be extolled, but the government’s decision to come down to the level of a ragtag army clearly calls for a global condemnation, but the international community has remained mute in the face of such flagrant injustice and mass killing of a people who simply want to defend themselves against an obnoxious marginalization that has sent many Southern Cameroonians to an early grave.
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 serve as a testament to its failure to rein in the tough Ambazonian 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. 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 through meaningful dialogue. For long, it has been giving the impression that it cherishes dialogue, but its actions over the last six months 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 three weeks ago, Mbiim, a small village some 20 kilometers from Kumbo, was the target of these alcohol-inflamed soldiers. During the military onslaught, many houses were razed, food was destroyed, and many civilians were wounded, an act that has been condemned by many Southern Cameroonian activists and opinion leaders.
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 Defense Forces. The civilians have been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. They have no control over the Ambazonian 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.
On Tuesday, April 3, 2018, the Cameroonian military attacked and burned several homes in Mungo Ndor, a small village located some 40 km from Nguti in the Koupé-Manengouba Division in the South West region. The senseless arson campaign by government troops has left many people in tears. Ms. Egbe Maria Ndonge, popularly known as “Mami Maria”, was burned to death in her house, while asleep. Many people question the rationale behind such government brutality that will make it hard for both parties to sit and talk.
The fighting is ongoing, and it is getting nastier by the day, as government soldiers erase whole villages from the country’s map, a tactic it used to intimidate French-speaking freedom fighters popularly known as “Marquisards” in the 60s. These acts of violence do not seem to be producing the desired impact. Far from dissuading the determined Southern Cameroonian fighters, they are instead breeding revenge which is feeding the circle of violence that the government has triggered in the country.
Today, Cameroon government officials are gradually coming to terms with the fact that the two “cubes of sugar” will not easily melt. Instead of intimidating the fighters, the violence has now become a reason why the people of Southern Cameroons have to fight to the finish. They know the government is not willing to solve the problem and yielding to government pressure will only imply that they will have to go back to the status quo ante where they were regarded as second-class citizens.
The human cost of the conflict is staggering. Soldiers and civilians have been killed in a conflict that could have been prevented. The government has simply stopped reporting the killing of army soldiers, as this may have a huge impact on those who are being sent to the restive English-speaking regions.
The government has continued to put a brave face on a very bad situation. But behind the scenes, there is an atmosphere of regrets. The government knows that fighting a war on multiple fronts is a dangerous thing to do. A source close to the Unity Palace has indicated that the government is slowly admitting that it had underestimated so many things, especially the role the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora that holds that it is time for it to play a key role in the country’s economic and political life.
After more than five decades of unnecessary marginalization, the Southern Cameroonian Diaspora believes that it can right the wrongs of the past by financing the various armed groups that are wreaking havoc in Southern Cameroons. Today, the region has become a no-go area for many people. The country’s administrative officers have become targets for the armed groups. Some government officials have been kidnapped, though none has been killed. But this act by the fighters is sending a very strong message to the government that has been giving the impression that it is in control of its entire territory.
Since the conflict in Southern Cameroons started in October 2016, more than 1,000 people have been killed, with army soldiers accounting for more than 300 of the deaths. The civilian population has borne the brunt of the government’s attacks on villages and towns in Southern Cameroons.
The Southern Cameroons crisis has resulted in the fleeing of more than 60,000 Southern Cameroonians from their homeland to Nigeria due to the government’s military violence. Many of these people are innocent civilians who have been caught between government army soldiers and Ambazonian Defense forces who are battling for the control of territory in South Cameroons; a region rich in minerals, especially oil, gold and diamond.
The tension in the region has been flaring following the arrest of Ambazonian leaders in Nigeria in early January and their illegal extradition to Cameroon where they are being held incommunicado at the Gendarmerie headquarters in Yaounde.
Following the arrest of the Ambazonian president and 46 others, violent clashes erupted in several towns in Southern Cameroons. In Batibo, three army soldiers were killed by unknown gunmen, while the Batibo Senior Divisional Officer was taken by the gunmen to an unknown destination. His whereabouts are still unknown. The Batibo Assistant Mayor, Esther Tebo, for her part, escaped capture by the skin of her teeth, after gunmen showed up at her church and opened fire, wounding several people.
But the most challenging thing is the silence of the international community. Despite the daily killings taking place in many towns in Southern Cameroons, the international community has sunk into a deafening silence that is worrying to many people across the globe. Some analysts argue that the international community has entered into a pact with the Cameroon government. The international community has been looking the other way while the Cameroon government is mowing down its own people. Despite calls to the global body by rights groups such as the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International for a direct intervention, the UN has continued to display a form of indifference that is more unsettling than reassuring.
Even the illegal arrest and extradition of Southern Cameroonian leaders did not shock the international community. The United Nations, in particular, seems to be playing ball with the Cameroon government and this is causing many people to hold that most of the military violence taking place in the English-speaking regions of the country has received the blessing of a United Nations that is more interested in keeping the country together than in the methods that are being used to keep the country one and indivisible.
So far, the international community has been turning a blind eye to the death and destruction that army soldiers have been spreading in the two English-speaking regions of the country. What could be the meaning of such silence?
From the behavior 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 military 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.
If the numerous killings and roasting of ordinary civilians in Southern Cameroons are not yet enough for the international community to come out of its silence, at least yesterday’s video should let the world know that a genocide is gradually playing out in Southern Cameroons. Southern Cameroonians are disappointed with the international community. The world seems to have left Southern Cameroonians to their own devices. The world needs to wake to put an end to the mass killings taking place in Southern Cameroons. Southern Cameroonians will not accept any apologies from the international community when it has been standing on the sidelines and cheering up the Yaounde government in its efforts to cleanse Southern Cameroons of its indigenous population.
By Kingsley Betek and Etchi Ebot in YAOUNDE