The Southern Cameroons crisis that has been playing out for close to two years has gradually spiralled out of control following the existence of many armed groups in the two English-speaking regions of the country. Over the last two 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 “scorch-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.
Of course, what caused the government to adopt the obnoxious “law 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.
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, Mbim, a small village some 20 kilometres 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.
Speaking to a Cameroon Concord News Group correspondent on the ground, residents of the village confirmed that local churches had been burnt and 6 civilians shot. The sources also added that some civilians had been killed in the senseless government attacks. It should be recalled that killing civilians on purpose and destroying civilian property constitute war crimes. The government has an obligation under international law to investigate all the atrocities being committed by its military. So far, the Yaoundé regime seems to be enjoying as Southern Cameroonians run into the jungle for accommodation.
According to the Cameroon Concord News Group correspondent, the village has been besieged by the army, and the villagers are not allowed to move in or out. Hundreds of residents are currently seeking refuge in the forest. Many rights groups, including the one led by Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, are calling on the government to grant journalists and human rights organizations access to these regions.
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.
Kembong, a town in Manyu Division which was a hotspot during the violent confrontations in December 2017, was back in the spotlight following an attack by heavily armed gunmen on the temporary military barracks in the town. The attack resulted in the killing of three gendarmes, with many other uniformed officers wounded. The wounded were flown to the Mamfe military hospital for treatment, a measure that helped to stabilize them.
The incident, which is a response to the government’s military action in many parts of Southern Cameroons, came less than 24 hours after the country’s president, Paul Biya, said the North West and South West regions were stabilizing during a speech delivered to the country’s youth on Saturday, February 10, 2018, on the occasion of the country’s youth day.
There have been many cases of violence in the English-speaking regions following Mr. Ayuk Tabe’s arrest. Cameroonian authorities themselves have become more concerned about the political and military conflict in the country as it continues to spill out of the control. Rumors making the rounds for some time now hold that young Francophone fighters are swelling the ranks of Southern Cameroonian fighters in Ndian Division.
This is making things a lot more dangerous, as an issue that started with socio-professional demands by lawyers and teachers may end up becoming a major civil war in a region that has had more than its fair share of civil wars and political chaos.
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. Is the international community under the influence of France that has been the greatest beneficiary of the Southern Cameroonian wealth or is it just sick and tired of dealing with conflicts on the continent?
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 region 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. It 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.
By Kingsley Betek with contributions from the editorial team at the Cameroon Concord News Group Global Headquarters in the UK.