Two years ago, when the then-called Anglophone problem began, few predicted that it would snowball into a full-blown war with its attendant bloodletting. No one thought, a mere strike initiated by lawyers and teachers would, two years down the line, culminate in this horror that has become the ecosystem of the citizens of Southern Cameroons. From Nkambe right down to Mundemba, the pain of the people, who only set out to demand freedom and dignity for their lives and those of their children, rings stridently across the land. Every day, we are served with gory pictures of young lives prematurely cut short, young boys and girls maimed to the point of non-recognition. Few imagine the sorry plight of the families (some with nurslings) hiding out in forests, exposed to the hazard of the elements and the dangers of wild creeping things and carnivorous animals. I cry for the souls of these innocent lives and the ordeal of my people now forced to share the forests with animals!
It is difficult to attempt an explanation for this inexorable slide into mayhem; because there were opportunities to ward off this crisis or nib it in the bud, so to speak. Compliance with the various calls for civil disobedience and “ghost town” operations, open defiance of authority as well as the unprecedented public display of anger across Southern Cameroons back on 22nd September 2017 were alarm bells ringing deafeningly, alerting the authorities to the volcanic anger that was boiling underneath, ready to the blow up the country at its seams. Calls for the return to the federal system which, up until 1972, had held the country together in an otherwise beautiful experiment in bi- and multi-culturalism, were greeted with absolute disdain and arrogance. The moderate leadership of the movement was thrown into jail with trumped-up and, frankly, ridiculous charges of terrorism, hostility against the state and any other ludicrous charge that their Jacobin minds could conjure up. I cried then, as I knew this was the onset of trouble.
Now, trouble is here. It took the shape of the hundreds of lost lives of protesters who, tired of being treated with absolute contempt, decided on 1st October 2017 to “symbolically” declare their independence from La République du Cameroun, hoping to draw national and international attention to their plight. Instead, in return, terror was unleashed on them with hundreds shot dead, and thousands arrested and thrown into jail. Since then, life for them has become a daily unending nightmare, the stuff of horror. Gunshots and screams of fright are now the soundtrack their daily reality. Villages have been completely razed, houses and hospitals torched, and old and vulnerable elderly persons roasted in their homes and sickbeds. I shudder at the thought of the strain, agony and excruciating pain these old ones experienced as, helpless, they slowly burnt to death. I cry! Yes, I weep for them.
I weep because, instead of negotiating with the people, the government of La République engaged a full-scale war of attrition nay, a scorched-earth blitzkrieg on an innocent people. The army was given a “shoot-to-kill-on-mere-suspicion” order, otherwise known in French as ‘l’ordred’ouverture de feu”. What this means is that they were given the green light to shoot at anything and anybody if it/he/she poses a “threat”. They are not required to furnish any explanation or justification for their actions. The manifestation of this blanket order is visible throughout Southern Cameroons. This same tactic was used during the days of the “Maquis” for good effect. In other words, it worked then; why should it not work now? The only drawback for this soldiery and this barbaric tactic is the social media to which their cruelties are systematically uploaded and, lo and behold, live streamed, even by the perpetrators themselves.
Multiple calls for dialogue have been royally ignored. When attempts are made, it is in the form of make-belief missions fielded to the region by surrogates of a regime that have been rejected outright by the population. Enormous sums have been squandered hoodwinking the international community that there is some modicum of dialogue initiated. Huge amounts of taxpayer francs are squandered by government on the “war effort”. Needless to say these sums are lining the pockets of the select few for whom this crisis is a gold mine, irrespective of the lives lost and the untold suffering inflicted on the people. Countless horror stories come to light every day of the havoc wreaked by these soldiers on a hapless population. The recent pictures of droves of people attempting to flee this mayhem are heartrending. The response of the authorities has been to dissuade, nay, block these helpless people from flight, requiring them to justify their movement. In a country they claim is “one and indivisible”! All of this in an attempt to obfuscate the scale of the disaster and hide it from the eyes of the world. Yes, I cry…
For those who still think secession or, better still, separation is a physical thing, have another think coming. It starts from the mind. And the actions of the authorities and their forces of (dis)order are driving the two Cameroons further apart. Whatever the outcome of this crisis, the road to reconciliation will be long, tortuous, if not impossible.
Shey Kukih Mansah