popular

Eyes on the Ground: Terror in West Cameroon

A diaspora Cameroonian tours the breakaway region to see for his own eyes what life is like under occupation.

I wasn't very sure I'd be granted entry into Cameroon on September 20 when I landed at the Douala International airport. I had been advised, by some, to enter through Nigeria. I had already seen ample evidence and read stories that such fears are founded, given the number of Cameroonians from the diaspora being turned back at the airport.


In addition, there are stories abound of Cameroonians entering the country and later on being rounded up and dumped in the dreaded Kondengui maximum security prison in Yaounde.

To make matters worse, members of Paul Biya's government had made it clear that the social unrest in the western part of the country was being sponsored by Cameroonians residing in the diaspora.

This in essence, made every Cameroonian residing abroad, good foil for security forces to target. It was against this backdrop of resentment that I found myself being fingerprinted and photographed at the Douala airport.

After this, the young lady at the police security booth took a look at me, handed over my passport and then waved my through. I was in and at least some of my fears were eased.

I heaved a sigh of relief and made my way to the oppressively hot, chaotic and crowded baggage collection area.

Sweating profusely, I succeeded to haul my bags off the carousel to the 'customs area' where an unsmiling officer asked me to open one of the bags. After a few seconds of looking, he told me to put my bags on the airport cart and be on my way.

Just as I was about to exit through the sliding doors, the same lady who had earlier gone through my passport, after we alighted from the plane, confronted me:

"You no fit just commot so. Give me chocolate," she said.

Figuratively, she was asking for a bribe or a tip and it took me a couple of seconds for it to sink in. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a 2,000 Franc CFA note—which I had saved just for something like this—and pressed it into the palm of her hand.

Her face lit up and she let me through.

The journey from Douala to Bamenda by public transport took me through towns like Tiko, Ekona, Kumba, Mamfe (in the Southwest region) and Widikum, Batibo, Bali (in the Northwest region).

Traveling by night during this tense climate of social unrest, which has paralyzed activities in West Cameroon (English-speaking regions of Northwest and Southwest) for the past 12 months, is not something I would gladly advice anyone to do, especially if you haven't already been in the country for some time.

Before embarking on this trip, I had taken the extra disposition to get an ID card, because using a passport as a form of identification is not recommended, considering the number of security forces and a regime stuck on a false notion that civil unrest is being masterminded by Cameroonians in the diaspora.

Just before we arrived in Tiko, the first town on the way from French Cameroun into English Cameroon, we reached the first (of many) security stops, manned by at least 20 heavily armed, combat ready military operatives—majority in balaclavas. This was like a scene from the movies with commandos all set for a raid. The only difference here was that we were all just unarmed passengers living in the reality of a police state.

All passengers on the bus were ordered (in French) to dismount and show their ID cards, by someone who I guess was the commander of this security post. We all obliged.

Next, the driver of our bus was ordered to open the cargo area and every bag was pulled out. Each passenger had to identify his or her luggage and open it for 'checks.'

I stood back in amusement and watched the commander ask everyone to dig through the contents of every bag.

When it came my turn, the commander insisted on seeing what was at the bottom of the bag. So I had to pull out packs of Vaseline I had bought for my family, clothes, shoes and other items I had brought as gifts. Not once did I ask what he was searching for. Common sense told me not to ask. During stops like this, you don't question the almighty security. You just obey.

After the search for nonexistent arms was over, our bags were loaded once more into the cargo area and we were on our way.

We passed now fewer than 5 security stops before we got to Bamenda. At every stop we had to get off the bus, show our ID cards to an officer, and walk for about 50 meters where we'd board the bus again. The only thing we were spared from was another bag search.

With all these checks and interruptions, a journey of 7 hours (378 km) ends up being 9 hours and if you're the type who naps during long journeys, it's not the trip for you.

Not much has changed in Bamenda in the five years since I was here. A few new buildings have cropped up here and there but what changed for worse is the state of the roads around the town. It's fair to say some of the roads linking the regional capital of Bamenda and neighbouring towns like Bali and Bambili are in a relatively better shape than roads around town.

When looking for reasons why Bamenda is one of the bastions of the current social unrest, you just need to look at the abysmal nature of the roads, disproportionate youth unemployment and decaying infrastructure. There's a feeling among many here (and rightly so) that the deliberate neglect in development in this part of the country is a punitive measure on a people who have traditionally sided with the opposition SDF party.

The internet shutdown for a second time in West Cameroon is not helping the government's image in this part of the country either.



Just a few days before the October 1 protests and the brutal crackdown that led to the loss of civilian lives, largely blamed on military security personnel, I visited the towns Ndop (40 km east of Bamenda) and Tatum (about 100 km east of Bamenda).

These two towns, just like other towns in West Cameroon, witnessed protests on September 22 and October 1. On my way to Tatum, I bypassed military trucks (in the car I was traveling in), which was headed for the town of Kumbo, not far from Tatum.

Despite the heavy military deployment, some of the residents I spoke to in Tatum told me, come October 1, that they'll go out and celebrate the independence of Southern Cameroon (former trustee territory under British rule) and not even the military would stop them. I even met a young man who was rehearsing the Southern Cameroons anthem for the event. Kids as young as 5 proudly sing the anthem in Tatum and for many in Ndop, watching the banned cable network, Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Television (SCBTV) station is the preferred choice.

So many people here identify with the Southern Cameroons movement that even if the Biya government succeeds to put down the current social unrest, the seeds for another protest have already been sown in the minds of toddlers and teenagers.

It might make more sense to look into the root causes of this unrest and seek ways to address them rather than sending out delegations of 'elites' who have lost touch with their base and continuous militarization of the region.

Something happened in West Cameroon on October 1 and October 2 after people came out to peacefully protest which has, which has been described by some as a genocide or massacre, including the human rights NGO, REDHAC.

I got testimony from a relative in Ndop who recounted how an unarmed fisherman returning home on a bike was gunned down for no reason. Another relative in Ekona recounted how many youths in her neighbourhood were killed or wounded and how her father-in-law came close to being arrested and the numerous houses broken into and property carted off by the military.

I also got first-hand accounts from Bafut of youths who sustained bullet wounds and—after being transported to the hospital and having bullets extracted—had to escape into the bushes for fear of re-arrest at the health center.

Many accounts exists all over West Cameroon of civilians getting killed or raped in their homes. Of property destroyed, abductions, mass graves and people hiding in bushes.

About 23 km south of Bamenda is Santa and the Matazem tollgate. What used to be a tollgate at the gateway into the Northwest region is now a security control where ID cards are checked. What intrigued me as I left the Northwest region was that there are 2 security posts around the tollgate area, about 50 metres apart, each performing the same task: checking ID cards.

When I wondered why there are two security posts in such close proximity, one passenger on the bus humorously replied that this was a border crossing with 2 checkpoints: one checkpoint is for the former British Southern Cameroons, while the other for La Republique du Cameroun.

At a time when the government is preaching the gospel of a 'one and indivisible Cameroon', security controls littered all over West Cameroon (and clearly absent in much of French Cameroon) only reinforce the idea that the people are under occupation, and the feeling of oneness or belonging is an alien concept.

Israel Ayongwa is a Cameroonian-born, Canadian-based IT consultant and researcher, focusing on Anglophone populations in Cameroon and African governance as well as human and digital rights. Follow him on Twitter.

News Brief
Cameroon vs Chilé at the African Cup of Nations 2017. Image via Wikimedia.

Cameroon Has Been Stripped of Hosting the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

Football officials say the country failed to prepare for the tournament in time.

Cameroon will no longer be the site of the continent's biggest football tournament in 2019, as The Confederation of African Footbal (CAF) has moved to strip the country of its hosting duties for next year's Africa Cup of Nations, reports BBC News.

After meeting for 10 hours in Accra on Friday, it was decided that Cameroon had been behind in making proper arrangements to prepare for the tournament, which is set to take place in June and July of 2019. Cameroon won the tournament in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Update: Final Four Hostages Released In Cameroon School Kidnapping

Two remaining students as well as the school's principal and a teacher have been freed.

The four remaining hostages in last week's kidnapping at a boarding school near Bamenda, Cameroon have been released, BBC Africa reports.

Despite reports last week that all 78 students had been released, details later emerged that two students, as well as the school's principal and one teacher still remained in captivity. BBC journalist Peter Tah adds, that the two students who were held may have been targeted because their parents work for the government. "From what I gather, the gunmen tried to find out which of the children had parents who worked for the government," he said.

"People whose parents worked for the government were held and separated for more questioning. The last two children were held because of their parents' jobs."

The group was reportedly dropped of near the town of Bafut on Monday. The school's principal is currently receiving medical attention.

Separatist groups have continued to deny involvement in the kidnapping, despite accusations from the government.

Keep reading for last week's story:

Seventy-eight students who were kidnapped from a boarding school in northwest Cameroon on Monday have been released, reports BBC Africa. The school's driver was also freed with the students, while the principal and one teacher are still being held by captors.

Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon says that the students, 42 girls and 36 boys according to CNN, were abandoned "peacefully... by unidentified gunmen," adding that the "[students] were brought into the church premises." He told the BBC that he received a call from the kidnappers stating that they planned to return the children yesterday, but they were delayed due to heavy rain in the area.

READ: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Pens Op-Ed on the Ongoing Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Stogie T Enlists Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and More, for ‘The Empire of Sheep’ Deluxe Edition

Stream the deluxe version of Stogie T's EP 'The Empire of Sheep' featuring Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and more.

Stogie T just shared a deluxe version of his 2019 EP The Empire of Sheep titled EP The Empire of Sheep (Deluxe Unmasked). The project comes with three new songs. "All You Do Is Talk" features fellow South African rappers Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai. New York lyricist appears on "Bad Luck" while one of Stogie T's favorite collaborators Ziyon appears on "The Making."

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.