Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon

As Patrick Ndong was getting ready to leave home for his poultry farm in the Cameroonian commune of Akwaya, a group of soldiers stormed into his compound and began shooting in the air.

Ndong took to his heels, but as he did so he could see soldiers dragging young boys from the village into a waiting van.

“They [the boys] were shouting for help,” Ndong told IRIN. “One woman was crying and rolling on the floor because her son had been shot.”

Like many others who fled Akwaya in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, Ndong spent three days in the bush before crossing the border into the tiny Nigerian village of Utanga, in Cross River State.

“I had to eat leaves to survive,” said Ndong, a livestock breeder. “I’ll never forget the day soldiers totally destroyed my life.”

That was on 1 October, the day when thousands of Cameroonians in the two English-speaking regions took to the streets demanding secession from the rest of the majority Francophone country.

The security forces responded with violence. Just in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, Amnesty International said 17 people were killed. There is now mounting concern that Cameroon’s “anglophone crisis” is spinning out of control.

Fleeing refugees

The refugee flow from Akwaya – a collection of villages sandwiched between Nigeria and Cameroon – and other locations in western Cameroon, is just one example.

At least 20,000 people are currently sheltering in a string of communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state, according to state government officials.

“The influx of people has not ceased yet,” John Inaku, the director-general of the State Emergency Managing Authority told IRIN. “They are still coming in, even up till this morning.”

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week that 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria.

“Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” warned UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.

Tensions are indeed increasing. On Tuesday, two Cameroonian gendarmes were killed in Bamenda in an overnight raid on a security checkpoint, reportedly by English-speaking separatists. A third officer was killed in an ambush on a patrol an hour later.

No one yet knows how many people died in Akwaya, but “the government has forced our people into carrying arms,” said 39-year-old Solomon Ode, who fled to Utanga last month. “This is going to turn into a full-blown war.”

Activists of the Southern Cameroonian United Front had warned for months that they would symbolically declare Northwest and Southwest Cameroon the so-called independent Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October.

There were large protests in support across the regions’ major towns, but it was in places like Akwaya where some of the worst violence was committed by the security forces, and which went largely unreported.

“We wanted to tell the world that we are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” said John Tita, who marched with protesters in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, before returning to Akwaya later in the day to find his house destroyed, allegedly by the army.

One woman told IRIN her 14-year-old son was shot by soldiers inside her compound in Akwaya and was then taken away. “I don’t know if he’s dead or alive,” she said. “There was blood all over his body.”

Chronology of crisis

Anglophones make up roughly one fifth of Cameroon’s population of 23 million. Originally part of British-administered Cameroon, the previously separate region voted to join the rest of the country in 1961. But they have complained of discrimination and marginalisation for decades.

Over the last few years there have been increasingly loud calls for a return to a pre-1972 federal constitution and greater self-governance for western Cameroon.

The tempo of dissent increased in November last year when lawyers in Bamenda protested against the Cameroonian government’s decision to appoint anglophone magistrates who had no training in the British common law used in the western regions. They were joined by teachers similarly opposed to the appointment of francophones in English-speaking schools.

The security forces arrested at least 100 people as the protests degenerated. A month later, police opened fire on a demonstration killing four people.

The government has labelled the demonstrators terrorists. It has tried to snuff out the unrest with mass detentions. Earlier in the year it cut the internet to western Cameroon for three months, arguing that social media was being used to fan the disturbances.

The response from the protesters has been to declare a weekly one-day business stayaway as part of a broader civil disobedience campaign, which has included school boycotts.

Government condemned

The government’s heavy-handed approach has eroded both domestic and international support – with Western governments condemning the shooting of protesters in Bamenda last month.

The United States said the government’s “use of force to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly” was unacceptable, while and the United Kingdom called for restraint, urging all parties “to reject violence, embrace dialogue”.

Anglophone bishops have kicked back against “the barbarism and the irresponsible use of firearms against unarmed civilians by the forces of law and order”.

The government has denied the allegations of deliberate killings by the security forces. Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma said it was propaganda by the secessionists to “carry out their evil intentions to destabilise Cameroon”.

The United Nations and the African Union have both called for talks to end the crisis – a call supported by Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River State.

“Any form of relocation of a people, no matter how temporary, is a failure of the world to address the issues,” he said last week.

But IRIN found little appetite for dialogue among the Akwaya refugees.

“It is Ambazonia or nothing,” said one man supporting the separatist cause who asked not to be named. “The government in Yaoundé has been killing our people like ants.”

“How many times do we have to negotiate with the government?” asked Ode, who warned of civil war. “We’ve been talking with them [the government] since 1961, but they don’t see anything good about anglophones.”

Bernard Chongo, who used to work in an orphanage in Akwaya, believes the crisis is likely to get worse.

“I pray every day for Cameroon,” he said. “[But] the way things are, only a miracle will prevent a civil war.”

po/oa/ag

TOP PHOTO: Cameroonian refugees arriving in Cross River State

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Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon

As Patrick Ndong was getting ready to leave home for his poultry farm in the Cameroonian commune of Akwaya, a group of soldiers stormed into his compound and began shooting in the air.

Ndong took to his heels, but as he did so he could see soldiers dragging young boys from the village into a waiting van.

“They [the boys] were shouting for help,” Ndong told IRIN. “One woman was crying and rolling on the floor because her son had been shot.”

Like thousands of others who fled Akwaya in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, Ndong spent three days in the bush before crossing the border into the tiny Nigerian village of Utanga, in Cross River State.

“I had to eat leaves to survive,” said Ndong, a livestock breeder. “I’ll never forget the day soldiers totally destroyed my life.”

That was on 1 October, the day when thousands of Cameroonians in the two English-speaking regions took to the streets demanding secession from the rest of the majority Francophone country.

The security forces responded with violence. Just in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, Amnesty International said 17 people were killed. There is now mounting concern that Cameroon’s “anglophone crisis” is spinning out of control.

Fleeing refugees

The refugee flow from Akwaya – a collection of villages sandwiched between Nigeria and Cameroon – and other locations in western Cameroon, is just one example.

At least 20,000 people are currently sheltering in a string of communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state, according to state government officials.

“The influx of people has not ceased yet,” John Inaku, the director-general of the State Emergency Managing Authority told IRIN. “They are still coming in, even up till this morning.”

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week that 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria.

“Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” warned UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.

Tensions are indeed increasing. On Tuesday, two Cameroonian gendarmes were killed in Bamenda in an overnight raid on a security checkpoint, reportedly by English-speaking separatists. A third officer was killed in an ambush on a patrol an hour later.

No one yet knows how many people died in Akwaya, but “the government has forced our people into carrying arms,” said 39-year-old Solomon Ode, who fled to Utanga last month. “This is going to turn into a full-blown war.”

Activists of the Southern Cameroonian United Front had warned for months that they would symbolically declare Northwest and Southwest Cameroon the so-called independent Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October.

There were large protests in support across the regions’ major towns, but it was in places like Akwaya where some of the worst violence was committed by the security forces, and which went largely unreported.

“We wanted to tell the world that we are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” said John Tita, who marched with protesters in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, before returning to Akwaya later in the day to find his house destroyed, allegedly by the army.

One woman told IRIN her 14-year-old son was shot by soldiers inside her compound in Akwaya and was then taken away. “I don’t know if he’s dead or alive,” she said. “There was blood all over his body.”

Chronology of crisis

Anglophones make up roughly one fifth of Cameroon’s population of 23 million. Originally part of British-administered Cameroon, the previously separate region voted to join the rest of the country in 1961. But they have complained of discrimination and marginalisation for decades.

Over the last few years there have been increasingly loud calls for a return to a pre-1971 federal constitution and greater self-governance for western Cameroon.

The tempo of dissent increased in November last year when lawyers in Bamenda protested against the Cameroonian government’s decision to appoint anglophone magistrates who had no training in the British common law used in the western regions. They were joined by teachers similarly opposed to the appointment of francophones in English-speaking schools.

The security forces arrested at least 100 people as the protests degenerated. A month later, police opened fire on a demonstration killing four people.

The government has labelled the demonstrators terrorists. It has tried to snuff out the unrest with hundreds of arrests. Earlier in the year it cut the internet to western Cameroon for three months, arguing that social media was being used to fan the disturbances.

The response from the protesters has been to declare a weekly one-day business stayaway as part of a broader civil disobedience campaign, which has included school boycotts.

Government condemned

The government’s heavy-handed approach has eroded both domestic and international support – with Western governments condemning the shooting of protesters in Bamenda last month.

The United States said the government’s “use of force to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly” was unacceptable, while and the United Kingdom called for restraint, urging all parties “to reject violence, embrace dialogue”.

Anglophone bishops have kicked back against “the barbarism and the irresponsible use of firearms against unarmed civilians by the forces of law and order”.

The government has denied the allegations of deliberate killings by the security forces. Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma said it was propaganda by the secessionists to “carry out their evil intentions to destabilise Cameroon”.

The United Nations and the African Union have both called for talks to end the crisis – a call supported by Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River State.

“Any form of relocation of a people, no matter how temporary, is a failure of the world to address the issues,” he said last week.

But IRIN found little appetite for dialogue among the Akwaya refugees.

“It is Ambazonia or nothing,” said one man supporting the separatist cause who asked not to be named. “The government in Yaoundé has been killing our people like ants.”

“How many times do we have to negotiate with the government?” asked Ode, who warned of civil war. “We’ve been talking with them [the government] since 1961, but they don’t see anything good about anglophones.”

Bernard Chongo, who used to work in an orphanage in Akwaya, believes the crisis is likely to get worse.

“I pray every day for Cameroon,” he said. “[But] the way things are, only a miracle will prevent a civil war.”

po/oa/ag

TOP PHOTO: Cameroonian refugees arriving in Cross River State

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Bonn: At UN climate conference, Congo Basin youth spotlight their work protecting fragile forest ecosystem

9 November 2017 &#150 Youth groups working in Africa’s Congo Basin countries are supporting economic progress in isolated rural communities while protecting the forest, and it is high time their voices were heard, a young woman at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, said Thursday.

“Young people in the Congo Basin have been doing things on the ground that often go ignored,” explained Marie Tamoifo, President of the Cameroon Green Youth Association (Association de la Jeunesse verte du Cameroun – AJVC) and Regional Coordinator of the Youth Network for sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa (Réseau des jeunes pour la gestion durable des écosystèmes forestiers d’Afrique centrale – REJEFAC) in an interview with UN News.

REJEFAC brings together youth organizations from 10 Congo Basin countries – Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and Chad).

Its aim is to promote the effective participation of young environmental actors in decision-making in the Congo Basin and “to contribute to the emergence in the region of a new type of leadership, more sensitive and open to the requirements of sustainable development.”

“[As for] actions on the ground, there are reforestation, awareness and education programmes for young people. It’s about strengthening the work that is done by governments,” said Ms. Tamoifo.

Marie Tamoifo, President of l’Association Jeunesse verte du Cameroun (AJVC) and Coordinator of the Réseau des jeunes pour la gestion durable des écosystèmes forestiers d’Afrique centrale (REJEFAC). Photo: UN News/Jerome Bernard

A solar panel programme in isolated communities

For several years, AJVC has been developing a programme in Cameroon for the electrification of isolated rural areas with solar panels. The programme started in 15 pilot communities in the east, in the center and in the far north of the country with the installation of solar panels in homes and schools. A contribution is made by the community itself, representing 25 to 30 per cent of the cost.

“In these 15 communities, we trained 85 young people in solar installation techniques but also in psycho-socio-organizational methodology,” explained Ms Tamoifo. “When we arrive in a community, we first hold a discussion with that community. We try to see with [them] what the glaring problems are.”

The youth participating in this programme are from the community. They are trained and they provide maintenance for the solar panels that have already been installed. “For now, they are not really paid. They receive a small allowance,” added Ms.Tamoifo.

The association needs more financial support to maintain and expand this programme. “We have received more than 100 requests from villages and we cannot answer them given [our] modest means. And young people who are trained today also need to make a living to be able to continue this work,” she said.

A ‘climate caravan’ in Cameroon

Among other actions carried out by young people in the Congo Basin region, the REJEFAC Coordinator mentioned a tree planting initiative by volunteers in the Republic of Congo, and a programme focusing on handicrafts and conservation of natural resources in Rwanda.

Before coming to COP 23, the network organized a ‘climate caravan’ in Cameroon with the participation of young people from the ten countries of the Congo Basin to show what youth organizations are doing in terms of sustainable development and protection of the planet.

“We organized this caravan which was named ‘the COP at home,’” said the Coordinator of REJEFAC. Young people have been designated as climate ambassadors.

The ‘climate caravan’ travelled in the Douala region, coastal areas and went to Equatorial Guinea. “It showed how we could talk about the theoretical aspect and go on the ground to experience the realities of conservation parks and conflicts between humans and elephants,” concluded Ms. Tamoifo.

Read More

Bonn: At UN climate conference, Congo Basin youth spotlight their work protecting fragile forest ecosystem

9 November 2017 &#150 Youth groups working in Africa’s Congo Basin countries are supporting economic progress in isolated rural communities while protecting the forest, and a young woman at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23) in Bonn, Germany, said it is time their voices were heard.

Youth groups working in Africa’s Congo Basin countries are supporting economic progress in isolated rural communities while protecting the forest, and a young woman at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, said it that is time their voices were heard.

“Young people in the Congo Basin have been doing things on the ground that often go ignored,” explained Marie Tamoifo, President of the Cameroon Green Youth Association (Association de la Jeunesse verte du Cameroun – AJVC) and Regional Coordinator of the Youth Network for sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa (Réseau des jeunes pour la gestion durable des écosystèmes forestiers d’Afrique centrale – REJEFAC) in an interview with UN News.

REJEFAC brings together youth organizations from 10 Congo Basin countries ¬–Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and Chad).

Its aim is to promote the effective participation of young environmental actors in decision-making in the Congo Basin and “to contribute to the emergence in the region of a new type of leadership, more sensitive and open to the requirements of sustainable development.”

“[As for] actions on the ground, there are reforestation, awareness and education programmes for young people. It’s about strengthening the work that is done by governments,” said Ms. Tamoifo.

A solar panel programme in isolated communities

For several years, AJVC has been developing a programme in Cameroon for the electrification of isolated rural areas with solar panels. The programme started in 15 pilot communities in the east, in the center and in the far north of the country with the installation of solar panels in homes and schools. A contribution is made by the community itself, representing 25 to 30 per cent of the cost.

“In these 15 communities, we trained 85 young people in solar installation techniques but also in psycho-socio-organizational methodology,” explained Ms Tamoifo. “When we arrive in a community, we first hold a discussion with that community. We try to see with [them] what the glaring problems are.”

The youth participating in this programme are from the community. They are trained and they provide maintenance for the solar panels that have already been installed. “For now, they are not really paid. They receive a small allowance,” added Ms.Tamoifo.

The association needs more financial support to maintain and expand this programme. “We have received more than 100 requests from villages and we cannot answer them given [our] modest means. And young people who are trained today also need to make a living to be able to continue this work,” she said.

A ‘climate caravan’ in Cameroon

Among other actions carried out by young people in the Congo Basin region, the REJEFAC Coordinator mentioned a tree planting initiative by volunteers in the Republic of Congo, and a programme focusing on handicrafts and conservation of natural resources in Rwanda.

Before coming to COP 23, the network organized a ‘climate caravan’ in Cameroon with the participation of young people from the ten countries of the Congo Basin to show what youth organizations are doing in terms of sustainable development and protection of the planet.

“We organized this caravan which was named ‘the COP at home,’” said the Coordinator of REJEFAC. Young people have been designated as climate ambassadors.

The ‘climate caravan’ travelled in the Douala region, coastal areas and went to Equatorial Guinea. “It showed how we could talk about the theoretical aspect and go on the ground to experience the realities of conservation parks and conflicts between humans and elephants,” concluded Ms. Tamoifo.

Read More

Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon

As Patrick Ndong was getting ready to leave home for his poultry farm in the Cameroonian commune of Akwaya, a group of soldiers stormed into his compound and began shooting in the air.

 

Ndong took to his heels, but as he did so he could see soldiers dragging young boys from the village into a waiting van.

 

“They [the boys] were shouting for help,” Ndong told IRIN. “One woman was crying and rolling on the floor because her son had been shot.”

 

Like many others who fled Akwaya in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, Ndong spent three days in the bush before crossing the border into the tiny Nigerian village of Utanga, in Cross River State.

 

“I had to eat leaves to survive,” said Ndong, a livestock breeder. “I’ll never forget the day soldiers totally destroyed my life.”

 

That was on 1 October, the day when thousands of Cameroonians in the two English-speaking regions took to the streets demanding secession from the rest of the majority Francophone country.

 

The security forces responded with violence. Just in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, Amnesty International said 17 people were killed. There is now mounting concern that Cameroon’s “anglophone crisis” is spinning out of control.

 

Fleeing refugees

 

The refugee flow from Akwaya – a collection of villages sandwiched between Nigeria and Cameroon – and other locations in western Cameroon, is just one example.

 

At least 20,000 people are currently sheltering in a string of communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state, according to state government officials.

 

“The influx of people has not ceased yet,” John Inaku, the director-general of the State Emergency Managing Authority told IRIN. “They are still coming in, even up till this morning.”

 

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week that 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria.

 

“Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” warned UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.

 

Tensions are indeed increasing. On Tuesday, two Cameroonian gendarmes were killed in Bamenda in an overnight raid on a security checkpoint, reportedly by English-speaking separatists. A third officer was killed in an ambush on a patrol an hour later.

 

No one yet knows how many people died in Akwaya, but “the government has forced our people into carrying arms,” said 39-year-old Solomon Ode, who fled to Utanga last month. “This is going to turn into a full-blown war.”

 

Activists of the Southern Cameroonian United Front had warned for months that they would symbolically declare Northwest and Southwest Cameroon the so-called independent Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October.

 

There were large protests in support across the regions’ major towns, but it was in places like Akwaya where some of the worst violence was committed by the security forces, and which went largely unreported.

 

“We wanted to tell the world that we are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” said John Tita, who marched with protesters in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, before returning to Akwaya later in the day to find his house destroyed, allegedly by the army.

 

One woman told IRIN her 14-year-old son was shot by soldiers inside her compound in Akwaya and was then taken away. “I don’t know if he’s dead or alive,” she said. “There was blood all over his body.”

Mbom Sixtus/IRIN
Protesters in Bamenda burn the Cameroon flag

Chronology of crisis

 

Anglophones make up roughly one fifth of Cameroon’s population of 23 million. Originally part of British-administered Cameroon, the previously separate region voted to join the rest of the country in 1961. But they have complained of discrimination and marginalisation for decades.

 

Over the last few years there have been increasingly loud calls for a return to a pre-1972 federal constitution and greater self-governance for western Cameroon.

 

The tempo of dissent increased in November last year when lawyers in Bamenda protested against the Cameroonian government’s decision to appoint anglophone magistrates who had no training in the British common law used in the western regions. They were joined by teachers similarly opposed to the appointment of francophones in English-speaking schools.

 

The security forces arrested at least 100 people as the protests degenerated. A month later, police opened fire on a demonstration killing four people.

 

The government has labelled the demonstrators terrorists. It has tried to snuff out the unrest with mass detentions. Earlier in the year it cut the internet to western Cameroon for three months, arguing that social media was being used to fan the disturbances.

The response from the protesters has been to declare a weekly one-day business stayaway as part of a broader civil disobedience campaign, which has included school boycotts.

Government condemned

The government’s heavy-handed approach has eroded both domestic and international support – with Western governments condemning the shooting of protesters in Bamenda last month.

 

The United States said the government’s “use of force to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly” was unacceptable, while and the United Kingdom called for restraint, urging all parties “to reject violence, embrace dialogue”.

 

Anglophone bishops have kicked back against “the barbarism and the irresponsible use of firearms against unarmed civilians by the forces of law and order”.

 

The government has denied the allegations of deliberate killings by the security forces. Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma said it was propaganda by the secessionists to “carry out their evil intentions to destabilise Cameroon”.

 

The United Nations and the African Union have both called for talks to end the crisis – a call supported by Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River State.

 

“Any form of relocation of a people, no matter how temporary, is a failure of the world to address the issues,” he said last week.

 

But IRIN found little appetite for dialogue among the Akwaya refugees.

 

“It is Ambazonia or nothing,” said one man supporting the separatist cause who asked not to be named. “The government in Yaoundé has been killing our people like ants.”

 

“How many times do we have to negotiate with the government?” asked Ode, who warned of civil war. “We’ve been talking with them [the government] since 1961, but they don’t see anything good about anglophones.”

 

Bernard Chongo, who used to work in an orphanage in Akwaya, believes the crisis is likely to get worse.

 

“I pray every day for Cameroon,” he said. “[But] the way things are, only a miracle will prevent a civil war.”

 

po/oa/ag

TOP PHOTO: Cameroonian refugees arriving in Cross River State

unhcr_nigeria.jpg News Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon Philip Obaji Jr. IRIN Up to 20,000 anglophones have fled into Nigeria amid fears a secessionist struggle is spiralling out of control CALABAR Africa Cameroon Nigeria

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Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon

As Patrick Ndong was getting ready to leave home for his poultry farm in the Cameroonian commune of Akwaya, a group of soldiers stormed into his compound and began shooting in the air.

 

Ndong took to his heels, but as he did so he could see soldiers dragging young boys from the village into a waiting van.

 

“They [the boys] were shouting for help,” Ndong told IRIN. “One woman was crying and rolling on the floor because her son had been shot.”

 

Like thousands of others who fled Akwaya in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, Ndong spent three days in the bush before crossing the border into the tiny Nigerian village of Utanga, in Cross River State.

 

“I had to eat leaves to survive,” said Ndong, a livestock breeder. “I’ll never forget the day soldiers totally destroyed my life.”

 

That was on 1 October, the day when thousands of Cameroonians in the two English-speaking regions took to the streets demanding secession from the rest of the majority Francophone country.

 

The security forces responded with violence. Just in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, Amnesty International said 17 people were killed. There is now mounting concern that Cameroon’s “anglophone crisis” is spinning out of control.

 

Fleeing refugees

 

The refugee flow from Akwaya – a collection of villages sandwiched between Nigeria and Cameroon – and other locations in western Cameroon, is just one example.

 

At least 20,000 people are currently sheltering in a string of communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state, according to state government officials.

 

“The influx of people has not ceased yet,” John Inaku, the director-general of the State Emergency Managing Authority told IRIN. “They are still coming in, even up till this morning.”

 

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week that 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria.

 

“Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” warned UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.

 

Tensions are indeed increasing. On Tuesday, two Cameroonian gendarmes were killed in Bamenda in an overnight raid on a security checkpoint, reportedly by English-speaking separatists. A third officer was killed in an ambush on a patrol an hour later.

 

No one yet knows how many people died in Akwaya, but “the government has forced our people into carrying arms,” said 39-year-old Solomon Ode, who fled to Utanga last month. “This is going to turn into a full-blown war.”

 

Activists of the Southern Cameroonian United Front had warned for months that they would symbolically declare Northwest and Southwest Cameroon the so-called independent Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October.

 

There were large protests in support across the regions’ major towns, but it was in places like Akwaya where some of the worst violence was committed by the security forces, and which went largely unreported.

 

“We wanted to tell the world that we are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” said John Tita, who marched with protesters in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, before returning to Akwaya later in the day to find his house destroyed, allegedly by the army.

 

One woman told IRIN her 14-year-old son was shot by soldiers inside her compound in Akwaya and was then taken away. “I don’t know if he’s dead or alive,” she said. “There was blood all over his body.”

Mbom Sixtus/IRIN
Protesters in Bamenda burn the Cameroon flag

Chronology of crisis

 

Anglophones make up roughly one fifth of Cameroon’s population of 23 million. Originally part of British-administered Cameroon, the previously separate region voted to join the rest of the country in 1961. But they have complained of discrimination and marginalisation for decades.

 

Over the last few years there have been increasingly loud calls for a return to a pre-1972 federal constitution and greater self-governance for western Cameroon.

 

The tempo of dissent increased in November last year when lawyers in Bamenda protested against the Cameroonian government’s decision to appoint anglophone magistrates who had no training in the British common law used in the western regions. They were joined by teachers similarly opposed to the appointment of francophones in English-speaking schools.

 

The security forces arrested at least 100 people as the protests degenerated. A month later, police opened fire on a demonstration killing four people.

 

The government has labelled the demonstrators terrorists. It has tried to snuff out the unrest with mass detentions. Earlier in the year it cut the internet to western Cameroon for three months, arguing that social media was being used to fan the disturbances.

The response from the protesters has been to declare a weekly one-day business stayaway as part of a broader civil disobedience campaign, which has included school boycotts.

Government condemned

The government’s heavy-handed approach has eroded both domestic and international support – with Western governments condemning the shooting of protesters in Bamenda last month.

 

The United States said the government’s “use of force to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly” was unacceptable, while and the United Kingdom called for restraint, urging all parties “to reject violence, embrace dialogue”.

 

Anglophone bishops have kicked back against “the barbarism and the irresponsible use of firearms against unarmed civilians by the forces of law and order”.

 

The government has denied the allegations of deliberate killings by the security forces. Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma said it was propaganda by the secessionists to “carry out their evil intentions to destabilise Cameroon”.

 

The United Nations and the African Union have both called for talks to end the crisis – a call supported by Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River State.

 

“Any form of relocation of a people, no matter how temporary, is a failure of the world to address the issues,” he said last week.

 

But IRIN found little appetite for dialogue among the Akwaya refugees.

 

“It is Ambazonia or nothing,” said one man supporting the separatist cause who asked not to be named. “The government in Yaoundé has been killing our people like ants.”

 

“How many times do we have to negotiate with the government?” asked Ode, who warned of civil war. “We’ve been talking with them [the government] since 1961, but they don’t see anything good about anglophones.”

 

Bernard Chongo, who used to work in an orphanage in Akwaya, believes the crisis is likely to get worse.

 

“I pray every day for Cameroon,” he said. “[But] the way things are, only a miracle will prevent a civil war.”

 

po/oa/ag

TOP PHOTO: Cameroonian refugees arriving in Cross River State

unhcr_nigeria.jpg News Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon Philip Obaji Jr. IRIN Up to 20,000 anglophones have fled into Nigeria amid fears a secessionist struggle is spiralling out of control CALABAR Africa Cameroon Nigeria

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