The United States demanded an immediate end to violence in Cameroon on Thursday and a speedy start to talks between the government and Anglophone separatists without preconditions.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the Security Council that security and humanitarian conditions in Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West regions “have significantly deteriorated.”
October was the most violent month on record in recent years — and November is likely to surpass it, he said.
Hundreds have been killed in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in months of fighting between the military and separatists who claim they are marginalized in the largely French-speaking country.
“The violence must stop now,” Cohen said. “The United States calls for an immediate and broad-based reconciliatory dialogue, without preconditions. … We urge all sides to foreswear violence, to restore peace, and to resolve their grievances through political dialogue.”
He said the escalating violence is obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid to over 430,000 internally displaced people as well as education and health access to children in rural areas.
Reena Ghelani, director of U.N. humanitarian operations, warned that Cameroon is “one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa,” saying that in addition to those who have fled their homes and remain in the country over 30,000 Cameroonians have crossed the border into Nigeria seeking refuge.
The majority of internally displaced Cameroonians “are hiding in dense forests, without adequate shelter and lacking food, water and basic services,” Ghelani said. “Schools and markets are also disrupted and there are alarming health needs.”
“We note with great concern the deteriorating situation with respect to the protection of civilians, including reported killings, burning of homes and villages, extortion and kidnappings in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon,” she said, adding that there have been multiple attacks on schools and threats to students and teachers.
British deputy ambassador Jonathan Allen said the United Kingdom takes Ghelani’s warning very seriously and announced a $3.1 million contribution from the government to the U.N. appeal for the Anglophone regions to address immediate humanitarian and medical needs.
This represents 20 percent of the U.N. appeal, he said, urging other countries to contribute.
Both Allen and Cohen stressed Cameroon’s important role in fighting against the Boko Haram group and other Islamic State extremists.
Cohen noted Cameroon President Paul Biya expressed confidence in his inaugural address on Nov. 6 that “there is an honorable way out in everyone’s interest.”
The United States encourages Biya “to make good on his commitment to accelerate the decentralization process” and implement recommendations of a Cameroonian commission on bilingualism and multiculturalism, Cohen said.
Allen said that “words alone will not improve things” and strongly urged Cameroon’s government to take urgent action to start a dialogue, undertake confidence-building measures, allow humanitarian access throughout the country, and ensure “accountability for all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.”
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a letter signed by a group of Democratic Senators to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raising deep concerns about violations of human rights, the breakdown in the rule of law, and elections fraud in Cameroon. In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
The Senators write, “Cameroon has become an increasingly important regional counterterrorism partner and the United States has increased its commitment of security assistance in recent years. However, rising tensions in the Anglophone North West and South West regions, coupled with credible reports of human rights abuses by the Cameroonian armed forces in those regions and the Far North, where Boko Haram is active, have changed the tone of discussions regarding U.S. security assistance.”
They continue, “Reports indicate that government forces are responsible for extrajudicial killings, the burning of villages, torture, and other human rights abuses, including a much-publicized video reportedly showing soldiers executing two women, a child, and a baby they accused of being members of Boko Haram. The violent death of American missionary Charles Wesco underscores the level of bloodshed engulfing the Anglophone areas of the country. United Nations figures indicate that more than 21,000 Cameroonians have fled to neighboring countries and 160,000 are internally displaced.”
The Senators close the letter urging, “The U.S. government should make clear to the government of Cameroon that, while we remain dedicated to the fight against Boko Haram, our commitment to human rights and the rule of law is steadfast and we expect our regional partners to share that commitment. We must also emphasize the critical importance of a political solution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions, work with civil society groups to ensure that elections are free, open, and transparent, and offer our assistance as mediators. The United States should impose sanctions on individuals found to have committed gross violations of human rights, consistent with the law. In addition, we will work with our colleagues in the Senate to assess whether additional conditions should be imposed on security assistance to Cameroon.”
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We are writing in response to concerns that have been raised about the recent elections in Cameroon, the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone regions of the country, and human rights abuses related to the crisis and the campaign against Boko Haram.
Cameroon has become an increasingly important regional counterterrorism partner and the United States has increased its commitment of security assistance in recent years. However, rising tensions in the Anglophone North West and South West regions, coupled with credible reports of human rights abuses by the Cameroonian armed forces in those regions and the Far North, where Boko Haram is active, have changed the tone of discussions regarding U.S. security assistance.
Reports indicate that government forces are responsible for extrajudicial killings, the burning of villages, torture, and other human rights abuses, including a much-publicized video reportedly showing soldiers executing two women, a child, and a baby they accused of being members of Boko Haram. The violent death of American missionary Charles Wesco underscores the level of bloodshed engulfing the Anglophone areas of the country. United Nations figures indicate that more than 21,000 Cameroonians have fled to neighboring countries and 160,000 are internally displaced.
In addition, recent elections were marred by irregularities and intimidation. Voter turnout in the Anglophone regions was reportedly “marked by apathy, and in some regions, outright fear,” and driven to unprecedented lows by the military’s campaign against Anglophone separatists, which has often veered into human rights abuses against civilians. The results of the election remain heavily disputed, and multiple presidential candidates have petitioned for the results to be voided, citing allegations of ballot stuffing and intimidation. The program director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group told Foreign Policy that “[t]here is an emerging civil war. Anglophones feel completely disenfranchised, but they didn’t need the elections to tell them that.”
The U.S. government should make clear to the government of Cameroon that, while we remain dedicated to the fight against Boko Haram, our commitment to human rights and the rule of law is steadfast and we expect our regional partners to share that commitment. We must also emphasize the critical importance of a political solution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions, support civil society groups to ensure that elections are free, credible, and transparent, and offer our assistance as mediators. The United States should impose sanctions on individuals found to have committed gross violations of human rights, consistent with the law. In addition, we will work with our colleagues in the Senate to assess whether additional conditions should be imposed on security assistance to Cameroon.
We look forward to working with you on this critical issue.
The detained Ambazonian leaders today rejected their Cameroonian nationality at the Yaounde military tribunal as their case opened on Thursday, December 6.
Appearing before the President of the military tribunal for the first time in public, the ten accused all turned down the Cameroonian nationality when their names and nationalities were read out.
Their leader Julius Ayuk Tabe set the ball rolling when he stood in the accused box but the magistrate could not find any nationality against his name.
Then stepped Nfor Ngala Nfor, who rejected the Cameroonian nationality read against his name and stressed that he is a Southern Cameroonian.
“That country does not yet exist,” the President of the court, Col. Abega Mbezoa epse Eko Eko was quick to hit back but this did not dissuade the other detainees from rejecting the Cameroonian nationality.
This heated start to proceedings was a sign of things to come as the defense counsel composed of about 47 law firms held the court to task on the composition of the civil party as well as the submission of the list of witnesses by the State Prosecutor.
According to the defense counsel led by Barrister Fru John Nsoh, they only received the list of witnesses from the Prosecution on Wednesday, December 5 at 17.39 in violation of article 414 of the Criminal Procedure Code which warrants the prosecution to present the list of witnesses to the accused five days before hearing starts.
After objections and counter objections from both parties, the magistrate was obliged to suspend the hearing only to resume two hours later to finally adjourn the matter to January 10, 2019, to pass a verdict on the issue and open the case proper.
“We are not disappointed with the adjournment. We just had a technical ruling which said the case has not yet even opened,” Barrister Fru John Nsoh, lead counsel of the defense said.
Before the case came to a close, Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho prayed the court to facilitate access of the lawyers to their clients as well as family members which were welcomed by the magistrate.
It should be noted that the charges were not brought before the ten accused today but the notice board of the court states that the accused are charged with secession, promoting secession, acts of terrorism, financing acts of terrorism, revolution, insurrection, hostility against the state, creation of armed groups, propagation of false information, undermining internal and external security of the state, non possession of national identification card.
H.E. Sisiku AyukTabe. We miss you our great leader. God shall prevail.
The top U.S. diplomat in Africa says the Southern Cameroons could get much worse, saying “the last thing we need” is growing radicalization in response to the actions of security forces.
Tibor Nagy told reporters on Thursday that the situation in the Central African nation is worsening by the day and “worrying me greatly.”
He said the United States calls for dialogue between Cameroon’s government and the Anglophone separatists who sprang up from peaceful protests against the alleged marginalization of English-speakers in the largely Francophone country.
Nagy said he is reminded of neighboring Nigeria, where the government’s “brutal response” to extremism led to growing membership in Boko Haram.
The U.S. diplomat suggested “some form of decentralization” in Cameroon as mentioned in a proposed constitution for the country.
A high power fact-finding delegation of legislators from the German Parliament otherwise known as the Bundestag is sojourning in Cameroon to meet stakeholders in the current Anglophone Crisis.
The mission which is made up of representatives from about six political parties in Germany is comprised of members of the Crisis and Conflict Committee of the Bundestag. Since their arrival in the country last Saturday, December 1, 2018, the committee members have been meeting with different stakeholders.
Our sources told us that it was the wish of the Parliamentarians that their stay in Cameroon remains low keyed. We are also told that on Sunday morning, they held their first meeting with some journalists, Church leaders and other persons at the Akwa Palace hotel Douala where these persons, mostly from the North West and South Regions x-rayed the deep-rooted causes of the conflict as well as a vivid picture of the current human rights abuses on the ground in the two restive Regions.
A similar meeting took place that same Sunday in the afternoon at the Yaoundé Hilton hotel with other stakeholders wherein a similar story was told these German representatives.
With the assistance of the German Ambassador to Cameroon, Dr. Hans-Dieter Stell, the Law makers were told of the inhuman suffering Anglophones are going through, the role of the various armed groups, the military as well as Government’s lacklustre attitude towards the much talked about dialogue, sources informed us.
These stakeholders also prayed the German Parliament to use its influence in the international relations of nations to put pressure on the Government of Cameroon and France, which is the major stakeholder to call for a negotiated dialogue with a third party.
Without promising a miraculous panacea to heal the wounds of Cameroonians in general and Anglophones in particular, the Parliamentarians promised to do their own best to shorten the lifespan of the current bloodshed.
However, they decried the heavy hand of France in matters concerning Cameroon which is blocking every international initiative.
This Monday, the German legislators met with some Government officials to read the story through their own lenses. Unfortunately, they were barred from going to the affected Regions because of the security embargo imposed by Western countries on their nationals.
Note that last month German Parliamentarians raised the Anglophone Conflict in their Parliament and challenged the Government to be proactive now to prevent a further escalation of the situation which to them would lead to a major humanitarian disaster.
It was based on this that the Bundestag sent members of the Crisis and Conflict Committee to Cameroon.
These members would then report to the Parliament in general for further actions to be taken.
Up to 50 Christian schools and hospitals have been affected, and the military has kidnapped four churches. “We need peace and the UN intervention”, a Cameroonian Christian says.
Last October, Paul Biya (86), the second longest serving president of Africa, won the elections in Cameroon with more than 70% of the votes.
The octogenarian, who has been in power for 36 years, will continue in office at least six more, despite the complaints of the opponent Maurice Kamto, who appealed the elections and unsuccessfully claimed their nullity.
THE CONFLICT IN AMBAZONIA
One of the most difficult scenarios for the president is the conflict with the self-proclaimed Republic of Ambazonia, in the West and English-speaking region, with three million people.
Up to now, the president’s policy has been based, above all, on military actions in favor of the defense of a unitary and centralized state in Yaoundé, against the groups in favor of independence that denounce what they consider to be privileges of the French-speaking part.
The conflict, which has its origins in the colonial division of the continent and the incorporation in 1961 of the former South Cameroon, occupied by the British, to Cameroon, of French exploitation, has caused the death of hundreds of people, including an American missionary killed in October, and the displacement of tens of thousands since 2016.
“WE NEED PEACE AND THE UN INTERVENTION”
Christians are not exempt from constant confrontations either. In fact, they have been the object of one of the last actions by the independence militias, which in early November kidnapped 80 students from the Presbyterian school in Bamenda.
Although the students have been released, “we need peace and the UN intervention”, says a Methodist Christian in Cameroon, who has agreed to speak with Spanish news website Protestant Digital, preferring to keep his identity anonymous.
“Many people die every day, homes and villages are burned, there are famished people and also those who take refuge in Nigeria. We do not have a voice in our country”, he adds.
PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS
Up to 50 primary and secondary schools and Christian hospitals have been affected by the conflict, according to the secretary of communication and information of the Council of Protestant Churches of Cameroon, Gustav Ebai, who has lost four relatives in the clashes.
The military has also kidnapped four churches to turn them into barracks. “The government of Ambazonia, which controls most of the Northwest and Southwest, has placed a group of soldiers in the school until the crisis is resolved”.
“There are often shootings between different forces, and a stray bullet can kill a minor”, explains the Methodist believer. Because of this tension, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC), published a statement last October, in the community bank holiday.
“Given what the English-speaking community is going through at this time, we cannot have a celebration while many of God’s children are being killed, suffering or living as internal or external refugees”, says the text signed by the Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba, of the PCC.
“The emphasis should be placed on supplying the Working Fund for the Mission, to allow the church to continue assisting our pastors and brothers displaced by the armed conflict that has brought pain and suffering to many”, the document adds.
CAMEROON RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY
53% of the population in Cameroon is considered Christian, according to the Joshua project. Of these, about 39% are Catholics, 22% Protestants and just over 33% belong to other denominations.
The sources consulted explain that “Cameroon is a country of religious tolerance. There is freedom of worship. Most of the Christians in the country are Catholics, Presbyterian, Baptists and Evangelicals, but there are also Pentecostal groups that are growing”.
In addition, “the main challenge is to meet, and this has made it difficult for the church to have a strong voice in the country”.
According to Central African missionary of Assemblies of God in Cameroon, Adongo Augustin Atilas, “believers are not united and live much more the syncretism and its ritual practices, especially when there is a birth or during the mourning after a funeral”.
Ethnic religions represent the third largest group of people in the country, with almost 22% of the population. The second group is Islam (24%), especially in the Northern part of the country, which lives in conflict because of the presence of Boko Haram and Fulani shepherds.
“Muslims and Christians have no problem in Cameroon. They live well and sometimes can share views on Jesus, although it is a taboo for some Muslims. They can visit you at night to pray and study the Bible, but they will never go to church”, Atilas says.
The increasing conflict in recent years has mainly generated two political reactions to the religious fact: indifference and suspicion, depending on the point of view from which one looks.
“The government does not care about anything, it has no solution for the problems of the people, nor is it prepared to listen to the weeping of the masses”, explains the Christian Methodist.
Atilas believes that “Christians in Cameroon are not free to express their beliefs and are threatened by the bad government of the country”.
“We knew that there would be fraud in the elections since the beginning. Biya organized the vote, counted the ballots, registered them and proclaimed the results, despite being also a candidate. What can you expect?”
Lately, politics has also become part of “the prominent churches” of the country. In fact, according to the Catholic newspaper La Croix, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Catholic leaders, have created an alliance with representatives of the Muslim community to mediate in the conflict.
It is estimated that about one hundred pastors of the PCC have fled from the southwest and Northwest regions, because of the conflict.
The Embassy of the United States of America in Cameroon has once again warned its citizens to avoid the troubled English-speaking regions of the country where security forces have been clashing with armed separatist fighters.
The conflict that has left several persons internally displaces and many fleeing to neighboring Nigeria as many persons have equally lost their lives.
“The level of violence in the Southwest and Northwest Regions continues to increase. In recent weeks, U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes in both regions. Due to the violence, many medical facilities in these areas are reported to be closed, inaccessible, or severely understaffed,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
“All but mission-essential travel by U.S. Embassy personnel to these regions is prohibited: our ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in these areas is extremely limited,” the statement added.
The US Embassy in Cameroon had equally cautioned its citizens to take various security measures when moving around in the capital Yaounde following news of waves of mass arrests conducted by security forces.
Anglophone activists in Cameroon and the diaspora have accused Cameroonian government-backed security forces of burning dead bodies of secessionist fighters a day after the bodies were piled in a spot in Bali the North West region of Cameroon.
Mark Bareta a leading figure in the Anglophone struggle said, ‘La Republique (The Cameroon Government backed) military set corpses of 30 Young men Ablaze! Untold darkness, lamentation and melancholy unravel Bali in the Northern zone of Southern Cameroons’, he continues by lamenting ‘Oh Lord we can’t live with these people’.
Another staunch activist for the protection of Anglophone rights in Cameroon, Jude Mortimer Kehla posted two pictures of the harrowing incident on his Facebook page and cried to one Facebook user the pictures are of ‘Young men burnt in Bali (in the Northwest region of Cameroon)’, telling another, ‘Children reduced to so much charred meat’. National Times could not post the pictures because they are too graphic.
National Times can confirm that the 17 dead bodies were of secessionist fighters killed in Bali. However, we could not independently verify the authenticity of the claims that the youths were killed by Cameroonian government-backed forces neither could we confirm that they were burnt by government-backed forces.
More than 1000 youths have died in the conflict between government-backed security forces and secessionist groups in Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions. While most of the casualties have been recorded by secessionist fighters, dozens of government-backed security agents have also been killed in the killings. Fighting between different secessionist groups have also led to the death of dozens of others.
This is the second instance where corpses of death secessionist fighters have been burnt instead of been buried. It is unknown why the perpetrators of this heinous practice decide to burn the corpses rather than burying them or returning the dead bodies to their various communities.
Over 30,000 Southern Cameroonians are currently in asylum in Nigeria — they are located in Cross River, Benue and Taraba states. Many more are still coming as the government of President Paul Biya clamps down on Southern Cameroon dissidents who are agitating for Ambazonia Republic. In Nigeria where those who fled the country are seeking asylum, they have not found solace as they live in constant fear of arrest, extortion and deportation as revealed in this report.
Living on the edge
AKUME Joshua has mixed feelings about the safety of his family in Nigeria despite running away from President Paul Biya’s troops on December 18, 2017.
In Calabar, Cross River State where he lives in the asylum with his wife and son, the fear of an imminent arrest and repatriation to Cameroon hunts him every night. A supermarket owner back in Southern Cameroon, Joshua lost his grocery store to the crisis and now go for a scrounge in Nigeria.
Since October 1, 2017, when fighting broke out in the Anglophone Cameroon, where the English speaking minority declared independence from Francophone Cameroon, under the name Ambazonia Republic, more and more Southern Cameroonians have fled the country, seeking asylum in Nigeria.
Roughly 20 per cent of the country’s population of 24.6 million people are Anglophone.
Attacks and raids on villages in Southern Cameroon by government armies have intensified since after election when 85-year-old President Paul Biya won another re-election—his seventh term in office.
There has been an air of uncertainty among the people. On June 10, when refugees filed out for food distribution at Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) office in Calabar, a letter from the Cameroon Consular addressed the director general of the agency asking that the refugees be arrested because they are not refugees but terrorists, and should be arrested and send back to Cameroon. “When this information got to us we were afraid, there was panic among us,” he says.
This has kept Joshua and his countrymen in constant fear. The matter became worse when Nigerian security operatives restricted the movement of refugees within the country despite an Identity Card issued by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
Refugees, he says, are now veritable means of extortion for the security operatives.
“Freedom of movement of refugees has been a problem- we can’t move from town to town freely. Even with your yellow card, certificate of asylum issued by the National Commission for Refugees they still stop them and tell them that they are not supposed to move within the country. Most time they extort money from them – sometimes, people pay as much as N30, 000,” he says.
A Protection Officer at UNHCR office in Calabar who admitted there have been reports of such arrests and extortion says that the agency is holding series of meetings with the police authorities, Immigration and the Nigerian Army “so that they can recognize the ID card issued by the Refugee Commission.”
“I just had a meeting with the State Commissioner of Police on those matters and we are also working with the Immigration and the Army over it,” he said.
The allegation is not a one-off experience—seven Southern Cameroonians who just escaped into Calabar were arrested by men of 13 Brigade of Nigerian Army. But for the intervention of the Refugee Agency they were released, Joshua said.
He says the seven were suspected to be Anglophone combatants, “because of their dressings.”
“The clothes they wearing were not very clean because they had travelled the bush for fear. When they got here, they didn’t have any other dress to change, they were looking dirty and they came in a group, so they thought they were combatant.”
Also, they allege that men of Nigerian Immigration Service also declined to recognize the Identity Card issued by the Refugee Commission.
“The Immigration intimidates us most often, they claim not to recognize us, sometimes we have to call the UNHCR staff,” Ako Albor, Vice Chairman of Southern Cameroonian Refugees in Adagom Refugees Resettlement, Ogoja Local Government says.
But the refugees are unhappy that their plights have not received the attention it deserved from the international community and the media. Quite frankly too, talks about the crisis between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroons that has displaced more than 160,000 within Cameroon since 2016 have not gained prominence among world leaders.
Albor, a French- English Translator from Manyu Division of Southern Cameroon wonders why “nobody in the international community is talking about their plights.”
“I think Paul Biya has a very strong Mafia among the AU and they are doing everything in his favour.”
According to him, the recent victory of Paul Biya in the general election dashed their hope of any quick resolution of the crisis.
“We thought the opposition would win the election because that would have offered some hope of dialogue and perhaps a settlement.”
The return of Biya has led to more clamp down in the country− his immediate actions show that he is not working towards any immediate resolution, Albor says.
“Last night, a journalist was arrested and those that are in detention, we don’t know what he plans to do with them.”
As the world keeps mum about the crisis, international media also appears to be looking the other side from the civil war. Ignatius Mezam, a teacher in Southern Cameroon laments that international media such as the Cable Network News (CNN) and Aljazeera have not given their crisis the required attention.
“When you look at other revolutions going on across the world, they are prominent in the news, but you don’t hear about Southern Cameroon issue,” Mezam says.
“The CNN, Aljazeera have not given it prominence in their reportage, is it because we are black. The battle is only fought on the Facebook by Facebook warriors.”
Over 30,000 Southern Cameroonians currently in Nigeria- figures still growing
On a daily basis, the population of Southern Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria keeps increasing, Tunde Akinsanya, Calabar Zonal Director, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Person revealed.
The Commission registers refugees and issues them Identity Card, Onasanya says, and “the refugees keep coming as the crisis continues.”
Many more are running away from their homes as government forces keep arresting dissidents and setting villages ablaze especially after the election.
Data obtained from the office of UNHCR revealed that there were 23,620 refugees as of October 31 in Cross River State. Of these figures, 10,386 of them were male while 13,234 were female. While there were 333 births since January, the number of children among the refugees stood at 11,514.
By the middle of October, there were about 28,000 of the refugees registered by the Nigerian National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
However, as of early November, a top staff of the UNHCR who would not want his name mentioned revealed that the figured has gone up to 30,000.
Of the over 30,000 refugees, 5000 of them are currently at Adag0m Settlement in Ogoja and over 60 per cent of them are of school-age children- many of the children are those separated and unaccompanied. Those identified are kept with foster parents in the settlement, a UNHCR says.
“We have close to 28,000 registered refugees,” an official of the Nigerian Refugee Commission said, “but the registration is ongoing if we give you a figure today it may increase tomorrow.”
“This is not necessarily the true reflection of incoming, they are still coming. There are some who do come and do not report here but just settle in the nearby village,” says the official who also pleaded for anonymity.
We have been receiving people in terms of surge of refugees who keep coming to Nigeria, says a UNHCR Protection Officer in Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State.
When will this end? Osany Juliet has been living in perpetual depression since gendarmes in 2017 killed her father and arrested her husband — he is kept in a prison in Buea, Cameroon.
October 7, 2017 —exactly 3 pm, a helicopter loaded with government troops landed in Daddi village in Akwaya, Manyu division, everyone in sight was shot at and killed, recalls Juliet, a mother of two.
Some days, she wonders if she will ever see her husband again, or if her life will ever remain the same without him. “Right now, I don’t know how he is doing, I know that the situation with him is not an easy one,” she says with wet eyes.
“My husband was arrested by the gendarmes on his way from the farm because he didn’t know what was happening in the village.”
On other days, she feels terrified by the memories of what has happened in her village and again, the recurring fears that the government may come after those of them under asylum in Nigeria
She is in Calabar where she hopes that life can again be better for her— though Juliet admits coping has been somewhat herculean with two kids and an elderly mother to cater for.
“Please if there is any way you can help me, please you do,” she appealed to the reporter.
Like Juliet, life is becoming more hopeless for Abunaw Lucy and her four kids. A look of anguish sweeps across her face at the thought of the fate of her husband whose whereabouts is unknown after he escaped arrest by government troops on June 9, 2017.
After two arrests and two detentions with her six-week-old baby, she escaped through a forest to Nigeria via Ikom, Cross River State.
Each time she was detained, Lucy spent between five and 10 hours in detention for two days when her husband could not be located. “I was arrested and detained for two days,” she says, “I wasn’t thrown into the cell because of the baby,” “I was kept on the veranda for two days under harsh conditions.”
Her baby ended up with a respiratory infection after those two days spent at the military detention facility. The couples and their children were living in Manfe, in Manyu, South West Region, but Abunaw David, was on the targets list of the government for his involvement in the struggle for independence.
David was the spokesperson for Justice Ayah Paul Abine− a presidential candidate of the opposition party, People’s Action Party in 2011−arrested January 21, 2017, by gendarmes on an allegation of hostility against the nation.
But the mother of four is still uncomfortable despite being in Nigeria because, according to many Southern Cameroonian refugees, the Cameroonian Consular in Nigeria has designated them terrorists who should be handed over to the Cameroonian authority. There are claims of arbitrary arrests of refugees by Cameroonian forces. Every day, she wakes up with the fear of a possible arrest and extradition by Cameroonian government.
“I’m still afraid to attend meetings or interact for a long time and the fact that Cameroon Consular office is in Calabar which I know and convinced they are working with Cameroon government scares me more.”
“They may be sending spies to monitor refugees’ movement and activities so that they can arrest and extradite us,” she says as her voices cracks with fear.
Tears and hopelessnessAfter sleeping on a mat throughout the period of her pregnancy, 23-year-old Ata Jennifer − a Southern Cameroonian − finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy sometime mid-October at a hospital in Ogoja Local Government. “I slept on the mat until I gave birth,” she says.
With a three-week-old baby in a Refugee Settlement in Adagom, Ogoja and among 5,000 Southern Cameroonians being settled at the camp −the crisis back home casts a bleak shadow over her future and that of her newborn.
For her, it was by providence that she gave birth to a healthy baby without complications− at the moment, most pregnant women among the refugees did not have access to an ante-natal clinic during pregnancy –and living conditions at the settlement made the prospect of any easy delivery doubtful.
But Jennifer was lucky; she and her baby are healthy, though help from the United Agency for Refugee, UNHCR did not get to her when she was in labour pains and eventually delivered of a baby at a hospital.
She couldn’t get a mattress from the agency, because, “mattress is given based on the family size,” an official of the UNHCR said. “It’s one mattress per a family of five and below, the rest are mats.”
With her baby and her younger sister, she shares a tent furnished with a mat and a blanket. Her shelter is among the 140 just constructed by UNHCR.
The young mother was writing a final Advanced Level examination to proceed to the university when she and her family fled their home.
After a perilous journey through forest and river, Jennifer in early stage pregnancy made it to Nigeria on November 17, 2017 – her father was not so lucky— he died in the forest of shock — the second day of their escape from home. With the help of fishermen, she alongside her mother and sister sailed safely to Nigeria. “It was very critical running with pregnancy, but I had to manage because there was no option,” she said of her ordeals running to Nigeria particularly with pregnancy.
“We had to run to the bush at that night. We slept there that night. Four of us, my father, mum and my sister- it was heavily raining. The next day we tried running to cross the border area but we could not make it. I was pregnant then. The next day, I lost my father.”
Suckling her three-week-old son in front of a temporary shelter provided by the UNHCR, Jennifer speaks of how her father was declared wanted by the Biya-led government and how critical it was for her running with pregnancy from the gendarmes.
At Umojok in Southern Cameroon, her father was accused by the Francophone Cameroonian government of fortifying young boys with a local gun proof called “Odeshi.”
Amidst sobs, she says the accusation against her late father was unfounded.
“Odeshi is a secret cult whereby boys put marks on their body, it is called gun proof. That was what I heard which was a lie; my father did not do such a thing,” the 23-year-old Jennifer said.
For her and her baby, surviving in a refugee camp has been very challenging. Often, passersby offer her money to eat and take care of her baby because the relief package from the Refugee Agency did not get to her.
At Adagom, there were 15 deliveries in the last two months, but some of the babies died, during after delivery due to poor health care services at the settlement, says Albor who lives at the settlement.
There are other new arrivals who are pregnant and without tents yet. “They sleep in the hall and they eventually deliver, we have some cases of them. They are forced to sleep on the floor together with their newborn babies,”Albor says.
Birthrate at the settlement is overwhelming the refugee Agency−it has stopped distribution of baby kits to nursing mothers because there is a shortfall in the supply. The leadership of the refugees revealed that the Agency no longer distribute baby needs to nursing mothers in the settlement.
“When a woman is pregnant, they no longer care to say take these baby kits, not even one single thing.”
“It’s something I cannot actually explain, but when we questioned them, they said, the provision is not there and sometimes, they said the birth rate is too high, they don’t encourage such situation within the settlement.”
Save the children, an organization that focuses on child Protection, child poverty, education, health (WASH) & nutrition), was involved in the provision of baby kits for pregnant women and nursing mothers among the refugees−but has not resumed such gesture since refugees moved to Adagan Settlement in Ogoja. What was provided by the Southern Cameroonians in the Diaspora at the inception of the settlement is also exhausted.
Cameroon’s military says it has freed nine students and a teacher who were kidnapped this week from a school in one of the country’s restive English-speaking regions. It is the third time this month that students have been abducted from schools in the Anglophone regions.
Senior divisional officer Nto’ou Ndong Chamberlin says several gunmen were killed Wednesday in the military operation, and other armed men responsible for the abduction are on the run. The teacher was wounded in the rescue.
“Nine guns have been seized, four neutralized — among them the head of the team, called ‘Man of Lucks,’ and three bikes destroyed and even the camp has also been burned down by the forces of law and order [military],” Chamberlin said.
Gunmen kidnapped the students and their teacher Tuesday evening from Lords Bilingual School in Kumba, a city in Cameroon’s southwest region.
The kidnapping comes three weeks after gunmen kidnapped and then released 79 students and three staff from a school in the neighboring northwest region.
Eleven students were later kidnapped from the same Presbyterian Secondary School. Church moderator Fonki Samuel said a $4,000 ransom was paid to the abductors for their release.
Pierre Marie Abbe, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Central Africa, says the government’s war against the separatists has been a failure.
The government should drop the idea of war and organize dialogue with English-speaking Cameroonians, Abbe said. But for such a dialogue to be successful, he added, the government should meet Anglophone Cameroonians to find out from them who they see as their true leaders.
The government says separatists in the two English-speaking regions have torched at least a hundred schools and abducted or killed dozens of teachers. More than 90 percent of the regions’ schools remain closed.
The international community and rights groups have condemned violence from both sides and called on the government to negotiate an end to the crisis.
“The U.N. has, along with most of the international community, asked for dialogue,” said Allegra Maria Del Pilar Baiocchi, the U.N. resident coordinator for Cameroon. “We need to hear the voices of the people saying we have had enough and we want solutions. It should not only be the U.N. saying it or the ambassadors. We need confidence-building measures and I think we need peace.”
Unrest broke out in Cameroon’s western regions in 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers protested the dominance of French-speakers.
Cameroon’s military reacted with a crackdown, and armed separatists soon launched a campaign for independence.