Kidnappings for Ransoms in Southern Cameroon: A Daily and Deadly Reality 0

Five months ago, Amnesty International stated: “Cameroonian authorities must act to end the violence against the population and conduct thorough investigations into the killings, acts of torture, rapes, burning of houses and other atrocities committed in the Anglophone regions…” The 5th July 2023 report, like many before, was disapproving and detailed extensive human rights violations and other crimes committed by multiple actors in the war-torn Anglophone regions of the country. Following the report, Cameroon Concord News Group tasked its undercover reporters in the country to establish the extent of the kidnapping-for-ransom market. Our correspondents have revealed a disturbing criminal empire worth hundreds of thousands of dollars operating due to the security vacuum created as a result of the war in the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon.

The war between forces loyal to the regime in Yaoundé against Anglophone separatists seems to have stalled with vast remote areas of the Anglophone regions now ungovernable and Cameroon Concord News Group can reveal that armed criminal gangs now control most of the rural areas, with the government unable to exert any control and authority over hundreds of square miles of land.

Some separatist groups in the diaspora have taken advantage of the security vacuum in the war-torn country with the AGovC (Ambazonia Governing Council) implementing a “liberation tax” rip-off. Our sources reported that this so-called tax is collected through MTN and Orange Mobile Money transfers by gang leaders who own multiple fraudulent mobile money accounts. In many areas, hundreds spoke on condition of anonymity and recounted the ordeals of dealing with rogue Cameroon army soldiers and separatist gang. In Kumbo, Northwest region, a government official said “These Amba fighters are now kidnapping for ransoms, particularly as the money could be paid through MTN and Orange Mobile Money accounts”

There are stories of families that have been separated as Ambazonia fighters chase people to pay huge ransoms. The campaign of violence and intimidation is unbearable in some cases and the only way is for people to leave the country. The family of Joseph Agbor Ndip, who left Cameroon last year as he was hounded by Amba fighters for money with threats of death are still getting intimidating messages from both the Cameroon army and rogue gangs asking them to pay money for their safety. We uncovered that the amount asked in some of these messages is over $10,000 in a country where over 75% live on less than $5 a day.

In many areas of the country, Amba Fighters are charging 10,000 frs CFA ($20) monthly “taxes” to fund the war for independence. Agbor Ndip’s family says they and many others are being blackmailed as traitors for not responding and they live in fear. The family of Monica Eyambe Agbe, who fled an abusive marriage recounted that Amba fighters “have asked us to pay over 20 million CFA that our late father “borrowed” and never paid. How are we ever going to get that kind of money? Our lives are not worth living”

It is disgraceful that the regime in Yaoundé always ignores credible reports from international human rights organizations about abuses in the country. The authorities in Cameroon have actively discredited and delegitimized the July report from Amnesty International. The stories of hundreds of enforced disappearances are real and painful to the families involved. The families of Joseph Agbor Ndip, Monica Agbe, Alfred Tita and Toto Roland and many more are now facing never-ending harassment from the armed gangs and the lawless French Cameroon army operating with impunity.

Yaoundé’s “military victory only” strategy effectively means that they have ruled out a negotiated solution to the conflict. What this means is that some of the country’s most vulnerable people are now cut up between armed gangs and an unruly army. The refusal of Mr Biya and his men to accept that their conservative approach is leading to several avoidable deaths is regrettable.

The Amnesty International report and the findings of the Concord Group over the last three months have exposed leadership fatigue in Yaoundé. The warring parties have announced a detente and this has created a security vacuum for criminals to operate. Kidnapping gangs and a disgruntled Cameroon army extorting money from businesses and the local population are among the major reasons for the massive exodus from the country.

The scale and horror of the war in the Anglophone regions in Cameroon rightly captured the world’s attention for almost six years, but by some strange happenstance, it now appears to be one of the world’s forgotten conflicts. What Amnesty International and our investigation have uncovered is a vicious and malicious underworld of kidnapping for ransoms in a very poor and unsafe environment.

By Chi Prudence Asong, with files from Alain Tabot-Tanyi