Southern Cameroons Crisis: Caught between a rock and a hard place!  0

The conflict in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions may be simmering down but the suffering of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is only getting worse. While the guns are no longer as violent as they used to be in the two English-speaking regions, the hardship which is stalking IDPs is not letting up. There are real issues, and these issues are stalking IDPs like stubborn shadows and the Yaounde government is doing nothing to address these issues. Most IDPs are permanently being harassed either by government soldiers and police or by Amba sleeper cells which constantly remind IDPs that they owe allegiance to the different factions fighting for the total liberation of Southern Cameroons. These sleeper cells are present in areas where there are huge numbers of IDPs, and they have been identifying those IDPs who criticize the fighters and their modus operandi. Sometimes, family members of IDPs living out of the two English-speaking regions get threatened and even get killed because their family member has criticized Amba boys.  

But it is the attacks of government forces which are causing IDPs to even flee back to the conflict zones or out of the country. Once there is a report of a crime in the IDP community in Douala, army soldiers always see such reports as opportunities for them to make money from the impoverished and desperate IDPs who fear they could be jailed for a long time without due process. The women are vulnerable and once arrested by the police, they know they must be raped, and they do not know where to report crimes committed by soldiers or police officers. Southern Cameroonian IDPs are really between a rock and a very hard place. Cameroon Concord News Douala correspondent recently spoke with some IDPs, and this is what they had to say. For security purposes, the names have been altered to protect the identity of the IDPs.  

Maggie: I left Kumba in 2018 for Douala when there was a real escalation of violence in the town. The killing by soldiers in the town of Kumba was unbelievable. In Kumba, most of the fighting was in Kosala, a neighborhood in Kumba as that was the stronghold of many Amba fighters. When the soldiers arrived, the fighting escalated, and many young men were killed. Women were raped and every young man was considered an Amba boy. I escaped to Douala where I did not know anybody. I have been living in Bonaberi in Douala now for close to five years and there is a huge IDP population in Bonaberi. Each time a crime get committed, we know we are in trouble as security forces and police officers who consider us as troublesome Anglophones will conduct arrests and searches, and in many cases if they find money on you, they will seize the money, saying that as IDPs we do not have a right to money, adding that the money is the product of crime. Some police officers even claim that IDPs do receive money from abroad in order to finance the bloody fighting in the two English-speaking regions of the country. I am helpless! I have been raped twice in a police station. Sometimes, you have to sleep with those drunk police officers who usually threaten to send us to Yaoundé if we do not yield to their pressure. Yaoundé has become a byword for torture and corruption. We cannot go back home as the killings continue in our regions of origin. It is tough! I pray for the government to demonstrate flexibility in the resolution of the problem which has taken us out of our natural environment.  

Ajebe: For years, I have been avoiding to say anything about this war because I may be talking to the wrong person. I have been living in Bonaberi for over four years and there is a huge Omerta (code of silence) right here regarding our situation. You see noting and you say nothing! There are many Amba sleeper cells where there are many internally displaced people and I have never wanted to be one of their victims. They may be out of the two-English-speaking regions of the country where a civil war is raging but they do have very long tentacles. Our family members who are back home can still be targeted by the Amba boys who are still in the bushes in the Southwest and Northwest regions. I grew up in Kumba and I did see so many atrocities when the fighting was at its worst. Young men were targeted indiscriminately by soldiers and sometimes Amba fighters will accuse innocent people of collaborating with soldiers and once you were suspected of such an activity by Amba fighters, you had to face the death penalty. With Amba fighters, there is no due process. But soldiers are even worse. They will burn your family home and will even eliminate an entire family just because one person has been suspected of being an Amba fighters. Here in Bonaberi, I try to keep a low profile. I have been seeking to leave the country, but nothing is working out for me. Many of my friends, including my cousin whose name I will not mention, have fled to Canada and I hear Canada is a country of peace, a country where refugees are welcomed and treated with respect and dignity. I would like to head there, but getting a visa is very complicated. I am just waiting for the day things will return to normal for me to return to the Southwest region. News of a Canadian-led peace process brought a lot of hope for many of us, but when the government pulled out, my dreams were dashed. I pray Canada does not abandon its role. I am really counting on this peace process. 

Eta: There is nothing as challenging as leaving out of your natural environment, especially when compelled by circumstances beyond your control. At the height of the violence which has scarred the Southwest region forever, many people were killed, and thousands were pushed out of our region. Many young women like me were raped by soldiers who claimed they were above the law. The Yaounde government has never investigated any rape-related reports against soldiers and police officers. Many of us have learned to live with our pain. Externally, we look okay, but we are slowing dying internally. I have been living in Douala since 2019 and life has not been very easy. Police raids where I live have been very destabilizing. Sometimes, we are asked to pay money during the raids and many of us do not even have the means. There are no jobs in Douala for us and French is a massive hinderance to many of us. We ran away from a war which has consumed many of our brothers only to end up where extortion and rape are not crimes. Those who are supposed to protect us are the ones really violating our rights. Many young women who are IDPs have been victims of rape, and many are ashamed and scared to talk about these crimes. To whom are we going to turn when soldiers and police officers are the ones committing these odious crimes? I hear things are calming down in the two English-speaking regions of the country and if things continue this way, I will return to Mutengene at the end of the year. We are facing many challenges here. Poor accommodation, lack of jobs, harassment by forces of law and order as well as Amba sleeper cells, and extreme poverty are really blighting our lives. I think I will be more at ease in the Southwest or the Northwest regions if things return to normal in those war-torn regions. 

Ngang: I am originally from the Northwest region of Cameroon, but I moved to Ekona with my parents when I was very young. Ekona was a growing farming community before the war but following five years of violent fighting, all the development gains which had been made in the community were rolled back. Our farms have been abandoned, children have been out of school and the health facilities in the area have been hit hard by the war. Since I was in my 20s when the war started, my mother who is now a widow advised me to leave Ekona as soldiers were targeting every young male in the region. If soldiers were not a threat, Amba fighters were always there to hoodwink you into joining the fighting. I knew Anglophones had been marginalized by the Yaounde government, but I did not believe picking up weapons to fight the government was the right decision. However, I should also mention that it was the government which caused the fighters to pick up arms as they had to defend themselves following uncalled for attacks by the country’s military. As the fighting became very serious in 2019, I had to heed my mother’s advice and I left for Douala which is on the French-speaking side of the country. Here, life has not been very easy. Police raids and unemployment have made life unbearable. I am looking forward to returning to Ekona once the key issues are dealt with in the Canadian-led peace process which is stalling because of the government’s arrogance and uncompromising stance. There is a lot to say, but I fear for the lives of my mother and sister who are still in Ekona. Thanks for granting me this opportunity! 

Cameroon Concord News also plans to interview more IDPs, especially in Yaounde where they are living rough and permanently facing threats from the locals. Yaounde might have received many IDPs, but the government is doing nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering of this people who desperately need help, especially housing.  

By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai