-U.S Gov’t takes lead in international condemnation of violence in SW & NW Regions
-No more business as usual as social media beams unprecedented spotlight on on Cameroon
By Tumasang Nwana Paul*
As the security situation in the English Speaking North West and South West Regions of the country continues to degenerate, the U.S has lashed out at the Government of Cameroon for flagrant human rights abuses.
“The United States is deeply concerned by the loss of life, injuries and damage as a result of protests that turned violent in Bamenda and Buea, the respective capitals of Cameroon’s Northwestern and Southwestern regions,” read a statement from John Kirby Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S State Department.
Released on November 28, the statement calls on the government of Cameroon “to protect and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms, ensure that all voices are heard and respected, and preserve the guarantees enshrined in its constitution and international obligations.”
The statement calls for dialogue as a peaceful means of resolving the conflicts while urging the parties to curb further incidence of violence. The Statement from Kirby goes further in chastising the Cameroon government for growing tendencies to infringe on freedom of expression and assembly.
“Apart from the events in Bamenda and Buea, we are also concerned over recent Cameroonian government actions to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly, including ten-year prison sentences for men who exchanged texts referencing Boko Haram and the arrest of 54 members of the opposition Cameroon People’s Party while they were peacefully conducting a party meeting,” the statement read.
Reminding the Cameroon government of its own constitutional provisions, Kirby said freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are guaranteed and private conversations and gatherings should warrant no prosecution or government censure.
The statement from the Obama Administration comes at a time of growing turmoil in the English-Speaking Regions of Cameroon. A peaceful protest by Common Law Lawyers and Teachers was met with repression from armed forces deployed by the government.
Noted for levity with which issues affecting the English-speaking regions (Former Southern Cameroons), the callous response of the government to issues raised paralyzed the court systems and schools. Feeble attempts at dialogue led by the Prime Minister have not led to any head way while the violence inflicted on the population including those who have nothing to do with the strike may only have succeeded to rekindle growing calls for a return to Federated state for some and the outright statehood of Southern Cameroons to others.
In a sign of the changing times, the human right atrocities of the government are awash in social media. From images of Lawyers marching in the streets, to government armed forces brutalizing unarmed lawyers or attacking student residential areas, information is widely circulated via Facebook, You Tube,twitter and WhatsApp on mobile phones.
“The grievances demonstrate the disaffection of a sizeable segment of our population with the manner in which the Biya government approaches governance,” says Dr Christopher Fomunyoh Senior Associate for Africa at the Washington, DC, based National Democratic Institute. A frequent visitor to Cameroon, and President of the Fomunyoh Foundation, Dr Fomunyoh like many other civil society and political actors in Cameroon expressed dismay with the turn events blown out of proportion by the callous response of the government.
“These very unfortunate events have also exposed to the entire Cameroonian population as well as the international community the inability of the authorities to listen to the voices of citizens and to provide appropriate platforms for meaningful discourse and exchanges that must take place in every democratic society between citizens and those that govern,” Fomunyoh said in statement circulated widely on social media and published by leading newspapers across the country.
Expressing solidarity with the Lawyers and Teachers, Fomunyoh said in the November 23 statement that their grievances were legitimate and should be speedily looked into by the government. Urging the government to refrain from using arms against innocent unarmed civilians, Dr Fomunyoh who has remained coy about his own presidential ambitions called on President Paul Biya to speak directly to the nation to calm fears and outline steps he will take to address the issues.
President Biya has not spoken to the country, and the violence against unarmed civilians only seems to have escalated. The general callousness and use of disproportionate force in addressing the crisis has certainly reawaken with great zest the desire of the English-speaking Regions to change the existing order in which many of them think they are treated as second class citizens.
English speaking members of Parliament of the opposition SDF, have expressed solidarity with the Lawyers and Teachers. Strangely too, MPs from the ruling CPDP normally considered as hand clappers and stooges , threw in their support behind the Lawyers in the early stages of their strike action .
*Videos culled from Kimnest,Hanson Nfor,Cameroon Concord YouTube Channels