(Life In A War Zone : 30 Days in Ambazonia/Anglophone Cameroon (7))
By Solomon Ngu*
I had started writing a piece about social media and the war in Ambazonia when three high profile images circulated on the internet: the execution of women and the babies they carried on their back, the rape of a 17-year old nursing mother and the killing of a priest. All of these crimes were carried out by the Cameroun soldiers. The first act was in the north of the country where we have the Boko Haram insurgency. This atrocity was possibly recorded by another soldier. The second and the third took place in Southern Cameroons. These incidences of inhumanity have been traumatizing, leading me to reflect deeply on why these soldiers felt so entitled to rape a woman or kill an unarmed priest (among many other atrocities). It dawned on me that they were in fact dealing with people they have classified as terrorists.
Anyone living in a Western country understands that the underlying message of terrorism is associated, rightly or wrong, with Muslim fundamentalists after September 11th 2001. It now constitutes part of anti-Muslim sentiment or Islamophobia whereby Westerners associate the Muslim religion with violence. Emerging from this narrative and undergirded by an incitement of fear and panic is a definition of terrorism for purely political purposes. For example, we now witness that dictators in non-western countries have found it convenient to consolidate authoritarianism by describing political opposition as terrorism. This desperate call for attention is done by leaders who have realized that the foundation on which their power is built has become shaky. To safe themselves from an impending doom, they turn the gun against their own citizens who mysteriously become terrorists overnight. Among other things, identifying the terrorist is an appeal to Western powers, to warn them that their economic interests are at stake.
When Biya described protesting Anglophones as terrorists, he was in fact appealing to a Western audience, especially France, a former colonial master of Cameroun (Francophone Cameroon). Worth of note is the fact that over the past fifty-seven years, France has been keen at Francophonizing Ambazonia through French Cameroun. A couple of months ago, a video circulated online in which archbishop emeritus Cardinal Christian Tumi mentioned that at some point during his career while visiting France, he was congratulated – probably judging by his impeccable French – for their effort in Francophonizing the Anglophones. The French official was unaware that Cardinal Tumi was an Anglophone!
One must not downplay the language used to categorize citizens as terrorists. The language we use most often shape our reality of the world. This is not to mean language reveals an objective world, because the way we see the world out there is socially constructed. Thus, we see terrorists out there only after we define who they are and where we can find them. It is purely a matter of who has the power to classify who the terrorists are. Simply put, a terrorist frightens the population and for this reason, s/he is an unwanted element in the society. But it does not end there. Categorizing people as terrorists is a way of degrading their bodies and humanity. It thus sounds logical to torture them in any possible way since the belief is that they can inflict pain on others.
President Paul Biya and his military guys have produced the Ambazonian terrorist in war talk, which is to say the condition has been set for the soldiers to abuse, extort, kill, loot, etc, with impunity, with their action informed by the belief that they are fighting monstrous beings. In other words, the soldiers sent to occupy Anglophone towns and villages have the image of Ambazonian monsters locked up in their heads. The conduct of the war in terrorist territory demands that cruelty and any form of human rights are suspended. Field evidence is showing that most terrorists in the war in Ambazonia are civilians. It is thanks to social media that we are getting a glimpse of how the soldiers kill citizens for pleasure. Priests have been killed. Girls have been raped. Elderly people who are too old to run into the forests have been burnt alive. The soldiers have carried out drive-by shooting/killing of civilians who stand in front of their houses. Entire villages have been burnt and crops destroyed. Schools, hospitals and churches have come under attack (some burnt down as well). In short, the terror campaign is all-encompassing and is directed at Southern Cameroonians, their institutions and livelihood.
It is only when footage of these atrocities is revealed to the public that we see a certain level of resignation on the part of the government and its supporters who all along congratulate soldiers for the good work they do in eliminating the terrorists. The images also contradict their narrative of the Cameroun professional soldier. We all know those defending Ambazonia are armed and are ready to defend themselves and their communities which logically means the government soldiers are expected to confront these Fighters. It is unclear why all Ambazonian are targeted. When it comes to the killings, the minister of communication simply says the victims of soldier atrocities merely suffer from stray bullets. What about the looting? What about the burning of villages? Some activists online have mockingly said in the case of rape that the victims suffer from stray dicks. This may sound humorous but it points to the fact that the soldiers are simply irresponsible and also shows the extent to which they can do whatever they want because they have the license to do so. These attempts at justifying or diverting the soldiers’ cruelty in fact tell that the leadership is satisfied with what the soldiers are doing to the supposed terrorists.
But there is more reason for the denials. It is unsettling for the supporters of the war to admit that the soldiers’ conducts are unprofessional simply because this admission would mean they are implicated in lootings, murders, executions, rapes, summary executions, mass graves, torture, burning of villages, etc – which is what is going on right now as I write. This explains why Mr Issa Tchiroma, the minister of communication would deny all facts, terming them opinion, until a video about rape, torture and execution emerges to shut him up. Right now, we know just too much about the misconduct at the war front. What more can they deny that we do not yet know? NOTHING! All forms of war malpractices have already been exercised on Ambazonians.
The atrocities committed by the soldiers are not unfortunate occurrences; they are part of the war and have been used right from the onset to instill fear in the minds of the people. The military is doing exactly what it has been instructed to do. Recall that in September/October 2016, university girls were raped leading to the fiery speech in the parliament by Joseph Wirba, an Anglophone opposition MP who told the government that the people of Ambazonia are not the slaves of the Francophones, their territory was not captured in a war and that they have the right to defend themselves. Also, in Feb 2018, a video showing the torture of Sam Soya, a disabled man, circulated online. His was suspected of knowing people who killed government soldiers. In one of the photos, we see a soldier severing the head of Mr. Soya with a knife. Images of unarmed civilians tortured or killed at the war front circulate daily on social media. Hardly does one meet an Ambazonian who does not know of anyone who has been killed or who has become a refugee – fleeing from people who should protect them. I have mentioned earlier in one of the articles that such state terrorism pushes Ambazonians into the arms of the Amba Fighters (https://www.panafricanvisions.com/2018/life-war-zone-30-days-ambazoniaanglophone-cameroon-5/).
At no point can we suspect that Paul Biya misspoke when he referred to protesting Anglophones as terrorists. It’s time we do a critical assessment. Who are terrorists? Are they people whose presence make others to flee their homes into the forest for safety or they are those who are smoked out of their own homes? We are talking here about human beings who have nowhere else to go. And as I speak, these terrorists are in the forests and are tormented by cold and rain at this time of the year. Talk less of access to health facilities.
*This is part of the series Life in a War Zone:30 Days in Ambazonia by Solomon Ngu for PAV under the blog Kamer Blues