By Hans Ngala
There have been several deaths and casualties in the restive English-speaking area of Cameroon where separatists are battling soldiers. The clashes follow a ban imposed by authorities restricting movement from one sub division to another and prohibiting the assembling of more than four persons.
“We could not go to church yesterday” said a resident of Ndu, a tea-growing town some 110km from the regional capital of Bamenda. “People were teargassed out of a church yesterday by soldiers”, the woman who opted for anonymity told the American Media Institute.
Most churches remained close Sunday as people feared arrests by soldiers and the few who made it to some churches were asked to return home by gun-wielding soldiers according to sources on the ground.
Monday was characterized by gunshots in towns like Bamenda,Kumbo and Pinyin with reports of unverified fatalities and casualties at this stage given the volatility of the situation.
Sources also said two military helicopters were flying overhead and that “there has been intermittent shooting since morning; probably between the Ambazonia fighters and soldiers. We are all lying on the floor to avoid getting hit by stray bullets.”
“Ambazonia” is a rebrand of the Southern Cameroons which joined French Cameroun in 1961 on the basis of a two-state federation that was discarded in 1972 by then president Ahmadou Ahidjo in favour of a “United Republic of Cameroon.”
Southern Cameroonians say the abolition of the two-state federation went against agreements reached between the two Cameroons at a Conference in Foumban, French Cameroun where it was agreed that the two-state nature of the state shall remain sacred.
Southern Cameroonians who have since been split into the Northwest and Southwest of the country have also long complained of economic and political marginalization and things came to a head in 2016 when lawyers and teachers complained of having French-speaking teachers and judges imposed upon them by the central government and called for a return to the two-state federation.
Government arrested key leaders and later succumbed to international pressure and released them; but continued harassment of activists and journalists, shutting down internet access and a refusal to touch on the political demands made has led to a call for not just a return to the two-state federation but an outright ‘restoration’ of the statehood of the Southern Cameroons.
The International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and other organizations have warned that the situation is likely to escalate further especially with a presidential election scheduled for October 7 with president Paul Biya in power for 36 years seeking re-election.