In its bid to squash calls for independence by the Anglophone speaking north-west and south west regions of Cameroon, the government forces responded to street demonstrations and the declaration of independence with disproportionate force, killing at least 40 people and injuring over 100 protesters between 28 September and 2 October.
The security forces used live ammunition and excessive use of tear gas, in homes and against Christians as they were coming out of church, according to a report. One of the leaders of the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), Joshua Osih, told AFP the security forces were “firing real bullets at the protesters.”
Hundreds of people have been arrested and detained without warrants. Reports from relatives say the Cameroonian security forces are using of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment on the detainees including sexual abuse, destruction of property and looting of homes by soldiers and police, as well as shooting from helicopters at protesters in Kumba, Bamenda and near Buea were reported by a dozen residents, local politicians, senior officials, the press, human rights organizations and the Catholic bishops of the two regions.”
The call for independence escalated on 1 October 2017, when militant secessionist groups symbolically proclaimed the independence of Ambazonia. The symbolic declaration of independence was made by Sisiku Ayuk, who describes himself as the “President” of Ambazonia.
“We are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” he said. “Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory.”
The Anglophone region of Cameroon have always complained of exclusion from top civil service jobs, and that the French language and legal system have been imposed on them but the government denies the allegations and insists that it treats all citizens equally.
Since September secessionist began using violence, including the use of homemade bombs. In its reaction, the Cameroon military engaged a large peaceful march with live ammunition. “The events of 1 October, a date commemorating the 1961 reunification between the Cameroon under French mandate and the British Southern Cameroons, are the culmination of a new, intensified phase of the crisis”
A report stated: “On 1 October, tens of thousands of people began a peaceful march, holding a plant symbolizing peace and chanting “no violence,” to proclaim the independence of Ambazonia (the name given by secessionists to their hypothetical state). In Bamenda, Buea and across dozens of towns and communities, people marched and hoisted Ambazonian flags at intersections and atop the residences of traditional chiefs as well as onto a police station and a gendarmerie post. Independence was symbolically proclaimed in chiefs’ compounds.
“The villages of secessionist leaders such as Ewele, Akwaya, Eyumodjock and Ekona were targeted by the defense and security forces, forcing thousands of young men to flee to the bush for fear of being killed or arrested and tortured. Witness said, “soldiers are murdering some people in their homes and shooting at the feet of others”
The former Supreme Court judge, Ayah Paul Abine, on his Facebook page, claims to have escaped assassination at his home in Akwaya, which was also reportedly looted by soldiers.
Violence, arrests and looting by military and police continued throughout the following week, notably in the department of Manyu. Suspected of secessionism, Deputy Mayor of Ndu was reportedly killed at home by the military on 2 October.
The International Crisis Group noted that “International reaction has been muted.”
Experts opined that “If a lasting solution is not found, the next resurgence of the Anglophone problem could be violent. The haughty attitude and cynicism of senior government officials, notably when they say that “as long as the Anglophones do not take up arms, the current strike does not worry [us] unduly”, could promote instability”
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos