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Anglophone conflict displaces hundreds of thousands

Fred Muvunyi
November 1, 2018

The death of an American in the conflict in Anglophone Cameroon casts a renewed spotlight on the regions, where civilians who have fled the war between separatists and soldiers live in deplorable conditions.

Children share a meal in the Anglophone separatist stronghold of Liwuh la Malale in Cameroon (DW/F. Muvunyi)
Image: DW/F. Muvunyi

Charles Wesco, a Christian missionary from Indiana, died of gunshot wounds in north-western Bamenda on Tuesday. The father of eight is one of a handful of foreigners killed in the two-year conflict that has claimed a significant but undetermined number of Cameroonian lives. 

The predominantly English-speaking cities of Bamenda and Buea, in the south west, along the border with Nigeria, are at the epicenter of the conflict that erupted when security forces cracked down on protests against the Francophone-led government in Yaounde in late 2016. 

Read more: Cameroon’s 'senseless spiral of violence'

Living rough 

Residents of the two cities have since fled south in large numbers to cities such as coastal Douala, where they are living rough on the outskirts of established communities. They survive, cheek by jowl, sleeping on cardboard in makeshift houses.

"Come in, we don't have light," Flora Malah Ngafi says at the entrance to the brick building in Bonaberi, where she and her relatives found a 10 square meter room after they left Bamenda.

"The way we sleep here, you cannot even shake. We are tight, and there's no light. Fourteen of us sleep in this room," she tells DW.

The tiny room for women and girls only has a single mattress, scores of bags piled in corners and a mosquito net.

"In the night, they pick cartons from the other rooms. When they close this door, they have enough space to sleep," Ngafi says.

Flora Malah Ngafi standing with arms folded between two older women (DW/F. Muvunyi )
Flora Malah Ngafi (center), a mother of three, fled the conflict in Bamenda, CameroonImage: DW/F. Muvunyi

"We will still die"

Thirteen men and boys sleep in the room next door that is strewn with broken bricks and tiles. The occupants of the abandoned building - seven families - share a makeshift kitchen. There is no toilet or bathroom.

Ngafi says they use buckets and dispose of excrement in the well next to the kitchen. 

"If they allow us to live like this, we will still die. The gunshots have killed so many people but all this suffering can still kill us. Let the government help us. Let them come back to unity and do something."

Cameroon Anglophone crisis

The conflict in Anglophone regions has claimed the lives of 4,000 people and displaced some 500,000, according to an estimate by the Buea-based Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa. The organization puts the number of people who are living in the forests of Cameroon to escape the conflict at over 100,000.

In September, two of Ekole Elvis Molibeta's cousins were gunned down by soldiers when they emerged from a forest where they had taken refuge from the fighting between the separatists and the army.  

The 29-year-old says his entire family went missing from Buea six months ago. 

"My immediate brothers, I don't know their whereabouts. Their wives and children, I don't know their whereabouts. My aunt and uncles and my parents, I don't know their whereabouts," he told DW.

Molibeta's experience is a reality for many who were forced to flee their homes in the Anglophone regions.

Providing help is difficult and dangerous

In the village of Liwuh la Malale, a separatist stronghold on the outskirts of Buea, there is no hospital and no shelter for women and children. The local chief Molinga Francis II describes himself as a war survivor.

"We need help from the international community," he says.

"We are really suffering and we need your help, particularly foreign partners if they can come in. Humanitarian people of good faith can come in and see how they can bring even a health center for us, especially the children, and schools."

Paul Biya waving at the camera
Cameroon's President Paul Biya is set for a seventh term in office at the age of 85 and following elections on October 7Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Warnand

Providing help has however become increasingly difficult, and dangerous.

Cameroon's North West Region Governor Deben Tchoffo says armed groups staged attacks in the area earlier this week to stop the reopening of the University of Bamenda, and the military fought back.

The missionary Wesco was struck in the head by two bullets that pierced the windshield of the car he was traveling in on the road out of Bamenda.  He is believed to have been caught in the crossfire, just two weeks after he and his family arrived in the Anglophone region.  


Cameroon historian: Government must address roots of crisis