Cameroon's Anglophone region remains in the grip of a seemingly never-ending crisis, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. International observers are increasing their calls to cease the violence, following reports of attacks and abductions of health workers.
The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, now four years old, started in 2016 when lawyers and teachers took to the streets of Buea and Bamenda to protest the domination of French in Anglophone courts and schools.
The strike action quickly gained public sympathy and, on November 21, a popular uprising dubbed "the coffin revolution" took place in Bamenda demanding political reforms.
The situation escalated on October 1, 2017, when militant secessionist groups, led by Julius Sisiku Ayuke Tabe, symbolically proclaimed the independence of a new nation — including the two Anglophone regions — called Ambazonia.
Clashes between the Cameroon military and separatist fighters have led to over 3,000 deaths and many displaced persons.
Peace efforts continue
Cameroon's prime minister in 2019 organized a national dialogue on behalf of the country's government to seek solutions to the worsening crisis — yet hostilities have continued, despite a special status being granted to the two Anglophone regions.
The Archbishop of Bamenda, Andrew Nkea Fuanya, has now joined several organizations in calling for peace in Cameroon. He announced during an April 2019 audience granted by President Paul Biya to Swiss Ambassador to Cameroon Pietro Lazzeri that the Swiss Confederation had expressed its readiness to support national initiatives that can lead to lasting peace in the country.
The proposal was welcomed by the separatists. In a letter dated April 17, the archbishop challenged the warring parties to make the difficult decision to end the conflict, in the best interests of the people. The Catholic Church in Cameroon lost several worshippers and priests in the conflict.
Titled "Now is Time for Peace," the letter read: "Seeking peace or a ceasefire is not a sign of weakness or cowardice. On the contrary, it shows maturity and proper care for the fatherland and genuine love for others."
Locals struggle to access food
Separatist fighters in Mamfe in the Southwest region and Bali in the Northwest regions recently set up roadblocks, barring movement of people and goods from the two regions.
Commuters were stranded and goods in transit — especially perishables — quickly spoiled. Some families were forced to bury their loved ones in Mamfe because of the road blocks.
"I bought 50 bunches of plantains from mamfe to sell in Bamenda," said Susana Timgum who explained how she almost lost her capital.
"They were all tied up in the truck and we were forced to sleep on the way for weeks. The bunches all got ripe. Thank God I was able to sell two weeks after the roads were opened."
Hanson Song, another victim of the road block, said he missed seeing his son immediately after delivery.
"My wife was due deliveries asked her to relocate to Bamenda because it's safe. She was delivered of a baby boy and I only get to see my son three weeks after," he said.
A local mayor was killed in Mamfe in April by suspected separatist fighters who later asked people not to attend his funeral. Six young men were later slaughtered for bypassing the separatist injunction order and attending the funeral. In Kumbo, Northwest region, there are frequent gun battles between the military and separatists fighters.
Last week, 12 separatist fighters were killed in Jackiri and a separatist fighter died in Mbingo. In Mbangolan, Belo, Bafut, Kumba and Mamfe, unending gun battles have continued with fatalities on both sides.
Lockdowns force residents inside
One of the oldest forms of civil disobedience — adopted at the start of the Anglophone crisis — has remained. Ghost town operations and lockdowns force locals in the two regions to close their shops and remain indoors for days and even weeks at a time.
This usually happens every time a government organized event takes place. On Sunday June 21, all diaspora groups leading the separatist fighters on the ground called for a lockdown to disrupt a mobilization tour of the Northwest by Paul Tasong, the head of the government-created commission to reconstruct the two Anglophone regions.
Therese Ntum says she was taken by surprise and now has no food.
"My family is living on boiled corn," she told DW. "We woke up on Monday to hear the news of the three-day lockdown. We did not buy enough food over the weekend. We do not know how we can survive until Thursday."
Hardships felt by all
The escalating conflict has brought untold misery to the population, according to Professor Tih Pius Muffi, director of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS).
"Essential drugs have not been able to reach hospitals," he told DW. "Doctors' clinics have gone without routine support services and patients can't access health centers and hospitals. Some of these patients have died in their homes and some have reached the hospital too late."
Stacy Lawong, who fled from Kumbo to Bamenda, lost all her certificates.
"Our house was burnt down while we were in the bush," she told DW. "We ran to Bamenda. I can't find a job. I cant move out because I do not have identification papers. We are surviving thanks to the benevolence of our neighbors and people of goodwill. Doing business in the two Anglophone regions has become difficult."
Tanwi Godwill survives by selling raw banyans and plantains he buys from the divisions. His business no longer provides for him and his family.
"I always go to the bush market on the weekend to buy [food]," he told DW. "Now time and again, you get to the park just to hear the road is blocked. When you succeed [in buying something], ghost towns and lockdowns won't allow you to [take the goods]. It is difficult."
In an effort to sabotage the economy of the two regions, separatists have also started to burn down power transmitters and cut down pylons, leaving the lone power supply company ENEO to ration electricity, further crippling businesses and startups.
No hope for a swift end
President Biya has called on separatist fighters to drop their guns and come out of the bush. But tensions remain high.
He has addressed the nation several times during the crisis, however separatists maintain that he must first call off the war and initiate meaningful dialogue with all sides.
But, despite a call from the UN secretary general at the dawn of the COVID-19 crisis for a ceasefire, nothing has changed in the two Anglophone regions, where gun battles continue unabated.