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COVID-19 aggravates Cameroon's Anglophone crisis

Jean Marie Ngong Song
June 2, 2020

Residents of Bamenda in Cameroon's troubled northwest region are torn between insecurity and the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Some say they prefer the crisis to the virus.

People walk in and out of Cameroon's Yaounde Hospita
Image: Imago Images/Xinhua/J. P. Kepseu

Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon's northwest region, has been at the heart of a three-year conflict between Cameroon government troops and armed groups that are fighting to create a state they call Ambazonia.

Frequent gun battles, lockdowns, road blocks and now the COVID-19 pandemic have made life difficult for the majority English-speaking population. The Anglophone crisis and the coronavirus pandemic have two things in common: lockdowns, hospitalizations and an ever-increasing number of deaths.

Read more: Cameroon's Unity Day celebrations canceled as COVID-19 masks internal tensions

A Cameroonian soldier with an automatic weapon stands on top of a military va
The Anglophone crisis has been raging for three years with no end in sightImage: Getty Images/Afp/Reinnier Kaze

Scot, a resident in Bamenda said at least with the Anglophone crisis, one knows how to respect some rules like getting home early and avoiding no go areas.

"But for coronavirus, the risk is just so high. You might get into a public space and contract the disease," Scot, who did not wish to give his second name for fear of reprisal, told DW.

"For the crisis, you know that there are some places that you are not supposed to go and certain things to do and not to do to avoid getting into trouble."

One treatment center

The region is experiencing a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. Health officials are warning that if people do not observe preventive measures — such as washing of hands, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance — the number of infections could rise further. Cameroon now has more than 6,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Nearly 200 have lost their lives.

The northwest region's only COVID-19 treatment center is housed in a government-run hospital. It has a pre-isolation ward, quarantine center, diagnostic laboratory and other facilities for people infected with the coronavirus. Bamenda, Cameroon's third-largest city, has more than 500,000 inhabitants.

"Since we have more intense cases which are moderate or severe, the doctors see patients as often as need be," Mercy Fundoh, head of the solidarity ward, told DW. "We try to do a clinical evaluation of these intense cases at least on a daily basis and sometimes twice a day."

Patient care

As the health of the patients improves, they are transferred to the isolation center where they complete treatment and their number of days of isolation before they are retested.

According to Denis Same, the hospital director, a suspected case of COVID-19 is directed to the pre-isolation ward for investigation and sample collection. "If it is positive then you are taken to the solidarity ward or Azam Hotel meant for those who are asymptomatic, meaning that they do not have or have mild symptoms," Same told DW.

Read more: Cameroon's separatist leader is willing to talk peace, but only with UN backing

Aerial view of Bamenda
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in BamendaImage: Imago/robertharding

Coronavirus, an extra burden

Before the coronavirus, Cameroon's three-year Anglophone crisis had already made life difficult for people. Roadblocks, set up by separatist fighters, often block transport five days a week. They restrict movement between divisions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We are faced with two monsters, the Anglophone crisis and coronavirus as we try to avoid those who call the shots, military or separatists," Thomas Mokum, another resident said.

"For coronavirus, somebody like myself without a job, I put food on the table with the menial things I do around. If you are to respect the social distancing, if you quarantine yourself, if you stay at home, if you do not go out to make money. This is how the two monsters affect my family."

Battling the coronavirus while trying to stay alive in a conflict zone may result in the people of northwest Cameroon becoming simply too desperate to care about health and safety measures. That could make the grim situation even worse.

Cameroon violence

Editor's note: In reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, unless otherwise specified DW uses figures provided by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center in the United States. JHU updates figures in real time, collating data from world health organizations, state and national governments and other public official sources, all of whom have their own systems for compiling information. 
Germany's national statistics are compiled by its public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). These figures depend on data transmission from state and local levels and are updated around once a day, which can lead to deviation from JHU.

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