YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Cameroon’s military and Anglophone separatists are both getting tired of war, according to a Catholic bishop in the region.
Fighting erupted in 2016 in the country’s North West and South West regions after the government resorted to a military response to demands by Anglophone teachers and lawyers for a return to the common law legal and British education systems inherited from the British Empire – the rest of the country was part of the French Empire, and uses French and the civil code.
English speakers have longed complained of marginalization by the predominantly French speaking administration in Yaoundé.
Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo told Crux he sees “depression, frustration and pain” on the faces of government soldiers and separatist fighters.
Kumbo, a city of 80,000 people, is the second largest in the North West region.
“It is time for the war to stop. Declare a ceasefire. Get whoever is involved at whatever level to sit and talk for the good of the people,” he said..
Separatists on October 1 celebrated what they consider their Independence Day for a country they call Ambazonia.
Following are excerpts of his interview with Crux.
Crux: In the build-up to October 1 – when separatists celebrate what they call the anniversary of the independence of ‘Ambazonia’ – the separatists always carry out public demonstrations and hoist their flag. Did this happen in Kumbo?
Nkuo: We have had this three-week lockdown and it has grounded everything and in addition to that with the recent killings and bomb blasts, there is just so much unease and tension around here. Some people have fled to the bushes, and we are very unsure what’s going to happen. The military are alert. The boys [The separatist fighters are called the Amba Boys] are there. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a very scary situation around here. We don’t know what to expect.
Did they fly any flags as a sign of defiance to the state?
I don’t think the attention is about flags being hoisted. I think the attention is more on what has been happening in the past few days with the killings, attempts to kill, and the kidnappings. I don’t think the attention is on celebrating, but rather on the fact that the situation is getting very critical. It’s a call for concern.
The killings going on both sides are terrible. It’s not just a good situation with anybody living in Kumbo anymore.
Do you have the number of people who have been killed in Kumbo in the last couple of days?
No, I don’t. All I know is that we have had lots of gunshots there. There have been lots of explosives lately and I think that there have been casualties. I see signs of desperation amongst the people on both sides because I have had the chance to talk to the people and also to the military. You can see depression, frustration and pain on their faces and all is a cry for something to be done to stop this war.
So you think that even the military are getting tired of this war?
Last Sunday, I went for a Mass and when coming back they (military) stopped me and they were like “Bishop, can you imagine our colleagues were killed? Look at us. Look at where we are. When is Yaoundé going to stop this?”
I mean, this is what I meet on the road every day. Just going for a Mass within town and you see that, and you just ask yourself: My God! So it’s frustration on both sides.
The government says it’s going to take a new approach and what we see on ground is that they are deploying heavy artillery, heavy machinery. What is your thought about that response?
I don’t have any response to that. What I see is that the people of Kumbo have either run to the bushes or fled from the land. The fear of the unknown is looming large here. The people are being killed, the military are being killed and innocent people are killed or affected whenever there is a clash.
I know for certain that a lot of innocent people are going to suffer, people who have nothing to do with the war, people who are helpless, people who are caught in-between the warring factions. That’s what I feel and there is so much unrest, so much fear of the unknown. They are helpless. So I don’t think deploying more military might resolve the problem. I only hear about military equipment coming in the direction of Kumbo and they are telling the population to disappear or be killed, even if they don’t know where they are running to. But it will be merciless.
I don’t know whether you followed the minister of External Relations at the United Nations. He was extolling some of the measures that the government has taken to put an end to the crisis like the granting of a ‘special status’ to the Anglophone regions as prescribed by the Major National Dialogue held in Cameroon in 2019. Do you think the national dialogue was a failure given that the government has done most of what was agreed upon, but the fighting is instead intensifying on the ground?
I said until we sit down and address the truth and the underlying issues, I don’t think we are going anywhere. I mean, the national dialogue has come and gone but how much of that has actually pinned down on the issues that the people are agitating about and grieving against? Maybe there are things that have been done – reconstruction, the Disarmament and Demobilization Centers etc… But what has changed on the ground? I have seen even more bloodshed, more determination, and more radicalization. That’s what is on the ground. If things do not change, it means we have to look for other avenues, or other strategies to find out how we can stop this war.
In fact, things are getting worse. The boys have come up with more sophisticated weapons. The weapons and strategies that are being used now were not there last year or in 2019, so we the poor people are hemmed between the warring factions.
Where do you think the Amba boys are getting these complicated weapons from?
Honestly I don’t know, but we have seen how the boys attack brigades and military officers on the road and take their weapons and we have actually seen how they celebrate over it. We have seen the boys seize weapons from the military and are using them for the war. I can’t say where they get others from.
What do you think needs to be done to bring the crisis to an end?
I don’t need to repeat what everybody has said. It is time for the war to stop. Declare a ceasefire. Get whoever is involved at whatever level to sit and talk for the good of the people. I am more concerned for the people -the ordinary people who are suffering. There is no way this matter will be resolved by weapons.
So let’s look at each other eyeball to eyeball and discuss how to stop this war. Unless that is done, I am afraid, more people will die.
More sophisticated weapons are coming in. Life in Kumbo is virtually at a standstill. Nothing is happening. I’m in Kumbo. You look around and not even a fly is moving on the road.