BAMENDA, Cameroon – Thousands of Catholics took to the streets of Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s troubled North West region, on Sunday to protest the ongoing conflict in the country’s two Anglophone regions, a week after a military incursion of a Catholic hospital in the area.
“We can’t take it anymore,” said Susan Meye, a member of the Catholic Women’s Association.
“The deaths now are uncountable. Our children are being killed. Soldiers are our children. Amba [the common term for separatist fighters] are our children. When soldiers are killed, we shed tears. When Amba die we shed tears, because we bore both of them for nine months and we know the pains of childbirth,” she told Crux.
University lecturer Lucas Wirba said the crisis had taken a heavy toll on education.
“It has affected the intake of students, effective teaching and teachers who are often the target,” he said.
Lucienne Mutang said the ultimate restorer of peace to the two regions will be God.
“With this protest, we know that God is going to bring peace to the North West and South West regions, because we trust in God. This war has tormented us. We sleep and we are not sure to wake up the next day, but we believe God is still sitting on the throne and He will hear our pleas,” she said.
Archbishop Andrew Fuanya Nkea said he was confident that the appeal to God will bring “the peace of Christ” to the two regions.
“Let the peace of Christ truly dwell amongst us. Let Christ’s peace come to our society. Let it come to Bamenda,” the prelate shouted using a hand-held loudspeaker to a thunderous response from the crowd.
Sunday’s protests came against the backdrop of a military attack a week earlier on the St. Elizabeth Catholic General Hospital Cardiac Center Shisong, located in Kumbo, the second city of the North West Region. It is the largest cardiac center in the Central Africa sub region.
The director of the hospital. Sister Anshoma Helen Buah, said it was a normal day at hospital on November 14, but at about 1:30 pm, three armored military vehicles “invaded” the hospital in search of separatist fighters.
“They (the soldiers) were armed with sophisticated weapons and dressed in combat attire-a frightful scene for all, especially for patients in a hospital setting,” she said in the statement.
“The Military requested for the Emergency Unit of the Hospital, as they claimed to be searching for Amba boys that were brought for treatment in the Hospital that same morning,” she said.
Failing to find the object of their search, they forced the director of the hospital to lead them to the emergency unit and then resorted to a thorough search of the entire hospital.
“They moved from Ward to Ward and from Unit to Unit. The Dispensary, Admission Room, Men’s Medical Unit, the Pediatric Unit, the Females’ Medical Unit, the Surgical Units I & II, the Maternity and the Theatre were all bumped into, with patients and little children and babies and pregnant women in them. All the Private Wards were opened and searched. All the toilets and rooms in the Hospital were searched. Nothing suspicious was found,” she said.
Then they decided to search the consultation area of Buah herself, who serves as the chief cardiologist.
“They entered the Out Patients’ Department of the Cardiac Center and all the consultation rooms. They requested to go down to the Basement of the Cardiac Center and there they searched everywhere,” she said.
She said they found nothing after a two-hour long search. The director said while some of the soldiers expressed remorse, admitting that their actions were a little “exaggerated,” others resorted to threats on hospital staff and hierarchy.
“[S]ome of them continued with their threats to the Sisters and the Hospital. They promised that the next time they would be back; they would set the entire hospital on fire,” she said.
Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo said he was deeply disappointed that the military should storm a hospital and ransack even the most “sacred of places.”
He said he was even more surprised because the Military Command had apologized for similar actions in the past.
“We live in difficult times,” the prelate told Crux, but there are certain places that are “inviolable” and should never be touched.
“I am really, really disappointed that this keeps happening.”
It’s not the first time the military searched the hospital. On July 19, soldiers carried out similar searches after storming the hospital in the dead of the night. Two years ago, on Feb. 17, 2019, the same hospital was targeted by the military.
Human rights groups have condemned the attacks on hospitals as a violation of international law.
Violence erupted in Cameroon in 2016 when English-speaking lawyers and teachers took to the streets to protest the growing dominance of French in the officially bilingual country.
The government responded with lethal violence. This resulted in a separatist uprising that has left at least 4000 people dead, and forced more than a million from their homes.
Participants in Sunday’s protests said the government’s military response to the crisis is the wrong approach.
“You can’t use the language of force in order to bring peace,” Wirba told Crux.
“What we need is a sincere dialogue which should be very transparent. We should actually go to the roots of the crisis,” the professor said.