YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Cameroonian bishop claims a recent military operation aimed at wiping out Anglophone separatists in the department of Bui in the country’s North West region is radicalizing the population.
Operation Kumbo Clean was launched by Cameroon’s military on May 15, on the heels of a similar operation that took place in Bamenda, the capital of the region.
Nearly five years ago, English-speaking lawyers and teachers began striking over efforts to change the common law legal system and British-based schooling system Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions inherited from the colonial era.
The protests were violently suppressed by the majority French-speaking central government, leading to a separatist insurgency intent on establishing an independent country called “Ambazonia.”
The fighting has killed at least 3,500 people and forced more than a million from their homes, according to the United Nations.
“I see wounded military people, I see boys killed on all sides and this is not solving the problem,” said Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, the capital of Bui.
“Whether you are cleaning Kumbo or you are cleaning Bamenda, it is still a battle, a confrontation and at the end of the day, people are killed, and innocent lives are lost on both sides,” the bishop told Crux in a telephone interview.
He said the continued killings will not offer any solution to the problem. Rather, it will worsen the situation, “because the more people get radicalized, the more they become determined to lose more blood.”
Following are excerpts of that interview…
Crux: Bishop, there was this military operation dubbed “Operation Kumbo Clean” that started on May 15 and lasted well over a month. Do you have an idea of what they did in Kumbo during that operation?
Nkuo: I know there have been frequent attacks on both sides. There have been attempts by the military to reach “the boys” [separatist fighters are called “Amba-boys”] and there have been attempts by “the boys” to reach the military. I know that these confrontations cannot solve the problem. The people who are at war know what it takes to resolve the problem and they just need a good will, love for the people and the love for the country to resolve this matter. I don’t think that whether you are cleaning Kumbo or you are cleaning Bamenda, it is still a battle, a confrontation and at the end of the day, people are killed, and innocent lives are lost on both sides. At the end of the day there will be no solution to the problem. They know what to do to resolve the problem. No amount of Kumbo cleaning will solve the problem. That is what I know because the more people get radicalized, the more they become determined to lose more blood. I think it has been a failed attempt to solve this problem. That is what I can say.
So you think the use of guns is radicalizing more people?
Oh yes. I see houses of people burnt: the parents, the children or people whose houses were burnt or people who were killed… I meet them on the road. They are not giving up. Rains are falling now and there are people who don’t have where to stay because their houses have been burnt, and also military people in their numbers who have been killed. This does not solve the problem. I see wounded military people, I see boys killed on all sides and this is not solving the problem. So no amount of cleaning Kumbo will solve the problem until those who know what to do take the humility and the good will to resolve this problem.
So how is all of this affecting the Church in Kumbo?
If your people are suffering you suffer with them. That is why I am still in Kumbo. I have not left Kumbo since because it is so painful to see, and it is also difficult to move around doing my pastoral work the way I had planned. The plans I had for Kumbo are frustrated. Yesterday was Sunday and people could not go to church because they were all in the bushes in some of the parishes. It is affecting us in various ways and the level of poverty is alarming.
Many elites have fled the area and you are still there…
I am here for the people. I am not here for myself, and the Church invites us to be close to the suffering and the poor and that is why we are there. We cannot leave them. Just imagine that two or three villages are all burnt down, and the people are seeking refuge in a parish house. Should I leave them and go away? That is not my mission as a priest or as a bishop. We are supposed to stay close to them. I also see great frustration in the eyes of the military. It is really unfortunate.
The Archbishop of Bamenda [Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya] made a statement the other day accusing the elites, especially the elected representatives of abandoning their people. Would you say that they have failed their people?
Ask them if they can come back home. I can move around Kumbo even on a bike and come back to the house. Ask them if they can do that? They cannot do it. They are not representing the people at all. And if they are there, what are they doing to touch the people who are in the right positions to resolve this problem? They are not doing anything. They have failed their people.