Monday, 27 March 2017

My Journey to the English Speaking Parts of Cameroon; From CameroOn to CameroUn - Crossing the International Dateline

Over the years, Kumba has gained popularity for being the economic nerve center of the South West region (one of the two English speaking regions) of Cameroon. 

It is also known for its hard stance against the government and it is the only town in the South West where the opposition SDF is in control of all three councils, and since the Anglophone crisis started Kumba has also been at the forefront of it. We made a trip to this historic town to gage the mood of events. From Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, it seemed everything was good, loud music, noisy neighbourhoods, crowded streets, some students loitering around and a secured internet connection. We drove for some while and as we crossed the Moungo Bridge separating South West Region (English speaking) from the Littoral region (French speaking), our whatsapp chats were frozen and we started wondering how life has been for these people without internet for two months.

A Reign of Fear

As we went through some major towns like Tiko and Buea where we made our first stop we realized that there was some semblance of life but we got no sight of a school uniform. At the bus stop in Buea the South West regional capital, we found many children of school-going age selling and they all had one story—we don’t have classes because there is strike. Meanwhile, the campus of the legendary Government Teacher Training College (GTTC) looked like an abandoned campus. Nobody wanted to talk to us except via personal contacts. They say we maybe agents of La Republique who now come in plain clothes to ferry people to Yaoundé where they are not sure of returning back. We also learned that fast guys of the ‘silicon mountain’ have hacked the internet and are now connected to the satellite directly.

There is an atmosphere of fear; fear of “those boys” and fear of security operatives. “‘Those boys’ poured petrol on a student as a warning sign and since then I cannot go to school,” a University of Buea (UB) student confided in us. They have been clandestinely going to school but that incident has made them feel unsecured. Another UB student, whom we met in Kumba, told us that it is even a risk staying in the student residential area “mini cite” talk less of going to school. Francophones too are not exempted; they too are living in fear and their children are missing classes.

Arson Attacks
As we hit the road for Kumba, we met even more pathetic situations. From Muea, to Malende, Muyuka to Banga Bakundu, Bombe, Mbalangi, Ediki, Mabonji and Kumba, the villages were all deserted with sealed schools. Almost everybody had gone to the farm. The few that could be seen around were either sick or taking care of the very little ones who could not make the turbulent journey to the farms. The thought of going back to school had long departed from their minds and they were instead thinking of the upcoming farming season.

Arriving Kumba, the motor park was buoyant and we erroneously thought life had returned back to normal in Kumba as was before the strike started. But deeper into the town and talking with the people we found a different situation. We met few students of the Cameroon College of Arts and Sciences, Kumba coming back from school and they were all in assorted dresses and were in examination classes. Even though they want to write the GCE, they are still very skeptical and grip by fear. They recounted some horrible stories to us; how the Government Secondary School Kang Barombi was razed down by fire from unknown individuals, how unidentified individuals entered Government Bilingual High School Mambanda, Kumba parked the benches outside and set them ablaze, how one of the biggest private school complex, the Diligent Bilingual Academy was almost burnt down to ashes, thanks to the intervention of a neighbor who saw the assailants pouring petrol on the building and called the police.
My Journey to the English Speaking Parts of Cameroon; From CameroOn to CameroUn - Crossing the International Dateline
Short Message Service replaced internet
We visited some business places and the main cry was the restoration of internet which has crippled many commercial operations. In the absence of internet, the people have heavily relied on Short Message Services (sms) and through it they are informed about the latest happenings. Ironically, while internet has been shut down because government says it has been misused by propagators of violence, revolt and terrorism, the vacuum has been filled by fast guys who’ve now ‘hijacked’ the population with messages worse than those on the internet. SMS penetrate more than the internet—even in villages where there is no power supply. And because the people have lost faith in any media controlled from Yaoundé, the political capital of Cameroon and with the government’s eye on the private press making it to limit its firebrand messages, they easily believe those revolutionary messages via sms. The secret is simple; read, share and delete, denizens told us.

A Territory Divided into Two

Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow, but there is one belief, that one day the sun will shine. This is the message in most houses of worship where prayers are usually said for “God’s Will to prevail over man’s will.” At the end of the day we got the impression that we are in another land; the people have very little concern about what is happening in Yaoundé. Even the appointment of members of the Bilingualism and Multiculturalism commission did not move them. They see Yaoundé as another territory and frequently call it La Republique while Ambazonia is used to identify Anglophone Cameroon, and all they want from Yaoundé is the release of “their leaders,” restoration of internet and demilitarisation before the way forward is sought out. Crossing the Moungo was like crossing the International Dateline. The stories are many but we cannot tell it all.


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