Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Countdown Has Begun - October 21st Is A Particular Day In Cameroon.

On October 21, 2016, one of the greatest tragedies in our country’s history occurred. A train accident in Eseka killed 79 people and injured close to 600 others. 

No one in Cameroon can forget this day. This catastrophe was a direct result of the bad governance in our country.

October 2016 is also when the Anglophone protests began.
By October 2017, we had witnessed all manner of violence and violations on Anglophones, by government. Arbitrary arrests of 1000s, hundreds of whom are still in detention today, cutting off the internet to over 5 million people, firing on unarmed protestors who were carrying peace plants.

On October 21, 2017 we decided to join a protest march called by our comrades of the Social Democratic Front. In a heavily militarized Douala, our movement, Stand Up For Cameroon, turned out to be the only ones who were able to march. After successfully protesting in solidarity with our Anglophone sisters and brothers, we were illegally put under house arrest for the remainder of the day.

October 21, 2018.  Just a few days before, our comrades from the MRC and the SDF had managed to demonstrate the flagrant fraud and irregularities that had characterized the presidential elections of October 7, 2018. The demonstration was done on live TV. Millions of Cameroonians were watching.

The mood in the country turned angry and sour. Cameroonians could not believe that the Constitutional Council, highest judiciary body in the land, did not even make a pretense of seeking for truth and justice. They steamrolled over allegations of fraud and corruption, to proclaim what most of us had known all along. At the ripe-old age of 85, after 36 years in power, with virtually no record of significant accomplishments, somehow, the various institutions and persons concerned, had managed once again to conspire against the Cameroonian people to declare not only that Paul Biya had won another 7-year mandate, but that he had done so by a landslide of over 70%. 

The anger in the population grew and grew. Over the internet people called for protest.

At the Cameroon People’s Party that I lead and the movement Stand Up For Cameroon that we belong to, we observed and analyze with sadness. 

We had decided not to participate in the elections for two reasons:

1. We were certain the current electoral system could not produce any result other than the one that it did. 
The Countdown Has Begun - October 21st Is A Particular Day In Cameroon.
2. We could not conceive of going to elections while in the Anglophone regions tens of thousands are refugees, hundreds of thousands are displaced, thousands are in jail and no plausible solution had been put on the table to solve the crisis.

At one moment when campaigns reached fever pitch, many thought our analysis was wrong. Somehow, by some miracle, maybe Biya could be beaten using this electoral system which he controls entirely. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Public anger mounted steadily, and people began calling for protests. In Cameroon, we consulted the main political parties that had competed in the election. None was organizing a protest. Meanwhile, the calls for protest mounted steadily on the internet. On the afternoon of the 20th, it was brought to our attention that the name of Stand Up For Cameroon was being associated with protests as well as my name specifically as a leader.

Personally, and as a member of both the Cameroon People’s Party and Stand Up For Cameroon, we believe strongly that change in the leadership and governance of Cameroon will be triggered by massive non-violent protests. We also believe protests must be organized and led by people who have been trained in non-violent action.

Stand Up For Cameroon has led several protests in Cameroon even in moments where our cities were heavily militarized. We were not leading the protests called on October 21st and had not been contacted by a single organization to participate in a protest. Given that we had not communicated on any of our official pages or media calling for a protest, we felt quite certain there was little confusion as to whether we were participating in the October 21st protest.

We were wrong.

October 21, 2018 was also going to be special.  At about 10:00 a.m., I was informed there were policemen outside my home. Expecting to see 3-4 officers (it is not the first time they are visiting my home), I opened my gate. What I saw both alarmed and amused me. Over 30 police officers, armed in full riot gear with bullet proof vests and helmets! I could not help but burst out laughing.

“What are you doing here I asked?”.

“We’ve received orders you are not to go out today they replied.”

“Okay. So, I am confined to my home?”

“Yes.”

“What is the reason for this? What crime have I committed? Which law are you applying?”

“Madam President, we have received orders.”

“Do you have a warrant or a mandate? Are your orders in writing somewhere?”

“No Madam, we received orders and we must execute”.
I have been a Cameroonian political leader for 11 years. I have been on the receiving end of all types of violence and rights violation from my Government. From kidnapping to water-hosing, to multiple arrests, I know the futility of discussing with officers who are at the execution level. Even 5-star commissioners can most often not tell you why you’re being detained in such situations.

I informed them I had, had no intention of going out. We had not planned to march or demonstrate. I also reminded the officers that had I planned to do so, they would not have been able to stop me. A year earlier, October 21st, 2017, we outmaneuvered a 100-man detail to go out and demonstrate. I closed my gate and retreated into my home.

They remained outside my gate from 10:00 a.m. – 7:12 p.m. Without mandate, warrant or even pretext, I was under illegal house arrest on October 21, 2018.

At about 8:00 p.m., I reflected on the day with a smile. The thing this regime has not learned is that every violation of rights, every infringement and attempt at intimidation, strengthens. I am not angry or emotional. Not even excited.

I just have extreme clarity and focus. My resolve is more resilient than steel.

We are not going to wait seven years. We will act without violence and with unwavering determination. We will continue until we bring an end to this horrific regime.

We will initiate Political Transition and heal our country. We will rebuild its foundation and restore its institutions.

It is Cameroon’s destiny to be great and we will achieve it.

Oh, and the day we come out for that, 30 000 policemen will not stop us. Mark my words. The countdown has begun.

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