By Sone Peter
Increasingly frustrated over its inability to preempt attacks on its soldiers by unknown people, the Cameroon military has embarked on a heinous strategy of torching entire villages in English-speaking Cameroon. On December 18, 2017, it was the village of Kembong in Manyu Division of the South West Region. Speaking to the BBC, a disillusioned Bishop Nkea of the Mamfe Diocese in English-speaking Cameroon described the plight of more than 7,000 people forced out of their villages by the Cameroon military. “I can count more than 20 houses burnt down by the military”, the prelate narrated. “They beat the residents, then threw them out of their houses and then set the houses on fire”. The frustrated man-of-God revealed.
The military’s wrath descended on the small village of Kembong Bishop Nkea, said following the killing of four security officers by unidentified people. Despite claims by the government that its troops in the villages were to protect civilians against what they call terrorists, Bishop Nkea, said the civilians were rather fleeing from the military and its brutality.
Certainly emboldened by global silence and encomiums from their superiors including the government, a month later precisely on January 17, 2018, the Cameroon army again unleashed a murderous rage on Kwakwa, another small locality about two hours’ drive from Kembong. Unlike Kembong where the priest’s house was spared, and thus served as refuge for some of the displaced, especially the elderly, this time around the Cameroon army shunned any distinction. Images show a desecrated chapel and deserted community with smoldering buildings.
In the darkest spot of the white ash is the charred remains of a 96-year-old Mama Appih Pauline, who could not escape the marauding armies. Her position indicates she had tried to creep out of the flames which reports say were doused from low flying helicopters. The village’s more than six thousand inhabitants are now sweltering in the forests. Social media footage shows families with children sleeping on grass and leaves in the forest needing food and medicine. Risks of mosquitoes and snake bites are equally high.
The Cameroon military’s decimation of Kwakwa follows a social media picture of a mangled man said to be a member of the Cameroon military. The Cameroon government on its part has not commented on any of the burning neither the killings nor refugees streaming into neighboring Nigeria.
A twitter post by former Radio France International Journalist Eli Smith, talks of a soldier bragging about the dismemberment of Kwakwa. “He said no fowl was left in that village and he also said order came from Yaounde. In his word he said “c’était 01” I presumed 01 meant Yaounde command”. Mr. Smith wrote on Twitter. The scorched-earth policy it should be recalled began in Kumbo, in the northern zone of English-speaking Cameroon on October 1, 2017, where the army destroyed houses and property.
Far from the internet blackout, anguish and militarization in the Anglophone regions, images from the state’s television station – Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) in the Capital Yaoundé paints a contrary picture of a mirthful president and country poised to emerge in 2035. “This is the worst time to be a journalist in this house” a frustrated Anglophone journalist told me. “We risk facing the military tribunal if we say anything about the conflict in our region. I believe every Anglophone here is a suspect”. He lamented.
Since opting for a military option as opposed to dialogue on the Anglophone crises last November, the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, is yet to comment on the casualty figures of the conflict including many refugees in Nigeria.
The Cameroon military’s burning of entire villages reminisces Boko Haram tactics. The embrace of this scorched-earth policy employed by the world’s deadliest terrorist organization – Boko Haram is a new low for the 85-year-old president, who has ruled the country for 35 years. Amnesty International recently accused the Cameroon government of grave human rights abuses in its fight against Boko Haram in the norther part of the country.
Boko Haram it should be recalled increasingly started torching villages after recording significant defeats from a rebounded Nigerian army under President Buhari. The greatest destructions were the towns of Baga and Doron Baga, in Borno State in Nigeria in January 2015. Amnesty International estimated that about 2100 people were killed with more than 3100 houses destroyed. The Nigerian Army on its part acknowledged that only 150 lives were lost.
The crisis in the Anglophone region of Cameroon started in November, 2016, as a call for reforms by frustrated teachers and lawyers who claimed their courts and schools were being dominated by French-speaking personnel. A militaristic response by the regime of President Paul Biya, has led to calls by indigenes of the Anglophone regions for a separate state called Ambazonia. Global calls for meaningful dialogue by the regime of Paul Biya have been futile. Speaking about the crisis, for the first time last November, the 85-year-old president called the activists “secessionist terrorists” and ordered for a military resolution. More troops were deployed to the two Anglophone regions.
More than a month since his war declaration, victory has eluded the army. Reports by some of the country’s newspapers including the renowned French-speaking paper Le Messager, talks of military desertion. The lack of a clear path by the military reports say is leading to mounting frustration and nervousness from military families. The recent incineration of these villages and global silence is set to swell the number of refugees in Nigeria which according UNHCR stands now at more than 15,000.