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Cameroonians Surviving by Obeying Opposing Forces, Catholic Peace Entity Says in Report

Civilians walk past burning vehicles in Elak town, Northwest Cameroon Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

Civilians in the troubled Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon are surviving each day by obeying commands from the country’s military as well as from members of the Ambazonia Restoration Forces (ARFs) so as not to appear siding with either group, a Catholic peace foundation working in the Central African nation has said.

In a report shared with ACI Africa, the leadership of Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) notes that the populations in the embattled regions are always caught up in the conflict between the two warring groups.

DHPI notes that the government of Cameroon has failed to curtail the conflict in the country and allows the conflict, which is now in its fifth year to escalate.

“The locals have been caught between the military forces and the ARFs and so all that matters now is for the population to make use of their survival instincts by obeying the commands of both parties,” the DHPI officials say in a Tuesday, August 24 report.

They add, “The government forces always accuse the population of failing to cooperate with them in ousting the separatists and the ARFs also fault the population in some instances of cooperating with the military in what they term ‘blacklegs’ or enablers.”

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In a past interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Ngenge Godlove Bong-aba who grew up in the Archdiocese of Bamenda in Cameroon’s Northwest region recounted having been harassed by both the country’s military and the ARFs.

“In my quest to uphold the truth, condemn injustice and defend the God-given dignity of the human being, I am sometimes misunderstood, suspected and misrepresented as supporting one or the other camp by the regime as well as the actors advocating for the breakaway state of Ambazonia!” Fr. Godlove told ACI Africa March 31.

Ambazonia is a self-proclaimed independent state by separatists in Cameroon's English-speaking North West and South West regions.

Efforts to create the state are at the heart of the ongoing conflict that has reportedly led to the death of over 3,000 people and displacement of over 679,000 others. The conflict that started with a strike of a section of teachers and lawyers in the two regions has also left more than 600,000 children unable to go to school.

The Priest who is working with the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said that members of the Clergy whose only concern is to uphold the dignity of human life in the country are sometimes accused of siding with those who oppose the government.

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On the other hand, separatist fighters deal harshly with anyone suspected of interacting with the military, calling them “blacklegs”.

Blacklegs is a term used by the exiled advocates for separation (activists) and armed separatists to refer to those whom they think want to compromise the struggle for independence (traitors) by collaborating with the state military or other administrators of the regime.

Meanwhile, DHPI has reported an increase in attacks in the embattled Anglophone region, with the ARFs led by a notorious General No Pity on Monday, August 23, wreaking havoc in the town of Elak, the sub-divisional headquarter of Oku in Bui Division of the Northwest Region of Cameroon.

General No Pity’s is said to have been aggrieved that the local population had been going about their commercial and other activities on Mondays, defying the instruction that Mondays be observed as lockdown days.

The militant leader is said to have threatened the masses that he would set their business on fire to teach the civilians a lesson for defying the lockdown directive.

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DHPI reports that after setting the market square and many vehicles in flames, the about 80 members of ARF proceeded to the Mayor’s residence and the Municipal Council Building and set their properties ablaze too.

The leadership of the peace entity of SACBC says, in reference to the August 23 attacks, “This act comes up just a few days after the Governor of the Northwest Region declared that major roads in the region that were blocked by the ARFs had been reopened and urged the population to commence using these roads.”

The DHPI officials observe that government officials in the town, together with the military, have led the locals to disregard the injunction on all Mondays across the conflict-hit area of the country to be observed as a lockdown.

“Millions have been lost by those whose shops, goods and vehicles were consumed by the fire,” the officials say, and add, “In an economy that has already been hugely affected by the crisis, the measures used by the government will not yield any fruits, but will rather continue to impact the locals negatively.”

DHPI has been closely monitoring the situation in the conflict hit part of Cameroon for about two years now.

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In an interview with ACI Africa in April, Fr. Godlove said that the work of the peace entity is to “meticulously record and report human rights violations in the country.”

The institute is also working to rouse the international community into action to work in bringing about an end to the conflict in the Central African nation.