Violence in Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis is taking an excessive civilian toll.
Experts warn that Cameroon is sliding to a ‘fragile state’ status, as the show of lethal force between Anglophone separatists and state forces is more and more affecting civilians.
Worsening violence in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions is taking a heavy toll on civilians, with renewed assaults towards schools and the increasing use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by separatists and extrajudicial killings by state forces.
Both parties have been working hard to outsmart each other in carrying our atrocities.
On Saturday, November 27, 2021, a military commander killed a 13-year-old schoolboy in Gom village, Nwa Subdivision in Donga Mantung Division.
Njaprim Gifort was killed by soldiers who were in search of his father. The soldiers had stormed the home of the boy situated in a popular quarter called Nchack in search of an Amba fighter who happened to be his father.
Unable to meet their target, they are said to have engaged in a heated argument with the boy’s mother over the whereabouts of her husband. They resorted to pouring their frustration on 13-year-old Njaprim Gifort.
In only few weeks, state forces killed a schoolgirl in Buea and another in Bamenda.
These assaults are the contemporary escalation of a five-year struggle among government forces and armed separatists which has displaced greater than 700,000 civilians and compelled some other 63,800 to flee the country into Nigeria.
As the state forces kill soft targets, they have also been unable to protect schools from attacks by armed separatists.
Last week, another macabre attack killed four students and a teacher in Government Bilingual High School, GBHS, Ekondo Titi. That was happening two weeks after another school attack at a lecture hall of the University of Buea, left some students injured.
Yet, another appalling incident had earlier taken place, last year, at the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy Fiango, in Kumba, South West region.
Schools, like places of worship and medical facilities, should remain safe even in wartime. Such diabolic assaults have generally had strong condemnations, both from home and abroad.
Government officials, in addition to condemnations, usually attribute the devilish killings to separatist fighters whom they love to refer to as “terrorists”.
Separatists, for their part, often attribute the violence to government security and defence forces. By doing so, they always claim that government commits such atrocities to give them a bad image to the international community.
Most often, government has, like in other crimes, ordered for investigations whose credibility are usually questioned by international observers on grounds that it should have been independent judicial investigators to conduct such probes.
Whatever the case, it is the responsibility and duty of the government to protect institutions of leaning and medical facilities.
Unfortunately, what happens most of the time is that government rushes to attribute blame even before the investigations are conducted.
When gunmen opened fire on students in Kumba on October 24, the Senior Divisional Officer, SDO for Meme division, Chamberlin Ntou’ou Ndong, had said the school was unknown.
“Some fighters went to Fiango and attacked innocent students. Four were killed, and others seriously wounded. Let me seize this opportunity not only to condemn what has happened, but to tell them that we are going to do our best to shoot them down. Let them run, we are behind them,” Ntou’ou Ndong had said.
He added that: “I cannot understand that during the day, separatist fighters are attacking innocent children.
The surrounding population witnesses without doing anything. That is why I have given instructions for them to all be arrested”.
In order to pre-empt further attacks in schools, Ntou’ou Ndong called on “all the schools operating in Kumba to declare their activities, because the forces of law and order have to be aware, if not, it will be difficult for them to secure all these schools”.
The excuse the administrator gave was that government did not know the existence of the school to provide security.
Since then, government schools in particular that are still timidly operating in the North West and South
West regions, have some security officials posted in their campuses.
The University of Buea is known to have security operatives to keep students safe due to satanic threats by some separatist groups that are using school boycott as a weapon of war.
Parents of the Ekondo-Titi school that was attacked last week, confirmed the institution is usually guarded by security operatives. But on the fateful day, there are reports that there were no security guards on duty.
The Divisional Officer, DO for Ekondo Titi, Timothee Aboloa, said the attackers used explosive devices and guns on innocent students. In addition to the three students and teachers killed, the attackers injured some students who were rushed to hospital for urgent medical attention.
Two of those seriously wounded were transferred to the Limbe Regional Hospital, while four others were being attended to at the Ekondo-Titi District hospital.
The situation created some panic across the town, but the DO, in a statement, called on parents to be calm as the forces of law and order were already doing everything possible to bring the situation under control.
Timothee Aboloa insisted that parents should not feel discouraged by the situation, adding that high-security measures will be put in place to protect schools operating in the area.
Messages of compassion and condemnation of the barbaric incident came from the European Union in a tweet that condemned the violence perpetrated against schools and civilians. The European Union said justice for the victims was necessary in order to ensure lasting peace in the North West and South West regions.
Beyond justice however, there is the urgent need for government to take the blame for attacks in schools.
How can explosives be planted in a classroom in a school guarded by defence and security forces whose professionalism is often praised by the government at every turn and twist? Are security officials not supposed to scan classrooms and lecture halls to ensure that they are safe before students are allowed in, given the insecurity situation? Considering that both sides often trade accusations when attacks are carried out in schools, why should the government not create independent commissions like it did in the case of the Ngarbuh massacre?
Even then, that will not be a permanent solution to end the atrocities that have been observed in churches, hospitals and schools. The permanent solution is to end the war. But if government continues with its argument of force to “neutralise” the separatists, it should not shirk away from the responsibility to provide security for citizens and school children.
*Towards a ‘fragile state’*
Once considered a beacon of stability in Central Africa, Cameroon is now facing three protracted humanitarian crises.
In addition to the Anglophone conflict, Cameroon is struggling to respond to an influx of more than 200,000 refugees to its East, Adamawa, and Northern regions from neighbouring Central African Republic.
In the Far North region, there has been a spike in attacks carried out by Boko Haram. The United States, a main defence partner to Cameroon, has reduced its funding for military assistance due to continuing human rights violations in the country for the past two years.
The International Crisis Group has also documented “rising ethno-political tensions” after controversial 2018 presidential elections pitted ethnic Bulus, to which long-running President Paul Biya belongs, and the closely related Beti people against the Bamileke people, to which Biya’s main opposer, Maurice Kamto, belongs.
“The state of fragility of Cameroon as a state has grown exponentially for five years,” Fomunyoh said. “I don’t see an easy outlet in the short-to-medium term unless a political settlement is arrived at soon.”