Jailed because his name resembles that of the putative state of Ambazonia, a friend to Amba Denis reveals threats are stopping family members and well-wishers from taking legal action to secure his release.
The close to four-year-long war in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions has created untold pain for many of who are not party to the armed conflict.
One of such victims is Amba Denis, a resident of Ekona in the South West region. Arrested by security forces weeks ago, he remains in custody just because his name sounds like Ambazonia, the state separatist fighters clamour for.
With the arrest coming after several threats on Denis’ life, many maintain that he is innocent. Amba Denis’ friend talks to Mimi Mefo Info about the arrest and how actions towards his release have been frustrated by mounting threats from state authority.
Q: Who is Amba Denis?
His full names are Amba Denis Chenwei and I have known him for more than eight years now because I’ve lived with him in the same neighbourhood. He is a worker with the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC in the Mongo Palms Estate in Ekona.
To the best of my knowledge, he has been working there for more than 15 years as a security agent. Given the insecurity in the town of Ekona because of the crisis, we had to run and settle in one of the CDC camps around Ekona. While in the camp, there were still frequent attacks from both the separatist fighters and the government forces. So, I still had to run again from that zone to a safer area. One day I heard the military came looking for Amba Denis as they said he often criticized their actions in the area. Then again, I heard the reason for their search on Amba Denis was because people call him “Amba” and so they were coming for him because he is an Amba. But it is a clear fact that Amba is his name which he was given at birth.
Q: Has he ever done anything enough to link him with the non-state armed group to warrant suspicion from the military?
The only thing I can say on the regard is that when the crisis started, there were some NGO’s that came into the region. One of such was the World Food Program (WFP) and Amba Denis was contacted by them as one of the persons they work with in mobilizing the locals and registering them into their food program throughout their stay in Ekona. Later after that, I heard the military went after Amba Denis for assisting the NGO in their activities. I also received some death threats from anonymous sources claiming to be military officials. That prompted me to leave Ekona for fear of my life.
Q: Do you think that Amba Denis became a target because he assisted the WFP officials in Ekona?
Yes, indeed I could say that maybe one of the reasons why they decided to arrest Amba Denis. I was told on more than one occasion that the military often went to the places where these NGOs was operating to cause chaos. I was told someone was even shot right in the presence of this international NGO. So I strongly believe it could be one of the reasons. Perhaps they thought he was providing the NGO with information.
Q: Is the WFP aware of the threats made on you?
Yes, I did tell one of them. I notified the Danish Refugee Council of the threats I was receiving and all they told me was I should be very careful.
Q: How has life been for Amba Denis’ family, i.e. his wife and kids?
About his family, Amba Denis is a single father with three children. He was married but got divorced with his wife so he is the one taking care of his three children. I found out that after his arrest, his children ran out of Ekona for fear of being the next targets by the military forces. His elder child is 18 and the other two are under 12 years of age.
Q: There have been a lot of problems getting to the family by the lawyers to probably hasten his release from detention. Why is the family that scared to talk to the media and the lawyers?
Yes indeed! I spoke with Amba Denis’ sister about talking to the lawyers and co and she told me that with the event of things and the way in which the military operates in the two Anglophone regions, she fears implicating herself by seeing a lawyer. She fears she might be killed by the military if ever they found out that she is working with legal personnel to secure his release.
Q: Finally you mentioned you fled Ekona for your own safety. Are you still in the Anglophone region or out of the Anglophone region?
I am not in the Anglophone region anymore. I had to move out of the place because I faced a lot of threats to my life. I was equally one of the persons working with the WFP. We went into bushes to register Ekona inhabitants who had fled. We moved a lot during the program and so one day while sitting in my house I received a call allegedly from the military telling me in French “Je suis un miltaire, je te connais, je vais te tuer”. That scared me so I fled.
Interviewed by Mimi Mefo