By Tata Mbunwe
Some traditional rulers of Lebialem, an area marred by conflict in the South West Region of Cameroon, have made a triumphant return to their Fondoms for the first time in several years.
These traditional rulers were among dozens of traditional authorities displaced by the ongoing armed conflict in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon.
The Paramount Fon of the Lebang (Bangwa), HRH Asabaton Fontem Njifua, expressed his elation during his recent homecoming to the Azi palace for the first time since 2017.
The Fon and his royal family sought refuge in Yaoundé after Ambazonia separatist fighters burned down parts of the Azi Palace, which he inherited from his father in 2014.
“It is a feeling of joy to be here in my palace after a period of seven years. This is a step to encourage all the sons and daughters of Lebang Fondom to come back home and be able to engage in their daily activities,” said Fon Fontem Asabaton.
Several kilometers from Fontem, the Fon of Bechati, HRH Nkemtaji Jerry Jong, also surprised his people with a homecoming earlier in the week.
The village, located in the Wabane Subdivision of Lebialem, had been without a traditional authority since the Fon fled due to separatist threats.
The separatist fighters vandalized the Bechati palace and stole valuable traditional artifacts.
Fon Jerry Jong, a member of the South West House of Chiefs, was warmly received by his subjects, who expressed great joy at seeing their leader return despite the security constraints.
The Fon’s return marked a significant moment for the village, and the community celebrated with singing and dancing.
Several traditional rulers in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon have suffered attacks from separatists, who accuse them of leaning towards the central government.
Lebialem has been one of the worst hit areas in the two English-speaking Regions, with nearly all schools grounded since 2017 and a collapsed traditional and administrative rule.
In Fontem, Fon Asabaton, upon his recent return, convened a meeting with notables and elite members to strategize on revitalizing the area.
Menji, the Divisional headquarters of Lebialem, one of the six Divisions constituting Cameroon’s South West, has been deserted since 2017 as residents fled the conflict that turned the area into a battleground between the Cameroon military and armed groups fighting for independence.
Notably, Lebialem housed one of the strongest separatist groups, the “Red Dragons,” led by Oliver Lekeaka, the self-proclaimed Field Marshal of Lebialem, who was killed in July 2022.
Since the demise of “Field Marshal” and the increased military presence in Lebialem, the Division has gradually regained a sense of calm.
Fontem notables view their Fon’s homecoming as a turning point after years of conflict.
Ndi Nkemabin Mbiaoh Francis, a notable of Lebang, expressed optimism.
“God has blessed us to come and commune with our Fon. We believe that the future of Lebang is bright,” he said in an interview.
Fidelis Njukeng Zinkeng, the First Deputy Mayor of Menji, urged the population to “support all the contractors that will come to work in their area.”
While the brave homecoming by Lebialem Fons indicates an improvement in the security situation, pockets of insecurity still persist in some areas of the Division.
Some Lebialem residents told MMI they are optimistic about normalcy returning to the Division after years of conflict and destruction.