It is 6:00 Am in Bamenda, Northwest Region of Cameroon. The rays of the sun radiate from the skies and the dust is visible on rooftops in a popular road junction called Mobile, just a few meters below the steep Up-Station Hill.
A glance from a popular fuel station painted in red and white, you can see people engrossed in their normal activities.
On the long stretch that runs from the popular Mobile to another busy junction called Mile 2, vehicles are cruising bumper to bumper, with yellow cabs outnumbering the over 600 cars from a random count.
The latter, tells of a busy day here, where life is on the move. The doors of shops have already flung open ready to receive customers.
Motorbikes, a popular means of transport are meandering through the tight traffic with passengers on board heading to various destinations across the town.
That’s life in Bamenda on a normal day as the Anglophone Crisis deepens.
I have just boarded a bike on my way to work, few meters away as we rode along, we got stuck in traffic.
In total frustration Nsom Nkwain, a Motorbike Rider, sighs and mutters to my hearing
“Where are all these cars and people coming from? At times I wonder where they go to, and where these cars are parked on Ghost Town days fondly referred to as ‘Contry Sundays’.” That’s the question every Bamenda denizen will ask on a seemingly normal day when the town is busy.
Ghost Towns are days where all activities are grounded in the town. Markets and Shops are closed all day long. Township taxis are not in circulation. Stepping out on such days is like going on an uncertain adventure. The streets are usually void of people and very few personal vehicles and motorbikes circulate at a terrifying speed, as if they were chased by someone.
Cecilia Megi, Food Seller at the Nkwen Market, one of the popular markets in the town, tells me: “on such days I don’t go to the market. Even though I should have gotten money from sales, I am bound to stay home”. “Staying alive is the most important thing,” she adds.
“I used to make a daily sale of 20,000 FCFA. But since the start of the crisis, I barely make 5,000 FCFA after basking in the sun the whole day.” Though she makes 5,000 FCFA a day now, this only happens on the days where ghost towns are not imposed.
The Anglophone crisis has Pro-independence Fighters at the fore who often clash with the Government Defense Forces.
The population in this region may not be actively involved in the war that has been on for 2 years running.
However, they are at the mercy of the fighting camps.
Several citizens have died from stray bullets in regular crossfires staged by the military and the Separatist Fighters.
The impacts of the crisis are glaring. Villages, where the crossfire and gunshots were normal, have been deserted, people have been displaced to other areas where life is possible.
Augustine Jua, a Hair Designer, now an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) in Bamenda said: “I have lost everything”. Augustine before the crisis owned a barbing shop in Belo, a town in Boyo Division of the Northwest. Belo was a vibrant economic hub in Belo Subdivision. Today, it is a shadow of itself. Augustine fled the town as a business tycoon having over 20 employees.
Today, he is living in a single room in Bamenda with nothing to show for. “All I pray is that someday I can go back home if peace returns, to start all over again,” he avows.
Towards the last months of 2018, the crisis took a tailspin.
Several gubernatorial orders were signed imposing curfews from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am. These orders were later modified as the situations morphed. Blocking and gorging of roads and kidnappings were an almost everyday thing. Many prayed for such usual days to pass by soonest as they looked forward to a new year.
Everyone’s hope was that 2019 will bring some degree of calm to the two regions hard-hit by the crisis.
Unfortunately, denizens who have braved the situations and still reside in the troubled Northwest and Southwest Regions, may have to face lots of uncertain days, given that the first week of 2019 has been infested with the Ghost Towns syndrome pulling on for days as opposed to the past years when the population had to be off the streets only on Mondays.
According to the International Crisis Group, “many Anglophones still live in the bushes. Most are young men, but there are also women and the elderly, constantly being malnourished”
Local NGOs hold that while hundred are in bushes, over four hundred and fifty thousand English Speaking Cameroonians are internally displaced while close to thirty thousand are seeking refuge in neighbouring Nigeria.
The government of Cameroon has created the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism and the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission to disarm and care for fighters of armed groups, but critics have described it as another white elephant project.
By Akem Olives Nkwain
Edited by: Mimi Mefo Info