Until four years ago, Cameroon was portrayed to the outside world as an island of peace, a nation on the move. “Peace, work, fatherland” displayed boldly at the top of her coat of arm where peace stands for the peace in Cameroon.
But the term “peace” seems to be a thorn in the flesh of her government.
An average Cameroonian with an open mind and humility can concur to the fact that there is no peace in Cameroon whereas the government preaches “a one and indivisible Cameroon” but practices segregation and war, preaches liberty but withdraws democratic rights from its citizen.
The right to a peaceful protest is inevitable in any democratic nation but in a country where peaceful protest is disgust to those in power indicates a dictatorial government not open to criticism. Petitioning government is critical to peace and development in any society.
Over the years, peaceful protests by well-meaning Cameroonians to express their distress have not gone down well with the government, in most occasions, resulting to violent confrontation by security forces.
Back tracking to October 2016, the government’s response to a peaceful protest (sit-down strike) initiated by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) in the two Anglophone regions violated human rights.
Like a lion ready to devour its prey, the “forces of law and order” brutally attacked unarmed protesters leading to massive arrest of more than 100 activists. Six were reported dead. These barbaric acts orchestrated by government’s security forces brought to lime light THE ANGLOPHONE PROBLEM which had earlier been in silent existence.
The government unwillingness to accept a role for opposition parties contradicts the attributes of a democratic nation, as it claims to be.
On January 26th, 2019, a nationwide peaceful protest called by the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon’s (MRC) leader, Professor Maurice Kamto to contest alleged mass irregularities during the electoral process was met with excessive use of force, brutality, massive arrest by security forces, including the leader.
One year on, the announcement of a nationwide peaceful protest by Professor Maurice Kamto against the holding of a regional election without the resolution of the armed conflict in Anglophone Cameroon and modification of the electoral code, sent government into panic.
The resilient Maurice Kamto of the MRC and Kah Walla of CPP were to spear-head these protests in Yaoundé and Douala respectively on September 22nd, 2020.
This date marked the 3rd anniversary of the Anglophones’ peaceful protest for independence which changed the cause of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. Maurice Kamto has sought to draw inspiration from the Anglophone act of defiance. The government tried to use the Covid-19 and anti-terrorism law of the constitution to crack-down on peaceful protest and human rights of Cameroonians.
Citizens however trooped out in mass numbers like a swarm of bees both nationally and in the diaspora to exercise their civic right of peaceful protest despite government’s effort to foil the exercise. Douala took the center stage, recording a massive turnout.
“We are Cameroonians, we have our rights, democracy is not achieved through war” were the words of Bafang youths to government troops as they forcefully disperse them.
Unsure of what to do to avert the protest in its entirety, the unrepentant nature of the government took its toll by deploying troops to strategic areas nationally, to arrest and physically assault members of the M.R.C and C.P.P parties, concerned citizens who participated in the exercise. Ndokoti, Bepanda, Bonaberi, all in Douala recorded massive arrests and police brutality on protesters.
An old “enemy” of the state, the press, wasn’t exempted from the government’s stiff resistance as journalists were arrested on the line of duty. This once again, showed government’s antics to suffocate independent media.
Key actors in this drama, including Maurice Kamto and Edith Kah Walla were placed under house arrest in Yaoundé and Douala respectively, denying them their constitutional rights as Cameroonians. Over 500 protesters were arrested and tortured by security forces when dragged into their net. Several protesters were killed according to the Secretary General of the M.R.C party, Mr Ndong Christopher.
These grievant violations of constitutional rights and preposterous actions by the government are a clear indication of intent to encapsulate the truth, in the pretense that all is well, whereas it’s vice-versa. The liberty to express feelings of repugnance in the face of uncertainties is an inevitable civic right and should never be violated.
Journalists are not exempted from this assertion. We have the same first amendment rights as everyone else, which generally means that we all have the right to be free from government interference when we speak, cover stories or publish.
Let citizens march, let them express themselves, it is an inherent part of democratic process. Peaceful protest is a powerful force for change in any democratic society, therefore, the right for individuals and organizations to practice them is inevitable.
A peaceful protest is not a crime.
By SIMON NGHWASOH’ MBENO NGUTY, student on internship.