By Tata Mbunwe
Ex-separatist fighters in Buea have been promised that the National Coordinator of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Centres, Francis Fai Yengo will visit them in the coming days.
The ex-combatants, for a second time, staged another strike action on March 19, during which they mounted roadblocks along the Long Street – Bokwoango road in Buea. “…he is coming along with a very important message for you, so you have to be patient and wait for him. He is coming in line with what you are saying now. He is coming with a message… the National Coordinator himself,” Secretary-General at the Southwest Governor’s Office, Dr Mohamadou, told the protesting ex-fighters during the strike on Friday.
More than 20 ex-fighters said they “are tired of being in prison” and living hopelessly at the DDR centre where most of them have been lodging for almost two years. The ex-fighters said they are ready to welcome National Coordinator, Francis Fai Yengo, but they will no longer accept promises and “will be leaving the centre with him”.
“We are angry because we have been here for too long. Some of us have children and families. Our families have been estranged from us. We have been here for too long such that our children cannot recognize us again. They address us as ‘uncle, uncle, uncle’ when we meet them,” shouted one of the ex-fighters.
They claimed they do not have National Identification Cards, despite producing them in January this year, and told they were to be ready in three weeks.
“The last time we went on strike we were told to calm down, and that Yaoundé would be visiting the next day. Yaoundé came the next day and we were given money and assured our Identification Cards were being followed up. Until now, I have not even seen my ID Card. We were told the IDs will be ready in three weeks and we will have them. But since then (2 January) nothing has happened,” an ex-fighter told administrative officials with the others chorusing in agreement. “We have fought, but we also listened to what the government has been saying (that we should drop our arms). I have been here for a year and six months. When we came, we were promised integration in six months but here we are without any future,” said one of the ex-combatants who identified himself as Frankline Njume.
Among the grievances they advanced is an underlining quest for “liberation” from the DDR centre where they think they have been imprisoned for too long. There are no identification documents to allow them to move freely. Although they have the freedom to move within the town of Buea, it however seems not enough as they need total freedom to travel and carry out other activities like any other citizen.
Why The Delay In Reintegration?
The government has been hesitating in its promise to reintegrate ex-fighters, with very little visibly done to prepare the DDR ex-fighters for reintegration.
Government has been largely silent towards the question of why there are delays in reintegrating ex-fighters in the Northwest and Southwest regions back into society. Almost three years since the creation of the DDR centres, no repentant fighter has been officially reintegrated into society, especially in the Southwest region.
While at the centre, some ex-combatants have told The Post they are idle and very little has been done to re-equip them for a life that is free from guns and bullets. DDR Centres National Coordinator, Francis Fai Yengo, had said in a press statement in August 2020 that centres were being constructed in Buea and Bamenda, and only after their constructions will the government begin training ex-combatants. “The one in Buea, they are going to start construction in the days ahead. When those centres are complete, we will train all of them (ex-fighters),” Fai Yengo said in August 2020.
Meanwhile in Bamenda, the Regional DDR Coordinator, Sixtus Gabsa, told reporters at a press conference on February 2 that DDR centre in Bamenda was equipped to handle post-traumatic disorders and ex-combatants with aggressive mindsets. He also announced a pending re-integration of the second batch of ex-combatants after having reintegrated the first batch of 32 ex-fighters.
Fai Yengo Lays Foundation For SW DDR Centre
Amid the ex-combatants’ strike in Buea, DDR National Coordinator was in Tiko Subdivision on March 20 where he laid the foundation stone for the construction of a permanent DDR centre for the Southwest region. The 25-hectare piece of land where the site will be built is found in Misselele, a border locality in Tiko Subdivision separating Southwest from Littoral Region. CRTV reports that President Paul Biya finances the construction of the centre at a cost of FCFA 1.5 billion.
A similar centre is deemed to have been constructed in Bamenda following Fai Yengo’s November 24 and 25 visits to the region, during which he stated that the “DDR multi-purpose centre would be completed in three weeks.” Construction work at the Bamenda centre, located in Bamenda II Subdivision, was 80 percent completed, with a total budget said to be FCFA 2 billion.
Is DDR For Real?
Recent events at the Centres for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration have pricked questions, one of which is whether the centres are authentic in their mission inscribed in the Presidential Decree of November 2020 which created the centres.
Although the creation of DDR centres had been a lauded as a pro-active initiative to “get the boys out of the bushes,” recent strikes and agitations by ex-fighters lodged at the Bamenda and Buea centres are dampening hopes of a realistic disarmament of more separatist fighters.
Coordinator, Fai Yengo, alongside other government officials, claimed everything was under control at the DDR centres when some repentant fighters in the Southwest, including so-called General Nambere and Yanick Kawa, voiced their dissatisfaction about the Buea DDR centre last year. In one occasion where Fai Yengo was present, Yanick Kawa Kawa openly rolled his body on the floor and cried out against poor treatment at the centre in Buea.
In August 2020, VOA correspondent in Cameroon, Moki Edwin Kindzeka, reported that the government was searching for more than 130 ex-separatist fighters who had escaped from DDR centres over poor facilities and shortage of basic needs.
Ex-fighters in Buea staged a strike action on February 1 this year crying out against poor living conditions, and the government’s delay in reintegrating them into society. Following the incident, DDR Northwest regional Coordinator, Sixtus Gabsa, claimed on February 2 that the Bamenda ex-fighters were doing fine and that information about them also going on strike was blackmail and misinformation by ill-intentioned persons.
These claims were however challenged after Bamenda ex-fighters broke lose in a strike action on February 15. They had similar grievances with their counterparts in Buea – poor living conditions, and failed government promises.