The government of Cameroon has severely restricted the sale and purchase of machetes in the conflict-rigged Anglophone regions as the rate of machete-related killings goes on the rise. This was detailed in a communication signed by Interior Minister Atanga Nji Paul, who explained that the decision is informed by the current spike in the killing of civilians by unidentified men mostly using machetes. The Minister also restricts the sale of iron rods, which to him, are being used by Ambazonia fighters to fabricate Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), which are currently on the rise in the two Anglophone regions of North West and South West. Henceforth, for any sale and purchase of machetes and iron rods, inhabitants of these two regions must secure authorization from the District Officers.
Reactions have been coming from both people on the ground and activists based abroad. Mark Bareta is one of the most prominent Anglophone/Ambazonia activists, and immediately, the information was released took to his twitter handle to denounce it, saying the Minister is giving more opportunities to soldiers to abuse a population that largely depends on the use of machetes for both subsistence and plantation agriculture. According to Wanah Immanuel Bumakor, a specialist in conflict management, the decision has no real positive incidence on the conflict; rather, it puts the people in a difficult condition as most are farmers. Speaking to people from these two regions, most could only speak on anonymity and regretted the fact that the root causes of the conflict are not being addressed, rather stringent measures taking increasing their pain.
In the meantime, there is a growing fear that the military, which has been accused by both national and international human rights institutions as well as the United States government for gross human rights abuses, may exploit this new measure to inflict more injury on the population as the Minister’s communication clearly states that violators of the decision should be considered as “suspected terrorists” and treated as such. In an area where almost every household possesses a machete, it becomes a big challenge to regulate the purchase and sale of machetes and iron rods. Moreover, given the District Officers, the latitude in deciding who now buys and sells these valuable items may increase the rate of corruption and anarchy, which is already on the rise in these areas wherein the rule of law has severely been bent.
The recent hikes in machete-related killings inform the decision of the Minister. Within a week, two women were murdered with a video going viral graphically showing the murder of a 35-year-old woman, Comfort Tumassang, on August 11, 2020, in Muyuka, South West region of Cameroon by unidentified men bearing the hallmarks of Ambazonia fighters. Moreover, separatists have also developed IED technology, which has been used in many places, causing severe military hardship. The latest IED was used on a military convoy in Lebialem in the South West region, and separatists have claimed responsibility. Within one month, about three IEDs have also exploded in Cameroon’s political capital, Yaoundé, which many described as a separatist action far from their fief to inflict a reign of terror in the minds of the people.
There has been global condemnation of the murder of Comfort Tumassang with a statement coming from Human Rights Watch, the United States government, among others. However, no concrete conflict management measure has been taking. Various calls have been made to the international community and the United Nations to intervene and save a situation that the Norwegian Refugee Council describes as the world’s most neglected conflict. According to reports by the human rights group, more than 4000 persons have been killed and half a million displaced. However, separatists say the number is about 15,000 killed. However, with the enclave nature of the area and the inability of journalists and researchers to penetrate the conflict zone, the real number is unknown and may be higher looking at the daily killings ongoing and the fact that in most places entire villages have been deserted.
In the course of the four-year-old conflict, there has been a growing rate of murder, especially targeting civilians with their heads sometimes cut from the rest of their bodies. When caught alive either by military or separatists, most persons are severely beaten with machetes as well. This has pushed many to believe that the Anglophone crisis is gradually moving towards a genocide. Both separatists and the military are being accused of using the cruellest methods to exterminate those who are against them or do not sympathize with them. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, machetes were the main weapons used to exterminate Tutsis and Hutu moderates, a situation which is gradually becoming the norm in Anglophone Cameroon, if not unchecked. However, a sustainable measure would be to address the root causes of the conflict, which goes beyond decrees and orders banning or unbanning one thing or the other.
It should be noted that since 2016, Anglophone activists have been fighting the Cameroon military in pursuit of an independent Anglophone state call Ambazonia, claiming incidences of marginalization under French-dominated Cameroon as their main motive.