Four people are reported to have been killed as a major hospital in Kumba, a city in the Southwest region of Cameroon, was burnt down almost completely by unknown attackers in the early hours of Monday, 11 February 2019.
The fire, which started around 1:00 am, consumed the male surgical ward, the female surgical ward, and the maternity ward, as well as the nurses’ quarters and five cars. It was over the course of the incident that four patients in the surgical wards were burned alive.
According to the Cameroon Minister of Communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, the attackers were mainly from the Ambazonia separatist movements, who stormed the hospital and set it on fire. However, the Ambazonia government, which largely exists in exile, has also published a communication accusing government officials of burning down the hospital and placing the blame on the separatist fighters to win the sympathy of locals and gain international support. Currently, the international community largely opposes the government’s policy of force against dialogue.
There has been widespread condemnation of the incident around the world, especially from human rights groups, which have called the attack a “war [crime]” and have called for immediate investigations to find those responsible. Locals have also spoken out, calling the fire a barbaric attempt on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people to whom the hospital was reaching out. However, many are still wondering how the fire could have been allowed to burn for hours, consuming the greater part of the hospital’s buildings, given the fact that the firefighting brigade of the army is situated less than 5 minutes’ drive from the hospital.
Kumba is the centermost town of the Anglophone Southwest region, and with most hospitals closed or badly damaged, and medics abdicating their functions because of threats to their lives from the ongoing war, the Kumba District hospital was one of the rare surviving hospitals still operating at full capacity in the heart of the violence.
The war in Anglophone Cameroon has entirely engulfed the two English-speaking regions of the country since separatist took up arms more than a year ago. They demanded the creation of the state of Ambazonia, complaining of being marginalized in the Francophone-dominated country. Tensions began to rise in September 2016, when a peaceful strike by Lawyers and Teachers of English expression demanding for greater rights was brutally suppressed. Some were killed or jailed, while others were forced into exile. In late 2017, civilians took up arms in what they called “self-defense” of their territory, and have since called for the creation of their own separate state. The government has always responded with violence, which has led to the deaths of thousands on both sides. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and countries like the United States have accused government forces of gross human rights violations, including torture, rape, summary execution, and a scorched earth policy that has involved the burning down of more than 130 villages, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Separatist fighters have also been accused of kidnappings, demanding ransoms, and the killing of soldiers and government sympathizers.
It is not the first time medical institutions and medics have been targeted in the war. Last year a doctor and his wife, who was a nurse, were both killed in Bamenda. Another doctor was shot and wounded. Later, the ambulance of the Bamenda Regional Hospital was attacked, and a barrage of bullets left a nurse seriously wounded. This has led to the closure of many hospitals in Anglophone Cameroon. Kumba was one of the few surviving hospitals.
The United States, United Nations, and other entities have called on the Cameroonian government to negotiate with separatist fighters to end the carnage. The years of violence have led to more youths being radicalized and recruited to take up arms against the state. Recently, on the sidelines of the African Union summit, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres had a meeting with Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Joseph Dion Ngute, where he reiterated the call for dialogue as the only means to end the bloodshed. Last week, the United States government announced that it was cutting military aid to Cameroon and canceling a joint military exercise because of the army’s gross human rights violation in the Anglophone regions.