From what used to be known as a “Heaven of Peace” in the turbulent Central African region, the situation in Cameroon is gradually becoming another story of carnage and bloodshed as the world stays silent. As the massacre continues, it is fast becoming another episode of the international community failing to uphold the right to protect human beings from brutal treatment by oppressive regimes. In the meantime, the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, otherwise known as Southern Cameroons, have become the epicenter of a policy orchestrated by the pro-Francophone regime.
Thousands of military men and women, including those still undergoing training at various military facilities, have been sent to put out any uprising orchestrated by members of the Anglophone community. The policy has entailed mass arrests and arbitrary killings, which have grown to the extent where many have been reported missing for months now. It also involves the burning down of villages to the extent that some villages have been almost completely annihilated. In some cases the elderly, who are unable to run into the bushes as it is the tradition now, are being roasted alive. In the meantime, thousands have taken refuge in forests, sleeping in the open and living on wild food, while more than 50,000 people according to UNHCR, have successfully crossed into Nigeria as refugees. In some situations, even houses of priests and pastors have been burnt – like the case of the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church Kwa-Kwa (in the South West of the country) and the Roman Catholic Priest in the same area.
In one of these gruesome acts, Chiabah Samuel, popularly known as Sam Soya, was beheaded by security forces who suspected him of conniving with Anglophone separatists. Even those who have been arrested have been taken from Anglophone regions to Francophone regions further away from their families, where medical attention has been denied to them in most cases. At least an Anglophone detainee was reported dead in the Yaoundé maximum security prison in March because he was forced to leave the hospital bed to a prison cell (even against his doctor’s protest). In the ensuing development, the international community has remained very silent and very little is said about the situation on the global media, which is why the problem persists.
The Inability to Uphold the “Never Again” Campaign
The situation in the Southern Cameroons has been dragging on now for close to two years and with the passing of time, it is getting worse. From a peaceful protest by members of the Anglophone communities demanding more rights in a Francophone dominated country and government, it has mutated over time to an outright violent struggle as Anglophone groups are being born every day with the objective of facing government troops in a violent showdown. The protracted struggle has been informed by the intransigence of the government to open rooms for dialogue despite incessant calls made by Anglophone groups and even the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
In addition, the silence of the international community has paved the way for more human rights abuses to be committed. The United Nations and friendly countries have not shown enough support to the Southern Cameroons case, which is why most inhabitants in the area feel they have been abandoned. The “Never Again” campaign, which was born out of the negligence of the international community to prevent the 1994 genocide, has not been upheld, as atrocities similar to that of Rwanda are being committed daily. “Never Again” was a pledge by the international community to never allow what happened to Rwanda – or similar situations – to repeat themselves. However, the reality on the ground seems different.
It is this lack of protection and upholding of justice and the “Never Again” campaign by the international community which has pushed many to pick up arms as a last resort to defend their communities against government forces. Very little or no pressure has been brought on the government of President Biya by the international community. The UN has failed to condemn the situation and the country’s former colonial masters, including France and Britain, have more or less been very silent, treating the matter as an internal affair. In their latest communications, they have instead warned their nationals to refrain from traveling to Southern Cameroon. The United States of America, in its usual role of “police of the world,” has also not policed the Southern Cameroons’ case. The US government has, like the other governments, instead warned its nationals from taking to the volatile areas. None of these countries has pleaded for the case at any international instance, which is why it has not been mentioned at the level of the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council despite the high level of violence and brutality ongoing.
The visit of the Commonwealth Secretary General in December 2017 was seen as the eminent panacea to heal wounds. But the Right Hon Patricia Scotland came and left, and months after, nothing has been heard of the Commonwealth. Most especially, the international media has been very silent. All focus is on conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Congo DR, etc. Meanwhile, a similar situation is unfolding in Cameroon. Many villages including Guneku, Belo, Batibo, Kwakwa, Nake, Bole, Boa Bakundu, Matoh, Mufako Bekondo, Kembong, Kendem, have almost been completely razed down with fingers pointing at state security officers. Southern Cameroonian separatists groups which target only security officers have also killed tens of these men and women in uniform. While the carnage continues, the international media which serve as check and balance at the international level has not projected these images. The story of the suffering masses has not also been told and even the refugee situation in Nigeria which is appalling according to the UNHCR has also been eclipsed.
The Responsibility to Protect and the Media’s Case
The double face of the international community has once more been unveiled in the situation in Southern Cameroons. Many in Southern Cameroons have pondered aloud how a social movement in Iran, which led to the death of about 21 people, would lead to an urgent session of the UN Security Council, while a struggle lasting close to two years in an African country, with tens of deaths recorded, many missing, thousands arbitrarily arrested, civilians without arms tried in military courts, patients dragged out of hospital beds and taking to unknown destinations, villages burnt and entire communities displaced, an appalling refugee situation has not receive a similar treatment. Despite the numerous appeals in person and in writing, protest marches organized by South Cameroonians at the various international organizations especially the UN, the situation is yet to be heard at the General Assembly, or the more powerful and influential Security Council. This goes to support the thesis that “black lives do not matter” to the international community. Even the Commonwealth, which preaches the upholding of human rights as its key value is still to promote these rights in one of its member states.
The overbearing influence of France in the UN in general, and Security Council in particular, has also become a deterring factor to the hearing of the Southern Cameroons’ case. France is the former colonial master of Francophone Cameroon, and since the reunification of Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon in 1961 it has kept its gripping effect over the country, controlling its economy and resources – most of which come from Southern Cameroons or Anglophone regions.
However, for the UN to uphold its integrity which is fast dwindling, it has to uphold its famous policy of the “responsibility to protect,” which was endorsed in 2005 by all members of the UN who pledged to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It was invoked in the Libyan case in 2011. According to the UN, the responsibility to protect ensures that when a state fails to protect its own citizens who are vulnerable, the international community is empowered to take necessary actions to protect the vulnerable population. This was upheld in Resolution 1973 when the UN Security Council empowered NATO countries to stage an incursion into the country as a means of protecting the Libyan people who it was reported could no longer be protected by their government. Moreover, other related organizations including Commonwealth, La Francophonie (to which Cameroon is a member) can also uphold their own integrity by imposing their might on the situation.
The imposition of violence as a solution to the problem is a clear indication that the government of Cameroon has run out of options and needs urgent assistance. Cameroon has a serious problem unfolding in the area called Southern Cameroons (Anglophone Cameroon) where Anglophone separatists are fighting for the creation of their own state called Ambazonia Republic where they belief they would be fairly represented. This is an occasion for the international community to help the government and people of Cameroon come out of this quagmire. In the present situation where both parties have lost faith in each other, the international community could provide good offices as well as mediate in the conflict.
In the present lackluster situation pressure on the international community can only be imposed by the media power. In his book The Power of News, Michael Schudson argues that the media has a central role to play in the choices people make in politics. The power of the media in Cameroon is not underestimated as it is usually called the fourth power, meaning it can bring pressure and effectuate changes in any situation. Presently, the eclipse of the situation is such that even Francophones do not have a clear picture of the real situation in Southern Cameroons as the state media has never mentioned the story of the suffering masses and the refugees in Nigeria. Most private media houses in Cameroon have also shunned images from Southern Cameroons and rather prefer to uphold the thesis of politicians who are exploiting the situation to make gains.
The refugee crisis in Libya only received attention after CNN exposed the sale of African migrants into slavery. Immediately, countries and organizations weighed in and within months thousands of migrants were rescued and repatriated to their countries of origin. A similar media exposure of the Southern Cameroons’ case especially at the international level would also expose the real issue in context and the carnage ongoing.