The Anglophone part of Cameroon wants to become independent. The government of authoritarian President Paul Biya is fighting back with all its might.
No mercy for independence activists: Cameroon’s President Paul Biya Photo: reuters
October 1 is a historic day in Cameroon: In 1961, on this date, the southern part of the British Cameroon colony joined the Republic of Cameroon, which had been granted independence by France in 1960 under a regime loyal to Paris.
This year, activists in the "Southern Cameroons" had big plans: On October 1, they wanted to proclaim the region’s independence and finally break away from the authoritarian regime of Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who has ruled since 1984 and against whom they had already staged democracy protests in the 1990s.
Such agitation has been going on for months, and there have been strikes, riots, arrests and deaths. On Thursday, self-proclaimed President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe Julius confirmed the coming declaration of independence.
Cameroon’s government didn’t flinch. It closed the border with Nigeria on Friday night and imposed a curfew on the troubled region. Gatherings of more than four people are banned, public transport between towns has been suspended, and parents are urged not to let their children out of the house. Demonstrations will be followed by "a harsh response from the armed forces," according to the provincial government in charge.
Combat-starved elite units
Photos circulated on social media Saturday of freshly deployed military units camping out on the streets – including battle-hardened elite units pulled from the war against Boko Haram in the country’s far north. On Saturday, a student was shot dead during a "security operation" in the town of Kumba, a stronghold of secessionist protests.
On Sunday, strong contingents of police and army forcefully dispersed any gathering of suspected separatists in several towns. Military helicopters circled over the two largest cities, Buea and Bamenda. Demonstrators waving the blue and white flag of independent "Ambazonia" were pushed away with water cannons.
From Kumbo, a local source reported, "Gunfire everywhere. The prison is on fire." Another observer reported from Buea, "People marching, raising flags, and then the military coming in." Two people were reported killed in Bamenda. By Sunday evening, seven had been confirmed dead.
The separatists are now doing what they have done before on such occasions: leaving the cities and moving into the harder-to-control villages.