By Ntumfoyn Boh Herbert (Yindo Toh)
Washington, 9 January 2017 – Markets, offices, banks, schools, and transport agencies were closed all day Monday across towns and villages of Southern Cameroons, the two English-speaking regions of the Cameroons.
Code-named “Ghost Town Operations”, the day-long sit-in strike enjoyed such overwhelming support it foiled plans by a desperate government to reopen schools for the second term on the same day. For once, a government which specializes in bullying citizens into doing its bidding, spent considerable energy, financial resources and political capital trying, but failed – woefully!
Most participants in the ghost town were basking so much in their success by mid-afternoon that the two most recurrent questions to the umbrella organizations which called for the strike (the Consortium and MoRISC) were: “What are we doing tomorrow? What happens next?”
The Consortium replied with a statement posted on its website and shared via social media just before sunset.
It read, in part: “The Ghost Town is suspended for now, but ALL schools – from nursery school to University – remain closed till the people of West Cameroon are given satisfactory solutions to the problems of exclusion, marginalization, abuse, infrastructural development, employment, and the safeguard or guarantee of our protection by the Government”.
The Washington, DC-based and Diaspora-led MoRISC (Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons) applauded the success. It quickly reiterated its call (contained in the Roadmap for Restoration of Independence) for a repeat every Monday until Southern Cameroons is returned to self-rule on 1st October 2017.
Both the Consortium and MoRISC called on their followers to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for success achieved so far and to seek the blessings of the Heavens in the what the statement from MoRISC described the journey ahead as “still long and full of trials and tribulations”.
Unity Wins the Day
Across social media platforms, citizens of Southern Cameroons praised the success of the day on the unity shown by leaders and the people of the South West and North West as they fight, hand in glove, for justice and equal rights as a citizen of the Cameroons.
Signs that the struggle has reached a major unifying junction were evident everywhere before. Long-time leader of and self-declared president of Ambazonia, Fon Gorgji Dinka, came out of his silence and exile in neighboring Nigeria. In an audio message shared on social media like a wild savannah fire in the wind, the long-time dissident of Yaounde slammed colonialists (Britain, France, Cameroun, the United Nations, etc.) for playing games with the destiny and aspirations of the people of Ambazonia. He compared the situation in the Cameroons today to the one that prevailed before Southern Cameroonians staged a walkout from parliament in Enugu, Nigeria, in 1953. He called on Southern Cameroonian elected officials to withdraw from Parliament in Yaounde.
Ahead of Fon Gorji Dinka’s audio, another veteran of the struggle, Prof. Carlson Anyangwe, disseminated a video message “a la presidentielle” from his exile in Southern African, wishing Southern Cameroonians a year of success in the struggle for the restoration of self-rule.
Clearly less supportive of the separation of the two Cameroons, another old hand at the struggle, Dr. Simon Munzu, aired an audio Monday from Victoria (Limbe) praising the success of the sit-in strike across parts of the South West Region. He closed by hinting that it is success like today’s that should force the government into the realization that dialogue is cheaper than funding blind repression of dissenting voices.
“The population of the North West and South West Regions have spoken,” Dr. Munzu said, adding: “Their silent voice is so loud that only the deaf can fail to hear it. Hopefully, now, genuine dialogue can begin at last”.
Organizers Pledged and Delivered a Strong Show of Force
Over the weekend, organizers held several press briefings promising to demonstrate that they are more popular with the people of Southern Cameroons than the government. On Monday, they proved their case – with an exclamation mark!
Success did no come cheap. The government had left no stone unturned.
In the days leading up to and all through the weekend, the government brandished a wide array of threats at teachers, parents and students in the hope of convincing them to call off the strike. Government threatened to sack teachers; to suspend their salaries; to bring disciplinary or court action against them. Government militarized Southern Cameroons, overloading the two regions with menacing-looking soldiers and riot police at every street corner.
Well – the threats did not work. The heavy presence of security forces failed to bend the will of the people, whose problem – contrary to grossly mistaken reporting on the BBC website on Monday – is not about linguistic marginalization. Rather, it is about self-rule.
Many government ministers spent days touring the two regions – with some ministers briefly taking up residence in some of the remote villages. The rumor on social media was that the ministers brought along with them and were ready to generously “spray” truckloads of cash in bribe money in exchange for anything but a sit-in strike on Monday.
The Government’s Run of Shame
Apparently, the more the government pressed its case (if it has one), the more it collapsed on its face. A cabinet minister was silenced in Ndop for addressing the local people in French, the language of the colonial occupiers. Thousands of people in Kumbo, capital of the traditional kingdom of Nso, formed human chains around their palace on Friday, successfully fencing out Prime Minster Yang and denying him access to HRH, the Fon Mbinglo of Nso.
The Fon of the neighboring kingdom of Kom, HRH Vincent Yuh II turned down an invitation by the Lamido of Garoua, convening a meeting of the Association of Cameroonian Chiefs to adopt a pro-government stand at a conference scheduled for Friday in the capital, Yaounde. With no attendees coming from Southern Cameroons, organizers scrapped the conference.
The Chiefs of the South West Region gathered in Kumba under the leadership of Cameroon’s most senior statesman, HRH Nfon Mukete – a usually pro-government political figure – but when their meeting rose, the statement they issued was nothing short of a slap in the face of the government. The South West Chiefs sided with the five bishops of the Roman Catholic Church who, had earlier issued a scholarly memo inviting the Head of State to stop dodging the serious national problems on the table.
A late Friday evening visit by Prime Minister Yang to the palace of HRH Fon Angwafor III of Mankon, a vice president of the ruling CPDM party of President Paul Biya, apparently ended when HRH Fon Angwafor packed PM Yang out – tail between hind legs – reminding him that the people have a valid case that deserves attention and solutions, not political gimmicks.
“Fon Angwafor III blasted them (the PM and his delegation) and told them to go back and solve the people’s problem”, wrote Pa Fru Ndeh on the SCNC WhatsApp eGroup.
The announcement that a former minister, Garga Haman, had been designated to be the go-between Southern Cameroonians and President Biya was greeted with the same “hard to believe” disdain as claims from another supposed envoy, Alhadji Baba Danpullo.
One thing seemed clear before Monday: the government has given up even trying to persuade lawyers to call off a strike that has paralyzed courts in Southern Cameroons for months now.
Police Find a Way to Fire Tear Gas, Arrest Citizens
As the sun set on Monday, reports from the North West Regional capital of Bamenda noted that paramilitary forces had taken to firing tear gas, destroying property, breaking into homes, arresting and taking innocent people into detention.
“Police breaking cars in street in Bamenda. Bikers furious but must go home. No confrontations, please. Stand down”, wrote Julius Ade on social media, explaining that the trouble was unfolding in the Mile 4 neighborhood of Nkwen, Bamenda.
“Police are invading homes in Mile 16 and arresting West Cameroonians. We have massive arrests going on” read another social media report posted from Buea, capital of the South West Region.
Video posted online showed government officials (the SDO and DO accompanied by armed troops) turning up at the Old Market in the South Western town of Victoria (Limbe) and trying to force traders – almost at gunpoint – to open their businesses.
An exasperated online reader sighed: “I don’t know why the Boko Haram officers of LRC ae always inciting violence as if they smoke weed”.
Video filed on social media late into the evening from Mamfe, South West Region, showed stores still sealed shut in a town that hosted the conference which failed to convince British colonizers to provide independence as an option for Southern Cameroons.
Two images online stood out more than most. One showed a young man providing the only transportation that was available on Monday – a piggy back ride. The other made reference to the fiery speech in Parliament by Hon. Joseph Wirba in which he protested an analogy made by a minister speaking in parliament that English-speaking Cameroonians were expected to dissolve into their French-speaking compatriots like “a cube of sugar in a bowl of water”.
The picture showed two cubes of sugar marked NW-SW immersed in a bowl of water. The comment read: “The two cubes of sugar seem to be absorbing all the water in the basin”.
A defiant statement from MoRISC pointed in the direction of tings to come. It called on the government to get used to Ghost Town Mondays. “Today was only the first of the many Mondays on which MoRISC has called on our people to organize weekly sit-in strikes (on every Monday) from now until Independence Restoration Day fixed for 1st October 2017. We cannot yield an inch to the colonizer. We must not stand down. We cannot let off the pressure”.