By Ntumfoyn Herbert Boh (Yindo Toh)*
Washington, 8 December 2016 – Riot police and paramilitary forces shot into crowds of protesters Thursday killing more than ten people in the town of Bamenda, the capital of the English-speaking North West Region of Cameroon and a stronghold of Cameroon’s main opposition political party, the Social Democratic Party (SDF).
Many more people are believed to have been “disappeared”.
As the sun set Thursday, video posted on social media showed troops patrolling the main streets of Bamenda on foot or in the open backs of pickup trucks – firing aimlessly into the air and sometimes towards buildings.
A dozen lorry loads of gendarmes numbering several hundreds of troops drove through the western town of Bafoussam just before darkness headed for Bamenda, according to online reports citing Canal+, a Bafoussam-based private broadcaster.
One audio recording posted on the Cameroon Online WhatsApp eGroup claimed that the troops coming from Bafoussam are trainees, well known for putting down demonstrations by employing only the worst forms of brutality and savagery. The student soldiers are currently in training at the Koutaba Military Camp based in the outskirts of Bafoussam. Their mission, according to citizen journalists online, is to raid Bamenda under the cover of darkness and perpetrate as much killing and violence to completely intimidate the protesters, and to do so at a time of day (darkness) when their acts cannot be recorded and shared via social media.
Photos and video of some of the ten victims killed in Bamenda Thursday and posted on social media suggest that several of them were executed outright or were killed execution style.
One of the horror pictures purports to show one of the victims who was allegedly arrested, stripped, tortured and a bullet fired up either his anus or his genitals, ripping through his manhood. Independent sources were quick to point out that the young man with the torn genitals was apparently involved in a motor bike accident.
Another horror picture showed a young man who was executed by a lone bullet fired into one of his nostrils.
Another picture showed eight young men arrested, stripped of their shirts and made to lie facedown on the road with riot police and gendarme officers patrolling not far away from them. Social media accounts hold that the eight were later executed while lying on the road and their bodies were carted away by their executioners, apparently also instructed to cover up for their crimes by moving the bodies away from the scene of execution.
State television confirmed the fear that the government was carting away and burying people without informing their families when its French language newscast said only two had been killed.
On one video, a group of young men who had converted a piece of plank into a stretcher are seen rushing an injured teenager to a nearby hospital. Voices in the video explain that the teenage victim was standing outside the entrance of their family home when he was shot, point blank, execution style.
Yet another video posted by one of the many citizen journalists struggling Thursday to document the executions (at great risk to themselves) showed a military pickup truck, picking up and carry away the remains of someone that had been killed and had been lying in the street just minutes before.
Cameroonian security forces and the dreaded secret or political police are known to “disappear” protesters and opponents of Mr. Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon for 34 years already. He is more likely than not to seek another eight-year term in presidential elections expected to hold in 2018.
Democracy and human rights activist, Tapang Ivo Tanku, quoted “unconfirmed reports” on social media as alleging that a police station had been burnt down by angry protesters in Bamenda after they stormed it earlier on Thursday to decry the killing of young men in Bamenda.
Video posted online showed young people outside that police station, screaming their grief and calling for justice. Pointing at the remains of another young man, shut dead and still lying in the street outside the police station, the protesters said the victim had been killed by gunfire coming from that police station. One of the protesters raised the lifeless body of the victim, leaned the upper part of the remains from waist up against his legs, and screamed into the phone camera “we want justice”.
Yet more video showed a crowd stumbling on another young man who had been executed or killed execution style. A few voices in the video identify the victim by his first name, apparently, Divine. The remains of Divine showed that his jaws had been slashed from the mouth right up to just before his ears with a knife or some other sharp object. Bullet wounds on his left leg, through the jeans trousers he was wearing and one on his face left little doubt that the victim had died of his gunshot wounds.
Born on the Wrong Side of the River Mungo, Charged with the Crime of Not Being Francophone, and Executed
The worst has happened in Bamenda, screamed a headline on the online news portal, Cameron Journal, published by a Texas-based Cameroonian-American.
Young people are being killed in Bamenda, wrote Innocent Chia, a Cameroonian journalist and blogger now based in Chicago, USA, and author of an online blog, The Chia Report.
“Many watched this morning how… police fired straight at me. God Almighty did another miracle. The bullet was diverted to my feet and only wounded both feet”, wrote Mancho Bibixy on social media.
Mancho Bibixy is the young man who has become the face of the ongoing protests in Cameroon after he brought his own coffin to the first protest march in Bamenda and stood in it to make his speech.
Mancho Bibixy told the crowd at a Bamenda town road junction – Liberty Square, made famous by the killing on that spot in 1990 of six young people who had joined demonstrations calling for the end of one party rule – that he had come to the rally ready to die and had taken the time to buy the coffin for his own funeral.
His feelings are shared by millions of people who have nicknamed the ongoing protests in Cameroon “The Coffin Revolution”.
The “sole crime” of the young people killed, wrote Mr. Chia, “is that they were born on the wrong side of the River Mungo and happen to speak English, not French”. The Mungo River serves as the borderline between English and French-speaking Cameroons.
Cameroonians based in the United States will be appealing the administration of President Barack Obama next Saturday, 10 December 2016. At a grand rally outside the White House, they will also be appealing to the U.S. Congress, the United Nations and the rest of the civilized world to help put an end to the horrors unfolding in Bamenda and across most of English-speaking parts of Cameroon.
The rally (outside the White House, holding from noon to 2pm) was scheduled before the events of Bamenda and was intended to drum up support in the United States for the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons.
Birth of MoRISC to Champion the Restoration of Independence
A federation of organizations has been freshly constituted to mobilize international support for the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons. Known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons (abbreviated MoRISC), it brings together members of leading opposition party, SDF based in the Washington, DC, Metro Area, and leaders of pro-independence, pro-democracy and pro-human rights organizations.
The movement is focused more on independence for Southern Cameroons, but the anger overflows into demands for Cameroon’s long-serving dictator, Paul Biya, to step down.
“It is time for you (Paul Biya) to pack and go”, chanted a group of Cameroonians living in France, who on Thursday staged a protest march down several blocks of streets in the French capital, Paris.
“Tell Paul Biya and his bunch of killers and criminals that they will have to account for all the innocent Southern Cameroonian lives they are destroying”, a Washington-based Cameroonian-American activist, Chrstimas Ebini, wrote Thursday on the Cameroon Online WhatsApp eGroup. “Tell him to get his forces out of Southern Cameroons”, he added.
The feeling that there is a conspiracy by French-speaking Cameroonians to hold their English-speaking citizens in a relations of black-on-black colonial domination has been strengthened by the fact that trade unions of lawyers and teachers in the French-speaking parts of the country have not shown any solidarity with their colleagues, despite the violent attacks they have suffered at the hands of security forces.
Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and Others Airlifted to Safety
Social media is overloaded with horrific pictures and videos of the tragedy unfolding in Bamenda, where earlier Thursday, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philomen Yang, several members of his government and sympathizers of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) held a rally in an attempt to show support for the present unitary state of Cameroon and opposition to the growing pro-independence movement.
According to eyewitness reports, the ruling party ferried hundreds of youngsters from neighboring French-speaking regions to attend the rally in Bamenda, after a similar attempt to stage a rally Tuesday in Buea, the former capital of British-administered Southern Cameroons until it gained independence on 1 October 1961, flopped completely. On Monday, the leader of the SDF, Ni John Fru Ndi led a monstrous demonstration in Buea, attended by several thousands to show support for independence and to protest against human rights violations against students of the University of Buea and lawyers from the English-speaking part of Cameroon who, along with teachers have been on strike to protest marginalization.
The two strikes have since shown as much sympathy for independence as do many in the ranks of the opposition SDF. At the Buea rally on Monday, one singer who tried to sing the anthem of Cameroon at the start got shouted down by thousands others: “No anthem. No anthem.”
The United Nations General Assembly voted on 21 April 1961 to grant independence to the English-speaking part of the Cameroons, then known as British Southern Cameroons. The French-speaking part of Cameroon (eight of the current ten regions of the country and accounting for 80% of the population) gained independence from France on 1 January 1960, more than a year and a half before the English-speaking part of the country.
Shortly after troops started firing into crowds of demonstrators and killing people on Thursday in Bamenda, angry mobs took to the streets, chasing after those who had come to town to show their support for Mr. Biya and the unitary state he leads. According to social media accounts, the irate crowds even targeted the Prime Minister and ministers, raising barricades on roads leading from the Ayaba Hotel in downtown Bamenda where the Prime Minister was reportedly forced to hunker down for a couple of hours before being airlifted out of the town in a military helicopter.
One of his cabinet ministers, Paul Atanga Nji, who serves as the special security adviser to President Paul Biya, was reportedly also chased after by angry protesters, some of whom reportedly attacked him physically. On one video posted on social media, showing someone arriving the Bamenda Regional Hospital in the regalia of the ruling party, a footnote claimed that Mr. Atanga Nji was hurt in one of his eyes by the angry mob.
Sources say Mr. Atanga Nji also had to airlifted into safety in a military helicopter from the Bamenda Regional Hospital after mobs reportedly burnt down his car parked outside the hospital. The protesters also lowered the Cameroonian flag on the grounds of the hospital and, in its place, raised the flag of Southern Cameroons. Two days earlier, similar flag lowering and hoisting of the Southern Cameroons flag had been reported in Kumba, in the English-speaking South West Region.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Atanga Nji, a former convict who has currently been charged with embezzling public funds by the government-created anti-corruption court, was the object of strong ridicule on social media after he claimed in an interview on state television that there was no problem of marginalization of Cameroon’s English-speaking minority (20% of the country’s 22 million inhabitants).
As Bamenda settles into an uneasy calm Thursday night, most social media postings from residents in that town repeat a message that rang through most posts in the day. By ordering executions in Bamenda Thursday, Mr. Biya has declared war on Southern Cameroons, citizen journalists kept repeating Thursday on social media.
Please, share this report with your representative in Congress, your Member of Parliament or the National Assembly, your Senators, with Media Outlets in your country, with Human Rights Organizations… and add your name to several petitions online to denounce the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the colonialist government of Cameroun against citizens of Southern Cameroons.
* The writer is a veteran Cameroonian journalist with years of pro-democracy and human rights activism under his belt who know lives in the United States.