Elections in restive Cameroon overshadowed by Anglophone crisis
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At least two people were killed on Monday in southwest Cameroon in a suspected attack by security forces. It's the latest round of violence to hit the restive Anglophone regions before presidential elections on 7th of October. Separatists have vowed to disrupt the campaign but the government insists polls will go ahead peacefully.
Photos of the victims lying face down covered in blood, went viral on social media Monday, triggering an avalanche of criticism against Cameroonian authorities.
The two men were reportedly shot in Buea, in the southwest Anglophone region by security forces on patrol, according to eye witnesses.
"So far, 126 villages have been burnt in Southern Cameroon, 126 by the military," Asaah Victor Akwinga, Secretary General of the Ambazonian International Policy Commission (AIPAC), an NGO based in Germany and Switzerland told RFI.
"Some of the houses that were burnt in these villages were burnt with human beings inside, old people, women," he continues.
Attacks between separatist groups and security forces have killed over 400 civilians this year alone according to International Crisis Group, while rights group Amnesty International accuses the military of terrorizing English speakers in the country."Just last Friday, a friend of mine was killed," says Akwinga. "He was a teacher and the soldiers stopped him and executed him arbitrarliy. That is what is happening every day."
What began as a complaint by a few teachers and lawyers over the dominance of the French language in schools and courts, has today escalated into a crisis that has sparked fears of civil war and thrown into doubt the certainty of holding elections in Cameroon's restive Anglophone regions.
The escalating conflict has prompted an exodus of people - including voters.
Businesses were at a standstill on Monday, as was the electoral campaign, despite its official launch on 22 September.
“Even if the population wanted to take part and choose someone who recognizes the restoration of independence, there's a lot of fear," says Franklin Sone Bayen, Chief Editor of the magazine MediaPeople in Buea, the historical capital of the former British southern Cameroon.
Voting a risk
"Taking part could invite retribution or some form of violence from the armed groups that are banning the campaigns in the English speaking parts of the country," he told RFI.
Separatists, who declared independence in 2017, have vowed to disrupt any form of political gathering or campaigning.
Their leaders last week issued a travel ban in the southwest and northwest Anglophone regions, that they dubb Ambazonia, to prevent people from going out to vote.
Yet for the government, the campaign is taking place in an environment that is "fair and calm," says Jacques Fame Ndongo, Cameroon's Education minister.
"The unrest has been caused by a nationalist movement, a few activists who claim they're separatists but in reality they're nothing more than bandits, because they're destroying, stealing, raping and killing," he told RFI.
"Globally the situation is under control, and Cameroonians who are old enough will vote in the southwest and northwest regions."
Nine candidates are in the running, including incumbent President Paul Biya, in power since 1982.
For some observers, his government's neglect may have contributed to aggravating the Anglophone crisis.
"The ruling party has been in power for 36 years," says Bayen. "Twenty two years ago it modified the constitution and adopted what they called a decentralization, which would give certain powers to the regions, but it has been unable to implement that for 22 years."
The government in March created a ministry of decentralization to devolve some of its powers from Yaoundé to other regions as a way of calming the unrest.
Other candidates have also come up with solutions on how to solve the Anglophone question.
Cameroon still standing
Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front, the main opposition party, has promised to resolve the matter within a hundred days if he were to be elected, by reviving the country's federal system that was scrapped in 1972, while another frontrunner: Maurice Kamto of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement is calling for a referendum to determine what English-speaking Cameroonians really want.
The crisis has forced some 160,000 people to flee their homes in Cameroon according to the United Nations, with more than 20,000 in Nigeria, and it has dampened economic growth.
"For us, there is no crisis because Cameroon is still standing, it's advancing rapidly," insists Cameroon's Education minister Ndongo.
"President Paul Biya is in the process of resolving the problem: this so-called Anglophone question," he says.
October 7 may be too soon to achieve that. Observers predict that the polls will at least provide a litmus test for Cameroon's readiness or not for a bigger vote on secession.