Cameroon elections hit by violence in Anglophone regions, calm and quiet in Douala
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Counting is underway in Cameroon following presidential elections marked by violence in the country’s Anglophone regions. Gunfire rang out in the north-west city of Bamenda on Sunday with at least two suspected separatists killed by security forces, according to sources RFI spoke to. Seven opposition candidates were up against incumbent President Paul Biya who has ruled Cameroon since 1982.
“Ear-splitting gunshots from different parts of town,” said Alphonse Tebeck, RFI’s correspondent in Bamenda. “The town looks abandoned,” he added, saying it was difficult to go outside during polling day given the heavy security presence.
At least two suspected separatist fighters were killed by security forces in Bamenda, according to a police source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Around 40 per cent of polling stations were unable to open in the south west region and up to 60 per cent in the north west region, said non-governmental organisation Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa.
Separatist groups had vowed to disrupt polling in the Anglophone regions where violence has escalated over the past year. The crisis began with protests by Anglophones over perceived marginalisation by the majority Francophone majority.
A number of Anglophone leaders were arrested and many still remain behind bars, described by the Cameroonian authorities as terrorists.
The insurgency has intensified since the self-proclamation of independence for the state of Ambazonia over a year ago. Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of rights abuses.
Ambazonian groups have told people in the Anglophone regions to stay at home during the electoral period, according to correspondent Tebeck. “They announced that people should stay at home from 1 Oct until 10 Oct,” he said.
Very few Anglophone voters were seen visiting polling stations in the economic capital Douala and those who did vote were nervous about how it might be perceived.
“If another Anglophone knows that you are voting and you go back to that area, it might be a problem for you,” said one voter at the Tonji Institute polling station in the Bonaberi area, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Security measures hit Douala
Voting was calm and peaceful in Douala with no major security incidents reported. The city virtually ground to a halt with no traffic or shops open.
The government had put in place restrictions – closing the borders, ordering businesses to remain shut and restricting travel outside of urban areas or the same rural localities.
“My candidate is the president,” 30-year-old hairdresser Nicole told RFI after casting her ballot at the Ndobo Public School polling station.
“It's quiet, it's fine, except that things aren't like normal,” she added, referring to the security measures. “It annoys me because it's not easy to find something to eat, but what can we do?”
There were no long lines of voters at polling stations visited by RFI. Turnout varied with one polling having 80 per cent of voters having cast their ballot by the end of polling at 18:00 and others around 40 per cent. Some 6.5 million people were eligible to vote.
“I just voted, I voted for change,” said Ramon, a motorbike taxi driver. “We need the means to live, because we're unable to send our children to school, and that's why I voted, so this changes.”
Eight opposition candidates were on the ballot papers challenging 85-year-old President Biya. Attempts to form a grand opposition coalition to unseat Biya were unsuccessful, an initiative that many saw as the only way to bring an end to Biya’s long-standing rule.
However, opposition contender Akere Muna did strike a last minute deal to form an alliance with Maurice Kamto, agreeing to withdraw from the race and throw his support behind his opposition counterpart.
This development did not result in Muna’s ballot being withdrawn from polling stations though. Elecam, the electoral commission, announced that his ballot would remain available despite the coalition agreement. One polling station RFI visited did indeed remove the ballot, making it unavailable to voters, although most polling stations heeded Elecam’s order.
There were no major incidents related to voting, but RFI did witness several procedural problems linked to voting.
Brian Coco, a motorbike taxi driver, said he was unable to find his name on the voter list at the polling station he went to in 2011 for the last elections. He was told by electoral officials to go to the district’s town hall. They turned him away and the polling station refused to allow him to vote.
A number of voters experienced the same problem and Elecam had said a procedure would be in place to accommodate people. It was difficult to determine how widespread this issue was. Other polling stations were indeed adding relevant voters to their lists when appropriate.
At other polling stations, people had their names visibly crossed off the voter lists in front of the entrances, making public whether they had voted or not.
Polling stations at Tonji Institute in Bonaberi, #Douala marking voters off on lists. 'X' marks came to vote. 395 registered voters here. Majority seem to have voted. Disclaimer: Quick strawpoll & not necessarily representative. #Etoudi2018 #Cameroon #Cameroun #237Vote pic.twitter.com/cdEx3Qutb3Daniel Finnan (@Daniel_Finnan) October 7, 2018
One polling station had no political agents present. Agents for political parties appeared to be controlling the entrance to another polling station, checking identities against voter lists. Although this did not appear to be with any malice or under threat of violence.
The lack of considerable election observation makes it difficult to report on these individual incidents observed by RFI journalists with full confidence that they are representative across the country.
Results from individual polling stations will be compiled at various regional counting centres. The final results from the elections are expected to be announced within two weeks and proclaimed by the country’s Constitutional Council. The next president is expected to serve a seven year term.