Cameroon elections to take place amid fears of violence in Anglophone crisis
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Parliamentary and municipal elections are slated to take place in Cameroon on February 9th, amid fears of violence in the restive English speaking territories where separatists have been battling government forces for the past three years to create a separate state called 'Ambazonia'.
Local residents in English-speaking Bamenda have told RFI that as the election day draws nearer, they fear for their lives, as separatists have vowed to disrupt the polls.
The armed groups have also promised to kill those who show interest in the elections.
"I have a voter’s card. I’ve been voting since the days of Ahidjo [First president of Cameroon from 1960 to 1982] up till now," a retired teacher in her late 60s tells RFI, as she sits in a local palm wine bar with a glass of wine in her hand.
For security reasons she asked me to conceal her identity. She says she would have actually loved to vote again, but with the current sociopolitical climate, she's scared.
"If things were fine, I would have gone out, but with the current situation that we are in, I cannot go out to vote. If I go out, I could be killed by the Amba Boys or by the military, she says, referring to the name separatists commonly call themselves.
Last month, Yaounde deployed an additional 700 gendarmerie officers to the two restive regions in a quest to secure the polls.
Since then, local authorities have attempted to assure locals in these regions that it will be safe enough to vote.
"The crisis has not allowed the political parties to perform like they used to do. We have some of those security challenges and the security services have neglected nothing in order to solve all those problems to allow the elections go ahead on Sunday without a hitch," says Adolphe Lele Deben Tchoffo, regional governor of the Anglophone northwest.
"We are going to do our best to supply the security needed to organise the elections everywhere in the region," Deben adds.
But despite the repeated assurances, many locals here are still very wary.
"With us here in Bamenda, I don’t think there's any possibility of any election taking place because there's no security in the first place," says a 45-year old man, furious.
"The government, they pretend as if there's security when the governors, politicians move in their armoured cars but they don't care about the masses" he adds.
Separatists earlier in January issued a statement imposing a one week 'lockdown' in the Anglophone regions as a way of thwarting the electoral exercise.
"On these days, anyone seen anywhere outside in our towns and villages in 'Ambazonia' would be considered an enemy and would treated as such," according to the separatist statement.
Most of the major streets of most cities and towns in these areas are deserted as a result of the 'lockdown’, which took effect from February 6. Neither cars nor motorcycles are circulating, and government offices, markets, schools and motor parks have all been shut.
Despite repeated calls from local officials for inhabitants in these regions to carry on as normal within the 'lockdown' period, locals say they believe going out will mean putting their own lives on the line.
Sunday’s parliamentary polls needed a lot of grass root mobilisation, but since campaigns kicked off, most of the candidates have been unable to campaign in their respective constituencies due to numerous threats from separatists.
"I can't go to my village in Njikwa now. I thought things would normalize before the elections, but these " boys" call and threaten my life every time," a municipal elections candidate tells RFI.
In addition, access to many communities has been blocked and many of these areas are deserted.
Since campaigning started on 25 January, most candidates from the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party have been absent from the field in most communities in the Anglophone regions, the movement's stronghold.
Separatists had asked the party to boycott the polls and throw its weight behind the Anglophone minority community in their struggle for more autonomy, but the party has declared its intention to take part in the polls.
There have been a number of increasing attacks against SDF candidates since then.
Many had been kidnapped, others have seen their homes and businesses torched.
A number of candidates have resigned and others have fled to safer areas.
The party's national chairman and other party members blame some Anglophone members of the CPDM ruling party as being sponsors of the attacks in order to scare the SDF party's candidates from the field during campaigning.
In 2019, some opposition political movements announced that they were boycotting the elections citing various reasons including the ongoing crisis in the English-speaking regions.
The Cameroon Renaissance movement (MRC), led by Maurice Kamto, a runner-up in the 2018 presidential polls, is one party sitting out this election. Kamto had claimed his presidential victory was stolen.
"Firstly, the persistence of the civil war in the northwest and southwest regions” were why we decided to boycott, “and secondly, the refusal of the power to consensually revise the electoral system before any new elections," says Kamto.
"Holding elections in our country in the current conditions is giving a terrible message to the English-speaking populations of the northwest and southwest that they are not Cameroonians," he adds.
Candidates from 86-year old president Paul Biya's ruling CPDM party have been trying to skirt the separatist ban by organising indoor campaign events in some communities of these restive regions under very tight security.
Though these members of the movement have always claimed things were under control in these regions for campaigning and elections to effectively take place, they move around in armoured cars and heavy military convoys during the campaign period.
Voters across the country are going to the polls on Sunday to elect 180 parliamentarians and hundreds of municipal councilors for a five-year term.
But most ordinary people in the English speaking regions who spoke to RFI say the politicians have always failed to deliver and so they do not see any future in the country through the ballot box.
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