In the peaceful country of Cameroon, it was a daily routine to have citizens wake up every morning and go about their daily activities and house chores, prepare their children for school and go to their farms, business and job sites without any fear of the unknown. This was the serene lifestyle of every Cameroonian before the unexpected began; the Boko Haram attacks followed by the Anglophone crisis. What used to make headlines on the media with juicy news for relaxation soon became news of killings and torture during the Boko Haram insurgency. Killings became rampant and whole villages were burnt. Citizens lived in fear in the northern part of the country; women were raped and gunshots became a daily reality. Violence and insecurity increased and the number of refugees and internally displaced persons rose. This situation had hardly settled down when the Anglophone crisis quickly followed in the heels of Boko Haram bringing in a new surge of refugees and IDPs which is the headache of the present times.
My work in the communities before the crisis was basically to find solutions to empower communities especially the women, girls and youth living in rural communities. The Denis Miki Foundation and Efeti Ventures; alongside several local and international partners put up sustainable programs like the Rural Android Women and Girls Computer Center in Zangtembeng. We also created micro-investment projects like a Poultry Farm in Mutengene which employed widows to work there. A Piggery which had youth in Njindom working with a goal of providing livelihood programs to reduce poverty and contribute in community development. These programs like several of the other projects and programs we had in the communities were recording positive stories of change and the impact was creating waves across the national and international levels.
The Boko Haram insurgency is on the wane in the Lake Chad basin but continues to carry out attacks against civilian and military targets in the Far north region of Cameroon. More than 2,000 Cameroonians have been killed and 170,000 displaced which has triggered the rise of vigilante self-defense groups. Meanwhile, Cameroon’s English speaking regions; the North West and South West regions have experienced violent flare-ups as the central government represses dissent over the perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minorities. As an Anglophone with both parents from the two English-speaking regions I experienced a fair share of marginalization but have been able to go through it. Anglophone Cameroon makes up 20 per cent of the population and their frustrations surfaced dramatically at the end of 2016 with a series of sectoral grievances which morphed into political demands that led to strikes and riots. The strike spread very fast and the government brought in repressive measures which caused many of our students to be raped and battered. Civilians were maltreated and whole villages burnt down. To make matters worse, the internet was shut down for three months which did not help in any way. The strikes soon became general many young people were radicalized and a semi-war began when the military and non-state armed groups started killing one another. In the past movements between towns and sub-divisions could be enjoyed anytime 24/7 but today the story has changed because there is fear of the unknown looming with stray bullets actually killing people on a daily basis everywhere. Villages, cities and small towns in the Anglophone regions are continually emptying out as citizens are fleeing their communities due to increased violence and deaths recorded.
I live in one of the towns of the South West region and run several projects in different villages and towns in the Anglophone region. I have written stories of situations and seen firsthand how the Anglophone crisis has caused the near collapse of schools for two years. So many of my family members and friends have run to safety to neighbouring towns and villages hoping the crisis will soon be over. I have travelled through roads which have been shut down and have heard gun shots right behind my back. The frightful and sleepless nights I have prayed for an end to all the violence and fear staring the whole community in the face led me to join forces with other women leaders of the two affected regions. The women of the North West/South West regions have formed a coalition to make their voices heard amongst the many clamouring for dialogue and a way out of the crisis. The South West/North West Women Task Force (SNWOT) has brought together dynamic women leaders who are putting things together to find long lasting solutions that can bring back our lost peace. As SNWOT we are currently working together collectively to advocate for a cease fire and dialogue between the government and the non-state armed forces and have also participated in humanitarian outreach programs to support displaced persons within the regions.
Advocating as a grassroots women leader has also brought in threats from either side of the crisis as my team and I have been seen as taking sides with one party or the other. With increasing hate speech and social media bullying, we have been bullied through phone calls and outright calling on social media. But with the increasing challenges of the crisis and increasing sufferings of the Cameroonian people we have not stopped working but rather we have been able to mobilize more women and young girls to join us in advocating for peace while engaging directly with the top government officials and policy makers.
I miss the good peaceful times when I could just leave Limbe in the South West Region for Zangtembeng in the North West Region without thinking of anything; all I would worry about was just my bus ticket. A ticket in hand, a knapsack and I was on my way. I look forward to those beautiful carefree days of peace in my country.