Separatist Raids, Regular Force Patrols, … The people of the English-speaking South-West conflict are caught between two fires. Guided tour in an area where everyone now lives in fear.
“We have gone from the euphoria of independence demonstrations to confusion”: in the city center of Buea, regional capital of South West Anglophone Cameroonian, this official lives fear in the stomach.
He fears the attacks of “Amba Boys”, these armed groups, scattered in the forest of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, Southwest and North-West, who took up arms at the end of 2017 to demand their independence.
They want their own state, “Ambazonia”, whose capital would be Buea. And to do this, they launch almost daily raids on the symbols of the state: gendarmerie, civil servants, public companies.
Buea is one of their favorite targets. There, gunshots are heard every week and army patrols in town are seen every day.
The official, who wants to remain anonymous, has been living in his office for five months in the administrative district of the city.
His cot is folded into a corner of the desk, next to a suitcase and two jackets on their hangers, along the wall. Not far away, a plate-thermos keeps some remains of the meal of the day before. He seems resigned.
“I spend nights in the office to avoid the journey to the house. Cookies might see that I bypass the Amba Boys’ ban on working for the government, “he says.
For several days, a video circulates between the laptops of the inhabitants of Buea, and creates terror. We can see a young thirty-year-old with a fair complexion disfigured by separatists after she admitted to being an informant of the Cameroonian army.
In Molyko, student district of Buea, a saleswoman of credit can not help but multiply onomatopoeias in front of the scene that one shows him on a portable. She does not want to comment.
“No one would dare to challenge!” Continues the official. Retaliation, on both sides, is recurrent, according to NGOs .
Faced with the degradation of the conflict, Yaoundé responded only by operating a massive deployment of security forces. Both sides are accused of abusing civilians, caught between two fires.
More than 500 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group ( ICG ). Some 500,000 people have fled their homes.
In February, about fifteen “Amba Boys” entered Buea, shooting in the air and burning cars. A decapitated head was later found on the roadway; the identity of the victim remains unknown.
“Not the same uniforms”
The separatist crisis has changed the peaceful Buea, formerly known for its calm and freshness, nestled on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. “Buea suffers,” laments a host on a popular program of a local radio.
And especially small businesses, notes a trader. These are forced to respect the dead-city days imposed by the separatists every Monday, then continuously for fifteen days, with the threat of reprisals.
“Even dogs do not go out,” says the shopkeeper. Only one choice is offered to these martyrdom populations: to leave, at the risk of losing their property on the spot.
In Limbe, a port town about twenty minutes drive from Buea, where the carcasses of burned cars litter the road, the displaced of the conflict jostle each other.
In one of the high schools of the city, we spot students from here and elsewhere: they do not have the same uniforms. “They come from the villages next door, (then) we tolerate,” said a teacher.
At the shopping crossroads of this seaside town, a saleswoman is worried about the price of food: the six mangoes are today at 1,000 CFA francs (about 1.8 euros), much more expensive than the ordinary season price. And it will increase even more “because there are few people to pick them,” she says.
When night falls on Down Beach, the pleasant bay where tourists and locals come to relax at the end of the day, braised fish continue to attract onlookers.
But for over a year now, they have been joined by incessant armor ballets of elite army units.