Market women head for graveyard in protest

*Anu Alice & Yemele Sarah

Most of the downturn in business is blamed on the current Anglophone crisis. Business has slowed down considerably, especially in the two affected regions. Both sellers and buyers are hard hit. They are crying, protesting in some cases.

 People visit the market to buy in bulk only if there are rumours of an impending lockdown. This is what a “buyam sellam” said of it:

 “Business is not moving at all. If I tell you that business is okay then I lie. Look at my onions; before I would have sold all this, but now look at it standing here. I have even sold a bit today because of the news of the lockdown, so people are forced to buy and stock and even as they buy, some keep it and it will still get bad because the lockdown can be cancelled within the process.

“Before the crisis erupted, I could sell 50 bags of groundnuts in one week. But now, I am most likely to sell the same amount for more than a month because those who use to buy 1/4 basin of groundnuts and come back after one week to buy another now come only after one month. This has also affected those I buy from in Douala because they also complain of bad market. But I thank God for the one I have sold today.”

Not only is the unfortunate issue of “bad market” disturbing the people, that of breaking sheds in the name of building stores without considering those who cannot afford to build them. Some market women show their grievances like Mama Queen Njobui Pauline who said that many people have applied to build. And she wonders what will happen to the traders who are selling on spots that have been sold off.

 “Like me, where I am here, I know is that they have sold it out to people who have money. They are the ones who bought it. Like I who was here, I had my shed here they have removed me and I’m outside and if they want to talk about those who started this market… We had to fight that they should let us sell here. But we have lost out, because those who have money have bought the place. And those who now own the place have asked us to leave; I don’t know what to do now.”

 “Does that mean you will not sell again,” we asked her?

“We could go and sell in front of the market but the council keeps sending us away. But I can say we are the ones who started this market just the few of us who started this market, just a few of us will march to the DOs office, to the chief because mothers were crying that they do not have money because if you have your FCFA 600 to walk and go to the central market it is expensive because they have moved the market to central market so this bakweri women cry to no avail. “We first got angry and went to the graveyard at Buea town. We also went to Likoko to the burial ground then we said no! And they saw it as we sat at the burial ground, crying out our hearts. Our business elsewhere had started functioning; then they brought us here that we should be selling inside the OIC market and we started growing in business. They came again and shared places for us to be selling on. We paid money and they gave us receipts. After that as those who have money saw that the market is functioning well, they have come now that they want to build the whole market and that is what they are saying.

“They have scattered all this line round and they have given us notice to leave this place and we are just sitting here because we do not have any other place to be selling in the market.” Asked why she doesn’t show her receipt to them as proof that they have the right to operate from that spot, she said, “all of us have receipts that they gave us to sell here. We had sheds here. See, I have scattered my shed here like five times. Today they will say leave, tomorrow they will say build. All of us here we have scattered and built this shed and we are tired.

“But we are saying that now that they have given this line out, they should look for a place and give us to ‘manage’ but they have said nothing. The thing is if they fight and occupy all the market with all these houses, people selling foodstuffs will run away from the market; they won’t have a place to sell and they will run away from the market. This is exactly what happened in Buea town market. Buea town market was booming, houses were not there but now that they have occupied it with stores, people ran away from the market.

“Even those who have the shops also suffered because people are no longer entering the market. As they are building here, people will also run away from this market. If it gets worse here, I will park out and I won’t sell here again because we have cried that they should give us another place since they have removed us from here and they have said nothing. ”

Other than this, others also express some remorse for the action of the council. Like certain Sarah says: “the council keeps sending us away from here and some days they will let us sell here like today. But they are confusing us like they will also ask us not to sell here but if they see us selling, they will give us tickets and later on they will send us away. As they want to build the market I will stop selling here. I will go and sell in front of my house. I will not pay a ticket and at times they will come and scatter my tomatoes and I face the loss.”

The OIC market in Buea has become a scene of confusion. Because it practically encroaches into the main boulevard of the town, overcrowding here on market days poses a serious social problem. Avoidable accidents during which lives have been lost especially from recklessly driven army personnel carriers are recorded on a regular basis. With no parking lot for taxis and other automobiles, “buyam sellams” suffer to get their goods into the market or car park. A certain “buyam sellam” by name Stephan noted:

 “We can’t enter the market with a car because everywhere is choked up. Others selling have refused and if you have something to put in the market with a car, you either come early in the morning or in the evening when the market has closed. What type of thing is this! But we pay tickets every market day. The other day the council seized my wheelbarrow of mesh for displaying by the road because I don’t have a place to put it in the market.”

Visitors to this market are very victims of municipal police who routinely block their cars against a FCFA official fine or a lesser amount as bribe. With no clear cut demarcation or indication of where one is free to park, the council policy is seen by many as a deliberate trap to attract revenue for it or bribes for its lurking corrupt officials.

UB JOURNALISM STUDENT ON INTERNSHIP

Killing fields expand, economy goes into summersault

Slightly more than a month ago talks of Swiss authorities opting to mediate between the government of Cameroon and separatists seeking an independent nation of Ambazonia made news headlines. Teeming victims of the war were more than expectant. The hope was that the shooting war that has been on for three years could possibly end. That hope has practically faded away even as we write, with new tensions rising. More blood continues to be spilled, while properties and villages are razed to the ground.

There is bickering in the camp of the Diaspora separatist propagators. Bandits have infiltrated the ranks of separatist fighters and are wreaking quite some havoc. As reported elsewhere in this edition, gendarmes and soldiers are dropping their weapons and fleeing. According to Barrister Eta Besong Jr, former President of the Cameroon Bar Association, many soldiers are currently being prosecuted in military tribunals for “dropping their weapons and running away in time of peace…” Other information posted online is to the effect that soldiers from a particular ethnic group are grumbling and threatening because they are singled out and sent to the war front to face ubiquitous deadly militias.

But all of this notwithstanding, the economy has clearly gone under, with erstwhile thriving businessmen practically melting under its scotching heat. In short, they are said to be between the hammer and the anvil, the hammer being government authorities and the anvil separatist interests. On the one hand, government is suspicious of some entrepreneurs of English speaking expression funding the separatist venture and on the other, separatists are coercing, even blackmailing them to fund the “liberation war” or face ugly consequences. The story is told of a certain “Commander Ebube” who scammed millions of francs from a Director of one of the bilingual pilot centres dotted in all 10 regions of the country. It did not stop there. Not only was such monies extorted from the man who was at the time lying sick in a hospital bed. But he was also compelled to supply the militia with a motorcycle as “your own contribution to the struggle.” Today, the impoverished man who recently retired from the public service is cursing, while publishing one open letter after the other to the faceless “Commander Ebube.”

The man who has since disappeared from public view is now writing from exile. He is said to have run into trouble with creditors who raised the cash for his ransom. But if separatists blackmail and collect cash from those they consider as affluent, government has as a silent policy to “nip the Anglophone dissent in its teenage bud.” Quoting a top security official, a Buea based lawyer told this newspaper that the regime is not very concerned with elderly dissidents as they would soon peter out. Rather they are very disturbed by vibrant youth who have a potential to upset the political applecart. “The top security operative told me that the strategy is to subdue by all means, fair and foul, all those still bubbling with youthfulness and exuberance; that they are the potential boat rockers and our brief is to deal with them summarily…”

However, Anglophone entrepreneurs, whether young or old, are systematically frustrated out of business. Most of them who do carry out direct government contracts have been systematically asphyxiated, economically speaking. Their bills are either not paid up or they are denied new contracts outright. Alternatively, they are penciled down and physically eliminated.

The story is still being told of a certain Felix Ngang who was murdered at his home early in 2018 in the dead of night. Ngang, like many of his friends was a prosperous businessman, having made his wealth mostly from government contracts. There are many versions of why and who murdered him. One such version states that Ngang’s friend and fellow businessman, Martin Ndenge Che reportedly got a hint from a top security contact in Yaounde advising that he and Ngang should immediately go into hiding because their names were on the regime’s hit list. Che passed on the tip to his friend and advised that they go underground. But that apparently protective of his sprawling business empire and banking on his connections with people in the corridors of power Ngang didn’t take heed and was slaughtered like chicken on the night following.

Yet another version has it that hit men were hired by some of Ngang’s disgruntled relations to do him in. This particular version was even posted on social media by one of Ngang’s daughters studying abroad. She points a direct accusing finger at the late dad’s one time female acquaintance who would have taken advantage of the politico-social chaos in the country to take her dad’s life and unduly benefit from his massive estates.

Whatever the case, Ndenge Che on the other hand let go his own business empire which like many others in Anglophone Cameroon is today lying in ruins. We are told that while at least one of Che’s children, by name Lum Ndenge Che is marooned abroad, unable to continue with her education on account of her benefactor parents’ awful plight, she at least, still has hopes of one day returning to reunite with those parents. Not so for Ngang who lost his life, whose kids are languishing abroad, unable to pay for tuition and whose business empire crumbled following his assassination. By the way, Ngang, Ndenge and others were highly suspected of using what was perceived as their business might to fund the current Ambazonia insurrection. Those who rule the roost, it was bandied about would not be invariably sponsoring traitors. “those who use what we offer them almost for free to backstab us.”

In a separate case, a multi-billionaire who made his wealth from selling imported frozen fish also recently made big headlines in the local media after strong regime interests openly tagged him with carrying out illicit business transactions, evading taxes and funding terrorist activities. This man from the Western region took the bull by the horns, threatened to sue certain individuals and the government to court. But even though the issue seems to have died a natural death, the tycoon’s fortunes have, from the look if things dwindled and he is said to be treading very carefully, just in case familiar unorthodox methods are applied to contain him.

Meanwhile security goons have adopted a subtle, nay, disturbing and clearly illegal methods of getting at regime opponents. They simply abduct close relations of dissidents, hold them in distressful conditions and incommunicado. Such is the case with the 80 year old mother and junior sister of Anu Chris, the US based Secretary of Communications of the “Republic of Ambazonia.” Chris’s family reportedly moved the mother and sister from the insecurity of their village in Anglophone Cameroon to the relative safety of Yaounde. But about a month ago, they were picked up and as we write, they are said to be still the unwilling guests of security operatives.

All in all, hundreds of thousands on both sides of the political divide have been forced into the army of the unemployed. It is worse off in English speaking Cameroon who have seen thousands of her youths either summarily killed or thrown into jail, in most cases without charge. Of course, there are also those thousands whose kiosks and sheds that used to serve as work places have been destroyed in the name of fighting dissidence.      

War In Northwest/Southwest: Soldiers as ‘friendly enemies’

*By Ngam Kellikaina, Carine Enanga, Agnes Tarh, Mariegolder Metuge, Colette Ebwe & Samantha Erica

They are in two distinct camps currently operating in the Northwest and Southwest regions; those whose constitutional duty is to defend the territorial integrity of the state and the ragtag separatist fighters claiming that they have as mission to restore the Ambazonian statehood. Both classes also lay claim to “fighting in the interest of the ordinary citizen.” But what one sees on the ground are unpredictable people in arms, whose actions change like the colours of a chameleon.

This moment they are cuddling a baby and assuring women in distress for television cameras. And the next moment they are either burning down villages or killing unarmed citizens including women and babies. The separatist fighters on the other hand would come out from the shrubs to avenge the burning of villages and other chattels by regular soldiers. But then, at the blink of an eye, the same freedom fighters would have kidnapped hapless citizens for ransom or chopped off the fingers of a CDC worker out to earn his keep.

In such scenarios, those that the both camps purport to protect suffer like the proverbial grass after two elephants would have used it as a fighting arena. Such scenarios have become pretty regular and are better captured when regular soldiers go on the rampage, burning villages and shooting at anything that moves.

Some of them disclosed when interviewed that they often do this out of sheer frustration; frustration at what they say is the populations’ lack of assistance in wiping out the amba boys for peace to be restored. One who spoke on condition of anonymity said most civilian populations in Northwest and Southwest habitats know the amba boys and effectively host and protect them from being apprehended or neutralized, but that they are reluctant to vouchsafe useful information to soldiers, giving the impression that all Anglophones are cast in the separatist mould.

Still, another said they shoot, killing at random because at one minute a soldier could be living, smoking a cigarette and chatting and at the very next minute he would be dead meat in a body bag, having been taken out by a ubiquitous amba prowler. So, he said, “to preserve ourselves and also stay alive to eventually raise families, we shoot at random and in anger, because you never can tell who the enemy is or which civilian will betray you to amba boys…”

“It is either we kill or be killed, so we opt for killing,” he told us. Asked why they very often spray bullets at residential areas in pitch darkness his reply was: “…we have to stay safe; we have to frighten off the prowling ambas whom I must confess understand the local terrain more than we do and catch some sleep as well. After all, we are also human beings before being soldiers. Soldiers too need sleep.” He noted that when they have to exhibit the humanitarian part of the soldier in them, they are quick to do so, if only to solicit the cooperation of local populations.

Despite the accusations of human rights violations often rained on regular soldiers by separatist interests, their own fighters are not better. Several times they have killed government soldiers and had them beheaded. They are known to kidnap men and women alike. They are known to rape the women that they kidnap and put ransoms on the males including clergymen.

They hamper movement of goods and property; they impose ghost towns, thereby crippling the economy and destroying social life. They have so far made life pretty unlivable even for those they purport to be rescuing from the pangs of neocolonialism when they block vehicular traffic on highways and set automobiles ablaze, including those carrying relief materials to needy IDPs. Yet, on the positive side the amba militias have been basically protecting desperate civilian populations from the angst and brutality of military men some of who sometimes look down on Anglophone populations as sub human and expendable.

A lady told us of how amba boys kept them in their safety between Kumba and Mutengene for three days at no charge. She said the military were out to exterminate them and do away with their merchandise but for the timely intervention of the amba boys who ferried them to the safety of their camp in the bush. Another also talked of how amba boys often help in preventing the military form looting; how they would help them evacuate military killing zones in Ekona and effectively head carry their household property away to safety.

Certain denizens of Buea complain that soldiers in mufti have been on and about, spying on people, searching their mobile phones and generally denying them the right to free speech and thought. They often mingle in bars and off licenses, provoke touchy discussions and end up arresting people against big bribes or detention and torture.

Local administrators, some of them elected by the people are also known to use the military to intimidate and torture people of their constituents. This is typical of Buea, where the army participates in either sealing private business enterprises or breaking them open at the instance of a ghost town fighting mayor. Again, in some circumstances, educational facilities have been commandeered and converted to military camps where hideous human rights violations are carried out. It is also an open secret that school premises are highly militarized at the instance of overzealous administrators, giving vent to possible crossfire incidents between the said military and amba boys.

It has been noted by many that the idea of pupils and students studying under heavy militarized conditions is most likely to be counterproductive. A parent who asked not to be equated what he called studying under guns to muslims being basically enrolled and taught at Christian institutions, compelled to attend daily church services. Such pupils or students, he noted, are most likely to be converted into a faith against their wish, he noted.

Another Kumba based educationist thought there was a “negative likelihood” of children invariably enrolling in the army just by sharing most of their time with prowling soldiers. One who said his son was badly influenced by military men guarding Sacred Heart College Bamenda noted that the child has since adopted a violent approach to addressing issues, “because he saw too much of the military on campus and adopted their harsh manner of approaching problems.”

      Going down the lane, statistics now show that the citizens are now scared whenever they hear of the military around. Others say they hate them. “I hate the presence of the military because they almost killed me when I went out with some friends to play at Bakweri town field,” says a worker at a car wash in Buea. They are not here to protect us but rather to scare us away, even kill us.”

Another source said she sometimes forced to give them money, “even when I have all my identification papers on me and have committed no offence.” A man who owns a “parifoot” machine talked of how his customers are scared immediately they spot the military from a distance or around his business place, and how this has brought about a big fall in his business.

         Also, the crisis affecting everyone has made it worse as this military men now break into private homes where they steal and harass people, despite the fact  they have Identity  cards as a proof of their nationality as honest Cameroonians, a Buea based lady told The Rambler. We have several instances with that of taxi drivers as they share their experiences concerning them and the military. A taxi driver gave his experience on how he had to “settle several controls” on the way even when he was yet to earn anything for the day. Another incident occurred on Sunday, July 28, 2019, wherein a taxi driver was struggling to dodge a military control post and in the process one of the soldiers shot at the taxi, the bullet hitting one of his female passengers.

       A good number of military personnel sent to restore peace in the restive English speaking regions have been spotted buying condoms meant for unusual “shooting assignments.” Others yet, rape women and young girls outright.

Commercial Bikers Victims of patriotism, hunger & militia interests

The ticking clock does not wait for any one making minutes gone to be irretrievable. This can be seen in the speed with which one year has elapsed since a municipal edict pushed bike riders within the Buea Municipality into confusion. Relying on the excuse that these youths were or could become accomplices to crimes perpetrated by separatist militias, the maverick head of the municipality sometime in September 2018, banned the movement of commercial motorcycles within his jurisdiction.

The effect of the otherwise salutary decision on the bikers and the population at large has been variegated. There is the beneficiary population that has been induced into avoidable drudgery on the one hand and the bikers themselves on the other. This, in any case does not preclude the municipality itself that was beneficiary to council taxes paid by these bikers, most of whom were strugglers. Nevertheless, no matter the angle from which it is viewed, one thing is certain. And this is the fact that many of these disenfranchised riders have swelled the ranks of gangsters and bandits that now pass off for separatist militias.

Bike riding despite its negative impact like accidents and endangering denizens’ lives and road users, equally serves as a plus to the economy of Cameroon, rendering help and going a long way to solve many problems. Small wonder, President Paul Biya in one of his end of year speeches singled out commercial bikers for praise. He told them they were contributing wonderfully to the economy of the nation and gave them his thumbs up. But these commercial bikes are no longer seen plying some designated streets of Buea.

This decision is a result of the socio-political crisis which started since 2016 with no shadows of solutions looming over it. Many supported this act by the local administration but today, tears are inevitable in the eyes of such denizens.

While scores of biking youth are roaming all over, providing the proverbial workshop for idle minds, denizens are invariably feeling the bitter pinch of the ban. With no operational, let alone functional mass transit system on Cameroonian roads in general and Buea in particular; with the dirt roads that criss-cross Cameroonian municipalities, making it practically impossible for taxicabs to access neighboughoods, commuters have been the worse hit. With the sheer lack of access roads in Buea, women are forced to convey their market shopping by head load, drenched often by heavy rains or sweat induced by scotching heat.

Neighboughoods like Sand Pit, Small Soppo, Tole, Bomaka, Muea, to name but these had hundreds of bikers eking out a living and facilitating transportation in the process. Today, it is no longer the case, with these teeming youths either fooling around or giving meaning to the militias which the commercial biking ban sought to avoid in the first place.  

That aside, quite a good number of these bike riders, who hitherto solely relied on this line of commerce to cater for their daily needs and those of their dependents, are presently experiencing pretty devastating effects like the inability to pay health, other utility bills and handling sundry challenges. It has been a sharp fall in fortunes according to many of the victims. Plus, tontines (njangis) which used to go a long way to boost their investments have more or less been laid to rest.

An affected biker who would not want to be identified for obvious reasons, captured the precarious situation thus: “I can’t meet up with my house rents, electricity bills and the funding of my children’s bills and doing my manly duties in my house and because my only means of survival has been rooted off.”

Wisdom is a Buea based university student who depended on part time commercial biking for his fees and other academic requirements and needs. He told us: “I cannot meet up with my transportation, handouts   and a good phone to carry out my school work since my bills are on me.” He is just one, out of many other students that are self sponsored, that ride their way to university degrees and post varsity employment.

Come to think of it, the banning of commercial bike riding has not only affected bike riders, but has also plagued the activities of petty businesses (buyam- sellams) who are forced to trek long distances with their luggage, sometimes in very bad weather. The interdiction on commercial bike riding has also rendered most elderly people helpless, as they complain, they have to walk long distances through bad roads which is taunting to their health. That notwithstanding, cart pushers are in a sense, the direct beneficiaries of “disenfranchised” bikers. They may be fewer in number, cheaper and slower. Yet, the make up for part of the economic deficit left by the banned biking industry.

Despite the unbearable effects, hardships and slipping into criminal gangs by some banned commercial bike riders, it is worth noting that many of them managed to stay honest. They have resorted to menial jobs like cart pushing, hawking, “dog cooking business” tomato farming and, wait for this… grave digging! Grave digging by the way has come into the fray on account of the young men, women and children slaughtered indiscriminately on a daily basis by government soldiers drafted to fight an insurgency that has been going on for the past three years. Otherwise, a good number affected people including young girls whose bike riding parents have been put out of work now indulge in illegal activities such as prostitution and pick-pocketing. Many others have simply slipped into separatist fighters’ ranks.

Despite the hue and cry, in spite of the apparent boomerang effects of the ban, little or nothing has been done by the banning to assuage or at the very best provide a soothing alternative to the blanket ban. Wisdom adds, “the Buea council after banning our means of livelihood has not helped the situation but instead, they send the police to go after us when we try going out to work even in the neighbourhoods”

A varsity don, Professor Yenshu Emmanuel Vubo holds that commercial bike riders can still ply the streets if they are matriculated by the council for easy identification, plus, they should also show good faith.

“Although this action by the Buea authorities has its negative sides, it has equally resulted to some positive outcomes such as a reduction of the rate of road accidents and road traffics,” he noted.

According to him, many of them engage in this bike business because they do not pay taxes, but there are other businesses that they can engage in that are tax free, like tomato farming, coffee farming and others. “If the government says this activity should not take place it means they should look for other activities,” he stated.

However, some commercial bike riders we contacted have sworn to still ply the streets despite the deadly threats of being gunned down by ubiquitous security operatives now parading the town.

But then, being the corrupt prone society that Cameroon is, a handful of “privileged” commercial bikers are still seen plying Buea municipal streets unperturbed. These few have “spoken” the familiar language of bribery, understood even by those that have orders to shoot riding defaulters on sight.*

Dialogue prescribed as option to ghost towns, destroying business premises

By *Sengue Carine, Takie Esther,

Nicole Cecile, Ambia Lilian, Anu Alice

Pauline Enanga, Aderline Bokengo & Ekongwe Catherine

Denizens of Buea who are often caught in between amba boys threats and the mayor’s sledgehammer have been suggesting that the town’s chief magistrate should gun for dialogue and negotiation with warring parties instead of brute force. The consensus opinion is that this approach would serve every interest, including that of the state which is losing billions in prosecuting a war against separatists.

Most people The Rambler approached thought that the town’s economy in particular would be saved if the mayor adopts a talking as opposed to a breaking approach to ending ghost towns in Buea municipality.

Meanwhile, following the mayor’s current in sealing and breaking spree, certain business operators, despite the fear of the unknown sneak to their shops if only to forestall huge losses they would incur when their shops are sealed or broken by Mayor Ekema. These businessmen insist that there are several options or remedies that the mayor could adopt rather than sealing or breaking their business premises.

A shop owner we interviewed expressed his dissatisfaction with the whole trend, adding that “what the mayor is doing is for his parochial benefit and not for the shop owners.” He suggested that the mayor should meet the shop owners and the separatists for negotiations. He noted; “when a shop is being burnt and destroyed, it is the shop owner who suffers, since he will have to rebuild the landlord’s building.”

 The shop owner suggested prayers as a better remedy to these ghost towns and the Anglophone crisis. He said though the mayor wants the town and businesses to be functional and operational on Mondays, people most likely not to open their shops because there is a big problem in the country. “Added to that, shop owners pay a certain amount after the shops have been sealed,” he bemoaned.

Another interviewee made mention of the fact that, he at first felt bad about not working on Mondays, but noted that he is now used to “ghost towns” and has no problem with the phenomenon. He also mentioned that sealing of shops on Mondays and leaving it sealed for a month has no effect on him because, he has adapted to and now considers it as a continuation of the multiple lockdowns.  

This businessman said that he prefers his shop sealed because it will be open after a month than it being burnt by separatist fighters or broken by the mayor. The only time he would open on Mondays will be against an undertaking from the mayor stating that he (mayor) will be responsible if anything untoward happens to them.

According to a salesgirl at a restaurant, she works on Mondays due to instructions from her boss. Though not all workers and menus are available because food items cannot be purchased on Mondays since markets are not operational, they use the food stocks available to serve those few customers who come on Mondays. She suggested that, the authorities that be, should see into how they can ameliorate the situation by calling for a dialogue.

In a nutshell, these businessmen and women would want the authorities to drop all forms of hostilities and engage in a comprehensive dialogue.

*UB JOURNALISM STUDENTS ON INTERNSHIP

War rages on, famine looms in NW/SW regions

 The ominous signs of a famine in the Northwest and Southwest war prone regions are now there for all to see. Television propaganda by regime lackeys and other position seekers purporting to donate food to starving internally displaced people now constitutes the staple of the news. Elsewhere, truckloads of imported food items are routinely shared by government interests to IDPs against loud and vulgar propaganda. International organizations like the Red Cross and ‘Doctors Without Borders’ have already pitched their camps in the two regions and can be seen distributing relief material that includes imported food items.

The snag in all of this is that big time farmers in the two regions whose harvests practically fed the rest of the nation are today stretching begging bowls, soliciting food handouts. They too are collateral victims of a senseless war. In effect, many of them are homeless, their homesteads and villages having been razed to the ground by military goons out to deal with separatist fighters. They live in the bushes, and even if they still carry out farming activities there, transporting their harvest to the townships for sale is cumbersome, practically impossible. They are hemmed in between regular soldiers and ragtag militias called Amba boys, executing a separatist agenda.

As it stands, pundits are already predicting that if urgent steps are not taken to end the war, the famine that once befell countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria and Sierra Leone would be replicated in the Northwest and Southwest regions in particular and Cameroon in general.

Both parties in the war of attrition are intransigent. The government is hell bent on crushing what Mr. Biya describes as an end product of extremism, perpetrated by secessionists, while the separatists are angered by what they see as nearly 60 years of Anglophone subjugation. Both parties don’t appear to consider the human toll being taken by the intransigence, insisting only on fighting to the finish. Billions of tax payers’ money is injected into the war project by the regime even as the country bleeds economically. A giant agro-industry like the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, has gone under. So has PAMOL Plantations that employs about 30,000 Cameroonians between them. Yet, the regime is not blinking, as long as there is something still to be found in other accounts to nourish the costly war.

And so Cameroon being a predominantly agric economy is, to say the very least headed for ultimate doom as a corporate entity. The CDC rubber, banana and oil palm plantation sectors are comatose, losing billions of  francs CFA monthly. What with some 20,000 workers either unemployed or underemployed on account of the shooting war.

Thousands of both commercial and peasant farmers, who depend solely on food crops for home consumption and commercial purposes, have been caught in the crossfire. They are seriously complaining about the insecurity that looms all over the two territories and which prevents them carrying out their farming. The marauding Amba boys have commandeered farmlands in which they have set up camps. Livestock farming is not left out. While Amba boys are at it stealing from ranches, military goons are in the townships stealing livestock like pigs, goats and chickens. Not to talk of crops like plantains and yams. The more innovative of the affected farmers have resorted to other subsistent activities. But they find it difficult to adapt or the activities are simply non-productive and sometimes risky to carry out.

A peasant farmer who spoke to us anonymously noted: “I have been farming since 1997, and solely depend on vegetables cultivation for commercial purposes and home consumption. I have been facing some difficulties like; inadequate fertilizer, bad farm to market roads and climate change for 22years. But the outbreak of the crisis has created fear and brought starvation to my entire household.”

Another peasant farmer aged 52, who produces cassava, corn, cocoyams and plantains in Lysoka village said that, this activity has been a source of livelihood to her and her family. She was however sad that the crisis has reduced the rate of cultivation and harvest of more crops, although she still bears the risk of venturing to the farm. She noted that, whenever she encounters separatist fighters, she negotiates with them, in order to have access to her farm.

“In the course of harvesting and taking the products to Muea  market, it gets  rotten due to lack of vendors as many potential buyers  fear for their lives given the frequent crossfire between the separatists and the military,” she stated.

Apart from the farmers who experience this unveiling negative effects of the crisis, consumers are bitterly complaining of increase in food prices, inadequate foodstuff in the market and the spiraling effect on other goods and services.

It should be recalled that not only the agricultural sector has been hard hit by the needless war. The brewing industry that hitherto provided direct and indirect jobs for tens of thousands of English speaking Cameroonians has also been very negatively affected. Not only are restive separatists preventing the sale of products produced by some brewing industries which they have targeted. Cases have been recorded of the criminal targeting of trailers loaded with such products being sadistically set on fire. Not to talk of robbing millions of consumers the right to beverages of their choice.

The unsung pangs of ‘ghost towns’

By Achaleke Ashley*

From a seemingly inoffensive offshoot of a minor protest by lawyers and teachers ghost town phenomena have morphed to a credo in the two Anglophone regions with well-articulated rituals attached to non-adherence.The advent of the socio-political crisis in October 2016 in the Anglophone regions midwifed ghost town in December 2016, as a weapon to induce government compliance to conjuring up solutions to Anglophone recriminations against marginalization. A brainchild of the separatist fringe of disgruntled Anglophones the weapon has been diligently implemented even as the Cameroonian authorities initially denied the existence of an “Anglophone problem.” It was declared by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium that Mondays should be ‘Operation Ghost Town.’

During these ghost towns citizens are expected to stay at home, shops and businesses are not to open and if one is spotted open by the separatist on a Ghost Town day, it is rumored that they follow that individual up and warn him or her or instantly do away with her/his life or burn down the store. And this was highly respected at the start. All schools, from nurseries to universities remain closed on this day for fear of being attacked or torched. This shut down was so as to force the government to abide by the demands of the Anglophone community. This act has led to countless loss of lives and injuries on civilians.

So far this is not the first time President Paul Biya is faced with non-functioning towns. This ghost town is a tactic that dates back to the early 1990s. As far back as 1991 a series of pro-democracy demonstrations ended with bloodshed after clashes between students, other youths and security forces. The opposition responded to the shooting and killing demonstrators by employing Operation Ghost Town. This crisis is deadlocked but the government and separatists are sticking to irreconcilable positions. Each believes in their own greedy so called authority. Both sides are not ready to explore compromise solutions. The security forces acted like snails but by mid 2018, they inflicted heavy casualties on the separatists. There have been several attempts on dialogue between both sides but neither the government nor the separatists are ready to make things right or come to a compromise.

Though Ghost Town is highly respected by the Anglophone regions, taxes are paid normally by store owners or business owners regardless of if they respect the Ghost Town or not. A store owner says no matter how they try to avoid problems it seems it cannot be avoided because if one respects Ghost Town the Mayor breaks open their locks or shutters, or better still adds another “municipal” lock. They face a lot of difficulties too from the separatists who could burn down one’s store for opening.This is rather confusing for them as they fear persecution on both sides.

They say if you want to know the effect of being citizens in this country dare you not pay tax then and only then can you know that the Cameroon government does not take anything as serious as the tax citizens pay. Taxes had been increased from last year. According to some store owners they now pay above what was previously expected from them. Some tax collectors walk around and ask for petty offerings to keep in their pocket but at the end it is not recorded that they had paid tax therefore double crossing them.

 Some business owners complained of being regular tax payers but their shops which are their property are forced open on Ghost Town days by a marauding Buea mayor which to them, amounts to invasion of privacy or sheer municipal insanity. Those stores belong to them and whatever they choose to do is to their detriment. As long as they pay their taxes, they maintain, they should be allowed to open or close as they wish. Howbeit, the ghost town affects them in a lot of ways. They are made to stay at home doing nothing. Though to some it is an advantage to others it may not be same case as they seem to lose a lot on such days with massive decreases in their turnover. They don’t open on Ghost Town days to ensure customers purchase from them so they have enough for their family and to take care of personal needs.

Some stay at home and work which is to be done at the office is postponed to the following day causing piled up work and the stress added on individuals has a massive negativity because at first many businesses functioned daily from Mondays to Saturdays but now they are forced to start from Tuesday to Saturday which is a decrease in their budget. Also, pressure from government and separatists are issues they are sometimes unable to handle as every authority wants the citizens to respect their orders.

      This crisis headache is becoming unbecoming and as time goes on, more days are placed for Ghost Town making some businesses to collapse under inconsistent trends. A workable ghost town calendar has been suggested by economic pragmatists if only to avoid such inconveniences as are faced when they are abruptly “decreed.”

As one industrialist put it, “the Ghost Town phenomenon especially in Buea is a serious difficulty that needs to be addressed by an authority more astute and level-headed that what from all indications is a psychotic case of a municipal authorities that is in the habit of leading drugged thugs to hack open private business enterprises, leaving same to the mercy of separatist hoodlums.

*Siantou journalism student on internship

Erratic mayor grounds business in Buea

Lawlessness is certainly not the preserve of notorious criminals or jailbirds. This assertion has recently been ascribed credence by Buea Mayor Ekema Patrick Esunge, who has decided that the wrath from his inability to wrestle Ambazonian separatists to a standstill on the issue of suffocating ghost-towns, has to fall on businessmen and cab drivers.

To the extent that indiscriminate shutting down of business premises and seizure of driving licenses and vehicle documents from township taxi drivers as a means to force them defy ghost town edicts has become customary, highly placed government functionaries and masters of the law have begun trading legal punches in regard to the desirability or otherwise for Mayor Ekema to unilaterally seal business premises without regard to governing statutes.

Pundits aver that his malignant display of insensitivity to the plight of the residents of Buea municipality infringes onSection 19 sub A of the Cameroon penal code, which gives only the court powers to hand down such decisions and eventual enforcement.

Mayor Ekema on his part holds fast to his draconian measures, claiming to be politically correct, in a bid to battle with the ghost of intransigence.

According to Chief Barrister Eta Besong Jr., who broke the seal placed on the doors of his chambers, the actions of the mayor are illegal, untenable and bad. “The first thing we have to find out is whether what is being done is in accordance with the law, or it is in violation of the law. I believe what is going on now, is in total violation of the law. The constitution says that everybody has inalienable and sacred rights, and if these rights are violated and swept under the carpet, you don’t expect the people to say Amen! Draconian measures have never solved any problem in the world. Draconian measures create only resistance,” he noted.

 He further explains that, “the constitution says no person may be compelled to do what the law does not prescribe, the same constitution says no person may be punished except by virtue of a law enacted and published, again the constitution says no person shall be harassed on grounds of his beliefs,” he stated in a local television programme.

In accordance with the law, if a business operator believes that it is not in his interest to open on Mondays, you cannot punish him, otherwise you would be going against the constitution. He explained that “leadership is abiding by the rules and regulations of a country. There is a distinction between what the mayor says and what a municipality says. The mayor is not the municipality; municipal decisions are taken during council sessions and must be forwarded to the supervisory authorities for a visa.”

What the mayor is doing is both criminally liable and civilly liable because he is acting in contravention of the laws. You cannot be legally wrong and say you are politically correct. Is closure of establishments and impounding of taxis a solution?

“I am asking the Mayor to read section 19 sub A of the penal code, which talks about the closure of establishments. That is an accessory penalty, it says that, that measure cannot be taken except by a decision of a court and it is only enforceable by a court decision. The mayor has no court decision and is acting outside of the law. The mayor has to be told enough is enough and end this wild goose chase that would never lead to legality.”

Monday morning saw Bonduma to Great Soppo sealed, while cab drivers flocked to the Buea council, demanding the release of some 200 taxis confiscated the previous night by council thugs, aided by security forces at the behest of the Mayor. According to field reports, they were offered bribes and other cajolements like gallons of petrol, to work on Mondays. These drivers stood their grounds saying, they would only operate on Mondays if there is maximum security and if passengers would be available, which was very uncertain.

Tuesday saw council thugs and heavily armed policemen, picking up some business owners and sealing their shops, on grounds that, they did not operate on Monday. Sealing continued from Checkpoint down to the Total gas filling station in Molyko. It is also important to note that, some business operators along the major highway revealed that, some of them squeeze in some money into the hands of the thugs, before their businesses can be spared from sealing.

This reporter carried a tour and met many of these business people, who described the mayor’s actions as inhuman, because of the fact that, even people’s makeshift businesses along the road side, were sadistically destroyed. All of them revealed that, they cannot operate on Mondays because of a high the level of insecurity, which some of them noted even the military cannot give them assurance.

In recent times, many business premises have been burnt down by unidentified men for operating on Mondays, taxis set on fire, businessmen and cab drivers threatened.

Nathaly Mojoko,  a makeshift business owner along the roadside says “the mayor walks with the world’s security, which even follow him to his house and guard him 24\7. What about poor people like us? My brother who works with the CDC is almost useless now after his hands were chopped off by separatists. I would only operate on Mondays if only I see the mayor walking alone on Mondays. I cannot be deceived, my life is more important,”she ended.

By Atembeh Ngewung Lordfred

Taxi drivers will work on Mondays if security is assured

Taxi drivers have recently been caught in the web of Separatist fighters (their cars burnt) and Government officials (taxis impounded) whether or not they ply the road on Monday. It is in this light that taxi drivers in Buea have reaffirmed their decision to work on Mondays only if their security would be guaranteed. They jointly spoke recently during a meeting decrying the fact that taxi drivers have been placed at the centre of political issues in the country.

Akwe Edwin, President of the National Syndicate of Taxi Drivers in Cameroon, SYNTACAM, said he decided to invite drivers and hold a discussion with them because of the prevailing insecurity and dicey political situation in the country.

After a brief deliberation, they resolved that they are willing to work on Mondays but that due to insecurity, their operation doing so could become very risky. They, however, appealed that the administration should do something as far as peace is concerned in the country.

“I think that there is no one who loves the country more than another. We are all Cameroonians and we believe that if we have to play our role, it is to support whoever stands for peace so that peace should reign in the country, especially in the two English speaking Regions,” Akwe noted.

He said the message is that taxi drivers need peace. “We are appealing to the Government to do something about this problem. It is not really easy because when we talk of insecurity, it is not possible to leave our homes when we are not sure of our security. He stood on the fact that most administrators are moving with the military or police guards, while they (drivers) don’t have a guaranteed security but are expected to ply the road on a risky day like Monday.

“They have burnt so many cars in Buea and last time we had a meeting with the mayor, I personally asked a question to the mayor on what the council has done to support those drivers whose vehicles were burnt because they worked on Monday, but no concrete answer was given. If there is peace and security, I think everyone will resume their duty.”

Samuel Molombe, another branch President of S/N SYNCHTACAM stated that he was very impressed about the meeting after a series of crisis recently which really affected township drivers. “As Presidents of the various taxi drivers’ syndicates we are not politicians but out to defend our drivers to fight for their problems. We are praying that God tempers justice with mercy. Our drivers should be allowed as far as the crisis is concerned” he implored. Molombe prayed that God should step in and touch the leaders of Cameroon, so that they should go deep into the problem so that this issue should be resolved emphasizing on the much needed peace and dialogue.

“Drivers are saying that they should stop using them because they are not politicians and which that message has to flow” he indicated. On whether they will be working on Mondays, he said security is the best, for without security, he has nothing else to say. He added that he was just the president and drivers have their proprietors, so the decision has to come from drivers and their proprietors.

Denis Musumbe, an elected President of Buea SYNCHTACAM also held that ‘Ghost town’ wasn’t spearheaded by taxi drivers syndicates but that it appears the blame is being placed on them or they are being put at the centre of the crisis. As a president, he recounted that he has been a victim of the burning of taxis which till date he hasn’t a car with which he could go out and work. “Even though our security may be guaranteed when we work on Mondays,” Musumbe stated, the problem is that those burning cars don’t burn taxis during the day but at night and in some cases, even kill drivers.

Another driver who spoke to The Rambler revealed that, on a certain ‘ghost town’ Monday while he was working, he came across a BIR official who asked him where he was going and whether he wasn’t scared of his life. This, according to the driver reveals that even if they work on Monday, their security cannot not be guaranteed because if a military personnel could say such to him, it means they themselves know the risk on the ground and are not ready to protect drivers.

Many of the drivers who attended the meeting, noted that a meeting was held at the council during which the Mayor emphasized that taxis that don’t work on Mondays will not be impounded but if those who did not work on Monday decide to do so from Tuesday and beyond, then a penalty shall be slammed on them.

This according to the drivers will rather intensify the ‘ghost towns’ because if all drivers receive a penalty for working on Tuesday and not Monday, then they will continue the ‘ghost town’ by not working at all.

By Relindise Ebune

Poverty, insecurity, lawlessness crippling Cameroon

The biting poverty currently being experienced in Cameroon in general and the two English speaking Regions in particular is without doubt an offshoot of the regime’s decision to go to war instead of parleying. Following this war project is palpable insecurity, lawlessness and impunity across the board.

The average English speaking Cameroonian is caught in the web of a rag tag army of separatists. They restrict the freedom to attend school, do business and move freely. They kidnap and extort ransoms and sometimes kill their victims outright. They have ghost towns imposed on the territory with most key sources of the people’s livelihood destroyed. On the other hand, local administrators, especially in Buea have gone haywire, criminally sealing private business premises. They are finishing off what is left of an economy already in a coma.

Security operatives have, unfortunately, also adopted the bad sadism of brutalizing, putting people through lots of psychological and physical stress by randomly torturing, looting, killing and extorting from a people that are barely surviving, not living.

Even as a swashbuckling mayor of Buea is making the rounds, forcing people from their homes on ‘ghost town’ days, on the frivolous basis of the town having been “secured” the rag tag separatist fighters are still wreaking havoc. Two lawyers, Messrs, Wilfred Shribe and Ndetan Victor were kidnapped in Buea last week. Shribe wrote on social media shortly after he was released days later:

“I was abducted at about 2 pm from my home last Wednesday at Mile 16 just after I returned from the office and was and was heading to a funeral. They were four armed men and three of them were younger than my son who will be 23 in March.

“I was taken to their base, tortured both physically and mentally. I also paid some ransom. My phone seized but my sim card was given back to me. I was released on Friday and I got home at exactly 2pm same time that I was taken from my home.

“My family and I want to thank FAKLA and the entire Bar for the prayers and whatever assistance you made towards my release…”

Barrister Ndetan Victor is still being held by his captors nearly a week after he was abducted. Meanwhile the mayor’s thugs were yesterday, Monday and aided by security operatives intimidating individual businessmen to open their doors for business. On Sunday, they were afield, commandeering taxicabs and locking them up at the council premises. The cabs would only be released on Monday, against an undertaking that its drivers or owners must beat the ‘ghost town edict.’

On Monday however, Buea streets were still deserted. All school doors, including the University of Buea,UB, remained tightly shut. The mayor is not known to have visited private homes to, in characteristic style, forcefully take away children from their parents or have teachers report for teaching duty. He didn’t go anywhere near the university to maybe force the VC and lecturers to get into empty lecture rooms.

Elsewhere, traveling on the nation’s highways has become something of a bazaar. Passengers, especially those using commercial transport are routinely made to step down at the multiple checkpoints that litter the highways. Their national identity cards are collected by the security operatives manning what has been described as illegal toll gates and only returned against a bribe of FCFA 1,000 each.

On Sunday, January 27, a lady in her late fifties decided that she would abandon her identification document with the police at a checkpoint after Dschang in the West Region than pay the compulsory bribe of FCFA 1,000. The thieving cops held it back. And when she approached a cop wearing a higher rank at the checkpoint, to complain about what had just happened to her, the cop merely shrugged and beseeched her to “go and pay something.” That is how much impunity and a general moral turpitude taken root in Cameroon.