We are all refugees

There were muted protests in a local church recently, when a guest worshipper was introduced as a refugee. A resident of one of the over 60 communities which Government troops have razed to the ground, she had fled through the bushes and is sheltering with relatives in Limbe. For many in the congregation, designating her as a refugee was hard to accept.
Now, there is a paradox to this kind of reaction. On the one hand, a people for whom human solidarity is more than a religion can only find it repugnant that anybody be called a refugee, meaning homeless, as long as others have homes, or be said to starve while there is food in any house. That is why many can’t believe the insensitivity of their churches which have reduced solidarity with victims of this crisis to mere symbolism.
In some, distant dates have been set to raise a solidarity basket, whereas the need for food, clothing and medicines is dire, immediate and continuous. In the meantime the churches raise their usual collections for church building and support to the far less needy. Now, who will worship in those big churches if people are left to die in the bushes? Is the church about people or buildings?
This growing insensitivity, even in the most unexpected places, is a testament to how far the mores with which English speaking Cameroonians were raised have been polluted by contact with a culture of egocentrism and a very fuzzy sense of community – a culture where the notion of res publica is dead and buried, and individuals can loot billions from the public purse without a single compunction.
It is, perhaps, this pollution that explains the other side of the paradox; that in a city like Limbe with huge business and cultural influence from across the Mungo, many have not yet lost a wink of sleep since this crisis erupted – except when phone calls from their home villages announce new shootings and burnings.
For most inhabitants of some of these sleepy towns the whole thing feels like a distant dream. When Assad went mad and started butchering Syrians it sounded like a distant horror movie. After watching the harrowing images on TV, we could zap channels, flip the page and get on with our own lies. Today it is happening in real life and close to home. It is our own children who are being summarily executed, our old grandparents who are being burnt alive in their homes while their families take shelter in the bushes. Let’s face it – these people are refugees, be they in Nigeria, in the forests near their villages or in neighbouring towns. And wherever you live, as long as the lunatics remain on the rampage, you are a potential refugee.
Now there is a third category of actual refugees living not only in English speaking Cameroon but even in the seemingly safe and peaceful cities and countries. To be fair, this category includes Francophone Cameroonians who are revolted by what the regime is doing to their English speaking counterparts, purportedly in their name. To this category belong all those decent human beings who no longer feel at home in a world where sensible countries and the world’s most powerful institutions can afford to look the other way while lunatics are butchering people.
These are people who wonder daily where to take their children to, so that they don’t grow up with this sense of hopelessness that pervades our world. Our children are all potential refugees in a world where human life is constantly devalued by monsters in the name of leaders. No wonder they would rather perish on the high seas trying to flee a hopeless existence in what we have been trying to teach them to call home.
And do you still wonder what Boko Haram or other terrorist groups offer young people to turn them into suicide bombers? They don’t need to offer them anything. The dejection generated by the madness we call governance is more than enough to radicalise them ten times over. In the case of English speaking Cameroonians, they have been wrestling on a daily basis with demonstrations of hate from the very pit of hell.
For one thing, if you cohabit with a man-eating monster, you very soon cross the threshold of fear, because you expect to be eaten anytime. Many English speaking Cameroonians are crossing that threshold daily. Many have accepted their potential refugee status and will not be surprised anymore when it comes. Many are carrying their own coffins in their minds. They have constituted themselves as refugees in the land of the living dead.
Finally it may not be far-fetched to describe even Biya’s as a refugee regime taking refuge in power and other crude acts of terror, in the hope they could escape the spectre of retribution for the atrocities they have already visited on the people. They know that once they are stripped of the trappings of power, Karma will come knocking, and there may be no place to hide.
That may explain the jitters over the few statements the US ambassador made recently. The frenzied, unguarded, undignified and unstately ejaculations of the Minister of External Relations could be seen as a normal reaction to the sighting of a spook – the spook in this case being the prospect of their refugee cover being blown.
You can’t think of the refugee syndrome in Cameroon without recalling the massacre of the innocent in the Bible; First Pharaoh’s decision to stop the increase in the population of the Israelites by ordering the killing of all their male children. We recall that that is why baby Moses became a refugee in a basket among the bulrushes where he was found and adopted by the Pharaoh’s own daughter. Then we recall that soon after birth baby Jesus became a refugee in Egypt because Herod had ordered the killing of all boys of two years and less in Bethlehem.
They may think they have what it takes to decimate a whole generation of Cameroonians, but they must think of where they in turn will find refuge when the seeds of hate they are now sowing will sprout and bear fruit.

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