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