Royal handshake, burnt Kumbo, Shisong ‘Cardiac arrest’

 On May 29, 1971, former President Ahmadou Ahidjo was in Kumbo, capital of Bui Division of the Northwest Region.  In the course of the visit, and in total submission to royalty and the traditions of the Bui people, the then head of state approached HRH Sehm Mbinglo almost with the sacerdotal humility of someone about to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Ahidjo prostrated for the seated fon’s reluctant handshake. In a manner of speaking, the mountain had gone to Mohammed.

Bui Division in general and Kumbo in particular are in the news again, 48 years later, for gory acts of human rights violation.  Unconfirmed accounts indicate that some 750 houses have been razed to the ground, allegedly by regular soldiers fighting Ambazonia militias.  Scores of infrastructures are also said to have been torched very close to the Cardiac Centre in Shisong, next door to Kumbo. People in Shisong in particular and the proprietors and other stakeholders of the FCFA 4 billion centre are living in trepidation. They fear that whatever befell other structures might eventually consume the mega health project. Eyewitness accounts indicate that in some cases of blatant arson, people, especially the old and feeble have been burnt alive in their homes.

88 year old widow, Regina Dulase we are told, would have been history when the burning and looting initially started in November of 2018, but for a kind soldier who prevailed on his colleague to spare the old woman’s life. One of the soldiers had asked his superior in French: “Je mets le feu?” His superior asked him in return: “Tu n’a pas vu la vielle mere?” Translated: (Should I set the house on fire?” Haven’t you seen the old mother?”) However, her ancestral home wasn’t spared because the soldiers still proceeded to burn, loot and kill. Ma Regina saw her abode of over half a century set ablaze by baby soldiers whose parents were not even born when she started living in it.

She now lives with one of her children in Bamenda, having been traumatized to the extent of almost losing her mind. One of her grandchildren, Kinyuy Randolph was not so lucky. Bongaba as she fondly calls him was taken before her eyes along with other youths to God knows where. Ma Regina is still to be convinced that Bongama is still alive. She insists to everyone that visits her on palpable proof else she’ll approach any soldier in the streets and ask that Bongaba be brought back. All assurances that when the dust settles it would be safe for the arrested kids to either be released or voluntarily return from wherever they are, have so far failed to soothe the old woman.

As already hinted, Ma Regina’s ordeal may just be the tip of the iceberg. Scores of Bui families have reportedly been felled by soldiers’ bullets, some have joined the Amba separatist militias, others, still, have been arrested and incarcerated incommunicado or have been kidnapped and wiped out by bandits in “Amba” garb.

The burnings, killings, and kidnappings are definitely in the past. However, a very big worry still lingers, giving many people sleepless nights. It is the first ever cardio-surgical centre in Central and West Africa, built in Shisong near Kumbo. The centre came about, thanks to an Italian charity organization, “Associazione bambini cardiopatici nel mondo” known in English as Cardiac Children of the World. It was integrated into the Saint Elizabeth Catholic General Hospital, Shisong and was doing wonderfully well in terms of catering to certain specific health needs of patients in and out of Cameroon before the war reared its ugly head.

In a telephone conversation with the Director of the centre, Rev. Sister Mary Aldrine told The Rambler how they (managers of the facility and other stakeholders) are on their knees daily, praying that something bad shouldn’t befall the hospital. Her fears are apparently reinforced by the fact that a general hospital was burnt to ashes in Kumba, in the Southwest Region just a few months ago.

“Our old, retired Sisters who don’t have much to do spend most of their day in the Chapel, praying for God’s grace,” she said. According to Sr. Mary, access by needy patients to the centre has been greatly hindered by the ongoing war.  Only in very desperate cases do patients and their caregivers risk it to the centre. She added that occasionally when the road blocks are taken off, patients take advantage and swiftly make it to the centre for medical attention.

Meanwhile, the goals of “Cardiac Children of the World” include creating autonomous centres and providing treatment in target countries. The Cameroon project was celebrated in 2001 in collaboration with the Tertiary Franciscan Sisters and the charity organization of Cuore Fretello. The project aim is to develop capacities for the diagnosis and treatment of congenital and acquired heart diseases in Cameroon. Doctors, nurses and technicians have been trained in Italy as part of the project’s human capacity development plan.

The Shisong Cardiac Centre is said to have significantly reduced the need to evacuate cardiac patients from Cameroon to Italy since 2003. It is the only cardio-surgical centre in Central and West Africa equipped with ultra-modern technologies and prepared to offer a wide range of cardiology services including diagnoses and congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, valvula heart disease and electrophysiology. Open heart surgeries are also performed at this centre which cost $800 million or FCFA 4 billion to set up.

The centre symbolically operated the first two patients on November 20, 2009. The operation was carried out by Dr. Giamberti and Dr. Charles Mvondo, a Cameroonian.

The Director of St Elizabeth Catholic General Hospital, Shisong Rev Sr. Mary Aldrine, told The Rambler with a measure of pride that when it comes to attending to patients at the facility, everybody is treated equally, without recourse to whether the one is a government soldier, an Ambazonian militia, a Cameroonian or foreigner. But she regrets that many patients that used to turn up with cardiac and other related issues from countries like Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea have greatly diminished, no thanks to the ongoing war.

The Rambler also found out that almost all the experts at the centre are Francophone Cameroonians from the Centre and South Regions. The Director said the war notwithstanding, many of them have stayed on to serve, adding that even those who opted to run to safety are still serving the centre in other parts of Cameroon.

Given the prayers, the negotiation, the physical output, goodwill  and finances that apparently went into the setting up of the Shisong Cardiac Centre, having it destroyed in the ongoing war might be tantamount to the only cardiac centre in the sub region having suffered from a cardiac arrest as it were…     

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