At least six people have died in Cameroon during a weekend of protests in the troubled Anglophone regions of the West African nation, as reports of fatalities continue to rise.
Five were inmates who died when the jail in Kumbo caught fire early Sunday, according to Reuters. Authorities say they were shot by soldiers during the disturbance, while two prisoners and two civilians were injured and taken to hospital. A nurse at the Kumba Presbyterian Clinic in Southwest confirmed to Bloomberg News that at least one fatality had been taken there with gunshot wounds.
The protests in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon’s southwest and northwest came on the country’s October 1 Unification Day, and marked the escalating political and economic grievances tied to the country’s legacy as two separate colonies, one British and English-speaking and the other French, before their unification.
Protests that originated with law and education professionals a year ago have renewed calls for secession among some activists in the English-speaking regions calling for an Ambazonian state. Biya’s government banned all Anglophone activist organizations in January, as a government crackdown led to countless arrests and deaths, a lengthy Internet shutdown, and near-weekly clashes and boycotts beginning last October.
Biya’s government warned protesters to stay home and instituted a weekend curfew, warning that the military had been deployed, while the regional governor said marchers would be treated as terrorists. Local media outlets said the streets were relatively quiet in the hotspots of Bamenda and Buea, with churches and businesses closed down and silent cities reminiscent of the Anglophone movement’s own “ghost town” strikes.
Biya, whose forces sealed off the border with Nigeria ahead of Sunday’s planned action, sent a social media message to the nation condemning all acts of violence and appealing for peaceful dialogue to resolve the political and cultural impasse.
“Let me make this very clear: It is not forbidden to voice any concerns in the Republic,” Biya said. “However, nothing great can be achieved by using verbal excesses, street violence, and defying authority.”
Amid reports of new arrests and Internet shutoffs, however, Anglophone activists and international observers have reason to again question the president’s assertion that democratic freedoms are being protected. Amnesty West Africa called for “an immediate halt in the use of excessive force” late Sunday.
Image: Contre Nocendi file