Dark Days in Country

March 3rd, 2008 by admin

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The Post (Buea)
3 March 2008
By Francis Wache & Azore Opio With Field Reports

Calm has now returned to Cameroon after a week of demonstrations that crippled the nation.It all started on Monday, February 25, when taxi drivers called a strike to protest against the hike in fuel prices.

Nobody on that Monday, February 25, could have predicted that the nationwide transporters’ strike action would take such a dramatic and bloody clash.Though the strike action by the Syndicate of Transporters had been announced, the State owned CRTV, said on Sunday, February 24, that the strike action had been called off by the leaders of the Syndicate of Transporters after clinching a deal with the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Prof. Robert Nkili.

And, so, both the government of Cameroon and the population were surprised when, on Monday, February 25, not only were the streets without taxis, but the inter-urban and intra-urban buses were grounded paralysing all movements.

The situation soon degenerated when disgruntled and mostly unemployed youths seized the opportunity and took to the streets expressing their discontent. They complained that those in power had not created enough avenues for employment and economic opportunities.

The strike action, peaceful at first, quickly turned violent with the rampaging and sometime marauding youths engaged in running battles with the forces of law and order. While the troops fired gunshots into the air, the mob responded with volleys of stones. Then the troops riposted, tossing teargas canisters.

Worse, bandits and petty criminals soon joined the fray and then began an orgy of violence, savagery, brutality and the looting of private property and the destruction of public buildings. Lives, too, were lost and trigger-happy forces of law and fired live bullets at fleeing demonstrators.

The situation was not improving faster as expected. Cameroon was progressively plunging herself into the abyss of endless destruction. Calls for peace and calm began to surface from all nooks and crannies from the country. But the angry youths and Cameroonians in general felt that the most soothing words must come from the Head of State.

Biya’s ‘Declaration Of War’ Speech

President Paul Biya, on Wednesday, February 27, made a declaration on the situation. He castigated the opposition that had failed to win power by the ballot for turning to the bullet to destabilise the country.

In a vitriolic tone, and in less than five minutes, he defiantly told the “demons” instigating the demonstrators that their efforts were doomed.Immediately after President Paul Biya’s address, the protesters, in Bamenda, for example, infiltrated by bandits, went amok, destroying and looting anything on their way.

Targets: PMUC, Breweries, Taxation Offices…

In most towns, demonstrators targeted PMUC offices. When they could not torch them, they turned to the ubiquitous PMUC kiosks planted along the streets and set them ablaze. In Bamenda, they ransacked all the offices of PMUC building owned by the SDF National Chairman, John Fru Ndi, on Commercial Avenue.

The angry crowd evacuated computers, electronic gadgets, money and other valuable property and burned them outside the building. They tried to make away with the safe in vain.

The same scenario was enacted at the Cow Street Taxation Office, Nkwen, where the rioters could not remove the safe. They, however, carted away laptops and valuable documents and set them ablaze outside the office.

The protesters also ransacked and burnt down the Nkwen Post Office immediately after Biya’s speech on Wednesday night. The angry youths proceeded to the Bamenda Urban Council, where Abel Ndeh’s three cars were all razed.

An inventory conducted by The Post indicated that two seven-ton loaders were burned, one trailer damaged, three vans “Keep Bamenda Clean” vandalised, windscreen of European Union service car shattered, two salon cars and a motorcycle parked on the Council premises were burned; and six tippers had their windscreens shattered. Several private vehicles impounded at the Council premises were also destroyed.

The rioters left the Council premises at Ntarikon and stormed a primary school known as County Primary and Nursery School, owned by Abel Ndeh’s wife. They inflicted some damage on the structure.

In Nkambe, Donga Mantung, the Police Post at the Nkambe Main Market was razed. In Kumbo, the protestors vented their anger on some government institutions and private establishments. Despite pleas from Bui Senior Divisional Officer, SDO, Daniel Panjouono, they stormed the Transport Delegation at Bam-bui Quarters; a building that also housed the Public Works Service and Radio Meteo and set fire to it.

They later ransacked the Divisional Delegation of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Delegation of Commerce, where they emptied offices and burnt documents, furniture and damaged computers and photocopiers. Brasseries Du Cameroun depot at Ta Mbve, the Guinness Depot and a police van did not escape the wrath of the protestors.

The Taxation Office and Finance Control Service at Mbve received the same treatment, while some taxation officials were equally visited and their property destroyed. Indeed, the youths went out of hand as they extended their ire to billboards at the Tobin Roundabout mobile phone kiosks.

In Mbengwi and Babito and other parts of Momo, protestors set administrative installations on fire. Meanwhile in Santa, rioters burned the DO’s office and a vehicle. In Kumbo, Bui Division, Divisional Delegation of Transport, Public Works were burned as well. At Taxation Office and that of Education and Youth Affairs, the protesters brought out all the office equipment and set it on fire. Guinness and Brassieres were depots were looted.

Meanwhile, in Kumba in the Southwest, the Delegations of Taxation, Education, Social Affairs, Town Planning and Treasury were burnt. The most affected was PMUC, which had all its properties and kiosks burnt. Les Brasseries du Cameroun had its Kumba Regional office completely burnt. Demonstrators also burnt down and destroyed Kumba I (Kumba Town) and Kumba II (Mbonge Road) and Kumba Central Police Posts.

Also, two Total Filling stations were destroyed. Demonstrators equally looted treated palm oil from a timber company near the train station. The looters have reportedly sold the ‘poisonous’ palm oil, which was meant for the treatment of timber. The timber company has put up a notice cautioning the population against consuming the oil, since it might be harmful. This has caused general panic, as the local population are unsure of palm oil.

Muea in the Southwest Province witnessed part of its police post burned down.

Arrests, Torture, Rape

Over 150 youths arrested in Bamenda are now undergoing severe torture in various detention camps. Rumour holds it that in the days ahead they would be transferred to Yaounde.

When over 200 Koutaba special troops landed in Bamenda in the wee hours of Thursday, they treated nearly every home at Mile Two, Foncha Street Junction, Ntarikon, Commercial Avenue and Hospital Roundabout to a good dose of torture.

They even raped a soldier’s wife whose names we are withholding. Several cases of rape were reported in Mile Three, Ntarikon, and Hospital Roundabout, where the soldiers broke into private houses, forcing boys out to clear off the debris and road blocks.

On Ghana and Cow Streets, most of the houses broken into were owned by free women. Most women were deprived of their cell phones and money. One woman who spoke to The Post regretted, “when they broke open my door, they pulled out my brothers and beat them to near death.

The reason was that two of the soldiers pulled down their trousers and were about to rape me in front of my brothers, but my brothers protested and the soldiers thrashed them severely.”

Also, two students from Progressive Comprehensive High School, PCHS Bamenda, were reportedly raped at Ayaba Hotel.

In Kumbo, no death was reported, but over 30 persons were arrested. Meanwhile, in Nkambe, the Senior Divisional Officer for Donga-Mantung, Godlive Mboke Ntua, declared that over 20 youths were arrested and would be prosecuted.

In Kumba troops moved into quarters, beating and arresting those suspected of being involved in looting and destruction of properties. They visited places like Fiango and Hausa Quarters were most of the demonstrators were suspected to have come from.

Buea, like other towns, was also paralysed with troops and the youths occasioning destruction, theft and torture. In all, about ten youths sustained wounds from gunshots, while one died of a bullet wound at the Buea Hospital Mortuary. Others are still nursing their wounds in various hospitals after being severely tortured by troops.

Those arrested were about fifty, most of them teenagers picked at random. They are now incarcerated at the Mobile Intervention Unit, GMI, waiting for the Governor to seal their fate.

On their part, troops went amok breaking into private homes, beating its occupants and looting whatever they could. They looted cell phones, money etc, and destroyed TV sets, electronic gadgets and other valuables.

Hordes Of Looters To Serve Jail Terms

In Yaounde, about 400 alleged looters, who were judged and convicted at the Legal Department, have been transferred to the Kondengui Maximum Prisson where they are to serve a two-year jail terms each.

Most of the arrests were arbitrary as the troops swooped on passers-by and took them away. They even ransacked homes arresting those they found there. The convicts were transferred in four trucks on Friday, February 29, under the mournful eyes of parents and relations who were helpless at such convictions without ample evidence.

According to the family of Baba Abdoulaye, one of the supposed looters, in the ‘Derriere Combatant’ neighbourhood, their son, was sleeping in the house when a group of children who ran into their house for safety, woke him up.

When the police invaded the house, they whisked him away with others and no amount of pleas could make the police release him.For Fabrice Kamdem, who resides at Polytechnic, when violence started on Tuesday, he decided to park the CD plates he was selling in the usual place before heading home.

He said his friend decided to eat before going home. As the friend was leaving the restaurant, the police asked him to identify himself. Although the friend produced his ID card, the policeman yelled, “c’est vous” (you are the ones). Then he was bundled him into the truck.

Children who flocked to the streets out of curiosity were also arrested. Some of the kids sent on errands by parents were whisked to detention cells. Civil rights and other observers describe the arrest, trial and incarceration of the putative looters as a violation of human rights and a blatant disrespect for the new Criminal Procedure Code.

Those who were lucky to escape the detention cells had to buy their freedom after being beaten and bruised. They were subsequently released after paying sums ranging from FCFA 10,000 – FCFA 80,000. Those whose mobile phones were seized never got them back.

In Limbe, soldiers arrested a human rights activist, Djibril Ngeve Nyeke, at the Mile I neighbourhood and accused him of encouraging mob action. But The Post learned that Ngeve had been trying to dissuade some of the boys from perpetrating violence. A 16-year-old welder, Clinton Ngwa, was also brutalised by soldiers as he went to pick his younger brother from school.

Meanwhile, in Kumba, over 30 youths have been arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie and police cells. Although they were arrested indiscriminately, they were accused of orchestrating looting, violence and destruction of properties.

Death Toll

When reinforcement arrived from Koutaba Military Base in the West Province, a bloody confrontation ensued in Bamenda. At the end of it, six youths were shot to death. These included; Emmanuel Che, 24, of Ndamukong Street who was shot at Mile Two Junction, Ashley Fontoh, 14, student of GTC Bamenda, shot at Ntarikon Junction, Devoline Awah was shot in the head at Brassieres Junction, and Bernard Ngwa was shot on Che Street, Ntarikon.

Among the several youths shot with live bullets and currently receiving treatment at the Bamenda General Hospital are; Gerald Nichia and Janet Nimbong.

Kumba recorded one of the highest death tolls in the Southwest Province, with seven youths shot to deaths. Crates of beer killed three others as they looted beer from Les Brasseries regional office.

In Limbe, soldiers deployed to quell demonstrations shot dead a petty trader, Richard Tangie Nwonfor, 32, about three hours after President Biya’s address.Tangie had sallied out to observe youths, irked by the President Biya’s declarations, battle with the police and the military. The troops shot him around the hips and ran before collapsing on the campus of UNICS Secondary School, where he died.

The long and short of the transporters’ strike is that it ignited a heap of smouldering grievances among the youths and other Cameroonians; those who see Brasseries du Cameroun as a ‘drug’ industry, PMUC as drain on the economy as well as fuelling corruption amongst the armed forces, vacillating politicians who tell youths blatant lies and voracious tax collectors who feed fat from both the government and taxpayers.

Some of the grievances, however, were not addressed during the protests – the medical corps, the judiciary, businessmen, teachers and just the ordinary Cameroonian looked on as the youths attempted to send their messages home.

The damages, human, material and financial losses caused by the strike have left painful gaping wounds in the economy and the society. In nearly all the places where the strike reached, there was a recurring refrain; trigger-happy troops, with the police to bear most of the blame, toyed with tear gas and live ammunition, dropping unfortunate youths to their untimely deaths. The government did its best to stifle any sort of protest with batons, tear gas and water canons.

By press time, the prices of essential commodities that had started creeping upwards even before the idea of the strike had formed in the minds of the transporters, had at the weekend doubled up – a cup of garri in most scantily attended markets sold at FCFA 100, rice went at FCFA 100 a cup, a fresh tomato FCFA 50, a loaf of bread (blockade) FCFA 350 and so on and so forth.

*With Field Reports By Chris Mbunwe, Peterkins Manyong, Kini Nsom, Walter Wilson Nana, Leocadia Bongben, Willibroad Nformi, Francis Tim Mbom & Ernest Sumelong