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Exclusive: ‘Soldiers are thieves, Separatists’ cowards’, Anglophone women narrate ordeal

Kumba(National Times)-In the face of the excruciating experiences people across the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, The National Times undertook a face-to-face approach to hear the stories and experiences of women, whose voices have been missing in media narratives on the current Anglophone Crisis.

At about midday on Saturday, October 27, 2018, The National Times team engaged in a prolonged off-the-record discussion with two women still bleeding from the consequences of the military side of the Anglophone Crisis.

Our team dabbled into the neighbourhood of Kosala in Kumba III Sub-division of the South West Region. On hand, our interviews, Margarate and Esther (not real names) are sitting relaxed. Yet, once the Crisis in the North West and South West is mentioned, the look on their faces change.

In all their narratives, the women harbour the impression that, most elements of the Cameroon military sent to fight separatists in the two English-speaking Regions of Cameroon are thieves. They hold memories of soldiers looting village stores and homes with impunity.

Margaret is a native of Bali Nyonga. She had established her life in the Village of Munyenge in Muyuka Sub-division of the South West Region. Margaret said life was worth living until the day the military set foot on Munyenge.

Until then, Margaret said she was a proud owner of a 10:00 room building. Unfortunately, today, she has nothing to hold on to.

“On that day, I had just returned from a social engagement around town… suddenly the military arrived and started shooting…. I entered the house… trying to search for money I gave one of my children to keep… unfortunately, I could not see the money… then the military started setting homes on fire…. I escaped into the forest for fear of being killed.”

Margaret said, hundreds of metres way on her escape path “ I watched  my compound being set ablaze… my property and that of my tenants was reduced to rubbles… the money also went up in flames.. I will never forget that experience,” she recounted.

Few weeks after the burning of the village, Margaret said a few homes that were left became avenues for looting. “One day, I spotted soldiers in front of a fenced compound… they knocked at the gate for long… when no one responded… they forced open the gate and looted property and other items.”

Then Margaret was forced to return to her native Bali Nyonga. Few weeks in Bali Nyonga, she told The National Times that “ I started getting news of people being killed as they attempted to carry their property to escape… I still get terrible information from Munyenge till date…. I have abandoned all my farms and the burnt house because I must hide my coconut (referring to her head).

Margaret’s Bali Nyonga venture turned sour as what she escaped from in Munyenge befell her right in her own village.

“On a certain day, I decided to clear part of our family compound that was over grown. As I discussed with my neighbour in the village about clearing the grass, suddenly, a fierce looking young man emerged from the grass and asked ‘Mami wuna talk sey weti for here’ (Mothers what did you guys discuss here?). We ran and entered the house. Few minutes later, the military arrived and the whole Bali Nyonga was on fire”.

Margaret said luckily bullets don’t penetrate the traditional sundry bricks mostly used to build houses in the grass fields of Cameroon. Faced with the pressure, Margaret escaped with her two grandchildren to her sister’s matrimonial home in Kumba. As at the day of our discussion, she was already setting up a scheme to start retailing egusi to earn a living.

Esther on her part, lived her life in Ebonji in Tombel-Sub division of the South West Region of Cameroon.

She recalled that in the early days when the military descended to the areas, killings were rare.

“At first, they didn’t come to kill. But what I encountered was that the soldiers stole a lot of portable household items.  I saw them break into a phone shop and all the expensive phones were taken away… then what came next was the breaking of homes… the soldiers mostly carried away television sets. But most of them were nice…. they will only ask you to show your National Identity Card and you are free”.

Esther said about a month after, the Crisis went deadly. She said one day, separatists’ fighters killed a good number of soldiers and the face of the Crisis changed.

“From that day, it became evident to everyone that at the sight of a human being… the soldiers will shoot… so from then… each time we hear that soldiers are coming, we all escaped into the forest…when the situation became worst, my children ask me to relocate to Kumba,” Esther stated.

On another front, Esther recalled that “one day the soldiers came… everyone escaped, but I was the only one at home… so they asked me where my sons were… I told them I was the only one at home… so they destroyed the ceiling of the house, turned everything upside down. Then about one hour after, some came asking for water to drink. Some requested for cigarettes, but I told them everyone had escaped… after the incident, people returned from the forest lamenting that their household items were missing”.

Esther, once a landlady, is today a tenant in Kumba. She told our team that even though her house has not been burnt, bullets have destroyed the zinc.

“I know by now the things I kept at homes will be decomposing…. But at a time like this, your security is most important”.

Separatists’ fighters are Cowards

Besides accusing the military of excesses, our interviewees have the same reading of separatist fighters.  Esther and Margaret maintained that once soldiers are not around, the separatists’ move around intimidating villagers, but once a gun sounds, they all escape into hiding.

The women further averred that anywhere the ‘Amba Boys’ are, the people’s lives are on the line because once the military steps in, they will escape, and the villagers will bear the brunt.

Esther and Margaret say they both cannot figure out how the separatists’ fighters always fell huge trees to block road into villages.

Quizzed on what they think could be the best way to end the crisis, the displaced women said, the sole person who can create the enabling atmosphere for peace is President Paul Biya. They both agreed that the President must begin by withdrawing troops from the two Regions so that the people can start rebuilding their lives again. They said they are not politicians, but all they need is peace so that children can go to school and have a future without war.

Despite the accusations on security forces, State authorities in Cameroon have maintained that the military is professional and operates with a human face to protect people and property.

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