South West (National Times)-Cameroon’s separatists’ movement has changed the outlook of the lives of thousands across the North West and South West Regions. The despair in the urban set up is better off compared to the interior villages especially in the cocoa-rich South West with a huge rural population.
Before 2016, thousands of families earned a living thanks to cocoa plantations that sometimes transcends generations. Cocoa plantations are a fortune that enables parents to educate their children and engage in other projects with less difficulty.
When the deadly face of the separatists’ movement emerged, plantation owners didn’t see themselves abandoning what they have laboured for to unknown gunmen. Today, the story is that of hundreds of this families denied access to their farms and property.
The opinions of these farmers were not sort. They were simply warned and ordered never to step foot on their property again. Others only stumble into their plantations to discover workers paying allegiance to gunmen. Parents who relied completely on cocoa plantations to live a good life are at cross roads.
In the face of difficulties, The National Times went investigating just how life has been for such families. Ours is an investigation into the City of Kumba, economic hub of the restive South West. It is a city host to scores of cocoa exporters. It is one of the cities nearest to hundreds of villages whose population survive on cocoa money. At the peak of the harvest season, Kumba is inundated with cocoa beans.
At the Commercial Avenue of the City, The National Times bumped into an aged man who only identified himself as Pa Isaiah.
The father of six children could barely hold back tears as he recalled the stress and pains he and his family have gone through since his cocoa plantations were ‘seized.
“It is over a year since I set foot on my cocoa farm. Look at me at this age… what I do to survive my family…. I am managing with this old hilux vehicle that hardly goes a day without developing a fault to transport gravel around town.
I am just from Mile One neighbourhood to transport the household items of someone who is also running away from this war…. In fact, I transport anything I see around town. Every day… I just come to this commercial Avenue waiting for anything to transport.. Cement, gravel, household equipment and wood”.
Pa Isaiah recounted that, the last time he heard about his farm found in the heart of Meme Division from one of his workers. He aid since then, the worker took ill and nobody can dare pass around that area.
“ those boys have taken over my plantation. Imagine me who use to move tons of cocoa from my farm now gallivanting looking for a menial job”.
Another victim the National Times encountered is Francoise N. The widow said, gunmen banned her from stepping foot on her cocoa plantation at Boa-Bakundu Village in Meme Division. Her’s is a tale of abduction, detention and release before being threatened with death if she ever comes to her farm again.
“ I cannot recall the day… but what I kow is that.. I wentt to the farm about 8 months ago to harvest oranges… those boys…. Caught me… took me to their camp after hours of begging,… they finally let me off their hook on grounds that I should never come to my farm again”. The widow stated.
The mother of children and grand children said, her family is surviving now at the mercy of people of good will. “ The only thing I have in this world now is a family house in Kumba… I don’t know who is controlling my farms and when this trouble will end”.
Bernard Itoe a youngster who said he inherited a cocoa farm from his father in the heart of Konye Sub Division is now gallivanting at motor parks as a loader. Itoe told The National Times team that, he does not want to recount his story else he may die before his time.
“ The trauma those amba boys have put me through is unimaginable… look at me now loading vehicles at the motor park…. I can barely feed …… I never imagined going through this in my life”. Itoe stated.
Another victim who refused to be named is rather invoking the wrath of God on the ambazonia fighters. “What I have seen in the villages… those boys will never know peace….. for instance around Ngongo in Mbonge Sub Division where I come from… those boys have shared peoples farms and employed others to work under them.
The whole thing is complicated because in some villages where you have these gunmen… people still own their property and go about their farming activities unhindered”. Our source stated.
Many other families reeling from such forceful dispossessions of their farms are into petit businesses across cities such as Kumba eking a living.
Some have engaged in the retailing of plantain and other food stuffs they are familiar with. Their hope is for peace to return so that, they can regain their properties.