She used to move about with a smile on her face and a sprint to her feet. But Carolina Bong is today the very definition of sadness. Her left arm has been severed from her body, and she points to machete wounds on her neck with a knowing recognition that she could have been beheaded as well.
The former headmistress of a Government Primary School in Mamfe narrates the nail-biting story of how gunmen stormed her neighborhood one day, putting their lives on the line.
“On that fateful day, I was sitting in front of my house with some neighbors and to our greatest surprise, we saw four armed men coming towards us. One of them asked us to enter the house so that they can pass and go to the stream which is behind the house. As I stood up and was entering, one of them followed me and asked for support so that they could buy bullets. I gave them thirty thousand francs CFA F (about USD70) was the only money I had on me in the house, but they complained that the money was not enough and that I should add it. I then went down on my knees with my daughter, and we started pleading with them, but our plea fell on deaf ears as they said we the teachers started the fight and later on abandoned it to them but go to collect salaries every month end but are not ready to support them.
“So, they said I had to either give them money or be killed. They then asked me to lie down on the floor with my eyes facing down because they have to cut off my head. I obeyed them and lay down with my hands on my neck, but they said I should remove the hand as they were to cut off my neck. My hands kept lingering on my neck and the machete fell on my hand. The second cut eliminated my hand.
“Thanks to the timely intervention by some youths who were alerted by my neighbor, I should have been no more today. When they heard the youths coming, they escaped into the bush and that is how my life was saved.”
She was then rushed to a nearby church where the priest immediately rushed her to the hospital.
“After the hospital, I had to move over to Buea where my children are schooling so that they could be assisting me since I became handicapped.”
“The head of our family stood by me both financially and materially but was later on killed in front of our door by these same armed men who came and shot him. The attack on me came just after my cousin had lost the husband and two sons to these same fighters in a night.”
Elizabeth Kang, a women’s leader from Wum in the northwest region, told a similar story of pain and loss, suffered not only in the hands of separatist fighters but also in the hands of government soldiers.
“The first person I lost was my brother’s son whom I raised. Some armed people came and called him out of the house in my absence. In the morning, they had chopped off his ears. The second one was my son. They came and took him out at 5 Am before his wife beat him up and tore his left ear. The third one is my husband who was brought up in Kondengui. He stayed in Kondengui for 9months. The other one was my neighbor’s son whose head was blown off by cartridges from unknown persons, and he died later on. I will not name my cousins that were slain in a whole village. Sometimes, people were carried to other villages and shot in Wum town,” she told Timescape Magazine.
These accounts are the result of a separatist war in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions that has so far claimed over 4000 lives in five years of fighting, according to the UN.
She said women were paying a disproportionate price in the struggle.
“You find women menstruating on leaves. The pride of a woman has been taken away. Women are delivering children in the bush and under very bad conditions. I feel like crying.”
Those stories and more are what pushed some 1000 women including women peace activists displaced women and girls, victims of war-related violence, female traditional and religious leaders, female soldiers, women entrepreneurs, domestic workers, women from civil society and political parties, and many more, to come meeting in Yaoundé in desperate efforts to find solutions to the crises.
They came up with a range of proposals, including the need to end hostilities and so give meaning to the African Union’s campaign to ‘Silence the Guns’ in Africa in order to achieve a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, make peace a reality for all and rid the continent of wars, violent conflicts, human rights violations, and humanitarian disasters.
They called for continued and inclusive dialogue that addresses core issues around Peace, Solidarity, and shared Humanity in Cameroon; as well as the equal and permanent involvement of women peace mediators and negotiators in peace processes at all levels, while always enforcing their protection, according to the four pillars of the UN Resolution 1325.
The need to create additional centers for psychological support and trauma healing was also highlighted, while at the same time underscoring the need to render existing DDR centers functional and responsive to the existing conflicts.
“My plea to the government and the international community is that they should intervene as soon as they can so that peace can once again return to this country,” Mrs. Bong told Timescape Magazine.