Arrested for Protesting: Market women in Kumba Cry out against Cameroun Military Excesses

Scores of women in Kumba, a major town in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroon have been released after spending a night in police custody. They were arrested Tuesday for allegedly respecting ghost towns enforced by separatist fighters.

For close to four years, pro-independence movements have been asking people to shutdown businesses and stay at home every Monday as a way of drawing global attention to the bloodshed going on in the former UN Trust Territory, perpetrated by the Cameroon military, according international rights organizations.

Failure to respect the ghost towns could result in being ostracized by the local civilian population who see it as their own contribution to the quest for self-determination, but respecting the ghost towns is now leading to arrests and torture by the Cameroun military.

That is what happened to Helen (not her real name). She stayed at home on Monday August 24 but showed up at her shop at the Kumba market on Tuesday August 25 ready for a new business day. But security forces swooped in and arrested her.

As the soldiers shutdown the shops, market women trooped to the Palace of their traditional leader, Nfon V.E Mukete, crying out to him to intervene. But again, they were carted off to custody.

Along with scores of other women, Helen was locked up and spent the night in custody.

“We had to each pay a sum of 50,000 CFA F (approximately USD90) to secure our freedom,” Helen told Timescape Magazine.

Rights advocates have said the arrests are a blatant violation of the right to protest.

Efforts to obtain a comment from the Kumba City Mayor, Victor Ngoh Nkelle who asked for the sealing of the shops were futile, but Timescape Magazine got through to his colleague of Buea, Mayor Namange.

“If people do not open their shops on the days they should be selling, where do they think the Council will get the resources to continue providing basic services?”  He questioned.

“People need to defeat fear. We cannot continue allowing these “amba boys (meaning pro-independence fighters) to intimidate us,” he said.

He complained that the lockdowns were making it harder for people to access such basic social services as healthcare and education and were devastating the economy.

For four years now, the military has been locked in a bloody war with pro-independence movements that say they want to restore the autonomy of their country, the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons and rename it Ambazonia.

Official statistics indicate that more than 3000 people have been killed, but several groups put the figure as high as 12.000. More than a million people have also been forced from their homes.