Cameroon: Power Tussle between Biya’s Gov’t and Pro-Independence Groups Grounds Bamenda
Bernard Edang mounts his bicycle, rides right around the Commercial Avenue in the city of Bamenda this Tuesday morning, September 8, 2020. After several turns up and down, he pulls up before a beer parlour whose main doors are closed, but with a door open at the back of the building. When he enters, so many people like him are already seated and having fun, mocking the government of President Paul Biya for provoking the ‘wrath of the people’.
Like many other people in Bamenda, one of the main cities in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons, Bernard could ride his bicycle easily because the whole area is deserted. No cars, no commercial motorbikes could be seen circulating and despite calls for markets and shops to function, as usual, every place remained closed.
Bamenda city dwellers going about on foot Tuesday, September 8 in respect of operation "No motorbikes, No cars"
“I have never seen a thing this for a long time, people showing solidarity with one another against an unpopular government decision”, Bernard tells Timescape Magazine. He had just moved into Bamenda, after working for several years in Bertoua, East Region of the Republic of Cameroon.
On Friday, September 4, Cameroon’s Governor in Bamenda, Lele l’Afrique issued a decision banning commercial motorbikes from circulating in most urban areas. The decision was released on the heels of another one, circulated by the City Mayor of Bamenda (considered an impostor because the people boycotted the election that ushered him in on February 9, 2020, by over 97%), Paul Achobang barring both commercial and private motorbikes from plying the roads in key areas in the city.
The decisions provoked the ire of pro-independence groups, armed self-defence groups operating in the area and the common people who for the most part, depend on motorbikes for their movements. Also, commercial motorbike riders in the city are in their thousands and the transport delegation in Bamenda indicates over 15,000 motorbikes in their records.
In response to the government ban, pro-independence groups launched a campaign dubbed: “No motorbikes, No cars” to go into effect Tuesday, September 8, to force the administration to reverse its decision. It is in the execution of that campaign that the city has been mostly deserted all day. In solidarity, shop owners and market women also closed their shops and stayed home. The campaign thus far has no end date. Some pro-independence movement officials have told Timescape Magazine that the order would be in place until “…the colonial government recognizes our authority over our land and withdraws that shameful decision”.
A medical doctor (name withheld for security reasons) serving at the Bamenda General Hospital, who was seen trekking to work, told Timescape Magazine that “I personally decided to park my car and walk to the office, although my car has a sticker showing I work for essential emergency service. I feel the pain of the commercial bikers, they earn their living from that trade and feed their families from that. The government’s decision is so cruel, to say the least. I agree with the pro-independence groups' vision that if you give these people a chance you cannot take it back. Yes, let us hit the iron when it is hot”.
At the Bamenda Court of First Instance up station, a few government workers could be seen going about their duties. A magistrate who preferred not to be named had extremely hard words for those he referred to as “separatists”. He said the leaders were insensitive and failed to understand that the decision taken by the government was meant to check the level of “criminality” in the city.
“I am not the government, but I think the order from separatist groups is too hard a reaction. Bad guys use motorbikes to kidnap people, to steal and to commit crimes. Separatist fighters are disguising as commercial motorbike riders and attacking and killing policemen and soldiers every day. The decision is to protect the lives of the uniform officers, you must understand this”, the magistrate railed.
Military officers have filled the streets of Bamenda to protect whoever would wish to move around with their vehicles, but there were only five taxis in yellow colour circulating around the city right until 3 pm local time. Onlookers suspect that the taxis were being driven by soldiers in civilian attire, waiting to strike armed groups that would attempt to stop them. In some places, the soldiers are seen chasing people off the streets and ordering them to go back home.
Violence erupted in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons in late 2017, after the Biya government used excessive force to repress a popular uprising led by lawyers and teachers in the region, demanding greater autonomy from the central administration in Yaounde. Military brutality and the violent government crackdown on dissidents pushed most of the population to begin demanding outright self-determination. In October 2017, pro-independence movements declared the restoration of the independence of their territory, re-naming it Ambazonia.
According to several sources, the conflict has thus far claimed over 12,000 souls, although Cameroon government figures put the death toll at slightly over 300. Rights organizations have denounced myriad cases of abuses and inhuman treatment on civilians. The Cameroon military is on record to have burnt down over 400 village settlements, creating over 1,5 million internally displaced person and hundreds of thousands of refugees.