The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon: Challenges Facing Women, Children and Displaced Families

By Etali Genesis Akwaji, Sustain Cameroon

 Web source picture: Blocked road access and deserted community in Kumbo Bui Division.

Web source picture: Blocked road access and deserted community in Kumbo Bui Division.

The advent of the social and political crisis in Cameroon has led to enormous destruction of both property and human lives. Many communities have been completely burnt down and many lives lost and the trend continues daily. The conflict is gradually degenerating into a genocide, people are killed on daily basis and dumped in bushes, communities and houses are also raided daily. This has resulted in homelessness for tens of thousands of persons whose homes and communities have been erased through arson attacks by the military. So many families are forced to flee their homes to reside in bushes, crossing the borders to neighboring Nigeria as refugees and or simply internally displaced. Women and children make up the bulk of the refugees, the displaced and those living in bushes. The regions have been devastated by the crisis and social strife, leading to dysfunctional educational, health and economic sectors.

It should be recalled that the crisis rocking the Anglophone regions of the country came into being in late 2016 after protests of the acculturation and annihilation of the anglophone cultures by the French systems. The teachers and the common law lawyers and later on the entire population took to the streets staging peaceful protests and demonstrations to denounce the encroachment, submersion and assimilation of the English subsystems of education and the common law practice by the French subsystem of education and civil law practice. This started a later bigger trend with the entire anglophone populations (North West & South West Regions of Cameroon) joining to clamor for fairer and better living conditions and fairer access to employment opportunities, rising against the government for its marginalization and discrimination of the Anglophones in public and private sectors.

The government's inability to manage the crisis and to provide palpable solutions to the demands of the Anglophones, led the crisis into another phase that escalated into a full-blown war between government forces and separatists who today are demanding independence of the English speaking part of Cameroon. 

Today, this crisis has affected the social, economic and political life of the population of the two regions. The living conditions of the peoples of these regions has been stifled and access to basic mandatory needs for human existence, ie. healthcare, shelter, food, economic welfare, education and livelihood, is becoming impossible, especially to women and children and affected communities in these two regions of Cameroon.  Any limitation to and or denial of these basic needs is tantamount to snatching life out of the individual.

Health

Access to healthcare and provision is a sine-qua-non for living a healthy and productive life for human existence. Complicating access to basic health care for the populations, especially women and children, is the fact that medical facilities (hospitals and health centers) have been vacated by personnel in most of the rural communities witnessing heavy fighting between the government forces and the separatists. The service providers fear being killed in the crossfire.

Women and children face challenges accessing medical services and attention. They suffer from skin diseases which are common in the rural communities. A large percentage of births in these vacated rural communities are done in traditional ways with the absence of health personnel, while some happen in the bushes, where a majority of people have escaped for safety. This is putting pregnant women and girls at high risk for maternal and child death. 

 Web source picture: Children under plastic sheets to avoid being soaked by rain after their homes were destroyed.

Web source picture: Children under plastic sheets to avoid being soaked by rain after their homes were destroyed.

Medical facilities and personnel are sometimes being targeted during invasions. This has caused the medical personnel to flee their areas of work, leaving the villagers at the mercy of their illnesses. Some health personnel have been victims of the conflict and were killed in the line of duty. This has instilled enormous fear in the midst of the rest of those working in these communities.

Physical destruction

Many communities in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon have been completely burnt down and ravaged by the warring parties, and yet there is no hope of this ceasing. Several individuals have been killed, many have lost their homes, and communities have been completely vacated or simply erased. There has been no real intervention made to address the situation or attempt at reconstruction and provision of adequate humanitarian assistance to enable the displaced families and homeless to recover from the post conflict situation and the trauma emanating from the shock of having to experience war.

Tens of thousands of persons, especially women and children, are still without shelter and in desperate need of food, water and basic healthcare since they had to flee, after the conflict destroyed their homes and communities. The displaced and homeless population in some of the affected communities needs to be assisted to regain their normal flow of life. The reconstruction and reconstitution of these communities is an urgent emergency need for the suffering masses.

Economy

The economy of these regions is in ruins. Agriculture and livestock breeding are the mainstay of the economy for the people of the region, and food is ferried into the cities from the rural communities and peripheral towns and villages. This is the main food supply chain for the dwellers in the cities and a source of livelihood of the rural poor, particularly for women and children. Since the advent of the crisis, local dwellers (farming families constituted by women for the most part) have fled from their communities further into the bushes while others have relocated into the main city of Bamenda and even beyond in quest for safety.

 Web Source Picture: The Guardian (photograph excerpt, Peter Zongo). Villagers (women and children) from Belo, in Cameroon's north-west, flee the fighting, heading for nearby Bamenda.

Web Source Picture: The Guardian (photograph excerpt, Peter Zongo). Villagers (women and children) from Belo, in Cameroon's north-west, flee the fighting, heading for nearby Bamenda.

This has caused them to abandon their food crops, and they themselves cannot safely access their farms which constituted the major source of their livelihood and for the education of their children. This has resulted in food insecurity and scarcity. Prices of the little foodstuff available have skyrocketed and there is eminent threat of hunger and famine lurking around the city of Bamenda. This will obviously lead to another phase of the crisis. The Anglophone separatist fighters have destroyed some major bridges and blocked roadways linking these communities to the cities in an attempt to prevent the military from accessing these communities, thus affecting food supply to the city. This has contributed enormously to slowed down economic activities in the city. Hunger threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers and their families. 

Many city dwellers vacated the regions to other Francophone cities and towns such as Bafoussam, Douala and Yaounde for safety and security. 

Education

Effective schooling ceased in 2017 when the crisis began and although some schools attempted to open their doors for studies, they were later forced to close their doors by both the government forces and the Anglophone separatist movements. As we speak, schools are not operating, and children are back home as their schooling has been disrupted.  More than 40,000 children and youths are not able to pursue education for two years and their futures are in jeopardy.

 Web source picture (excerpted from MM Info 5 October 2018): Medical facilities shut down as women, girls and children seek medical care.

Web source picture (excerpted from MM Info 5 October 2018): Medical facilities shut down as women, girls and children seek medical care.

These children and youth are at home not able to go to school because their schools are being attacked. Teachers and students will come to terms with the reality that portions of the institutions have been razed by flames, while some teachers and principals have received and are still receiving threats that their schools will be burnt down if they open their doors. These threats are also directed at their lives should they go to school. This current stalemate in the smooth running of schools has caused many adolescent girls to get pregnant as they idle around and have nothing to occupy them. There are also rampant rapes of both women and girls, even sometimes in broad day light. There is no order and respect for human rights by the military that is assigned to protect the citizens.  The law has been flawed in these areas and human rights have become so meaningless as to be taken away at will by the military. 

Achieving Peace and Security would entail the introduction of alternative dispute resolution approaches, and an approach to restorative justice would be important in these communities to increase processes of improving social cohesion. The world seems so silent about the situation in Cameroon. I begin to wonder the type of humanity that is existing, placing more value on money and material things than on human beings?

Reconstruction of burnt/destroyed institutions, health facilities, schools, homes, and social and economic empowering structures is urgent for the displaced to rapidly reinsert themselves into mainstream society.

We have a responsibility to prevent a larger humanitarian crisis and we need your help. Make a gift and difference today in lifesaving support for displaced women and children, and survivors of the conflict in our communities.

Donate to MSFhttps://www.msf.org/
Donate via the Red Cross : https://www.icrc.org/en/home

Sustain Cameroon Website:  https://www.sustaincmr.wordpress.com

More information about Cameroon:

New York Times: https://nyti.ms/2yRVcVS

BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45723211

Presenting our Crowdfunding Campaign: Beyond #MeToo: Our World. Our Future.

By Katariina Haapea

As you might already know, we launched our crowdfunding campaign a couple of weeks ago. The campaign’s name, Beyond #MeToo: Our World. Our Future., is our statement for a different world order with complete equality of all genders. Here at Kota, we’re working relentlessly for a future where there’s simply no need for the hashtag #MeToo anymore.

On October 16th, we had an amazing campaign launch party, where The Kota Alliance and our partner organizations Aware Girls, Colors of Connection, and WomenStrong, shared insights of their work. During the evening we went - literally - beyond #MeToo, as we presented the main focuses of our missions and how they empower women locally and globally. The Founder of Aware Girls, Saba Ismail, summarised the whole point of our campaign perfectly by asking: “What is beyond #MeToo? It is exactly to take action underground, in the communities, to change that.” That is what we are doing here at Kota; taking action for a future where no one has to say “me too.” anymore.

It’s impossible to speak about our campaign without addressing the original movement first. The “me too.” movement was founded by Tamara Burke in 2006 to help sexual violence survivors, with a particular focus on black women and girls. The website of the movement states the following:

Our vision from the beginning was to address both the dearth in resources for survivors of sexual violence and to build a community of advocates, driven by survivors, who will be at the forefront of creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence in their communities.”

As we both know, the hashtag #MeToo went viral after the Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano told her story a year ago; it created a snowball effect and inspired hundreds of thousands of women around the world to join the movement by posting their personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault on social media. We, just like the 2nd wave feminists, noticed that the personal indeed is political, and you can have a huge impact in the world just by telling your own story.

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Now, a year later, we can see that we were desperately in the need of change. In fact, we still are. Although the movement shifted things in the right direction, there’s still loads to do.

"To ensure no more #MeToo for future generations of girls, support nonprofits that work for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls."

-Kota President and Founder Jaana Rehnstrom

The ultimate goal of The Kota Alliance is to create a World Center for Women. Our mission is to promote gender equality by offering both virtual and physical co-working spaces for like-minded organizations that work towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as women social entrepreneurs. Aside from subsidized work, conference, and event space, Kota will also provide other physical and virtual tools and services that organizations making a difference need. Our mission is also to reduce our members' overhead spending, so that they are able to channel more resources into their actual programs and mission; as well as bring like-minded organizations together, fostering a physical proximity to foster collaboration. Also, wouldn’t it be amazing to have like-minded people working in the same space, supporting each other’s work, all aiming for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Just think about the change that would make in the world!

 An architect’s vision of what the World Center for Women might look like.

An architect’s vision of what the World Center for Women might look like.

This is what our campaign is all about. Everything we do here at Kota takes us a bit closer to our goal, and the ongoing crowdfunding campaign is a big leap towards the future; raising $5,000 makes us eligible for a 3:1 matching grant, so by helping us get to our - quite humble - goal, you are actually making a huge difference. Kota wants to personally thank everyone who helps us meet our goal, and thus the donations come with some awesome rewards, which you can look up here.

By now, we have raised a bit over $2,500, so that makes us half way through our goal (some of the checks are still pending, but will show in the campaign page shortly!). A huge thank you to everyone who has already contributed; your support means the world to us. We aim to hit $5,000 by Thanksgiving, and we hope that you help us get there! And remember; there are also a lot of other ways to help us do our work than by donating, if that isn’t currently an option - you can help our mission get visibility online by liking, sharing and commenting our posts. Our Social Media team thanks you for that.

So, that is our campaign in a nutshell. It is vital to us that we hit our goal, so check out our campaign page and see if you could make a contribution to help us get there, no matter how big or small; every penny donated counts and your support means everything to us.

Help us make the world a better place, where no girl or a woman has to say “me too.” ever again. It is our world, and it is our future - join us to make a difference.

 The Kota Team thanks you for all the support!

The Kota Team thanks you for all the support!

PS.

Have you already familiarized yourself with our 2018 program, Digital Storytelling? Check out the toolkit here, it’s completely free and at your service. Let the world hear your story!

The Dignity Project: Meet Our Instructors! Saba Ismail & Florence Montmare

The Dignity Project is a digital storytelling course for young women of South Asian origin, which consists of 4 workshops which will be held at Lower East Side Girls Club, Manhattan, New York, on four consecutive Saturdays starting on October 6th. We have decided to extend the application deadline by two weeks, so feel free to apply until September 24th. Without further ado, we would like for you to meet our instructors: Saba Ismail and Florence Montmare.

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Saba Ismail

Saba Ismail is a feminist, peace activist, and working for the empowerment of young women. At the age of 15, with other young women fellows she co-founded "Aware Girls" (www.awaregirls.org); a young women - led organization working for empowering young women in Pakistan. The organization works by strengthening the leadership capacity of these young women, enabling them to work for social change and women’s empowerment. They advocate for equal access to health, education, governance, political participation, and social services. The organization is active in a context of militancy and religious extremism, complicated by poor governance, poverty and low literacy. The young women of Aware Girls engage in programs in which young people are prevented to join militant groups, create open spaces for dialogue, revitalize indigenous culture destroyed by militants and promote nonviolence and pluralism in the community. Saba supported the idea of strengthening girls’ voices to bring prosperity in her community, and firmly believes that change has to come through the younger generation.

Under Saba’s leadership, Aware Girls in Pakistan ran several workshops on Digital Storytelling for girls. This enabled the girls to process complicated problems affecting their lives and give voice to their concerns, while teaching them digital skills, thus empowering them with new tools to address any issue. (See some of the videos here: https://vimeo.com/131196302 and https://vimeo.com/131195082.) Saba has been appointed by the UN General Secretary as a member of the Advisory Group for the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security and been awarded the Chirac Prize for Conflict prevention. Foreign Policy Magazine acknowledged her bravery and activism by recognizing her as one of 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013 and has been acknowledged in the “30 under 30 Campaign by the National Endowment for Democracy for her long struggle for democracy, peace and women’s rights.

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Florence Montmare

Florence Montmare is an artist, photographer and director, whose creative search has drawn her across the globe. Born in Vienna and raised in Stockholm by Swedish and Greek parents, she graduated with an MBA in Innovation & Design Management in Sweden. Subsequently, she worked for several years as a creative consultant in advertising. Seeking a new challenge, she took $200 and a single suitcase with her to New York City, transitioning simultaneously from the corporate to the fine art world. She traveled South America with only her Nikon F-301, a backpack full of TRI-X, and a diary and worked with international creative agencies and artists. After graduating from the International Center of Photography, New York, and working with fine art projects in Paris, Florence established her studio practice in New York and Stockholm. She makes photographs, films, installations and creative content, campaigns, television and film, while exhibiting her work at galleries internationally. Most of Florence’s work is process based — from concept to performance. Her writing, photography, video, performance, and installations are all utilized. Her fragmented stories function as a catalyst for the viewer’s personal fantasies, an open door into one’s own self discovery. See Florence’s work through this link: www.florencemontmare.com.