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