Cameroon’s deadly mix of war and coronavirus

Soldiers from the 21st Motorized Infantry Brigade patrol the streets of Buea, southwestern Cameroon on April 26, 2018.

Prominent Cameroonian human rights activist Beatrice Titanji jumped for joy when a large secessionist group declared a ceasefire on March 29 to protect people from the coronavirus "fury" in the English-speaking heart of the Central African state, but their hopes have been frustrated since then. anger continues.

"It is a frightening situation. Thousands are trapped in the bushes," Titanji told the BBC.

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"How do we tell you about Covid-19?" she added.

The Southern Cameroon Defense Forces (SCDF) unilaterally declared a ceasefire, after an appeal by the UN chief, António Guterres, for an end to conflicts around the world.

"The fury of the virus illustrates the madness of war," he said.

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"It is time to put the armed forces into conflict and focus on the real struggle of our lives," added Guterres.

However, none of the other separatist groups in Cameroon, estimated at a minimum of 15, responded to the call.

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Ambazonia's board of directors, which is one of the largest groups, said that a unilateral ceasefire would pave the way for government troops to march unopposed on territory under their control.

Hunger and disease

The Cameroonian government, led by French-speaking President Paul Biya, has also declared no truce and, to the dismay of aid workers, has banned humanitarian flights in addition to commercial flights in its efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

"If we have no means of reaching people and providing food and medicine, many of them will suffer. They will die of hunger and disease," said Titanji, an academic who leads the Women & # 39; s Guild for Women. Empowerment and Development, a non-governmental organization involved in peace initiatives in Cameroon.

Cameroon Map
Cameroon Map

Both English and French are official languages ​​in Cameroon, following a complicated colonial history, but in practice, the French-speaking majority dominates, leading the English-speaking minority to complain of discrimination.

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About 3,000 people have died since protests against the increasing use of French in courts and schools in the English-speaking countries of the Northwest and Southwest regions turned into violence in 2017.

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Nearly a million people have also been displaced by the conflict – many of them have fled to bush, where they built huts and villages when they started life again after their once peaceful cities and towns became battle zones.

Cameroon – still divided into colonial lines:

  • Colonized by Germany in 1884

  • British and French troops force Germans to leave in 1916

  • Cameroon is divided three years later – 80% goes to the French and 20% to the British

  • French-run Cameroon becomes independent in 1960

  • After a referendum, Southern (British) Cameroon joins Cameroon, while Northern Cameroon joins English-speaking Nigeria

Read More: Cameroon timeline

The UN children's agency, Unicef, estimates that about 255, or 34%, of the 7,421 health facilities in the northwest and southwest are not functional or only partially functional because of the conflict.

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Some facilities were attacked and set on fire, forcing doctors to flee.

This increased fears about treating people in the event of a major Covid-19 outbreak.

"We don't need war right now, with Covid-19 enraging and killing people" ", Source: Beatrice Titanji, Source description: Human rights activist, Image:

So far, Cameroon has registered more than 2,200 cases and 100 coronavirus-related deaths since March, the highest in central Africa.

However, few of them were in the Northwest and Southwest, either because of few tests or because the conflict severely restricted movement, effectively putting many urban and rural areas in confinement long before the coronavirus outbreak.

Like most civilians, soldiers are now seen wearing mass-produced protective masks and using hand sanitizer while patrolling towns and villages in the northwest and southwest.

Many people have lost their property and livelihoods because of the conflict
Many people have lost their property and livelihoods because of the conflict

However, there is little indication that the armed militias have taken any protective measures against the coronavirus or are equipped clinically to deal with infections in the forest's hideouts – where they sometimes keep government officials kidnapped.

About 300 government soldiers carried out a six-day operation against the separatists at the end of last month. The military said it killed 15 fighters and destroyed two of its military camps outside the northwestern city of Bafut.

Security forces are still looking for three government officials, including a court recorder, after they were apprehended by separatists in Boyo, another northwestern city, at the end of last month.

Lamenting the continuing conflict, Dr. Titanji said, "It is a great challenge to get help for the suffering masses. We don't need war at the moment, with Covid-19 infuriating and killing people."

More about the secessionist crisis:

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