In English-speaking Cameroon, civil war grips aid workers

To stay up to date with African news, subscribe to the “World Africa” newsletter from this link. Every Saturday at 6 am, find a week of current events and debates treated by the editorial staff of “Monde Afrique”.

Gendarmerie patrol in Buea, the capital of the southwest, one of Cameroon's two English-speaking regions, in October 2018.

On August 23, Diomède Nzobambona, a 62-year-old Canadian, died of injuries received the day before during a ” aggression In Bamenda. This employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was in the Cameroonian regional capital of the North-West “To provide humanitarian assistance to communities affected by armed violence “, According to a press release from the NGO.

If the circumstances remain to be clarified, the death of this specialist in water and sanitation issues shocked humanitarian workers working in the North-West and the South-West, the two English-speaking regions of the country plunged since 2017 into a war. civilian opposing the Cameroonian army and separatists.

Read also In Cameroon, the English-speaking regions “remain locked in a cycle of deadly violence”

Aid workers increasingly come under direct attacks, many of which have resulted in deaths, injuries, kidnappings, hijackings of company vehicles and delays in aid operations », Explains Carla Martinez, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Cameroon. According to him, four employees of organizations have been killed since 2019, while more than 19 others have been kidnapped in the past 16 months in the two regions.

Humanitarians are numerous to warn about the“Extreme” difficulty in carrying out their mission in these regions where they are found ” trapped Between the government and the secessionists who accuse them each of working for the other camp. At the beginning of August, Médecins sans frontières (MSF) was forced to withdraw its teams in the North-West after an eight-month suspension by the Cameroonian authorities who accused the NGO of supporting armed groups, which it denies ” categorically “.

“Great vulnerability”

In 2020, until the interruption of its operations on December 8, MSF offered ” the only free 24/7 ambulance service In the area and said to have transported 4,407 patients, including more than 1,000 women about to give birth. His departure thus deprives ” thousands of people in lifesaving care ”In a context already trying for the populations.

Médecins sans frontières is not the only non-governmental organization of international scope in Yaoundé’s sights. In a statement released on August 26, the Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji, To given one month to foreign organizations working in the country to submit the complete list of their employees whether they are Cameroonians or expatriates, their employment contracts, their activity programs …

A request denounced by civil society. ” We just want to make sure they use staff with integrity »And are not, with regard to NGOs operating in English-speaking Cameroon, in “Collusion with the separatists, these terrorists », Assures a government source who wishes to remain anonymous.

Read also From a dungeon in Cameroon to French courts, the endless fight of Michel Thierry Atangana

But, at the same time, many employees of these organizations are regularly kidnapped by “Ambaboys” – nickname of the secessionists who named their “country” Ambazonia. ” The problem is that some aid workers have ventured into our territory without asking us for the right of passage. They were arrested and then released after investigations were carried out to verify their identity and their mission. “, Justifies Daniel Capo, deputy chief of the army of the Ambazonia Governing Council, one of the secessionist groups, which affirms to maintain” a good relationship with the workers ” following the ” protocols “.

Humanitarians urge the two parties pinned for numerous human rights violations to respect their ” neutrality And to facilitate their work in the face of the immense needs of civilians caught in the crossfire. ” They lack food, health products, protection … With Covid-19, funds have been reduced even further. The populations are in great vulnerability », Deplores Esther Omam, the executive director of the Cameroonian NGO Reach Out.

“The biggest obstacle”

Four years of conflict in Anglophone Cameroon have already claimed more than 3,500 lives and forced more than 700,000 residents to flee their homes. On the ground, the fighting continues. According to Carla Martinez of OCHA, no less than 1.15 million people are today in a situation of “ severe food insecurity In these two regions.

The government is failing to get help to all who need it. However, those who support him in this work by providing food, clothing, care … are forbidden », Is offended Ayah Ayah Abine, president of the Ayah foundation. This Cameroonian organization, committed to English-speaking displaced persons and refugees who have left for neighboring Nigeria, has been accused ” by government allies »To supply the “Ambaboys” in arms ” without there being any semblance of proof ”, proclaims the businessman.

Read our series on Pygmies In Cameroon, the pharmacopoeia of the Pygmies and their health endangered by deforestation

Son of Paul Ayah Abine, a former deputy of the ruling party and attorney general at the Supreme Court of Cameroon, spent in the opposition and a time imprisoned, Ayah Ayah Abine denounces a political settling of accounts. Since January 2020, his personal bank account as well as those of the foundation and his father have been frozen by Yaoundé and the NGO has lost its many patrons and partners in Cameroon as well as within the diaspora.

However, “We have supported thousands of displaced people. We made eleven trips to Nigeria. We have pictures, invoices », insist Ayah Ayah Abine, who concludes: ” The government is the biggest obstacle for all those who do humanitarian work in the English-speaking regions.

The government does not prevent NGOs from circulating everywhere ”, defends the government source already cited. According to this official, the authorities take action only against organizations that ” carry weapons “But also who” receive and treat gunshot wounds without reporting them ”. But on the ground, many Cameroonian associations, which prefer to speak anonymously, say they are under pressure from the authorities when they invest in the victims of the Anglophone crisis.