By Pang Joseph, March 29, 2017
Cameroon Journal, Kumba – Over the years, Kumba gained popularity for its famous “Kumba Bread.” The bread became so popular to the extent that travelers going out of the country would buy and part with it. But besides Kumba Bread, the city is also popular for a small stream that flows through it – popularly known as ‘Kumba wata’. Kumba is perhaps also the most popular economic hub in the entire Anglophone region of Cameroon. Most produce that feeds a gigantic part of the country is grown in Meme Division where Kumba is capital city.
K-town is also known for its resistance against the Paul Biya’s regime of 35 years. It is the only town in the South West region where the opposition SDF won all three councils, and since the Anglophone crisis started, has also been at the forefront of resistance to the status quo.
Our reporters took a special trip to this famous town to gage the mood of the people and events during this time of crisis in the two Anglophone regions of the Northwest and Southwest to which Kumba is part.
They started from Cameroun’s economic capital of Douala. Everything appeared normal here – the loud music, noisy neighbourhoods, crowded streets, road jams, amongst others. Students could be seen around in their uniforms and some passing time in Internet Cafes. As our reporters headed for the Southwest and crossed the Mungo Bridge – the natural border separating the South West from the Littoral region, their WhatsApp chats and internet connection immediately went frozen. Then it resonated in them the stack reality of living without Internet.
As we drove through towns like Tiko, Mutengenie and Buea, where we made some stops, there appeared to be some semblance of life. But we got no sight of a school uniform. At Mile 17 Buea, we found many children of school-going age hawking by the side of the road and they all had the same story to tell – “we don’t have classes because there is strike.”
Meanwhile, the campus of the well-known Government Teacher Training College (GTTC) looked like an abandoned campus. Of the isolated people we met there, none wanted to talk to us except behind doors. They suggested our reporters could be agents of La Republique come in plain clothes to set them up and then arrest and ship them to Yaoundé where they are not sure of returning home. And we couldn’t blame them. Setting-up Southern Cameroonian residence by plain cloth security officials with the goal of arresting unsuspecting victims and taking to Yaoundé has become one of the ways the Biya’s regime is employing to silent opinion since the Anglophone crisis started in October last year.
All over Buea, and even in the rest of the towns/cities, there is an atmosphere of fear; fear of “those boys” and fear of security operatives. “Those boys’ are the boys under the control and patronage of Anglophone movements. “Those Boys” poured petrol on a student as a warning sign and since then I cannot go to school,” a UB student confided in us. “They have been clandestinely going to school but that incident has made them feeling unsecured.” Another UB student said.
Francophone parents live in fear here and their children missing classes, though some still muster courage to show up in school, disguised in assorted dresses instead of uniforms.
As we hit the road for Kumba, from Muea to Malende, Muyuka to Banga Bakundu, Bombe, Mbalangi, Ediki, Mabonji and Kumba, the villages along the road looked deserted with all schools sealed. Almost everybody has gone to farm. The few that could be seen around are either sick or taking care of the very little ones who cannot make the hard trek to the farm. The thought of going back to school we observed, is long departed from their minds. All they bordered about is the upcoming farming season.
Arriving Kumba, Buea Road Motor Park was buoyant and we erroneously thought life must have returned to normal in Kumba as was before the strike started. But deeper into the town and talking with the people, we witness a different picture.
We meet some few students of CCAS Kumba coming back from school. They like their colleagues in Buea are all putting on assorted dresses and all of them are in examination classes. As anxious as they seemed to sit for the GCE, they are engulfed in fear. They recounted some horrible stories to us; how Government Secondary School Kang Barombi was razed down by fire from unknown individuals, how unidentified persons walked into GBHS Mambanda, parked the benches outside and set them ablaze, how one of the biggest private school complex, Diligent Bilingual Academy was almost burnt down to ashes, but thanks to the intervention of a neighbor who saw the assailants pouring petrol on the building and called the police.
We visited some businesses. Their main burden and cry is that Internet be restored. The absence of internet has crippled many commercial activities in both regions. In Bamenda, businesses, especially banks, have to commute to Bafousam in the West Region to do business, while people in Kumba and the rest of the Southwest have to go to Douala in the Littoral region.
In the absence of the internet, people have resorted to Short Message Services (sms) which were hitherto very unpopular to many before the crisis. However, it is through it that people now are able to inform others the world over, the latest arrests, torture, arsons, killings and other atrocities that the regime is letting loose on the masses.
Ironically, while internet has been shut down because government says it was being misused by propagators of violence, revolt and terrorism, the vacuum has been filled by activists who’ve now ‘hijacked’ the population with messages more revolutionary than those previously shared on social media.
SMS can spread more than messages sent exclusively through the internet. For example, in villages where there is no power supply and no internet, people are still able to receive SMS. And because the people have lost faith in any media controlled by Yaoundé and with the government’s eye on the private press forcing it to check its occasional critical messages, the masses are more prone to believing those revolutionary messages that get to them via SMS. The message that accompanies it asks you to do three things, read, share and delete. And you must delete, else at the next police or gendarme check point, your phone maybe seized and searched. Such messages found in any one’s phone are not only kept for evidence, the owner is immediately held in contempt of the state, arrested and taken to Yaoundé where they are tried in military tribunal under French law.
In Kumba like in every other town in Southern Cameroons, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow, but there is one expectation, and it is that one day the sun will shine. This is the message in most houses of worship where prayers are usually said for “God’s Will to prevail over gov’t’s will.”
From Douala to Kumba, after all was set and done, we got the impression that we are in another land; the people in this other land, cares less about what is happening in Yaoundé. Even the appointment of members of the Bilingualism and Multiculturalism commission doesn’t move them. They see Yaoundé as another territory, like Abuja, like Abidjan, like Kinshasa – just another country, and they frequently call it La Republique while Ambazonia is used to refer to Anglophone Cameroon. All they want from Yaoundé is the release of “our leaders,” restoration of internet and demilitarization of their towns and cities. Crossing the Mungo was like crossing the International Dateline. The stories are many but we cannot tell all.