The ravages of insecurity in Kembong village
Since 1st October 2017 when Anglophone (the English speaking) Cameroon rose up to hoist their flag for the restoration of their independence Kembong village has been in tension. The intensity heightened on 5th Dec this year when the gendarmes raised the alarm due to an attack on them by some gunmen the previous night at their gendarmerie. The gendarmes in return unnecessarily started controlling and blocking peoples’ movements. The village was taken hostage by the gendarmes. This exercise went on for more than two weeks with harassment and imposition of unreasonable charges on people whom the gendarmes felt did not respond submissively to that kind of treatment.
It was during this period that my colleague, the parish priest of Kembong, Fr. Vuni Tiberius mhm was harassed as he was coming back from a mission station after his pastoral visit. Seeing him driving towards them, one of them cocked his gun ready to shoot. After stopping he was asked to go back to where he came from, but subsequently while in conversation with one of them, the other gendarme was outraged and shot one of the tyres. My colleague reported this case of abuse to their boss and also complained to the Bishop.
A week later, while he was going about his parish duty on the parish motorcycle they harassed him again and impounded the bike and told him to leave his bike with them and go back. One of them pushed him from behind and cleared his legs and he fell acrobatically and hit the dust. They claimed they did not know him, before even inquiring about his identity. He again reported the incident to their boss. This time they were asked to bring back the bike to the parish house and apologise to my colleague which they did. But surprisingly during our conversation with those who brought the bike, as we tried to ask them to treat people humanly since these are the people they are meant to protect, they told us we should not think that they are here to protect the people because everyone in the village is an enemy. This statement from the forces of law and order really troubled us to the extent that Guylain, one of our temporary members, asked “so it means that one day we shall wake up in this village and find everyone dead.” This is how they continued harassing people in the village especially those with motorcycles even when the farmers are going or coming back from their farms.
Such manhandling of the people by the gendarmes sitting at the crossroads in groups in Kembong had become a source of insecurity to inhabitants. It was until Monday the 18th this month at around 11:00 that the group of young men called “Odeshi boys” as we have come to learn, appeared and scattered them at their different grouping points. The “Odeshi boys” simply carried their local hunting guns and clearing cutlasses. With the attack on the gendarmes 4 gendarmes were reported dead while no death of any “Odeshi” member was reported. During the attack, we heard numerous gunshots which went on for quite some time. The first shots began directly opposite our parish Church from where one gendarme well-known to us was killed by the boys. The shooting went on till the evening of that day.
After some time reinforcements were sent to Kembong and the gendarmes overpowered the boys and the boys retreated. The gendarmes continued shooting and some other gendarmes started setting houses on fire. All this happened while I watched it powerlessly from inside the parish house with our MEP student Guylain and some other people who had already escaped to the parish during the attack and whose houses were also set on fire.
Some people who came to take refuge to our parish house told us horrific stories of how they were mistreated by the gendarmes who forced them out of their houses to set them on fire. They narrated how they were beaten up and rolled in the dust. It is very painful to hear the story of two old men and one mama who were forced out of their houses, beaten and then had their houses set on fire.
This incident has been a horrible one, it has left many people whose houses were burnt with nothing except the dirty clothes they were wearing since the majority were caught whilst working on their farms. Some cannot move anywhere because even their identity cards were also consumed by the fire. People are in deep depression they do not know where to begin so that life can move on again. We have talked with a number of them as parish pastoral team. Their only consolation and hope is God who has saved their lives. They put brave faces to it, grateful to God for sparing their lives.
There are still a number of women, children and men both those whose houses were burned and those who are living in the bush for fear of another attack by the military men. They just appear at some hours of the day to get something to eat in the parish and they disappear back into the bush. In the evening come back to the parish house to sleep. It has been hard to convince them to remain in the parish house. They do not feel secure at all.
There is a lot which needs to be done for our unfortunate people – spiritual, psychological, material and medical support. We are doing the little we can in our own little way. We have shared the little food we have with them and we continue to do so, we have shared some clothes with those who lost everything in the fires. We thank all those who have supported us morally since Monday through phone calls and in a special way we thank the Mill Hill house, Foncha Street, Bamenda and sister Hedwig of TSSF in Kumbo for donating some food stuff to support the homeless and internally displaced people. We trust in God’s providence. We know God cannot abandon his people. We hereby advocate for justice from the government for one man cannot do something and many innocent people suffer for that crime committed unjustly. Here comes a cry for justice that justice should prevail!
Fr. Cosmas Ondari mhm.