Thursday, December 15, 2016

Why Cameroonians must denounce the army

In 2015 Cameroonians came out en masse in major cities across the country and on social media to show "solidarity" with the army in the fight against Boko Haram. Twenty two months later the army deployed to crack down on civilians in Bamenda. Cameroonians who declared "Je suis l'armée camerounaise" in 2015 have a moral responsibility to now denounce the army and distance themselves from a state apparatus that has a reputation of brutality and human rights violations - an apparatus which they, knowingly or unknowingly, endorsed and emboldened.

Over the past couple of weeks Cameroon's minority English-speaking regions have borne the brunt of yet another episode of brutality and killing by state security forces. According to Reuters police in Cameroon shot and killed four anti-government demonstrators on Thursday 8 December 2016. Protesters were reportedly opposed to a planned rally by the ruling political party, Cameroon People's Democratic Front (CPDM). A Reuters reporter saw police open fire on the crowd.

Graphic photos and videos flooded Facebook during the protests as demonstrators and people on the ground uploaded images in real time. One of the numerous videos circulating on Facebook shows two dead civilians lying on the tarmac. Another video shows demonstrators carrying a dead civilian on a makeshift stretcher. Another shows a street in Bamenda looking like a war zone with the army on patrol. Another shows army personnel intimidating civilians with guns. A 12-year old boy was also reportedly shot, and there are videos of people fleeing their homes in Bambili in the northwest region.

According to a BBC correspondent in Bamenda one victim was shot in the mouth and two others wee shot in the head and back of the neck. More than fifteen casualties were reportedly treated at the Bamenda hospital - many of them critically wounded. The deaths came after a month of protests sparked by lawyers in Bamenda. Lawyers in Buea, teachers, students and the general public later joined the struggle.

As if the mayhem committed in Bamenda was not enough, more military personnel were reportedly sent to Bamenda to join efforts to quell protests.

My Take

Screenshot of Facebook video showing army in Bamenda
In 2015 I argued that civilian show of "solidarity" with the Cameroonian army was misguided and based on emotion rather than reason. I argued that the Cameroonian army is brutal and has no regard for human rights. I cited Amnesty International's 2014/2015 annual report (see page 95) which implicated Cameroon's security forces, including the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) in human rights violations such as killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions - mostly committed in the context of fighting terrorism.

I argued, in a blog post, that the demonstrations organized in Yaounde and Douala to show support for the military would have been crushed by the same military if the demonstrations were anti-government demonstrations. I concluded that I do not think the "new-found solidarity" between the army and the people will endure since the army will enthusiastically repress the people the next time it is deployed to do so. I submitted that when that time comes the slogan "Je suis l'armée camerounaise" would, perhaps, change to "Je ne suis pas l'armée camerounaise."

Well, twenty two months later, needless to say, the time has come. As of the time of this writing the army, together with police and gendarmes, is in Bamenda repressing civilians. This time Cameroonian civilians are the enemy - not Boko Haram militants. There are reports of alleged acts of violence against civilians and private property in Bamenda.

And according to Amnesty International there are 130 people still missing 20 months after they were arrested in a crackdown on suspected Boko Haram members in a villages of Magdeme and Doublé in the Far North region on 27 December 2014. At least 9 civilians, including a child, were also killed during the cordon-and-search operation. In addition, more than 70 homes and buildings were destroyed. Amnesty International urged Cameroonian authorities to stop using the fight against Boko Haram to justify blatant violation of human rights.

In essence, mindful of the brutal crackdown on English-speaking Cameroonian civilians in the north west and south west regions, and human rights violations committed in the Far North region, Cameroonian state security forces violate human rights on two fronts: in the fight against terrorism and in the fight against unarmed anti-government protesters, including lawyers, teachers, students and the general civilian population.

To reiterate: "Je suis l'armée camerounaise" demontrations in February 2015 were a misguided show of support for a brutal force, and an endorsement of atrocities committed by the latter. Moi, "Je ne suis pas l'armée camerounaise." I am not the army of Cameroon. I was not the army in 2015, I am not the army in 2016 and I won't be the brutal army of Cameroon until human rights violations committed by the army are stopped, investigated and all perpetrators brought to book.

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