In English-speaking Cameroon where the civil war is raging, “this CAN finds us in mourning”

Football Ruth Acha and three of her neighbors, sitting cross-legged on the floor on a small tiled veranda, took “Together a decision for a period of one month” : there will be “No football at home”. “My four boys, who love this sport, know that they can see everything on television except the CAN matches [Coupe d’Afrique des nations], explains this widow of 58 years. I am a mother. For more than five years I have seen Anglophones being killed or suffering in this war. »

“If Paul Biya and the government had put the same energy into resolving the conflict as that put into the organization of this CAN, I am sure that the war would be over, interrupts him Solange (the first names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of the people interviewed). My husband made the decision. I told my friends about it and they agreed. “

Boycott CAN

Limbé is a seaside town in the South-West, one of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon (with the North-West) plunged since 2017 into a civil war between the Cameroonian army and the separatists. Like Ruth and her neighbors, some residents interviewed said they wanted “Boycott” the CAN in order to show their anger at a conflict that has already happened, according to the non-governmental organization International Crisis Group (ICG), more than 6,000 dead and forced more than 500,000 people to leave their homes.

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The city is due to welcome, from Wednesday January 12, the teams of Group F, made up of Mali, Mauritania, Tunisia and Gambia, who will play their matches at the omnisports stadium.

“I wonder why we did not resolve this crisis before organizing the CAN. There are too many atrocities in the English-speaking area ”, deplores Gilbert, a resident of Limbé

“I’m not against the Lions. I love them a lot. But this CAN finds us in mourning. In both regions, there is not a single family that does not suffer from this war. I have lost people from my family. I will not see any match ”, assures Carl Mukete, his hands loaded with concrete blocks in a house under construction.

Beside him, Gilbert makes the count: a kidnapped great-uncle, a killed friend, twenty brothers, cousins, aunts … “Forced to flee”, children who “No longer go to school” “If I see the matches or go to the stadium in Limbé, it’s as if I was happy for all that, he said. I wonder why we did not resolve this crisis before organizing the CAN. There are too many atrocities in the English-speaking area. “

Exactions

Human rights organizations regularly denounce the abuses committed by separatist groups and the Cameroonian army. In a statement published on January 7, the NGO ICG called on both parties to take advantage of the” opportunity “ CAN to call for a ceasefire.

On the Limbé market, January 4, 2022.

Separatist groups threatened to take action to disrupt competition. The government claims to have taken protective and surveillance measures for the good performance of the event as during the African Nations Football Championship (CHAN) which was held in January 2021 in Cameroon (Limbé hosted some matches). “There is no problem. No need to worry ”, confided to World, December 27, Emmanuel Ledoux Engamba, the prefect of the department of Fako (South-West).

The army has increased its numbers. In the city of Limbé, the pick-ups of the defense forces are patrolling. Visits by officials or teams to this part of the country are under military escort. Mid-December, the “tour” in the North-West of Mola, the CAN 2022 mascot, equipped with a bulletproof vest and surrounded by heavily armed soldiers, has toured social networks. Just like the photo of the players of the Mauritanian national team parading in the streets of Limbé surrounded by soldiers. “The two parties persist in pursuing a strategy which can only mutually harm them”, deplores the International Crisis Group.

Risk of escalation

According to the NGO, the measures taken by the government could provoke a popular reaction and an escalation of the conflict, while the attacks of the separatists “Risk eroding the capital of sympathy enjoyed by Anglophone Cameroonians in Africa and elsewhere”.

“Since January, at least one bomb has exploded and at least two others have been discovered in time in and around Limbé by army demining teams. », according to security sources. In recent months, bombs have exploded in Buea, the regional capital of the South-West, injuring many.

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Some football fans fear explosions. This is the case of Elvis Kubi, who would like to go to the stadium in Limbé. “But I’m afraid of bombs”, admits this young man employed in a shop in front of the university of Buéa. On November 11, an explosion left 11 injured on campus. Which “Terribly traumatized” Collins, journalism and communications student. “Part of my heart tells me to go to the stadium in Limbé, the other is discouraged”, he sighs.

“Attacked for our love of football”

In a market in Buea, Salomon, a trader, thinks that “Normally, going to see the match in Limbé does not mean that we support the government or the Ambaboys [le surnom des sécessionnistes]. We shouldn’t be attacked for our love of football. The Indomitable Lions, for example, represent Cameroon. Not the government ”.

A few steps from him, Joseph Nguefack, who runs a second-hand clothes stand, finally decided: “Despite the risks”, this trader will go to the Limbé stadium. Her neighbor, a tuber seller, exclaims: ” Be careful. They will say that you are one of the black legs” [complices du gouvernement]. »

This fear drives John, whose shop faces Joseph’s counter, to hide the Indomitable Lions jerseys at the back of his stall. “You don’t know who’s a separatist and who isn’t. They threw a bomb here last month. Nobody died but, it was a warning ”, believes this quadra.

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In Limbé, Nicholas exhibited jerseys but not the green-red-yellow flags, the colors of Cameroon. A national team gadget seller for over twenty years, he finds that “It’s dangerous: the clothes still fit. The separatists also have their flags. They may want my skin just for that ”, he explains. Like his neighbor, he only pulls out the flags at the request of customers, who are scarce. “Before the Anglophone crisis, I sold over 100 jerseys a day when the Lions were playing. Since then, there is hardly anyone ”, he laments.

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In English-speaking Cameroon where the civil war is raging, “this CAN finds us in mourning”

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