7 October 2018

Cameroon Election - Volatile Anglophone Regions Locked Down

Photo: Fred Muvunyi/Deutsche Welle
Voting has closed in Cameroon despite low a turn-out up in Buea, the capital of the southwestern region.

Fear of violence around the October 7 vote is greatest in anglophone regions as incumbent President Paul Biya seeks another seven-year term in office. Separatists have vowed to prevent the polls from taking place.

The capital of Cameroon's southwest, Buea, is a ghost city. Shops, banks, schools and markets are closed. Public services have been suspended. A town that once had around 200 people has been left deserted by the ongoing conflict.

Fear is rife here in Buea as anglophones brace for violence after separatist fighters vowed war on voting day. "Everybody is scared because the separatists say that Buea is the capital of Ambazonia and they could attack," journalist Tilarious Aznohnwi Atia told DW. "Whenever the separatists attack, the military retaliates and attacks neighborhoods and ransacks houses," Atia said, adding that ordinary citizens continue to suffer.

The separatists had vowed that no political campaigns or elections would take place in their country, which they call "Ambazonia." Only one political rally was held in Buea, but none of the candidates, including the incumbent president, dared to meet voters in the volatile region.

Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of Vanguard Africa, agrees with the Douala-based cardinal priest of the Catholic Church. "Should Biya be declared the winner, Cameroon will continue on its downward trajectory, with the very real possibility of increased violence, additional human rights abuses and the same sort of brazen impunity that has long characterized Biya's oppressive rule," Smith said.

Vanguard is a nonprofit organization that partners with African leaders and democracy activists to consolidate democratic gains and advocate for free and fair elections in Africa.

The conflict in anglophone regions, however, is not the only problem the country has, said Edith Kahbang Walla, president of the opposition Cameroon People's Party (CPP). "Living as a Cameroonian is a risk. Because we don't have hospitals, we don't have roads; we are dying every single day from the governance of Mr. Biya," she told DW.

The opposition leader and former presidential candidate in 2011 has vowed to unseat Biya through protests. Her party isn't taking part in the election, criticizing the country's "poor electoral process" and an uneven political playing field that is inherently tilted in favor of the ruling party.

Nevertheless, Walla remains positive and is motivated by recent power changes in Africa. "If it happened in Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe why not here in Cameroon?" she asked, calling on her supporters to join her cause.

But Walla's optimism isn't shared by already-broken-hearted anglophones. "I can't stay here, seriously," a 28-year-old man told DW. "The number of years I have been in this country, hustling to make a better living -- I have achieved nothing. Maybe I should leave this country."

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