Yaounde — In Cameroon, thousands of people are demonstrating this week, calling for peace and reconciliation ahead of National Day on May 20. Peace caravans led by activists, clerics and traditional rulers are calling for an end to hate speech and the separatist conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people in Cameroon since 2017.
A band of youths leads several hundred Cameroonians in protests against hate speech in the capital, Yaounde, on Thursday. The protesters are also calling for peace and reconciliation in the central African state.
Organizers say the protests began in towns and villages across Cameroon on Monday ahead of the country's National Day on May 20.
Thousands of Christians from Cameroon's Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist churches joined the protest in Yaounde Thursday.
Reverend Father Humphrey Tatah Mbui is the director of communications at the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon. He said Christians cannot be indifferent at a time when increasing hate speech and xenophobic statements are creating conflicts and damaging Cameroon's image.
"It is wickedness and the type of hate speech that destroys the country. If we want peace in this country we must learn to start controlling the kind of words we use, the way we talk to other people and dialogue," he said.
Mbui said clashes between communities increased in Cameroon after the disputed 2018 presidential election in which President Paul Biya was declared the winner. Opposition leader Maurice Kamto also claimed victory.
In addition, some French-speaking host communities accuse English speakers displaced by the separatist conflict in the west of being separatist fighters or sympathizers.
The tension goes the other way, too. Earlier this month, a human rights group said scores of French speaking civilians in English-speaking regions were victims of hate speech.
Meanwhile, Cameroon's National Communication Council issued over two dozen warnings last year to radio and TV stations the NCC says hosted guests who promoted hate speech.
Cameroon's communication minister, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, said civilians are also increasingly using social media to vilify and humiliate people, or to incite hatred and call for violence against people of different religions, languages, ethnic groups and gender.
Sadi said all social strata in Cameroon suffer the consequences of hate speech fanned by some civil society groups, intellectuals, politicians, activists and social influencers. He said the most common manifestations of hate speech in Cameroon include ethnic and social discrimination, stigmatization, tribalism, irredentist claims, calls for insurgency and sometimes genocide, gender violence and violence against minorities.
Sadi said the Cameroon government is fighting hate speech as a priorty to safeguard democracy and the rule of law and to preserve the values of peace, unity and living together.
The government says President Biya wants Cameroonians to show love for their country as they celebrate National Day on Saturday. Biya will preside over celebrations in Yaounde.
In 2021, the International Crisis Group warned in a report that social media platforms, especially Facebook, were increasingly being used by Cameroonian youths to heighten political and ethnic tensions.