Abductions are a new fundraising method used by separatists, analysts say. More than 30 women were taken last week for "allowing themselves to be manipulated by Cameroon's government," according to the insurgents.
The latest abduction of over 30 women by separatists has caused an uproar across Cameroon.
According to reports, they were forcibly taken from the village of Big Babanki, located about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Bamenda in the northwest of the country. Some were said to have been "severely tortured."
The separatist gangs responsible for these kinds of abductions are all part of a moblike structure running the region, where insurgents are waging attacks against the government: They impose illegal taxes on locals, which they collect monthly from women, men and even children.
They also demand taxes from unmarried couples, and even force families to pay the equivalent of about Ꞓ1,000 ($1,070) to bury their deceased relatives.
But dissent against the dissidents is growing: Ordinary citizens and civil society groups in Cameroon have expressed anger over the arbitrary way that separatists choose to run the region.
When residents refuse to be silenced, their leaders opt for violence, as was the case with the latest abductions: The women had reportedly refused to pay the illegal taxes imposed by the separatists and rejected a curfew imposed on them.
During the attack on the villagers, several of the women were reportedly injured; there were reports of violence and torture against them. Relatives of those who were abducted said they were anxious about their return.
Silencing women activists - for a reason
Ngongba Assumpta Lum, the founder of the Centre for Advocacy in Gender Equality and Action for Development, told DW that the kidnappings were deliberately aimed at trying to silence women in particular, as they are the ones who usually play a crucial role in crisis resolution in traditional and tribal societies in Cameroon.
"The kidnapping of these women in Babanki is a serious blow to us as civil society actors, especially as women-led organizations, peace advocates and organizations fighting for peace to return to the regions," she said, adding that she feared that this surge in abductions over the past five years would yet get worse.
"I think as mothers, we are greatly touched because this situation is going overboard," Lum added.
No trust in the government
Cameroon's government said on Wednesday that a special military operation to rescue the women was underway. However, locals aren't confident of a success, as it is the same government that these separatists are fighting.
Some of them had said the women were abducted for "allowing themselves to be manipulated by Cameroon's government."
But Sally Mbumien, a community leader in Bamenda, believes the actions of the fighters are an attempt to erode the power of women in Cameroon: "Not only is this politicizing our traditional institutions of women's power, it is also an insult to womanhood, to motherhood and also it sets the wrong precedence," he told DW, adding that this was "the worst thing that can happen."
Yvonne Muma, a resident of Bamenda, said she felt angered by the kidnappings, telling DW that the abduction was tantamount to a sacrilege: "These boys have just raised the wrath of God by touching our mothers. They will have no peace until they confess," Muma said.
Kidnappings: a new way of financing separatism
Cameroon has been plagued by fighting since English-speaking separatists launched a rebellion against the government in 2017. The dissidents say they want the region to secede from the area dominated by the French-speaking majority, and creating an independent, English-speaking state.
But the conflict has claimed more than 6,000 lives to date and has forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.
With insurgents running out of funds to continue with their campaign -- even despite collecting illegal taxes -- analysts believe that resorting to abductions appears to be an attractive way to finance their operations.
"Now we have cases of mass kidnappings. Initially, there would be one or two individuals being kidnapped and ransom being asked," human rights lawyer Agbor Balla told DW, adding that the number of abductions is skyrocketing.
According to Balla, tighter government controls on money laundering and the flow of illicitly obtained money have crippled the activities of the separatists.
"As government tightens financial flows, separatist leaders and sympathizers abroad ... it becomes difficult to get the necessary financial support to fund" their activities, he said, adding that endeavors in certain Western countries in the fight against terrorism and its funding had also helped bleed the pockets of separists dry.
Few rogue elements 'abducting' anglophone cause
Meanwhile, the concerns expressed by such separatists groups are regarded as valid: They allege that Anglophone speakers suffer political marginalization in Cameroon and lack the recognition of their cultural identity.
However, the more violent their methods become, the less sympathy they are likely to garner from outside observes -- and perhaps also from their own people, even if these kidnappings and other violent acts are only carried out by a few rogue figures in their midst.
Balla said their campaign against the government is also plagued by infighting and fragmentation, making it difficult for separatists to show an organized, united front, which he argues is exactly what allows fringe elements to resort to kidnapping and abusing civilians.
"Because there is no central command and control, most of the leaders of the fighters on the ground are just made of a few persons or groups and they need to fund their own struggles in their own communities," he said.
With citizens in the separatist-held regions losing faith in the leadership of the fighters and refusing to pay their bogus taxes that help fund their operations, analysts like Balla fear the number of abductions could surge drastically in the coming months.
Edited by: Sertan Sanderson