200 civilians killed, 20,000 IDPs, 70 communities raided and 40 schools closed

The Diocese of Buea has been seriously affected by the worsening socio-political crisis in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, both Anglophone regions of the country.  This is the conclusion reached by the international foundation Aid to the Church in Need after consulting sources close to the local Church in the area.

According to the information received by, there are more than 20,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within the Diocese. Since the crisis began to escalate in November 2016 over eight localities or communities have been burned down, 70 raided and 25 abandoned forcing the inhabitants to seek refuge in farms and bushes. Based on statistics and estimates of local and international Human Rights organizations, more than 200 civilians (not only Catholics) have been killed, including children and women, within the Diocese.

This sociopolitical crisis has resulted in severe consequences for the pastoral life of the Church as well, which has been seriously disrupted. About 10 parishes and mission stations, especially within the Muyuka and Muea Deaneries, were forced to suspend their pastoral work. Some other parishes have been attacked during fighting between government security forces and pro-independence fighters, such as Bolifamba (Mile 16) on 24 December 2018 or Muyuka, Ekona and Muea on 25 March  2019.

The lives of priests have also been threatened. The brutal killing of Rev. Father Alexander Sob of Bomaka Parish on 20 July  2018 in Muyuka remains a true reminder of the risk faced by the clergy in the present context, states the ACN’s sources.

Map of Cameroon's Anglophone Crisis from 2018.

Map of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis from 2018.

Not only the pastoral work but also the educational activities promoted by the diocese are suffering the consequences of the crisis. 40 Catholic primary schools have been closed since 2016. Others have been attacked and vandalized, like Our Lady of Grace College in Muyuka and Our Lady Mount Carmel College in Muea, on 22 September 2017. This was followed by an attack by armed civilians on the iconic St. Joseph’s College Sasse in Buea. About 20 people, including students and teachers, were injured in the attack, which forced the temporary closure of Catholic colleges in the diocese.

On the other hand diocesan medical centers such as Mt. Mary Hospital Buea and Regina Pacis Hospital Muntengene have witnessed a drastic fall in the number of patients. This has been largely due to the mass exodus of people to other areas. ACN’s information reports that situations have been observed in which state security forces have entered Catholic medical centers with firearms in search of suspected pro- independence fighters undergoing treatment. There have been cases of women giving birth with no medical attention.

In addition, sources predict severe food shortages and rising prices due to the fact that farmers are forced to leave their villages and farmland. Threats to food security, malnutrition and other health-related problems will be inevitable in the near future.

The current crisis began to escalate in the Diocese in October 2016 when Cameroon’s security/defense forces used live ammunition during protests by the population of the Anglophone regions in the southwest and northwest of the country, who felt marginalized by the majority French-speaking authorities. They accuse them of imposing the French language and traditions on them and demand greater autonomy and respect for their customs.

According to ACN, in the face of all these challenges, the clergy and the faithful continue to show perseverance and great faith in observing their pastoral commitments. The massive participation during big celebrations, such as Chrism Mass 2019 at the Cathedral in Small Soppo in Buea, is a clear testament to this.

Aid to the Church in Need has supported in the Diocese of Buea more than 20 projects in the last 25 years. In 2019 most of ACN’s help was dedicated to female religious congregations affected by the crisis.

 

 

At present the Anglophone areas of Cameroon are being constantly shaken by a conflict between Anglophone separatist groups and the Francophone central government. In this context of fratricidal conflict, the Church is attempting to rekindle dialogue between the two parties. Bishop Emmanuel Abbo of Ngaoundéré, in the Francophone area, who is 49, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Bibi of Bamenda, in the Anglophone area, talk about the situation in their country.

ACN: “Are we talking about ‘civil war’ in the Anglophone areas?

Bishop Michael Bibi: The elections in October 2018 should have enabled the people of this region to express themselves democratically via the ballot box. But in reality the situation is more complicated than that, since there are a great many internally displaced people and very few Cameronian’s were able to vote in practice. Unfortunately, the conditions for a peaceful exercise in democracy are not established. And yet it is only through a candid and inclusive dialogue that we will be able to emerge from this crisis. But for the time being, the only voices urging this are the religious leaders!

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: I am not on the spot, but the news that reaches us is not reassuring. We receive widely differing information, so it is difficult to speak objectively.

Mgr. Emmanuel Abbo, Bishop of N'Gaoundere, Cameroon, visited in January the Headquarters of ACN.

Mgr. Emmanuel Abbo, Bishop of N’Gaoundere, Cameroon, visited in January the Headquarters of ACN.

ACN: On several occasions the Church in Cameroon has sounded the alarm, alerting us to the situation of the priests and religious living in the Anglophone areas. What kind of role is the Church able to play?

Bishop Michael Bibi: The Church is on the front line. A priest and a seminarian have both been murdered in the Anglophone region. In the case of the latter it was a deliberate execution, staged in front of his church in the presence of the parishioners. And sadly, these two are not simply isolated cases. I receive alarming news from many priests and religious who have been shot at, or kidnapped and ransomed. I myself have been arrested, but they let me go again after a few hours.

I can bear witness to the fact that the clergy who stay on in the Anglophone area are particularly under threat. We speak the truth. We tell the young people to stay in school and not join the militias, that it will lead to nothing – and so the militias accuse us of playing the government’s game for them. But we also denounce the actions of the government army and call for the region to be demilitarised – and so all of a sudden we are accused by the authorities of siding with the rebels! The truth we speak is not welcome in the midst of this fratricidal conflict. The truth is that both sides are involved in the killing and are only adding violence to violence.

Mgr. Michael Miabesue Bibi, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamenda (Cameroon) visited the headquarters of ACN in Königstein in January.

Mgr. Michael Miabesue Bibi, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamenda (Cameroon) visited the headquarters of ACN in Königstein in January.

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: The Church is playing her part in resolving conflicts and upholding the peace. The bishops’ conference is taking initiatives, but we prefer the path of quiet diplomacy, talking directly to the parties in the conflict, since too much media attention risks undermining the success of these initiatives.

 

ACN: How is the Church faring in your country?

Bishop Michael Bibi: Thanks be to God, the Cameroonian people have a strong faith. They attend Sunday Mass with real fervour, and we have a number of priestly vocations. What is needed now is for our political leaders to be likewise illuminated by this faith.

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: My diocese was evangelised barely 60 years ago. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a congregation of French origin, arrived here in the 1950s. There are three factors that give me hope: I have a cohort of priests in my diocese who are very young, very dynamic and with whom I enjoy an excellent collaboration; then we have the presence of the religious congregations, who share our pastoral concerns; and finally, despite the widespread poverty, we have the Catholic faithful who are willing to do whatever they can to help our Church move forward.

 

We are facing enormous challenges. On the pastoral level, the diocese does not have enough priests – that is why I have appealed for fidei donum priests to come – nor does it have enough human and material resources. In the social sphere, we would like to be able to rebuild our schools and health centres in solid materials. And in the development field we would like to be able to support our people, who are extremely poor, in organising associations or cooperatives. And one of our priorities in the pastoral field is the construction of a diocesan pastoral centre where we can hold our formation sessions which we would like to organise for our 343 catechists and 57 priests.

ACN: Would you like to say something to our benefactors?

Bishop Michael Bibi: We need the prayers of ACN. And we also need practical help for the victims of the conflict in the Anglophone region, in line with the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked, and you clothed me.”

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: I would like to thank them all for their generosity. They have been a huge support for us in our dioceses, and especially here in Cameroon, because ACN helps us greatly with our pastoral projects. And please redouble your generosity, because our problems and our concerns are continuing to grow.

Nigeria is not the only country suffering from the terror of Boko Haram. Its neighbour, Cameroon also suffers from the violence of Islamist terror groups in the northern part of the country. It is true that the organised armed attacks by Boko Haram have now decreased in the face of a united military offensive by several African countries, but there continue to be suicide bombings, murders and abductions in the affected areas. Many people are living in fear.

The Catholic diocese of Maroua-Mokolo in the Far North Region of Cameroon faces many difficult challenges. Not only is it situated in one of the poorest parts of the country, but it also has to take in large numbers of Nigerian and Cameroonian refugees.

 

Help for the training of priests in a diocese threatened by Boko Haram terrorists in Cameroon

Help for the training of priests in a diocese threatened by Boko Haram terrorists in Cameroon

 

There is a positive side to this, however, for the people‘s faith is unbroken and despite the fear of attacks, people continue to flock into the churches. At the same time the number of vocations is also growing. At present there are 32 seminarians training for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary, plus another 18 youngsters at the minor seminary and four more who are studying in their so-called „propedutic year“ – a form of educational foundation year in preparation for entering the seminary proper. This is an astonishingly high number, given that there are only around 84,000 Catholics in the diocese. Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo is naturally delighted at these vocations, but he desperately needs financial help in order to be able to give these young men a solid and thorough formation. He has asked ACN for help and we are planning to give him 27,000 Euros.

Cameroon is in the midst of a political and social conflict between the English and French-speaking areas. What was a German colony in the late nineteenth century was divided into British and French mandates after the defeat of Germany in World War I. Both joined in an independent Cameroon in 1961. However, the population of the anglophone regions – in the southwest and northwest of the country- have felt marginalized by the French-speaking authorities. They accuse them of imposing the French language and traditions and demand greater autonomy and respect for their customs.

The level of unrest in Cameroon has been growing since 2016, when the country’s English-speaking community began to demand a return to federalism. There have been violent confrontations between government forces and secessionist militants, who have sought independence of the self-proclaimed republic of Ambazonia from the Republic of Cameroon. The army has not refrained from using force in its repression of Anglophones, which has led to more than 500 deaths and some 200,000 displaced persons.

Maria Lozano from the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need speaks about the situation with Auxiliary Bishop Mons. Michael MIABESUE BIBI of Bamenda, a mostly English-speaking archdiocese in northwestern Cameroon.

 

Mons. Michael Miabesue Bibi - Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamenda.

Mons. Michael Miabesue Bibi – Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamenda.

 

Maria LOZANO: Please fill us in on the background to the current situation in Cameroon: What happened in 2016? What triggered the crisis?

Mons. Michael MIABESUE BIBI: The Crisis began in 2016 when the common law lawyers of the anglophone regions in Cameroon requested that the Ohada Law be translated from French into English so that they too could apply it properly in a language they understood. This was accompanied by peaceful demonstrations but the military was sent out to stop them. The lawyers boycotted work in court and requested that French lawyers should not be sent to English courts and also that in the Anglophone courts cases should be handled in English and not French.

In November 2016, teachers called for a strike to begin on the 21st to protest the fact that French teachers were being sent to work in the English Regions and they were not teaching children in proper English since they were not anglophone. They requested that such teachers be transferred and in their stead English speaking teachers be sent to work in the anglophone regions. These demands also met with repression and herein lies the root causes of the present problem.

Some media talk about the threat of a civil war in Cameroon. Do you think that the situation is so serious?

The situation is very serious. Since it started in 2016, it has been steadily degenerating. What began as a matter of translating documents, transfer of teachers and reinstating the English subsystem of education, grew into the request for a two state federation and finally to a request of secession from the French speaking Cameroon. Since February 2018, there has been serious lost of human life on the side of the military and the boys fighting for the secessionist cause. We are living in a situation of grave insecurity and if the conflict is not solved quickly, there will be even worse ahead.

The recent elections of 7 October will have some effect on the crisis? Do you think that positive and productive steps can be taken?

In my opinion, the president can solve this problem if he decides to bring the people together and dialogue with them. What has happened so far is that government officials have been sent out on a good number of occasions but it has not helped to solve the problem. In my opinion, the silence of the president has been one of the reasons why people have been radicalized. If he comes out and speaks to all Cameroonians as his children I am sure they will listen to him. We need frank and sincere dialogue to solve the problem and this demands humility from both conflicting parties.

The Cameroonian Episcopal Conference has said that there were serious irregularities in the English-speaking regions” and many voters were not able to participate in the vote due to insecurity. How is the situation now regarding security?

Nearly every day in the English speaking region especially from Bamenda where I come from, there are gunshots fired either by the military or by the boys fighting for the cause, known as “ambazonian boys” (short amba boys). There is insecurity in the region and it was the reason why the elections could not take place in certain areas. In some areas where few people voted, they were heavily guarded by the military in order to be able to do so. Yes, there is insecurity in the region. Almost 95 percent of voters in both regions could not vote because of the lack of security.

 

Camerron

 

Can you travel everywhere? How about the pastoral work of the Church, how is this influenced by the crisis?

Mobility in both regions is difficult. In the North West Region, roads are constantly blocked by the boys, bridges destroyed and trees felled on roads to restrict movement. Some days the roads are opened and on other days they are not. This makes it difficult for people to travel. This has greatly affected pastoral work since most priests in parishes cannot leave the main mission to go to other missions for pastoral work. It has become difficult for the bishops to carry out pastoral visitations since June. The pastoral week of the Archdiocese that was to run from the 13th to the 20th was canceled because people could not come to town. In Bamenda, travel is possible on some days, although from the 1st to the 10th October it was not possible to move about at all. On Mondays, the city turns into a ghost town and shops and business are all closed. No movement is possible even though some isolated people try to move about.

On October 4th, shortly before the elections, Gérard Anjiangwe, a seminarian from your archdiocese of Bamenda, was killed in front of the parish church of Bamessing in Ndop commune, Ngo-Ketunjia department. What happened?

Around 9:30am, at the end of the Holy Mass, after some of the Christians had left, Gerard Anjiangwe and some readers were still in the Mission preparing for the liturgy of the following day. A military van coming from Ndop stopped at the entrance of the road leading to the Church. Some of the military alighted from the van and started shooting. Some altar servers who were returning home after the mass ran back to the Church and others to the nearby bush. The readers who were with Gerard near the sacristy, seeing the military coming, ran into the sacristy and closed the door whereas Gerard, who was still outside, prostrated on the ground while praying the rosary. The military men tried to open the Church door but did not succeed. They approached Gerard lying prostrate on the ground and asked him to stand up, which he did without hesitating. After interrogating him, he was asked to lie down again. Then, he was shot three times on the neck and he died instantly. His father is a catechist and Gerard was the only son of the family.

Why do you think he was killed?

It is difficult to say exactly why Gerald was killed. But one can easily conclude that he was taken to be one of the ambazonian boys. This is the only reason I can think of for his being killed. There is a systematic attempt to kill all the young boys in the area since there is fear that they might be part of the ambazonian boys promoting the crisis.

 

Akiata Gerard Anjiangwe, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Bamenda, dead the 4th October 2018

 

There were already two priests killed in July this year in Cameroon, one in the north (Batibo) and one in the south (Fr. Alexandre Sob Nougi), and several church properties were also destroyed. Are these all collateral damages? What is the role of the Church in the conflict?

Only one priest has been killed, namely Fr. Alexander Sob from Buea. According to our information, the person killed in Batibo was not a priest but a Ghanian pastor. In an attempt to flush out the amba boys, the military burns down and destroys property and as a result the Church too has been affected with many Church buildings, presbyteries and other material goods being destroyed. The role of the Church is simply to speak the truth and encourage dialogue. But the Church is sandwiched between the government and the amba boys. Whatever the Church says, it is accused by one camp or the other. When the Church says that children have a right to go to school and should not be stopped from schooling, the amba boys think that the Church has been bribed by the government to say that. Some government officials have out rightly accused the Church of fueling the crisis through the various write ups that we have produced. The Church believes in peace. But there can be no peace without justice. Justice and truth must prevail and that is what the church stands for.

According to different reports 160,000 people fled their homes within Cameroon, and 34,000 have fled to Nigeria. How is the situation of the refugees in Bamenda?

We have internally and externally displaced persons. The Archdiocese has formed an ad hoc committee to take care of the internally displaced persons living in Bamenda. They have identified all these persons, noted their names and where they live. Some people of good will and some parishes make contributions, which they forward to this committee who use it to buy food, drugs, mattresses and some other basic needs to assist them.. As for those who are externally displaced in Nigeria, assistance is given to them as regards health, food and other basic necessities through the diocese of Mamfe.

What is your message to the benefactors of ACN? What can we do to support your people in this difficult time?

During this difficult time, I would like that ACN should keep us in their prayers so that this crisis may be resolved as soon as possible. The amount of human life being lost, properties destroyed and persons displaced is a reason for real concern. ACN can also assist us in caring for the internally and externally displaced persons and also assist some of our parishes where priests suffer greater difficulty in carrying out their pastoral work.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT Aid to the Church in Need, VISIT http://www.churchinneed.org
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ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.