Shortly before his death on Good Friday, April 2, 2021, Christian Cardinal Wiyghan Tumi, the Emeritus Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon, paid what was to be his last visit to his home village of Kikaikelaki, Bui Division in northwestern Cameroon, a place he himself describes as “a known fierce battle ground in Kumbo.” There, he appealed to the separatists, who are fighting government forces in a bid to carve out of the State of Cameroon an independent entity they call “Ambazonia”, to lay down their arms and take their place around the dialogue table with the government. To Cardinal Tumi, their struggle is an exercise in futility which has brought much hardship to the ordinary people, who are caught between the brutality of government forces, who accuse them of aiding and abetting separatism, and the separatists themselves, who have resorted to extortion, kidnappings for a ransom, and other acts of brutality against the very people they claim they are fighting to free from oppression. In the report of his visit, he makes a desperate last minute attempt to persuade the separatists to lay down their arms and embrace dialogue with the government. Below is his report.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF MY ANNUAL VISIT TO MY HOME VILLAGE OF KIKAIKELAKI-KUMBO (23/01/2021)
On January 23, 2021, I arrived at my home village Kikaikelaki for my traditional annual visit. On the way, I was stopped and questioned by a contingent of fully armed non-state fighters, who asked who I was and where I was going. I introduced myself and I invited them to meet me later in my house.
The next day, January 24, 2021, I presided over the Eucharist, assisted by my Parish Priest. Drawing inspiration from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31), I exhorted the faithful to make good use of our God-given time before it is too late.
During my stay, I received a good number of people and groups who came to visit me and to express their concern about the night I spent in captivity some months back. To all of them, I gave an admonition on the need to live and work in peace so as to enable a conducive climate for progress.
On Tuesday, January 25, 2021, among some of my visitors were the separatist fighters whom I had invited to come and meet me. During my discussion with them, I expressed my worry that they were wasting their time and youthfulness in a fight they could never win. I was, however, very categorical on my two salient points against them, namely:
- Their stand against the reopening of schools, thus depriving the children of their right to education; some of them even going as far as to amputate the hands of some children, so that they can no longer in their life be able to write anything.
- Their lack of respect for others’ opinions and the brutal means with which they repress those whose political opinions differ from theirs, which therefore means that they are not even ready for dialogue. Dialoguing partners are those who hold different opinions, but who are ready to accept the views of others, and the intellectual honesty coming from any opinion, even those they do not share.
Their immediate reaction was to reject what I was saying and even threatened to walk out on me because what I was saying was contrary to their opinion.
Seeing their reaction, I told them that even if we think differently, we should remain calm and continue to listen to each other’s opinion. It was then that calm returned and we continued our discussion. To my utter surprise, they asked me for money to buy arms (guns and bullets). My interpretation of this request was that they wanted to continue with the fighting and the killing of even innocent citizens and their own brothers and sisters and relatives, who have now turned against them. I again categorically affirmed: ‘You will never win this war! The war of different opinions between two groups can only be won where intellectual honesty is requested. That is to say, those dialoguing must be ready to accept and respect the truth, no matter who says it. And sentiments must be put aside in favour of objective reasoning’. I then strongly appealed to them and urged them to lay down their arms. I informed them that a good number of those I had spoken with had told me they are ready to leave Cameroon. As one of them said, “Papa Cardinal, I have to leave Cameroon, I no longer see why we are fighting. I had thought that this misunderstanding among us would last only for one year but now, I no longer see where we are going.”
Even with that, they still persisted, even going as far as to ask me for money to buy arms. I retorted ‘Are you asking me to give you money to buy bullets? That will never happen. What will bring peace to our tribe, to our country and to our homes is that you drop down your guns’. I further called their attention to the miserable state of our village and asked if they were not ashamed of it.
I insisted that they drop their guns, making them understand that they were carrying those guns illegally. I equally made it abundantly clear to them that it was my ardent desire to see the military go back to the barracks, and prepare to fight, not against their own people, but against our common enemy, the enemy of the nation.
Their reaction to my affirmation was also strong. They strongly affirmed that the only people they will listen to are their leaders in prison. I told them that the freedom of their leaders in prison could be a subject for a national dialogue, which could help us know precisely why they are in prison. Are they there for civil offences or for truly criminal activities? I concluded that the just law will decide.
One thing I noticed is that many people have remained in my village in spite of the war. They continue to live in fear all this while from the warring factions. To my greatest surprise, the local population dread and dislike the separatist fighters more than the state military because the separatists torture, exact unjust punishment, inflict pain, kidnap, demand ransoms, maim and threaten, or even kill.
I met some of the separatists, who told me that they are ready to give up their guns in their present situation, but that those with whom they are in the bush will consider them as ‘black legs’ and kill them. Consequently, they can no longer move freely in their country.
Even though I tried to convince them to leave and seek refuge in other parts of the country, like Douala, Yaoundé and other towns, they were still not convinced that that was the right thing to do. I informed them that some of their fellow combatants had already come out of the bush, dropped their guns and have been resettled. I told them I was talking from real experience. That was why I strongly appealed to those of them in bushes to come out and make good use of their youthful days for their own good and for the good of their families. I told them it was not yet too late, and that they could get into touch with me, or with the Archbishop of Bamenda.
In turn, they told me that many of them had taken up arms to avenge the brutality and the destruction they have suffered from the state army. In response, I appealed to them for forgiveness and told them that if they laid down their arms, I would guarantee their safety and rehabilitation.
Though they promised to reflect on my assurance, they nonetheless expressed their worry because of what they said were bad experiences of some of their colleagues who, after laying down their arms, were said to have been pursued and killed.
On January 26, 2021, I received another visitor, who expressed his worry over what he called the overwhelming Muslim domination of the leadership of the separatist fighters in Bui Division.
“Almost all the leaders of this struggle in the bushes,” he said, “are Muslims and they pride themselves by claiming that they have the same quality of weapons as the army.”
Having listened to him, I wondered aloud where they got their arms from which they are able to use with such efficiency! Who provides them the training to enable them use such weapons?
As I was jotting down these notes, I was hearing heavy gun shots and I was told that it was likely an incident that must have led to a confrontation between two belligerents groups.
IDEAS FROM MY CONTACT WITH THE PEOPLE AND MY PROPOSALS ARISING THEREFROM.
The following are some of the things I saw and heard on why the activities of the separatists are still strong in Kumbo.
- The majority of the people are fed up with the activities and atrocities of the Amba Boys, and they seem to feel more secure in the hands of the military than of these boys. The Amba Boys have lost focus and have turned against their own people.
- They exhibit a high level of arrogance, stupidity, and lack of objective reasoning. They are not willing or ready to listen to good advice, or accept any opinion contrary to theirs. Their attitude is characterized by propaganda, illusion, and self-deception. They claim to have the same quality of sophisticated weapons as the army, even if not the same quantity. They even claim to be winning the war against the state.
- From every indication, it is highly probable that they have taken an oath of not turning back. Hence, they are fully determined to continue this futile struggle. When I told them to lay down their arms and embrace the hand of dialogue and the rehabilitation proposal from the government, they blatantly and arrogantly told me that they were not ready to lay down their arms and that they preferred to continue fighting.
- There is also the alleged Nso-Mbum divide (i.e., Bui and Donga Mantung Divisions). Contrary to the popular opinion that the people of Bui have made life difficult for those in Donga Mantung Division, by refusing the latter access into and out of the rest of the nation through Bui Division, it is rather the Bui warriors, who have held the two communities hostage. This has led the indigenes of Donga Mantung to generalize this unfair treatment as being perpetuated by all the indigenes of Bui Division, which is not the case.
The Bui Warriors and fighters complain that the lockdown on Mondays is not being observed in Nkambe; school, businesses and other human activities are going on there unperturbed, hence, according to the Bui Warriors, the people of Nkambe are not supporting the struggle. They are therefore considered as enablers and traitors. Consequently, the Bui Warriors have banned the circulation of motor bikes and other vehicles from Bui to Donga, and vice versa. Bikes from Bui as well as from Donga-Mantung end at the boundary in Tatum.
- I also realized that some people are cooperating and collaborating with the Amba Boys as informants, thus rendering military operations unsuccessful and ineffective. For instance, they notify the separatists of military movements, thus enabling them to plan counter attacks which usually foil the military operations. These include the mounting of locally-made explosives popularly known as “Manyi.” For their part, the people do not alert the military when they see the separatists mounting explosives along the road to ambush the military.
SOME PERTINENT WORRIES
- It is observed that Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church, have been very vocal in their appeal for school resumption but unfortunately they have suffered the most.
- The overwhelming leadership of Muslims among the non-state fighters, and the influx of basic military equipment (perhaps from some Arab countries), are equally a cause for concern.
- The possession of more dangerous and sophisticated arms by the non-state fighters is also worrisome. Some of these non-state fighters have improved their strategy. This has led to their resilience and consequently to more torture and casualties of the civilian population.
- There are disagreements among the many separatist camps in Bui led by leaders with different ideologies. There are those who are loyal to the “Interim Government” headed by Samuel Sako, head of the care-taker government, who acts on behalf of President Sisiko, who is incarcerated and powerless; there is the Amba Defense Force (ADF) – headed by Cho Ayaba Lucas; the ASC which pays allegiance to McBareta, Eric Tataw and Frankline Verla; the County fighters under Shey Kaavi, Derick.
- Some of the separatist camps have been infiltrated by armed robbers. This has led to an upsurge in armed robbery because more guns are now in wrong hands.
- In the days ahead, there will likely be more blackmailing and settling of scores.
- Some members of the population want the crisis to continue because they are benefitting from it. For example, some business people create artificial scarcity for financial benefits.
- The international community and non-governmental organizations need to shift away from the attitude of only wishes to concrete action.
MY STRONG PROPOSALS AND APPEALS
- There is a need to increase the presence of the military in the area and to organize more constant patrols along the Jakiri – Nkambe section of the Ring Road. Military units and control/check points could be created in the following villages Wainama, Nkar, Sop, Yer, Melim, Kikaikelaki, Ntonge, Takijajah, Kishong, Ngondzen, Kitiwum, Dzeng, Mah and Ndzevru. This would cripple some of the separatist activities such as extorting money from the people. It would incapacitate and weaken their economic power, weaken their resilience and pave the way for vehicles to move freely on the high way, especially between Kumbo and Nkambe.
- The military should stop extorting money from public transport drivers, a deplorable act that results in the exorbitant transport fare.
The general situation on the ground is still frightening; the future is not promising because the situation has not yet improved as much as expected. We are not yet where we ought to have been: war is still going on and no school is operating formally as such. I am happy that the government is ready to listen.
N.B. The village of Kikaikelaki, where I come from, happens to be one of the areas most affected by the fighting around Kumbo. It is a known fierce battle ground in Kumbo.
+Christian Cardinal Tumi Wiyghan
Archbishop Emeritus of Douala Archdiocese