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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Election 2018: 'bullets scare electors'

In the middle of a jumble of suitcases, mattresses, gas stove, buckets and even cupboards, a little boy makes his way. An eye on him, his mother, Stella, reassures the family. " I will come. I bought my ticket, "she repeats on the phone. It only remains for him to wait his turn. Like all those who rush to the bus station of Buea, in the southwest of Cameroon. With the North West, also English-speaking, this region has been going through a deep political and social crisis for two years and fears the presidential election scheduled for October 7th.

"Three days ago, my parents and my companion left. I did not want to give up the grocery store. That's all my wealth. Today, I realize the obvious: I put the life of my child in danger by staying. This is my only son, "sighs Stella, leaving to join her relatives in Douala, the economic capital.

For a week, the rumor of an intensification of clashes between the army and the separatists agitates the spirits, resulting in mass departures. These separatists, who want the secession of the English-speaking part of Cameroon, have summoned the population to boycott the polls. On social networks, they threaten to attack anyone who defies this order and promise to lead, "from 25 September", "a war against the occupation army" Cameroon.

"Who will protect us? "

According to Amnesty International, the situation in the English-speaking area is "increasingly desperate". In one year, 400 citizens were killed, and in the run-up to the presidential election the NGO fears "an outbreak of violence". Like Stella, many people preferred to leave for fear of "being shot," "running out of food" or "getting stuck here as the situation gets worse."Since the beginning of the crisis, the major international organizations count between 180,000 and 200,000 internally displaced persons.

The governors of both regions tried to reassure the population, asking them to "trust" the defense forces. Without much effect. Saturday, September 15, Bernard Okalia Bilai, the governor of Southwest, was taken to task after asking a panicked crowd in the station Buea "do not give in to manipulation." "He arrived, protected by armed men to the teeth. How can he ask us to stay? But who will protect us in the streets or in our homes against those same soldiers who take us for separatists and kill us? Exclaims a driver.

"It's the government that has aggravated this situation, adds a passenger. At first, teachers and lawyers demonstrated to claim their rights. He sent the army to whip them and imprison them. The army killed our brothers and burned our villages.Now, it's too late. "

On the road, military and police, hooded and well armed, escort trucks of logs or brewing products launched at a brisk pace. At the roadblocks, they check the identity cards and search the luggage. A young man is thus disembarked from a vehicle so that the police control the contents of his computer. If the charger is not available, the passenger is restrained.

In Limbe, a seaside town that once attracted tourists, the streets are almost deserted. Only a few taxis roam, looking for "brave customers". "Before, students were our main clientele in the morning. But there is no more school, "says Peter, his hands clenched on the wheel. Since the beginning of the crisis in the two English-speaking regions, many schools have been burned or attacked. Most parents preferred to drop their offspring.

For the return, some schools opened, braving the danger. For a short time: faced with the threat, they have already emptied.At Saker Baptist College in Limbe, one of the most prestigious establishments in the English-speaking area, opened in 1962, the "distraught" parents came to collect more than 500 students. "They could not put their child's life in danger. I understand them, says one of its leaders. They said that they would appreciate the situation and come back after the elections, once calm is restored. "

" I'm afraid of everyone, even my brother "

In this context of fear and mass flight, the presidential election she will really take place Oct. 7 in Anglophone zone? The director general of Elections Cameroon (Elecam), the body responsible for organizing the poll, regularly asserts to the press that it will take place. At the regional representation of Elecam in Buea, many employees who have sent their families "in a safe place elsewhere" are far from sharing this optimism. We are talking about "suicide mission" instead.

A departmental head of the organization was killed. Another kidnapped for more than two weeks before being released. All this has aggravated the panic. According to an internal source, some employees have even abandoned their homes and cars for fear of being trapped or killed.

"We are at war and I am afraid of everyone, even of my own brother. Go and find out if he is not sympathetic to separatists ... These people are convinced that they are no longer Cameroonians and that there will be no election at home, "says a source.And to add: "The bullets make the electors run away. They also relegated the CDs prepared for the campaign to the bottom of the drawers. One of the musicians who lent their voices to call the inhabitants to vote is now threatened with death by secessionists.

Two weeks before the vote, the villages along the road, like Ekona Town, follow one another and are alike: houses and shops closed, deserted streets, vehicles burned. "Do you think those people who lost everything had time to take away their voter's card? And even if they had taken it, do you think they will have the heart to vote? "Asks Awa, a refugee trader in Limbe, sadly.