Kidnapping of political figures: Use of social media by Separatists to influence the kidnapping of political leaders and traditional authorities to show their strength.
The Anglophone Crisis that started with a strike by teachers and later Common Law lawyers demanding for better recognition of the Anglo-Saxon system alongside the French system that had dominated the educational and law sectors in 2016. It later became an armed conflict with a cross section of youths taking up arms against the state in the early years of 2018 with the name Ambazonian fighters or separatist fighters. As we moved into mid-2018 and 2019 till date the war became bloody with kidnappings for ransom and others killed when termed as a black leg. Political figures because of their leanings to the ruling Cameroon’s People Democratic Movement CPDM and opposition leaders and later Traditional authorities as well as individuals. The coming of the social media influenced this new trend as the Ambazonian fighters used this to demonstrate their strength.
In the wake of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon in 2016 and the eventual creation of the Cameroon civil society consortium- which brought together leaders of the teaching and law profession as well as other trade unions, a new leadership was born in English speaking Cameroon
On the 17th January 2017, Cameroon’s Minister of territorial Administration banned the consortium. Days later the leader of the consortium, Felix Agbor Balla and his SG, Dr Fontem Neba were arrested.
The leadership of the consortium was handed to Mark Bareta and Tapang Ivo Tanku, two Cameroonian activists based in Belgium and the United States respectively. Propaganda was rampant on Facebook and WhatsApp with political, traditional authorities declared persona non grata. The ideals of the consortium moved from a federation to an outright demand for independence. By October 1, 2017, Separatists leaders abroad declared outright independence with the creation of an interim Government under the leadership of Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe.
The interim government banned the activities of political parties especially the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM. They went further to request the resignation of all SDF (Social Democratic Front) MPs and senators from Parliament. On December 6, 2016, hundreds of denizens stormed the Bamenda commercial Avenue Grand stand and stopped a March by the CPDM who were to propagate a one and indivisible Cameroon
Several Facebook pages were created by sympathizers of what the termed “The struggle” to push the separatist agenda forward. Political rallies and end of year cultural festivities became nonexistent. The general chaos created online with the creation of the Ambazonia Defense forces with its leader, Ayaba Cho Lucas giving orders, others like Eric Tataw giving commands led to the kidnapping of key political figures and traditional leaders.
As the crisis escalated to an armed conflict, political figures and traditional authorities became victims of kidnappings for ransom. The earliest happening that went viral was that of the Board Chair of the Cameroon General Certificate of Education Professor Ivo Leke Tambo on his way to his native Lebialem village of the Southwest region by Ambazonian forces. The video that went viral showed him stripped naked while his abductors masked their faces. This went viral on social media and reported by print and online media including The Sun Newspaper of March 20, 2018
The Former member of government Emmanuel Ngafeson Bantar who served as a top Ministry of Justice official, was the first advisor to President Paul Biya to be abducted in the Northwest. This was reported by the Voice of America on April 1, 2019, and the BBC on March 20, 2019 and a couple of Facebook pages including the page of Cameroon News Agency. https://web.facebook.com/CAMEROONNEWSAGENCY/posts/2043671379079236?_rdc=1&_rdr
With calls made on the social media for political parties in English speaking Cameroon to boycott the October 2018 Presidential Elections, the SDF under the chairmanship of Ni John Fru Ndi, did not heed to this call. In a video posted on Facebook by Isidore Hebat on the 29th June 2019, Tapang Ivo and Ayaba Cho Lucas all congratulated fighters on the ground for kidnapping Ni John Fru Ndi a day earlier.
He was first kidnapped on April 27 at Wainama on his way to Kumbo as he accompanied the casket of the Late Honourable Dr. Joseph Banadzem- leader of the SDF parliamentary group at the time. He was again taken from his Bamenda residence on June 28, 2019 by Ambazonian fighters. Journalducameroun.cm, africanews.com, uk.reuters.com, Cameroon-tribune.cm of June 28, 2019 reports it wasn’t the first time the opposition leader had been taken away. https://www.journalducameroun.com/en/cameroon-sdf-chairman-ni-john-fru-ndi-kidnapped-again/.
In a build up to the February 9, 2020 Municipal and legislative Elections which the SDF still refused to boycott, the former Mayor of Bamenda II, Balick Awa Fidelis was kidnapped twice and some 19 councilors taken as well. Dailynewscameroon.com of December 14, 2019 reports the Deputy Mayor of Bamenda 3 and some councilors from Jakiri Subdivision were taken and only to be released after elections https://web.facebook.com/652585094854545/posts/two-mayors-and-some-sdf-municipal-councilors-abducted-in-restive-north-west-regi/2534544403325262/?_rdc=1&_rdr. Voice notes circulated on WhatsApp threatening people not to run as councilors or be considered black legs if they do.
Some persons whose names were later published by Elections Cameroon were intimated by Separatist leaders and labelled as “black legs”- those selling out the struggle. In the wake of this, several candidates resigned orally on WhatsApp just to stay alive but still ran for elections and are today councillors of different councils across the two English speaking regions.
Mimimefoinfos reported that, shortly after his election as Mayor of Mbengwi amongst several others were kidnapped and that of Ndu council killed. Mbengwi’s Mayor Ndangsa Kennedy it was even rumored had been killed by separatist but he returned home one month later. He was kidnapped at his Mile 20 residence at the gateway to Momo Division on February 28, 2020 https://mimimefoinfos.com/post- election-insecurity-newly-elected-mbengwi-mayor-spends-second-night-in-kidnappers-den/.
Traditional authorities like Fons and chiefs have been kidnapped across the board with one pulled out from a church and shot in Kumba as reported by Crtv.cm http://www.crtv.cm/2018/08/nw-sw-upheavals-abducted-chiefs-in-the-south-west-liberated and Voanews.com https://www.voanews.com/africa/cameroon-chiefs-flee-separatist-violence-southwest of August 2 and 20 August 2018 respectively highlight seven chiefs taken by separatist fighters in the Southwest region and later freed.
The Northwest region hasn’t been an exception with the most prominent of recent being the kidnap of the paramount Fon of Nso Sehm Mbinglo II. First kidnapped twice in 2018, the Fon was again kidnapped on the 5th of November 2020, as he returned home after a two year absence. Fon Sehm Mbinglo is running as a candidate for the House of Chiefs. Chris Anu in an audio circulating online called on those running for the December 6, 2020 elections to be killed. He says it is a provocation to the struggle. http://www.cameroon-info.net/article/cameroon-breaking-news-armed-separatists-kidnap-cardinal-tumi-fon-mbinglo-ii-of-nso-11-387144.html
Other Second class Fons in Momo, Boyo and Bui have been kidnapped and molested. The Fon of Mbessa HRM Njong Gilbert II was taken by separatist as he moved to Bamenda and later released, https//m.facebook.com//story.php?story_fbid=2835051453445410&id=1805190576431508.
Separatist fighters and leaders see political participation as a way of endangering their struggle. They see themselves as an independent territory. Kidnapping of political figures is a way to show their might and relevance in a general atmosphere of chaos. Anarchy, fear keeps the struggle breathing
It has limited the participation of political parties and persons in elections. The North West and South West regions for the first time since 1992 will have elections with just a single party- CPDM competing. Holding power now is for the brave not those who have something to offer. Cultural values are being eroded. Custom and traditions violated
The Anglophone crisis has escalated largely due to the use of Social media. Agitations in the 90s and the holding of the AAC I and II did not result to an armed conflict. With the coming of the social networks, information dissemination and propaganda is easy to go through. The social media threats have greatly affected the political leaning of the North West with one party dominance and traditional festivities like the Ngonso, the Lela have failed to hold since 2016
It can be recommended that, Hate speech both online and offline should be checked as well Propaganda need to be countered with concise and factual information.
Article by, Wanchia Cynthia