Billy * is silent. For two hours, he has not answered any questions. Sitting cross-legged on a green mat stuck in the veranda of a coquettish house in the Odza district, in Yaoundé, the sex gal is still prostrate, her eyes lost. "My father is traumatized. Since his kidnapping, he has completely changed. He sometimes spends hours without speaking, " apologize Charles *, his eldest son, a member of a ministry.
In October 2018, Billy was kidnapped not far from Kumba, in the English-speaking region of South-West Cameroon. This prosperous farmer, owner of tens of hectares of rubber plantations, cocoa, plantains and cassava, went to one of his fields, located a few meters from his home. , when he was captured by armed men posing as "ambas boys" (the nickname of the separatists). The latter then took him to the heart of the forest, before demanding a loan of 15 million CFA francs (about 23,000 euros) for his release.
AT" They first contacted one of my uncles in the village, who called me at once.says Charles. I was at work. They said that if the Cameroonian forces were warned, they would kill him. I had already seen pictures of people executed after their kidnapping. I immediately went home to get in touch with them. AT"
To expose their threat, the kidnappers hit his father. Charles hears his cries and tears on the phone. Caught in fear, he negotiates. He and his family will eventually have to raise 2.1 million CFA francs to free Billy. "They told my father to ask me to leave the government of Cameroon, that an anglophone like me could not work for the enemy," relates Charles. Since then, Billy and the few family members left in the village have fled to Yaoundé.
Kidnapped three times
The socio-political crisis that has been shaking the northwest and southwest of Cameroon's two English-speaking regions since 2016 has been transformed for two years into an armed conflict between the defense and defense forces. security and the separatist fighters, who claim the independence of this part of the country. According to the UN, nearly 530,000 people have fled the violence to seek refuge in forests or French-speaking regions. About 30,000 have passed in Nigeria and more than 1,800 people have died. Those who remain are at risk of being killed or kidnapped by armed groups.
Between November 2018 and July 2019, The World Africa interviewed some 20 ex-hostages or members of their families.
Armed men, portraying themselves as independentists, kidnap people suspected of working for the defense forces, members of the Cameroonian administration, employees of state-owned companies or parastatals, traditional leaders, students, students, teachers braving the boycott of schools imposed by secessionists, businessmen, politicians, humanitarians … The majority pays rewards.
"They kidnapped my grandfather three times. They reproached him for wanting to cooperate with the authorities, tells the granddaughter of a traditional chief from Kumbo (North-West), refugee with her children in Douala. During the first kidnapping, the kidnappers demand traditional rifles and ammunition. In the traditional chiefdoms of Cameroon, some notables have guns that they use for hunting or during cultural ceremonies and funeral ceremonies. After the intensification of the crisis, the authorities asked all the inhabitants to entrust them to them, but many kept them.
"We gave them the weapons and they released them"continues the granddaughter of the chief. The second and the third time, the separatists ask respectively 100,000 and 200,000 CFA francs. The family collects and the leader is released. The fighters forbade him to leave Kumbo.
An overworked teacher
Some traders, bar or grocery bosses have been ordered not to serve the defense and security forces. For selling them donuts, Mercy, a restaurateur based in Mamfe (South West), was kidnapped for three days. AT" We paid 230,000 CFA francs to free my mother ", Says his son Danny, 27, a refugee in the Madagascar district, in Yaoundé, where he is a motorcycle taxi driver. The young man is fighting to bring his mother and three little brothers to him, "So that they take back the school".
Education is indeed one of the sectors most affected by child abductions. For the past three years, hundreds of students and students have deserted classrooms in English-speaking areas. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed separatists have used schools as bases to install fighters, store weapons and hold hostages.
AT" Most of the kidnappings we've been able to check are with students or teachers. Hundreds of children were abducted on their way to school or in their school buildings, often because they did not follow the separatist instruction to boycott schools AT", says Ilaria Allegrozzi, a researcher at HRW. Hostages were tortured, wounded, some amputees with one hand, fingers. Others have been killed, gorged or dislocated. In May, a high school history-geography teacher was dislocated and his head dropped on an avenue in Bamenda, the northwestern capital.
Some Anglophone leaders, based abroad, deny being the sponsors of these crimes. They accuse "Fake ambas" (false separatists), instrumentalized according to them by the authorities to cause them harm.
Mounted in power
AT" The situation has become uncontrollable, says a security source in Bamenda. Even the leaders of the diaspora do not master much and do not have much influence on their troops on the ground. Kidnappings are daily. There is so much money and power at play that separatist groups are dividing. Some create their own group, and so on. We stop them, some die during the fighting, but others come back and continue to kidnap. AT"
It is difficult to say exactly how separatists spend money on rations, "One can think that it is used to refuel, including weapons," says Ilaria Allegrozzi, who notes that AT" their capacity military has become more important. ". The researcher says that by the end of 2018, HRW has seen a rise in separatist groups, both in terms of numbers and armaments. At the end of June, four policemen were killed in the explosion of a mine passing their car in Otu (South-West).
AT" More and more young boys are joining them, for the ideology but also for the money, worries a sub-prefect of the area. They are better and better organized, better armed, with Kalashnikovs, and even operate in the city, without fear. AT"
On 28 June, the Social Democratic Front's historic opponent John Fru Ndi was abducted from his home in Bamenda in the middle of the day and driven into the bush. He spent more than twenty-four hours there, before being released by separatists seeking his support and demanding that he withdraw his deputies and senators from Parliament. Two months earlier, the "chairman", now 78 years old, had been kidnapped for the same reasons, for nearly seven hours, so that he went to the burial of one of his deputies in Kumbo. The kidnappers then extracted it from the vehicle of the procession in which he was.
"If nothing is done, we will soon face a rebellion with several armed groups, such as in the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of Congo, fears the sub-prefect. We must put an end to this useless war. AT" In the field, in the city or in the receding villages, the kidnappings continue.
* The names have been changed at their request.
In Cameroon, for nearly two years, a war has broken out of the eyes of outsiders. The two English-speaking regions of North West and South West have moved away from the media to a conflict where they are emerging on social networks. some rare and horrible images of exactions. Between the armed groups fighting for the independence of these two regions and the Cameroonian armed forces, the civilians pay the high price. According to the United Nations, 4 million people are affected by the conflict. More than half a million people have been displaced, nearly 2,000 killed. Kidnappings have become a growing business as the economy of the region collapses. Our reporter Josiane Kouagheu went to give the floor to the actors and victims of this tragedy.