In this opinion-editorial, Washington D.C based Cameroonian writer, Kangsen Wakai writes about the alleged killing of a young man in the small town of Belo, Cameroon by the security forces and how a quest for self-determination is resulting to loss of freedom, rights, lives and property in Cameroon.
Three weeks ago, Sam Soya still ran a small kiosk on Belo’s main junction where he sold bread, sardines, cigarettes and candy to the townspeople. Customers like my source, Paul (not real name) remember him as if he was part of the town’s landscape. The last time Paul stopped by the kiosk to buy bread, Soya introduced him to his pre-adolescent son.
In his early-forties to mid-forties, Soya wore shoulder length thumb-sized dreadlocks, which distinguished him from most of the small town’s dwellers. And while his reputation as a marijuana smoker and dealer might not have endeared him to the mostly conservative townspeople and certain elements of law enforcement, even they—the townsfolk—were perplexed when he was targeted last October 1st, a day Anglophone separatists vowed to hoist the Ambazonia flag across parts of English-speaking Cameroon.
Though Soya was not part of the frenzy that marked the ‘independence’ day activities of the proposed state, witnesses claim he was sought and shot in the leg by a gendarme who warned the victim that the shooting was meant as a final warning. While it remains unclear why he was targeted – Paul did not know Soya of having any links with the separatist movement. But what is clear is that the incident on October 1st left him limping on crutches.
On February 5th, a video emerged on social media of a not yet fully recovered Soya sitting on the ground next to a collection of little brown baggies in the commune’s gendarmerie brigade located about fifteen kilometers from the town of Mbingo where two gendarmes had been killed in an ambush the previous Thursday; an attack, which the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF) claimed responsibility for its planning and execution.
According to Paul, when military reinforcements arrived in response to the attack, Soya was picked up by gendarmes from his kiosk alongside two other individuals.
The video in question shows a handful of gendarmes hovering over a subdued and bloody-mouthed Soya, his arms handcuffed behind him, pleading, between slaps and kicks, for his life while proclaiming his innocence about the incident. Then the gendarmes, interrogating the suspects in Pidgin-English turned the camera to Soya’s handcuffed companion.
Soya’s companion, a thin man in his mid-to-late thirties, dressed in a red sweater vest and blueish grey pants, his back partially on the floor, is a figure most townsfolk claim is not a local. The video shows a blackened streak of blood running from the stranger’s nostrils to quivering lips that accuse Soya of not only organizing but having boasted of possessing a talisman that was impervious to bullets.
Then the camera shifts to Soya for the last time, a brief moment, long enough to capture the perplexed expression of a man resigned to his captors’ whims. At the time of viewing, I could not have imagined this would be his final act.
A day after the gendarme-shot video made the rounds on Cameroonian social media and WhatsApp communities, other photos of the pair lying in pool of their own blood followed; one of them showed a soldier crouched next to a slouched Soya, his dreads dangling, revealing a gaping wound big enough to fit a boxer’s bare fist; his blood almost indistinguishable from the red jersey and shorts he was wearing during his last days.
Though news reports claimed that their corpses were later left at the Bamenda mortuary by eight gendarmes without explanation, at the time of writing, the Cameroon armed forces or gendarmerie had not released a statement to clarify the circumstances of their killing, which was documented and disseminated with such callous brazenness by members of the armed forces.
The Cameroon government’s silence coupled with the military’s scorched earth response in areas where there have been attacks against military patrols and checkpoints has only bolstered the position of those who argue that violence is the only language the authorities in Yaoundé understand. A language, which the supporters of Ambazonia urge their followers—mostly young men with odds already stacked against them—to employ in the fight to regain their stolen nationhood.
Whether or not Soya and his nameless companion harbored any dreams of a nation besides the one President Paul Biya has ruled for the past thirty-five years is almost irrelevant at this point. What matters is that two men were summarily executed without due process by soldiers subsidized by the Cameroonian taxpayer.
In fact, in the days following that attack in nearby Mbingo, anticipating a military reprisal, most boys and able bodied men in the area took to their heels toward the surrounding forest and hills that dot the area. It now seems like Soya’s gravest mistake was staying behind, perhaps counting on the good judgement of the approaching soldiers.
Why Soya and his companion were hacked in the manner in which they met their end will forever puzzle the consciences of decent people.What the perpetrators of the crime did illustrate to a seemingly blind and deaf world is the extent to which the socio-economic decay of Biya’s thirty-five regime has poisoned the moral fiber of a people. In the process, turning neighbor against neighbor in a vicious cycle that risks degenerating into a fratricidal conflict in our Babel of a nation.
If war breaks out in Cameroon tomorrow, any blood spilled will be in the hands of the Biya regime and others—on both sides of the colonial divide—that have exploited the burden of a colonial heritage bequeathed upon the people inhabiting the territory now known as Cameroon. Any blood spilled will be in the hands of those who ignore the intricate webs that crisscross and constitute the body politic of this unfolding experiment of ours – a laboratory of a hundred tongues where for almost sixty years, we’ve set aside our rhythms of pre-colonial origin and danced to the same Makossa, Bend Skin, Bikutsi and Njang songs.
For the sake of Sam Soya, Belo’s lone Rasta, let the voices chanting peace prevail in Cameroon. No one can win this war – we must learn this.
Washington, D.C. based Kangsen Feka Wakai was born in Bamenda, Cameroon. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from American University where he served as editor in chief of Folio. His work has appeared in The Chronic, www.africasacountry.com, Callaloo, Transition Magazine, Poet Lore, Post No Ills Review among other publications.
©Featured image published courtesy of Kangsen Wakai.
*Thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and does not in any way reflect the opinion of the editorial board of The Village Square Journal. To respond to this piece, drop your comments below or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org