January 09, 2012
Douala Clashes Expose Administrative Slips, Confirm Ethnic Rifts
Cameroon’s largest city and economic nub, Douala, is once again witnessing wobbly calm after a fourth day of volatile skirmishes opposing motorbike taxi riders and natives of the Deido Canton. Barbarism again climaxed early Wednesday following the reduction to ashes of a nightclub in the locality by flames from a yet-to-be pinpointed source.
Irate area youths immediately resumed attacks on the predominantly Bamileke motorbike riders, suspecting their involvement. The Deido natives had imposed a ban on motorbike taxi circulation in the vicinage on New Year’s Eve, after a kin of theirs, 32-year-old Eric Mony was stabbed to death by unidentified riders.
Scores of motorbikes were yanked from their riders and torched on the spot; several people were beaten beyond consciousness even as anti-riot troopers employed water cannons and teargas to disperse fuming mobs. A balance sheet since the start of the hostilities on December 31 now shows four houses and close to a hundred motorbikes set ablaze, several persons injured and two dead.
But the clashes have also helped expose several governmental lapses and a prevailing deep ethnic divide in cosmopolitan Douala. Tensions were clearly perceptible since December 31. But Littoral Governor Francis Fai Yengo only formally led a team of local administrative officials to the trouble spot on Tuesday and seventy-two hours later.
He emerged from consultations with Deido traditional rulers announcing a truce had been obtained to allow time for negotiations. He also instructed security officers to disperse any crowds of more than five persons. Elsewhere, the prefect of the Wouri division, Bernard Okalia Bilai only narrowly escaped lynching when he told irritated protesters to “return to your homes within thirty minutes.”
The belated administrative intervention proved futile as only a day later, hostilities resumed. “Calm had returned, but unfortunately, a short-circuit in a bar early Wednesday provoked a fire and manipulators spread rumors it was masterminded by motorbikes to protest the ban on their activities. We now know those implicated and the manipulators calling the shots from behind the scenes and we will henceforth begin systematic arrests,” Bilai told reporters amidst shouts of disapproval from bystanders.
Away from the tardy governmental intervention, the clashes have unveiled profound ethnic divisions between Douala natives and the Bamilekes originating from the country’s mid-west. Generally ranked among Cameroon’s most wealthy communities, the enterprising Bamilekes own most of the businesses and landed property in Douala, where natives steadily grumble over their minority status.
“Douala natives feel a deep resentment for Bamilekes and will not hesitate to manifest it. This incident has only come to prove what many would only whisper. But the Douala people should blame themselves and live with it. They voluntarily chose to sell all their land and have now become tenants at home,” Prince Nasser Kemajou, a human rights defender noted. Speaking on the state-owned broadcaster CRTV Wednesday, Communications Minister and government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma Bakary warned that no ethnic grouping will be allowed to claim superiority over another.
“We have our grievances, but we would not orchestrate violence. It is not the handwork of Deido natives. A Deido native has been assassinated and the people reacted emotionally. The Deidos asked that following the grief over the death of their brother and son, no motorbikes should circulate in the neighborhood until after his burial at least,” Deido Canton Paramount Chief, Essaka Ekwalla Essaka explained Wednesday.
The traditional ruler reiterated he had severally urged his angry subjects to calm down. According to him, motorbike taxis must stay off Deido in the meantime to avoid provocations and an inevitable resumption of hostilities.
Meantime, critics are blaming the administration for lopsided negotiations. They argue that Bamileke community leaders must also be consulted and instructed to preach the need for peace among their subjects. Persons who have lost property in the clashes including homes belonging to the Deido natives and bikes have continued to threaten retaliation sooner or later.
And despite warnings from leaders of unions of motorbike taxi riders that politicians be discouraged from meddling in the crisis for political capital, many of them came out Wednesday calling on the rioters to calm down. Albert Dzongang of La Dynamique, Jean Jacques Ekindi of the MP and Fritz Ngo of MEC were among the most conspicuous opposition leaders spotted.
Francoise Foning, Mayor of the Douala V Council, famed ruling CPDM party mascot and alleged owner of thousands of motorbike taxis demanded that all those whose bikes were burnt should serve her documents for eventual replacement. “That’s for their personal interests. Council and parliamentary elections will be held this year. They should stay out of the negotiations because they may end up causing more trouble,” Rene Nfor Nguimo, Presdient of the Union of Motorbike Taxi Riders of Cameroon warned.
Meantime, massively deployed security forces with additional backup from elements of the dreaded rapid intervention battalion or BIR are on red alert across Douala amid fears the violence could spread to other parts of the city at short-notice. The resurgence of attacks over the past few days are a clear indication the prevailing respite may only be tentative.
Article source The Cameroon Post
Posted on The Cameroon News under Cameroon Breaking