IN BAMENDA THE BIR ELEMENTS AND SECURITY FORCES DISTRUST YOUNG MEN WITH DREADLOCKS
Security forces mistrust teenagers with dreadlocks
This once peaceful and bustling city of Cameroon has become a battleground between government forces and rebels who demand an independent state in the English-speaking regions of this central African nation.
More than half of the city’s population of approximately 400,000 have fled in recent months, either to safer neighborhoods or to francophone cities not affected by the conflict.
Protests against the increasing use of French in the courts and schools of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon (North-West and South-West regions) have degenerated into violence in 2017.
The repression of the security forces has led some civilians anglophones to take up arms against the government, led by President Paul Biya.
“Killed for smoking marijuana”
Today, the sound of gunshots has become familiar, even to two-year-olds, as is the sight of corpses abandoned in the streets of Bamenda, the city that has the largest English-speaking population of Cameroon.
The image of four boys shot dead by troops 200 meters from my home remained engraved in my memory.
They were ordinary boys from my neighborhood who, unfortunately, were caught smoking marijuana, an activity that security forces associate with separatist fighters.
Security forces are also suspicious of teenagers with dreadlocks or those who seem neglected.
It is assumed that they came to town after receiving military training in the bush.
Even beefy men like me arouse suspicion – the logic of the security forces is that if you are well built, the chances of you being a fighter are greater.
And many parents are begging their teenage sons to stop wearing red bandanas or a combination of red and black clothes because the security forces might take them for separatist fighters. Colors are associated with rebels.
Armed groups have sprouted in Bamenda and neighboring towns.
Some of them are separatist fighters, while others are criminal gangs that have exploited instability.
It is not always clear who is behind the attacks, but there are many kidnappings of schoolchildren, politicians and other prominent personalities who, in most cases, are released after a ransom has been paid.
Students enter schools
80 students, their principal and a teacher were released after being abducted from their school about a week ago.
Separatist fighters denied their involvement, but the government blamed them for the kidnapping.