Heavy Gun Battles Foil Reopening of Kumbo

Kumbo Town

Kumbo, unlike many other towns and settlements in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, did not go into a 10 day lock down from 4 – 14 February 2019. This is because Kumbo, the second largest town in the conflict-hit North West Region had shut down since September of 2018, with social and economic life grounded. This recent lock-down was called for by some leaders of pro-independence movements, who seek to create a new state of Ambazonia. The territory corresponds to that of the former British Southern Cameroons. The change for Kumbo during the lockdown was the absence of electricity supply to Bui and Donga-Mantung Divisions of the North West Region, which at press time is already a day short of two weeks.

However, like any other area in the two English speaking parts of Cameroon, inhabitants of Kumbo – the remnants of those who have fled the town and surrounding settlements – looked forward to a reopening. This only turned out to be an aborted miracle.

The morning view of Kumbo, Friday 15 February 2018 was misty. And that was only symbolic of how uncertain the projection for the day could be. A few shops opened. A handful of commercial motorbikes could be heard around. There was a trickle of pedestrians along the major streets. Voices were audible from a few miles, a rare occurrence in recent weeks.

In the late hours of the morning, gunshots could be heard from a distant location that was hard to determine. Unconfirmed information said it was from state soldiers on their way from Nkambe, the headquarters of the Donga-Mantung Divisioin. It is said that they were reopening the road (N11) linking Kumbo and Nkambe. By mid 2018, it had already become habitual for denizens to start taking precautions at the sound of such distant gunshots. By 13:45 it was no longer a story of distant gunshots. It was already gun battles between the state forces and the armed separatists who are said to have been awaiting the arrival of the soldiers. In the twinkle of an eye, Kumbo had been ghosted again, to continue the series of weeks that have characterized the dead town.

Many people have already deserted the area since the violence escalated. Civilians have been caught between the separatist fighters and the government forces.

There have been repeated reports of abductions of civilians by pro-independence fighters, and in some of the cases, reports of torture and demands for ransom. Movement had earlier been grounded by the same fighters since September of 2018, with many roads blocked by the same. The separatist fighters have also been alleged to have carried out summary executions in nearby settlements, especially of elements of government forces, and of persons they have considered as sell outs.

The government defence/security forces, on their part, have burned down houses in a number of localities, and killed civilians in the ongoing offensive on the separatist fighters. Gun battles in civilian residential areas and around health facilities have been a growing concern. Lives and homes have been wasted by state forces in areas where roadblocks have been erected by separatist fighters.

This Friday’s gun battles in Kumbo and environs ruined the much hoped-for reopening of the area. In any case, in recent weeks, whenever there has been the slightest opening for movement into and out of Kumbo as was the case in the early hours of this 15 February, it is the latter movement that has taken place.

The morning signs of life spoke of a suffocating people that was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to get food and other provisions. The answer to why Kumbo appears to be paying an unfair share in the crisis is complicated. It is expected that life can return to normal in the event of the realisation of the dialogue to end the socio-political crisis. This much talked-about dialogue, for the time being, has been seen by many as nothing but a cliché.

Source: Radio Evangelium Kumbo

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