Bamenda (Agenzia Fides) - "There are no clashes in Bamenda. However, there is a lot of tension. Traders and entrepreneurs fear that their activities will be destroyed or damaged. Taxi drivers are afraid of being attacked". This is how friar Gioacchino Catanzaro, Capuchin friar, describes to Agenzia Fides the life in one of the main English-speaking cities of Cameroon.
Since the country's independence (1960), English-speaking Camerounians have accused the French-speaking authorities of marginalizing them, claiming that the authorities in Yaoundé impose the French language and traditions in courts, public offices and schools. For years the English-speaking provinces have asked for more space for their customs and habits and have demanded greater autonomy. Starting in 2016, demonstrations due to discontent have become more frequent. On October 1, 2017, the most extreme fringes pushed to declare the independence of the two English-speaking provinces from Cameroon and the birth of the Republic of Ambazonia.
This caused an increase in tension in the two provinces. Bloody clashes increased between separatists and law enforcement officials with hundreds of victims and many people were injured. According to the United Nations, 160,000 English-speaking Cameroonians have left their homes to seek refuge in other areas of Cameroon or abroad (especially in Nigeria). "Most of them - reads a UN report - live in the bush with little to get by".
"In Bamenda - explains Gioacchino - there are no clashes on the streets. But there is something more terrible than clashes: fear. Ordinary people fear clashes and there is no social life". In recent months, many activities have been attacked and set on fire. The small entrepreneurs have thus closed their companies. Traders their shops. "It is almost impossible - he continues – to find a sack of cement. There are very few taxis and mototaxis".
Friar Gioacchino continues his work in the prison in Bamenda. He brings to the 800-900 prisoners religious comfort, food, clothes. Together with the team of the chaplaincy of the diocese, he especially supports the weakest. In particular, children and women: "We try to avoid them being put together with common prisoners. We help them study and learn a trade".
The friars have also started projects to bring electricity into the penitentiary. For years they have been working with AIDS prisoners, offering them the treatment to contain the virus.
Has the revolt against the central government brought political prisoners to prison? "We do not know precisely," concludes the friar. "Certainly there are some, but it is thought that most of the arrested separatists have been transferred elsewhere". (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 29/5/2018)