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Anglophone Crisis Flashpoint: Squeezing a Choking Noose Tightly Around Lebialem
Category :- Editorial Author :- Awung Mbecha 
Posted on July 2, 2018, 2:46 am

Lebialem Landscape as Game Changer

Lebialem terrain is very picturesque but also very difficult to tame. It is a very mountainous land with steep hills and narrow valleys.  From the lowlands of Besali and Bechati, the altitude above sea level starts at about 180 meters and rapidly steeps up to about 3000 at its highest point. This produces very steep hills and narrow valleys, with occasional level land here and there. The negative side of this breathtaking scenic country is that the land is prone to flashfloods, landslides, erosions, and difficulties in the construction of homes and roads. Even in peace times, the Lebialem terrain remains one of the most difficult to deal with. Existence for the people of this land of cascading hills and valleys is not an easy thing. Though, they have learned to forge ahead against the challenges of inclement nature and the concomitant nonchalance of the state towards their pleas to disenclave the Division.

The Division has become a major flashpoint in the Ambazonian push for independence. Indeed, administrative and military officials have not shied away from admitting that the Lebialem terrain is a bulwark against their push to squash the Ambazonian rebellion there. In one of his briefings, the governor of the South West, Bernard Okalia Bilaï, acknowledged the impasse the army was facing in Lebialem due to the nature of the terrain. Faced with these setbacks, the government is leaving no strategy untested; even rogue techniques are on the table. They have tried out various methods: sound shocking the population with the bangs of heavy artillery fired; using flares at night in the hope they would flash out the rebels from their hideouts; planting electronic monitors, alarms, and motion detectors; soldiers killing and eating people’s livestock. Extra-judicial killings; indiscriminately looting and burning down homes, business premises; and desecrating sacred places like palaces and churchyards.


Menoua S.D.O and his Blockade of Lebialem

Mr. Balungeli Ebun, the Senior Divisional Officer of Menoua Division with headquarters in Dschang has put in place certain measures that are nothing short of an economic blockade of Lebialem. In a press release signed by the S.D.O on 15th May 2018, the movement of persons and commercial motorbikes within Menoua Division has been banned in some places while in other parts of the division some restrictions have been placed on the circulation of motorbikes. The measure, on the surface, looks like an attempt to regulate activities within his area of authority. Yet a closer examination reveals a broader plan to create a buffer zone between Lebialem and Dschang, its major supply center. Yes, an attempt to cut off the air supply and thus, stifle Lebialem. Hence, observers say the measure is meant to curtail the ferrying of food any other basic needs to Lebialem Division. In so doing, the government hopes to bring the people of Lebialem to their knees and thus ease an eventual military pacification of the restive department. The order was strictly implemented in the week leading up to the National Day celebrations. Now, the implementation appears relaxed; that is as long as travelers are carrying nothing, not even medication on their person.

One young man called Ntimah Chrysantus learned the lesson the hard way. He was intercepted at Fongotongo in a truck filled with bags of rice for the starving internally displaced people of Lebialem. The car was impounded, and he was locked up for almost a week in Dschang. LeGideon knows of at least three other people who have been arrested with foodstuff intended for their families in Lebialem and taken directly to Dschang or Bafoussam. Our sources reveal that the unfortunate good Samaritans are now facing the military tribunal in Bafoussam. The question that comes to mind: Is the government serious about its thirteen billion CFA Francs humanitarian assistance plan when it cannot even allow private citizens to take succor to their own people?

Statistics on the internally displaced are not readily available. However, the areas under military occupation were densely populated. And practically everyone fled to safer zones when the army moved in writhing like a wounded python. All the three subdivisions of Lebialem have seen bloody confrontations between the security forces and the independence fighters, AKA Red Dragons. Now, uneasy calm seems to reign in Wabane and parts of Alou subdivisions. However, from 3-Corners Alou and Lewoh in Alou Subdivision to Mankem, Azi, Njeh, Ndungalleh, Nveh, and Menji in Fontem the tensions are still high. Most of the populations remain in hiding. The most hard-hit places though are Mankem, Azi, and Njeh where the distraught population stood far away on hilltops and watched in disbelief as their homes and business premises were being torched by the military forces. The host villages have been very hospitable towards the displaced peoples. However, the humanitarian situation is degrading by the day as hospitals have been shut down due to insecurity.


Centuries Old Relationship Now a Liability for the Bangwa People

Even in peaceful times, Lebialem Division has always depended on Dschang on the Francophone side of the frontier for socio-cultural and economic exchanges. The economic and social relationship between the two peoples predates colonialism. The majority of the Bangwa of Lebialem migrated to their present site from various locations in present day Menoua Division. Many Bangwa villages are named after villages in Menoua Division. Probably a nod to the place of origin of the founders of these Bangwa villages. The Bangwa people speak a variety of the Bamileke language closely similar to Yemba, the tongue of the Menoua people. During the runup to the plebiscite in 1961, Bangwa people actively campaigned for a vote in favor of reunification.

It is a matter of socio-cultural affiliations as it is of geographic proximity and economics of scale. The nearest Anglophone town to Lebialem is Mamfe, which is about one hundred kilometers to the West of Menji (headquarters of Lebialem). Mamfe itself is not a safe place as it is currently under military occupation as well.  Dschang is quite near, forty kilometers away from Menji and under twenty kilometers away from Alou, headquarters of Alou subdivision in Lebialem. People from Lebang, Essoh-Attah, Lewoh, and Ndungatet in Lebialem regularly trek to nearby markets in Menoua such as Pia and Fongo-ndeng where they sell farm produce and buy finished goods for their basic provisions. Meanwhile, prominent Lebialem markets like Alou, Nkongle, Bechati, and Ndungweh receive many Bamileke traders who come to sell items like clothes and packaged food (Maggi, processed tomatoes etc.). In short, the Division is easily accessible from the Francophone side of the country than from its neighboring Divisions within the South West region.

Thus, even as roads were blocked and people displaced from their homes, they could still have relief supplies from Dschang ferried in with the use of commercial motorbikes. Or for those who were strong enough, they could walk to neighboring markets like Fongo-Tongo, Fongo-Ndeng, or Pia to get basic provisions. In his order, the S.D.O places a complete ban on the use of commercial motorbikes in the villages of sub-divisions of Menoua Division bordering Lebialem. This creates a heavily policed buffer zone between Lebialem and the West region. Here, even the displaced running to seek refuge in the West province are rounded up and locked up in Dschang and Bafoussam.

            If the government of Cameroon considers the people of Lebialem as Cameroonians then it would not be preventing people from getting provisions, not to talk of the army’s harassment of people fleeing the conflict zone. If the government is really serious about solving the problem they would, first of all, go back to the drawing board and revise their confrontational strategy.

Tagged Keywords: consicdf, t of Cameroon, he governmen
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