Monday, February 28, 2011

Remembering February 2008 riots that left sad memories

                      By James Mukoh
       Transporters’ syndicates in Cameroon had called for a two-day strike for 25-26 2008 to protest against petrol and fuel price hikes  not knowing it was going to become a nation-wide  rioting  that left  many Cameroonians dead and property  worth  hundred of millions  of Francs CFA  was destroyed.
        Many accused of instigating the bloody violence and the destruction of property were prosecuted and jailed, other fled abroad.
       The strike, described as the most successful in recent years, exposed the growing anger of Cameroonians against the Biya regime.
President Biya, was then 75 years old, and had ruled Cameroon since November 1982.
       The Government least expected that the Cameroonians would heed the call for the strike action, but it was taken back when it hugely respected the clarion call; the rioting exposed the underbelly of the Government.
      It would be recalled that the strike was characterized by heavy looting of shops, gunfire, vandalism, violence, the burning of vehicles and road barricades.
Cameroon was in a war-like situation. People lived in total fear of the unknown.
"We cannot understand that our country produces petrol and we still buy petrol at the same price as people in non oil producing countries,” Jean Collins Ndefossokeng, president of the national taxi drivers' union SYNATA, had reportedly said.
       The war-like situation was a cause for great concern.Christian Cardinal Tumi, who was then the archbishop of Douala, condemned the wanton destruction of property and the killing of citizens .He urged the Government to have a meaningful dialogue with the protesters for a lasting solution
Lives were lost in various towns during clashes with anti-riot police. For example, at least four people were killed in Douala by armed police in a bid to disperse protestors barricading the streets.
    "Two persons were pulled out of their car and beaten to death at Bonaberi neighborhood. One man was burned to death when the Douala Five Council was set ablaze and another young man suffocated after inhaling too much tear gas," a senior police officer, who asked not to be named, had told Reuters. 
       Many other Cameroonians reportedly arrested were later declare missing, a claim that left many tongues wagging. 
      It would be recalled that, a certain Malcolm Awah Aseli Mbakwa, a radical youth leader in Buea was said to be one of the local master minds of the rioting. But he was finally picked up and detained;how he escaped detention in Buea was a mystery. Relatives later told reporters that that he had since left the country for safety abroad. Mbakwa founded other youth movements such as Mount Cameroon Youth and Development Association, MOCAYODE, said to be having ties with the dreaded Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), which is championing the independence of Anglophone Cameroon from La Republique du Cameroun.
      Shaken by the rioting , the Cameroon government, widely believed to be insensitive to the cries of the population then, was forced to reduce petrol and fuel prices when it dawned on it that the strike was becoming something else: a war against the regime.
      The Government had failed to take measures to avert the strike despite an early warning by the transporters’ unions.
According to a report by The RECORDER Newsline then: “Irate Cameroonians now were not only protesting against the price hikes in petrol but against the general high cost of living, high unemployment rate and even against the ruling party (CPDM) proposed constitutional amendment to make it possible for President Paul Biya to run for a third term when his current mandate would end in 2011”
      Even before the syndicates’ strike, there had  been a mass demonstration in Douala, calling for the reopening of Equinox TV, a private television station .Equinox TV, barely three years in existence but very popular, which was shut down for not complying to regulation, according to Communications then Minister Jean Pierre Biyiti bi Essam .
     But it was widely held that the closure was prompted by the fact that the TV station was too critical of the Biya regime. Police shot at the stone-throwing protestors calling for the reopening of the TV station. During the confrontations two persons were reported dead.


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