When American Pastor Charles Wesco was killed in the crossfire of separatist and government forces, people thought that change would come. The American government surely wouldn’t stand to lose one of their own. But that was 2018.
When Baby Martha Neba, with only four months on this earth, was gruesomely killed by state forces, people thought that change would come. A four-month-old child? Horrendous. But that was 2019.
When government forces committed a terrible massacre at Ngarbuh, people thought change would come. At least twenty-two dead women and children, as innocent as could be. An atrocity. And that was 2020.
Yet no change has come.
When Samuel Wazizi, a popular TV anchor and journalist, was arrested in August 2019, people thought it was just another example of the repression of the press in Cameroon. He would surely be released, in time, as Mimi Mefo and others had before him.
Yet Wazizi’s lawyers were never granted access to him. His family never heard from him. When his lawyers finally won the right to have him produced by the government in court, he did not appear.
Then, on June the 5th, the truth came out.
The Government’s Military Spokesman revealed that Wazizi had died in their custody. In August 2019.
For Three Hundred Days, Wazizi’s family, friends, lawyers, colleagues and international press advocates had all been pushing for his release. To see him, to hear him, to feel him again. For Three Hundred Days, the Government of Cameroon maintained a cruel charade that denied justice and tortured his family. The Government stated that Wazizi died of sepsis shortly after his arrest. But after three hundred days of deceit, who would possibly trust that? An independent investigation and autopsy has been demanded by many, and French Ambassador Christophe Guilhou intimated that President Biya has indicated that an investigation will take place. With allegations of torture rife, an independent investigation this is the only way to bring any form of peace to those who cared so deeply about Samuel Wazizi.
Yet Biya’s suggested investigation is nothing to applaud. The Government of Cameroon is a serial suppressor of press freedoms, and still has at least 7 journalists in prison. The gravestone of Wazizi is yet another grim marker of the deterioration of the Biya regime, and yet another indicator of the grave threat posed to journalists in Cameroon.
There is a famous thought experiment that asks:
‘If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound’?
It could be argued that in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, two other versions of this thought experiment are being tested.
Firstly, with reference to the government of Cameroon,
‘If an incident occurs and all the journalists and witnesses have been arrested or killed, did the incident happen’?
Secondly, with reference to the international community,
‘If incidents happen and nobody cares enough to act, are they really incidents’?
The international community has watched as the Anglophone Problem became the Anglophone Crisis, and now they have watched as the Anglophone Crisis has become the Anglophone War. Through an absence of meaningful enforcement and redress, the government of Cameroon has operated with absolute impunity throughout the crisis. Separatist groups have also committed serious human rights abuses. Incidents like the Ngarbuh Massacre have drawn international attention, even at the level of the United Nations Secretary General, but the lack of subsequent action has facilitated the further deterioration of the crisis. Despite overwhelming evidence of serious human rights abuses, Cameroon remains off the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council. Cameroon is also not on the UN Security Council agenda.
With little pressure on Cameroon and the armed groups involved, there is no end in sight for the Anglophone Crisis.
In the mean time, I at least hope that we will see #JusticeForWazizi.