By Kesah Princely, In Buea
Persistent hunger, lack of shelter, insecurity, limited access to education and inadequate medical care are some of the main difficulties that thousands of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Cameroon’s two Anglophone minority regions are entangled in, owing to a deadly secessionist armed conflict plaguing the country.
Just like people with disabilities in any conflict-affected area across globe, persons with disabilities in the restive North West and South West regions of Cameroon are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, as hostilities between government forces and Anglophone separatist fighters take a new turn, rights groups say.
In 2016, Anglophone lawyers and teachers in peaceful protests demanded for political, economic and social reforms from the country’s Francophone-dominated government.
Government forces repressed the protests, giving rise to what later became known as the Anglophone secessionist movement.
Some Anglophones took up arms against the state, and out rightly declared a separate country which they called “Ambazonia,” in 2017.
For nearly four years of the armed conflict between separatist fighters and government forces, persons with disabilities, like others, have also been affected in the conflict.
Despite several calls from the international community for belligerents to respect international humanitarian law, the reality on the ground seems the contrary.
Human Rights Watch reported in May 2019 that both government forces and separatist fighters didn´t fight in conformity with laws of war, stressing that persons with disabilities were dying, owing to hostilities.
Disability advocates have described the ongoing war as a death trap for many a person with disabilities, because it is difficult for them to survive in the midst of the conflict.
Forty-eight persons with disabilities, their relatives, representatives of UN agencies, national and international humanitarian organizations in Anglophone Cameroon revealed to Human Rights Watch, between January and May 2019, that there was urgent need for humanitarian intervention to rescue persons with disabilities from the brunt of the conflict.
Gender and Child Protection Officer at the Coordinating Unit of Associations of Persons with Disabilities (CUAPWD) in the North Wes region, Tangi Vitalis Ndeh, told TWIF NEWS recently that, the crisis has had an adverse effect on disability mainstreaming, intimating that thousands of children with diverse disabilities are out of school, owing to the prolonged conflict.
Tangi Vitalis revealed that CUAPWD-North West has documented the death of over 100 persons with mobility, visual, mental, as well as speech impairments killed, either by Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion or separatists fighting for the independence of “Ambazonia”.
Among the instances documented is a scenario where soldiers raided the home of a 28-year-old woman with a physical disability in Meluf, Bui Division, North-West region, in December 2018.
She told the rights group that about 15 soldiers broke into her home, took her phone and medications, and ordered her at gunpoint to remove her prosthetic leg.
“They watched me crawling and laughed. They asked me where the Amba [separatists] lived, and I replied that I didn’t know. Since they seized my medication, I have been ill,” she is quoted as saying.
In an interview with TWIF NEWS, the Project Manager of the Coordinating Unit of Associations of Persons With Disabilities-South West, said over 1500 PWDs in the region have been displaced as a result of the deteriorating conflict.
Agbor Orock Junior stressed that persons with disabilities are in dire need of basic requirements such as food, shelter and health care.
“The Cameroon Anglophone armed conflict has left lamentable scars on persons with disabilities which will only take serious humanitarian intervention to erase,” he revealed.
Nsah Edwin, 29, is a person with visual impairment leaving in Cameroon’s conflict ravaged North West region. He is one of those who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
In an exclusive interview with TWIF NEWS, he revealed he is suffering a double degree of tragedy as a result of the unceasing conflict.
When the conflict broke out in Bamenda late 2016, Nsah said he was trapped in the midst of a crowd with security officers spraying tear gas indiscriminately.
“I was only carried on the back by someone I never knew to a sanctuary. That is just to tell you the pains I had to go through, witnessing tear gas for my very first time, and unfortunately, I sustained some burns in the recue process,” he lamented.
He recounted how he had been compelled to lay on the ground each time sporadic gunshots were heard around his vicinity.
This forced Nsah to displace from Mile 90, Bamenda, to a safer neighbourhood.
The crisis, he said, has not only affected him physically, but psychologically as well.
Nsah is not only worried that he has completely lost his source of livelihood, but is concerned about the displacement of his relatives whom he said would have been of great assistance to him.
Nsah, a prince who hails from Bum, a village in Boyo Division, of the North West region cannot even seek refuge in his once comfortable royal home.
“Our palace was burnt down and my family was displaced. Right now, I don’t know where some of my family members are,” he stated.
“They were shoulders I could cry on,” he added.
Nsah told TWIF NEWS that he now lives in a precarious situation owing to the fact that a local radio station where he used to earn some income as a reporter has been shut down.
“We are sustaining, thanks to the communal life of the people of Bamenda. There is no way you can be hungry when there is a neighbour,” he said.
His education, among other things, has also been affected. He was under a scholarship scheme. This made it difficult for him to complete his Higher National Diploma program, with barely a year to finish.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, people with disabilities and older people have been among those killed, violently assaulted, or kidnapped by government forces and armed separatists.
Nsah is also deeply rooted in music. He told TWIF NEWS that he has so many songs which he has composed, but due to the worsening crisis, he can’t raise funds for their production.
Some say the belligerents have continued to violate international humanitarian law with impunity.
Disability advocates say the deadly armed conflict has made the process of disability mainstreaming in Anglophone Cameroon nightmarish.
Some persons with disabilities in the crisis-hit regions who were bread winners of their families told TWIF NEWS that they are not only in dire need of humanitarian assistance alone, but equally hope that the conflict is resolved so that they could return to their normal livelihoods.