Anglophone Crises: Sweet-Bitter Tale of Fleeing Victim from Lebialem

Ever since President Paul Biya declared war on Anglophone separatists, November 30, 2017, following the killing of some four soldiers and two police officers, there have been fierce encounter between the Cameroon Military and unknown gun men generally known as “Ambazonia Fighters” in the two English speaking Regions of Cameroon. These encounters, have for the most part caused thousands of people in villages within these two Regions to flee into nearby bushes and to neighbouring Nigeria.

Last March, 2018, the Lebialem Division, which has been relatively calm, was plunged into this status quo following attack on the Senior Divisional Officer of Lebielem and the killing of the Lebialem Divisional Delegate of Land Tenure, March 22, 2018. Several inhabitants, for fear of attack and possible killing by a military crackdown thereafter, escaped to various destinations

Escape from Military Crack Down in Menji

An inhabitant of Menji (the administrative Head Quarter of Lebialem Division), who preferred to be known simply as William, escaped into a forest where he spent over 12 days. This reporter caught up with him recently, and first wanted to know how he left Menji;

“On that day I sat in front of my house after work. All of a sudden, I saw people running, as I was about finding out what was happening, a friend called and informed me that if I don’t escape, I would be a dead man. I immediately left taking with me nothing, not even a pin. Lucky enough I had my Identity Card on me. When I met with the friend, who called me, we went to ‘Three Corner’ because we suspected the military could be coming in from Mamfe. While at ‘Three Corner’, it started raining. We took a bush track and after three hours and continuous trekking under the rain, we got at one village, I can’t even recall the name, where we spent the night in one little hut”.

Though in a far off, village, Williams and other villagers were not still sure of the security of this area. They decided to embark on a journey into the forest: “Early in the morning, we continued our journey under this rain, crossing rivers and rugged terrain until we arrived behind a certain palace. From here, we trekked for about 5 hours again; no food, no water until we got into one thick forest. While in the forest, we were taken to a cave,”

The 12 Day Forest Experience

Now out of what, they considered, the danger soon, William, was ready for his new home, the forest, with no idea of how long he will be there: “At the forest, what I was interested in was my safety, which I knew could not be given by the military. In fact, we were afraid of the military, so we preferred to stay there as long as we could”.

The forest life though strange, was a moment for William to discover the special endowments and prioress of the village communities in the land of the unknown; “In the forest, I discovered that the cave had sand on floor, which we spread dry leaves on as use as our mattress, and some stones as our pillows. One of the difficulties we faced was having good food. We lived on bananas and plantains harvested from people’s farms we don’t know. We took matches and rubber from hunting huts around forest areas, and used to generate fire. Palm nuts were used in place of palm oil, while the villagers used a certain leaf, which name I couldn’t get because it was pronounced in their vernacular, as spice to prepare food throughout our stay. This leaf has the aroma of so many ingredients crayfish, Maggi, salt, grind spices etc. It was not easy, you get up, sit on a stone for hours; no way to communicate with your family, charge your phone….it was horrible!”

Encounter with ‘Amba Guys’

While in the forest, the armed separatist fighters stumbled on William and his counterparts in course of their traditional patrol. This was another incredible experience to him: “One day the Amba guys came in contact with those who went to look for food on that day. So in the course of interrogation, they were made to understand that there were 15 other people including me inside the cave. So they came to where we were in the forest; greeted us all   and told us that their main reason for fighting is to protect civilians because aim of the military is to kill. They told us not to be afraid that they were going to survey the area and let us know when it is safe to leave. So we actually stayed they for 12 days before Amba guys came and even directed us the right track to follow which would led us back to town”.

After the leaving the forest, William and his friends had to use foot paths to Dschang as the high way was even more risky:  “From forest, we trekked though foot paths for two days to arrive Dschang, from where I took a bus to Buea”.

In a whole, William spent over 15 days out of the comfort of a home, with one dress (a ‘gin trouser’ and a T-shirt), because of the crackdown. He noted that though he is out of the forest, they are possibly still others that have not been able to leave the forest because they don’t know where to go; because they find it safer that their communities.

By B. Shancho Ndimuh

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Urban Population Increasing with Decreasing Trees


Urban forestry still limping in many cities in Cameroon

Countries the world over were recently engaged in commemorating the 2018 edition of the International Forests Day. Celebrated under the theme: “Forests and Sustainable Cities,” this year’s celebration provided a platform for governments and administrators within urban areas in Cameroon and beyond to reflect on the importance of trees in solving urban challenges like air pollution, increasing atmospheric temperature, and water scarcity amongst others. The question of the day is how many administrators in urban areas in Cameroon like the governors, senior divisional officers, government delegates, divisional officers, mayors and traditional rulers in urban areas actually reflected on these?, and if they did, what is the outcome of their reflection and what measures are they putting in place to promote urban forestry within their respective urban centres.

It is but an open secret that more and more urban centres in Cameroon are increasingly getting hotter and nosier than usual with massive population influx from rural areas. This rural exodus has besides increasing atmospheric temperature, induced water scarcity and pollution. With the currently increasing urbanization, there has also  been an increase in energy demands, increase greenhouse gas emissions and consequently increase in climate change impacts experienced in the city.

In the midst of these, trees that are supposed to serve as  natural  filters and noise absorbers, improve microclimates, conserve  biodiversity,  protect  and  improve the  quality  of  natural  resources,  are cut down for the construction houses and other facilities to accommodate the increasing urban population with very limited or no sustainable reforestation plan thereafter.

It’s true that a few cities in Cameroon have trees and green spaces doted here and there within the city, though sometimes off the centre of the city where they are needed most. For example, research findings by George Amahnui in 2017 revealed that urban forests occupy 3754.5072 hectares of the Douala city but the trees were mostly found in the mangroves.

Within the Buea Municipality, though there a few trees along the major high way with green spaces at a few round-abouts, there are a good number of houses emanating like mush rooms at sites that, in most developed countries should have been used as a green space.  A typical example is the Mile 18 and Mile 17 water catchments and the road pavement behind GTTC Buea.

While waiting on the government to create green spaces and plant trees, individual families in urban centres must also cultivate the habit of planting trees, most especially economic trees like mango, guava, plump, pear, apple and many others. Such trees will besides protecting the environment, generate income to the families and other nutritive functions.

Green spaces and trees need to be evenly distributed across every city in Cameroon with total surface area large enough to accommodate the urban population needs. Such a move will promote and inspire a better relationship with the environment while supporting important services

By B. Shancho Ndimuh

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“Without Peace, There is No Conservation”-SDAP, MINFOF

Njiang Antoine, SDAP, MINFOF                             (Photo Credit: IISD)

“Our role as conservators is to send them (those taking refuge in forests as a result of the current Anglophone crisis) out of any protected areas, but as humans, we understand that they are like refugees and during crises, conservation is really difficult; without peace, there is no development, without peace, there is no conservation,” the Sub-Director of Wildlife and Protected Area at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Njiang Antoine, said in an interview he granted The Green Vision recently.

The Sub-Director cried foul over the possible deteriorating effect those taking refuge in the forests will have on the biodiversity of the area. “When there is insecurity, there is definitely no security for human and wildlife. During social insecurity, our wildlife in protected areas are used as food, bush meat; trees are cut down for wood and construction of huts by those that are refugees inside our protected area. As a conservationist, I know that when they will stay there for one week, they will not have anything to eat and will become poachers. What do you think will happen to our wildlife?” he questioned.

This status quo has placed conservationists at the dilemma of whether or not to risk human life for the realisation of conservation goals.  “It becomes very difficult to put down a strategy to combat them because they will be everywhere in the forest, and sometimes you will not know what to do because they are killing these animals not because they like it but because they want to survive. Will you leave them to continue killing our animals like that, will you send them away and allow them die of starvation ? These are difficult situations” Mr. Njiang stated.

Though caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, the conservationist however, thinks it is more preferable for the villagers to reside in the bushes. He recommended that the root cause of the problem be addressed given that sending the people out of the forest will only cause more harm than good. ”What I think is that we need to first of all address is the root cause of what is sending them out of their homes into bushes. They were claiming for many things and without a reaction, some of them started behaving like terrorists and when the military retaliated, they started running into bushes and out of the country. So there is need for a global solution to this problem,” he recommended.

The Sub-Director of Wildlife and Protected Area at MINFOF underscored the need for the Government to dialogue with the people of the two English speaking regions of Cameroon to understand what they want and arrive at a consensus so the refugees will leave the forests and the country’s biodiversity conserved.

  1. Shancho Ndimuh
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Corruption, Menace in Biodiversity Conservation in Cameroon

Transparency International last 2017 ranked Cameroon fourth most corrupt country in the world, down from the first position in 1999, 2000 and 2012. As disgusting as this statistics may appear, corruption remains a very big maggot in Cameroon, a maggot that has transcended all other sectors of the country, and is now eating deep into the biodiversity conservator sector.

Speaking with the Sub-Director of Wildlife at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Sambou Mamballa, recently, he underscored the fact that fighting illegal wildlife trafficking in Cameroon is a very great challenge. He said most of those involved in these illegal practices are well connected and always buy their way out even when indicted.

This assertion has been corroborated by The Last Great Apes Organisation (LAGA) Cameroon 2017 Annual Report. According to the report, LAGA recorded 85% bribing attempts during field arrest operations, and more than 80% of all court cases within the legal system in 2017. This report noted that most of the corruption attempts were immediate and to wildlife officials taking statements and writing complaint reports.

In this report, LAGA disclosed that in about 5 of such cases attempts were made at stopping the prosecutorial process by offering bribes, peddling of influence and bringing pressure to bare but all met with resistance. “Corruption attempts started as early as January when two Chinese nationals were about to be arrested and they understood the situation. Immediately, they set out possibilities for negotiation and tried to use their Cameroonian workers to talk to arresting team members. Although corruption was resisted at this state, it seems the Chinese did not lose faith in their ability to influence the judicial process and later proceedings showed this could have been carried out successfully. In the later stages of the judicial process, wildlife officials had to ask that the matter be tried by a college of judges,” the report read in part.

LAGA also revealed that last January 2017, some two traffickers were arrested with carved ivory pieces, zebra and leopard skins. Law enforcement officials establishing the complaint report came under pressure from family members of the traffickers who proposed money for the abandonment of the process. This according to the report, failed and they thought contacting LAGA members present could be the solution, so they approached but failed.

The LAGA 2017 Annual Report disclosed that in May 2017, some two traffickers were arrested with two ivory tusks and a “wildlife official in the ministry attempted to get their release by applying pressure on his colleague to abandon the procedure but this failed”.  Another law enforcement official (a policeman), according to the report, attempted releasing another arrested trafficker in June when he was arrested for leopard skin and pangolin scales trafficking. “The policeman, who is a brother to the trafficker, requested the assistant superintendent who was in charge of the matter to close the case for an amicable arrangement but he failed,” the report continued.

Another case of corruption captured by LAGA was last October 10, 2017. Still in her 2017 Annual Report, LAGA divulged that on this day, two were arrested for trafficking in 50kg pangolin scales in Ebolowa. As wildlife law enforcement officials set out establishing the offence report at the police station, they received pressure from the trafficker’s brother, who is a policeman. The policemen according to this report suggested to the wildlife officials to find a way to stop the matter at his level but the wildlife officials and police handling the matter stood their ground.

Still in October 2017, the organisation’s report holds that when some leopard skin traffickers were arrested in Bangangte, the state counsel who received the case immediately came under intense pressure from the family of the traffickers including some traditional notables and community members to release one of them and they succeeded in getting the state counsel release him despite vociferous arguments and complaints by LAGA.

One month after according to LAGA’s report, a police arrested three people with 158 ivory tusks, over 1000kg of pangolin scales and hundreds of parrot parts, and one of the trafficker’s brother who is an army general started mounting pressure for the matter to resolved at that level. This fell on deaf ears as police stood firm and, pursued the process that went to the level of the state counsel who decided to release them on bail.

LAGA in this report equally highlights other instances where outright obstructive tactics and maneuvers were made by some wildlife officials not to take part in operations or to sabotage operations. “This was the case in the North Region where despite good investigations leading to enough evidence of an elephant ivory trafficking ring about 40km from the regional capital Garoua, the North Regional Delegate deployed obstructive procedures and finally an operation could not be carried out,” part of the report reads.

The corruption menace has in fact eaten even deeper into the country’s system obsessing even Government officials that are supposed to be tracking down illegal traffickers and bringing them to justice. This has posed corruption as an even bigger threat to biodiversity conservation in Cameroon than all other factors put together. There is thus, a need for a more aggressive mechanism to be put in place to support law enforcement and fighting corruption within this sector if species must be saved from extinction in Cameroon.

By. Bertrand Shancho Ndimuh

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Esu Cultural Festival, Booster to Agriculture & Village Unity

 

Exhibitions at Esu Cultural Festival

The people of Esu Village in Menchum Division-North West Cameroon have just rounded off the maiden edition off their cultural festival aimed at promoting agriculture and conserving the culture of this village. Organised by the Essu Cultural and Development Association (ECuDA), this first ever Esu Cultural Festival brought together sons and daughter of this village from the nocks and crannies of Cameroon.

The organisation of this novelty in Esu, according a member of ECuDA, Jude Kum,  came against the backdrop of increasing scarcity of some agricultural products of great cultural and traditional value to the community and the Esu Man. “Each time we go for cultural and development meetings in the village, we noticed that key crops were getting scarce, and even palm wine was disappearing. I am a lover of raffia wine but it is surprising that when I reached the village and asked for this local liquor, I could not get the quantity I wanted because people are flooding to get a taste and the raphia bushes are diminishing in our area. So we thought it wise to launch this festival to conserve our cultural heritage and agricultural products” he said.

It is in this light that farmers came out in their numbers exhibiting different cash crops cultivated within the village, with cultural artifacts/carvings also displayed. These exhibitions culminated  in the discoveries of new crops hitherto not cultivated in the village like tomatoes  and others, and a crop like ‘area  yam’ found only in North West and West Cameroon. Another crop known commonly as “Bambara Groundnut”,  used in the village during naming ceremonies, cultural festivals, that was already becoming scarce  was found in good quantity during this festival.

The village elite underscored the need to valorize these crops, which are becoming very scarce and expensive as people shy away from it for rice cultivation. As practical way of demonstrating the strive to promote agriculture in Esu, prizes were given those who took part in the exhibition, while all agricultural products, arts and crafts work brought to the festival were bought.

Addressing his subjects during the festival, the paramount ruler of the Esu Fondom, HRM. Fon Kum-a-Chouo II called for unity in the village and amongst elites underscoring it (unity) as the key to any meaningful development in the village. He implored the people of Essu to avoid fighting one another.

Interspersed with traditional dances and manifestations by village masquerades, the Cultural Festival  was also marked by the offering of New Year Wishes better known in the village as ‘firewood’  to the Fon in exchange of blessings from the “ancestors”.

The Cultural Festival also had as highlight, the election of  a new bureau to run the affairs of the Esu Cultural and Development Association (ECuDA) for the next three years with Augustine Ndzo as President.  Meanwhile, some FCFA 3.3 Million was raised to continue construction work on some two class rooms at Government Bilingual Primary School Esu.

By Bertrand Shancho Ndimuh

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Women in Biodiversity Conservation; Blessings or Bruises?

Women once again were at the centre of attraction as Cameroon joined countries the world over to commemorate this year’s edition of the International Women Day under the theme press for progress. In all ten Regions of Cameroon, women came out in their number celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Though very little or no reference has been made over the years about the achievements of women in biodiversity conservation and natural resources management, they remain very significant actors in biodiversity conservation and or depletion across the country and the world at large.

Though a often left out during decision making, planning and setting up strategies for the protection the environment, there are a good number of women in Cameroon that have been able to brave the odds and are championing natural resources management and biodiversity conservation in Cameroon. We have Director of Younde based NGO known by its French acronym, CAFER, Mrs. Albertine Tchoulack, who has over the years dedicated herself to campaigning for the implementation of environmentally friendly alternatives. There is also the Divisional Delegate of Forestry and Wildlife for Lebialam, Madam Ikome Delphine, who is playing a veritable role in ensuring the conservation of forest resources and wildlife in that Divison. This area is host to a protected area (the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary) and a proposed protected area (Proposed Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary) providing safe haven to globally important species like the Cross River Gorilla, Cameroon Nigerian Chimpanzee, African elephant and a host of other animal, birds and tree species. We equally have a host of them in the educational milieu like Manga Ebot (Ph.D) & Mabel Wantim (Ph.D) of the University of Buea, Madam Akeh Nug of the ERuDeF Institute of Biodiversity and Non-Profit Studies and many others, who have trained and are still training young Cameroonians, many of whom are contributing greatly to the sustainable management of Cameroon’s biodiversity.

Though making great strides in conserving Cameroon’s biodiversity, most women in forest adjacent communities are noted as key contributors to biodiversity depletion. They manifest this through traditional farming practice like slash and burn, which sometimes generate fire that extend into protected areas destroying biodiversity species. Also, due to lack of accessibility to land, many women turn to encroach into protected areas with farms, fragmenting wildlife habitats. This is the case with almost all protected areas in Cameroon.

Despite the cardinal role of women in biodiversity conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources, no International Women’s Day seems to have focused on this thematic area. There is thus, the need to also use a day like this to equip women with knowledge on the importance of biodiversity conservation, for there is no way any meaningful success can be made in the conservation of the world’s biodiversity without the engagement and education of the women folks.  So as women use this day to fight for their rights, the fight for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection should equally be given a pride of place by the women.

Bertrand Shancho Ndimuh

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World Pangolin Day; Sports, Social Media Used to Save Worlds Most Trafficked Mammal

Pangolin, world’s most traficked mammal

Cameroon last February 17, 2018 joined the international community to commemorate this year’s edition of the World Pangolin Day observed under the theme: Pangolins are the pride of Central Africa and are increasingly being trafficked to Asia. In Cameroon, the Kimbi-Fungom National Park Service in the North West Region, organised a sports walk and a football encounter.  During the walk, village youths and staff of the Park Service walked round some villages adjacent to the National Park with placards bearing pro-pangolin conservation messages like “Make a Pledge, Save Pangolins”, “Protecting Pangolins for posterity” and others. A similar message was also passed by the different teams involved in the football encounter.

Meanwhile, Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife used the World Pangolin Day as an avenue to carry out radio sensitisation campaigns across the country.  During such campaigns, the Ministry educated the public on the threats pangolins are faced with in Cameroon underscoring the urgent need to save them from extinction.

At the level of the social media, campaign content targeted Central African Sub-region, United States as well as Asian audience. This is because Asia has become a major destination for illegal international trade in pangolins. Using facebook accounts like “PangolinSaver”, “USFWS International Affairs”, “#WorldPangolinDay; #SavePangolins; #ProtectOurPangolins; #pangolins” constituted the main hash tags on this day.

Pangolins are believed to be the most heavilytrafficked mammals in the world. All eight species of pangolins (four species in Africa and four in Asia) are threatened with extinction. Three of Africa’s four pangolin species are present in Cameroon. These include: the giant pangolin, the white-bellied pangolin and the black-bellied pangolin. Very little is known about them and the illegal trade in pangolin bush meat and scales is driving them closer and closer towards extinction.

Instituted in February 2012 and observed every third Saturday of February, World Pangolin Day (WPD) is an international event to raise global awareness about pangolins, the alarming threats they face, and the inspiring efforts to prevent them from going extinct. Cameroon and Central Africa joined the celebrations in 2016, with the launch of the MENTOR-POP Fellowship Program. Championed by the MENTOR-POP Fellows in collaboration with the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF). The first ever WPD was organized in February 2016 and constituted in a simple; sports walk in the city of Yaoundé and Television interviews. In February 2017, more events were organized both at field sites (national parks) and major cities the week running up to WPD 2017. On the eve of WPD 2017, the Cameroon government carried out the first ever pangolin scale burn in Africa sending a strong message that the trade in pangolins will not be tolerated within its territory.

Until recently, experts estimated that one million pangolins had been poached from the wild over the past decade. New research estimates that up to 0.4-2.7 million pangolins are hunted annually in Central Africa alone. In October 2016, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) issued a complete ban on all forms of trade in pangolins and pangolin derivatives like scales etc.  In Cameroon, national legislation has been updated to reflect this CITES decision, and the commercial trade ban in pangolins and pangolin parts is now being actively enforced. However a lot of illegal trade is currently ongoing in many areas in Cameroon. Therefore the illegal trade in pangolins needs to be taken more seriously, with improved law enforcement and proper following of judicial proceedings.

By B. Shancho Ndimuh With Contributions from Godwill Echu

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