AFCON 2021: A less festive spirit in English-speaking Cameroon

Many people find the African Cup of Nations a great moment

AFCON 2021: A less festive spirit in English-speaking Cameroon

 They wait anxiously to see their country win. For Tiku Achale however, the season brings back memories of the football season in his hometown before all the fighting and killing.

Flashbacks are of Cameroon fans carrying flags and wearing Cameroon team shirts on match day.

He recalls that some of the most determined players wore full team colours including football boots. In Buea in southwest Cameroon where anti-government militias roam streets, this is not the case.

Support for government

"They fear that the fighters might kill them, beat or burn down their homes," Tiku Achale stated about the supporters who have all vanished. The militias could interpret a Cameroon shirt as support for government.

Since fighting broke out between Anglophone separatists in Cameroon's west regions and soldiers from the predominantly Francophone government based at Yaounde in 2017, militias have been there

Shots fired

Over 3,000 people died in fighting, and over 700,000. People fled their homes. Buea was a hotspot of fighting with gunfire on the streets and improvised bombs exploding.

Although the African Cup was not held in English-speaking regions, it did pass through them briefly. Buea was the base of four teams that participated in the tournament. Limbe, a nearby city, hosted the group matches as well as two knockout rounds.

Separatist rebels

Although the tournament was able to avoid any major incidents in Buea or Limbe, there were still reminders of daily life in the area. As gunfire rang out around the area, the Mali team abandoned their training session at Buea's stadium. They were then rushed to their hotel by armed guard.

Two people were killed and five others were injured in the shooting between government soldiers and separatist rebels. Obasse Romeo, a Buea resident who was a former player for a local team, is very circumspect about the circumstances. "The teams were practicing with such apprehension. Imagine if the military was watching the training sessions. It is not the right atmosphere."

Covering up rebellion

Others criticised the government's deliberate use of the CAN to cover-up the rebellion. Cameroon didn't play in Limbe but locals, afraid of violence, were attracted to the games by free tickets. Some claims also suggest that Covid-19 relaxed strict restrictions to ensure that the stadiums weren't empty and preserve the image of the host country.

"How is it possible for people to celebrate and play, while others are hurting and in tears?" Rev Ludovic Lado is a Jesuit priest who was an activist and opposed to the hosting of the CAN Cameroon.

Atmosphere for violence

Cameroon's team is set to face Yaounde in the semi-finals on Thursday. With a chance of winning another African title and reaching the final, football is becoming suffocating in a climate of violence and fear in many English-speaking areas.

Unknown gunmen attacked players from Mount Cameroon FC, Buea. Separatist fighters abducted and tortured members from the Buea University football club.

Fear of kidnapping

Gunmen killed a Kumba club owner. Many semi-professional and local teams have pulled out of competitions after being kidnapped by gunmen. This is the end of mass football.

Cameroon's top football league was also affected. Bamenda's Yong Sports Academy hosts home games. Security guards are heavily armed and surround the pitch.

French-speaking players

Bakah Derick, local journalist and sports editor, says that visiting teams are evacuated after the games have ended by security forces without having to change their clothes. The incident began when an armed group attacked Dragon FC de Yaounde.

Fighting caused a divide between West Cameroon, the rest of the country and Anglophones as well as between Francophones and Francophones. Yong Sports had many French-speaking members in its team. They were comfortable defending both cultures. Only one of these players remains today. "These players fear kidnappers, loose balls," states Wanchia Cynthia of the Yong Sports Club.