BUEA—Thousands have demonstrated outside the multi-sport stadium here to protest police brutality in the wake of a student uprising against extra fees and unpaid bursaries at the University of Buea last week.
About 5000 demonstrators said they also wanted to show support for separate strikes by Anglophone teachers and lawyers that have crippled schools and universities for the third week and disrupted courts across the North West and South West regions.
In a new twist following weeks of protests rooted in the broader problem of Anglophone marginalization and identity erasure, taxi drivers and traders in Bamenda also joined in, turning the city into a ghost town on Monday.
John Fru Ndi, the leader of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), led a kilometer-march in Buea before addressing the more than 5,000-strong crowd, among them lawmakers of the opposition party, at the place called Check Point.
Armed troops watched from a distance, as a city haunted by images of gendarmes beating and forcing students into muddied waters came to a fleeting halt. Earlier in the day, municipal wardens blocked lawmakers from leaving the Parliamentarian Flats Hotel, briefly raising concerns of the demonstration turning violent.
Fru Ndi arrived in Buea early Monday and spent the early hours with law professor and SDF legal adviser Ndiva Kofele-Kale at his home, before moving to Bundouma to lead the march from there to Check Point. He wore a white gown and addressed a cheering crowd from a makeshift podium outside the Molyko Stadium.
Police brutality against peacefully demonstrating students was unacceptable, Fru Ndi said, urging authorities to investigate and punish allegations of atrocities committed by gendarmes, some against students in residential quarters.
Images and footage captured by students on cellphones and widely distributed on social media showed gendarmes chasing students deep inside residential areas, far away from the scenes of protests. One showed two gendarmes taking turns to hit a man rolling on the ground. Another captured several gendarmes apparently pulling students out of their rooms and making them roll in mud.
Security forces arrested at least 200 students in the crackdown and detained them in Limbe, Tiko and Mutengene. About five are still in detention. Fru Ndi called for their release, saying students had a right to demonstrate to call attention to their problems.
This was planned to protest the use of undue force to break up a peaceful demonstration and demand justice for manhandled students. But the multitude of problems that have fired up indefinite strikes by lawyers and teachers easily engulfed sentiments.
Protesters carried banners calling for a return to the post-independence two-state federalism, a key demand of protesting lawyers and teachers. Others advocated outright secession, the more radical position of groups like the Southern Cameroon’s National Council (SCNC). A few opposing views pressed for regionalism, the current political configuration preferred by the authorities in Yaounde and publicly supported by a shrinking Anglophone elite.
For the first time, taxi drivers and traders in Bamenda joined the strikes, creating a ghost town that city dwellers said reminded them of the political upheavals of the 1990s. They have promised to shut down the city for three days every week, opening only long enough to let city dwellers restock food and other supplies.
The so-called Anglophone Problem is a complex combination of post-independence constitutional disputes, a quest for self-preservation and a protest against progressive marginalization of Anglophone from national public space by successive Francophone-led administrations. But it is summed up in a general feeling that the current unitary arrangement is grossly unfavorable to Anglophones and departs from the terms of the union – that of two states coming together at independence but maintaining their separate heritages, safeguarded by federalism.