Bamenda shut down Monday, two days before talks resume between the government and leaders of teachers’ trade unions, reinforcing doubts in an early resolution of the crises in Anglophone regions and complicating work for the committee examining education sector grievances.
City dwellers plan to stay home for a second day on Tuesday, yielding to calls from activists condemning police brutality and demanding a referendum to determine the fate of the country’s English-speaking territory. Schools and courts, which have been directly hit by the uprising, were likely to remain in limbo much longer.
Other cities, towns and villages across Anglophone Cameroon also respected the ghost towns declared by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Societies Consortium (CACSC), after security forces shot at civilians in Bamenda on Friday, killing one.
Analysis: The recent shootings are likely to overshadow and affect the mood of Wednesday’s resumption of talks, which had made some progress towards saving the school year when they held last week
Activists have called the government hypocritical, accusing authorities of using dialogue and lethal force at the same time to try to end the deadlock that has lasted since November 2016. It is unlikely that the mutual distrust that has intoxicated the talks will go away, if it does not grow deeper.
The government looks worse off each time the talks fail and activists seem ever ready to move further from the center with new and harder to meet demands. What began as a series of grievances from teachers and lawyers has mutated into a political and constitutional dispute that has questioned the very foundation on which modern Cameroon was founded.
Bamenda, where troops killed at least four protesters during riots last December and arrested dozens more, has become easily the heart of the struggle, seen by some as a movement of “resistance” against the authorities in Yaounde.
A few petty businesses such as road-side eateries, hawkers and some motorbikes ignored the protest between 6am and 9am. But before long, everyone was back indoors, leaving behind scanty streets.
Major streets like SONAC and Commercial Avenue were deserted by noon. The Bamenda Main Market did not open at all. Here and there, youngsters turned empty streets into football pitches and playgrounds.
Armed security forces, some in anti-riot gear stood at major street corners. But unlike the weekend before, things appeared calm. CACSC used social media to urge city dwellers to stay at home and avoid confrontation with troops.
When teachers and the government meet again on Wednesday, talks will focus on saving the school year.
Schools have been closed since November and could stay so until the ad hoc committee led by the prime minister’s chief of staff , Paul Ghogomu produces solutions teachers can agree to.
Analysis: It is hard to see how the Ghogomu committee will advance, following CACSC’s recent call for a referendum. So far, the committee appears reluctant and incompetent to discuss federalism, around which teachers grievances now orbit.