In November 2016, calamity struck! Up until then, Cameroon was the land of “peace and work”. It was the “fatherland”. We weren’t a perfect people: we had our complaints, our grievances and our vexations but we were a peaceful people.
I lived in a small village in Ekona Mbenge with my family. Ekona is a very small village in the southwest region of Cameroon. With minimal internet access and media influence, I knew very little of the events and circumstances that led to the Anglophone crisis. What I do remember is that teachers stopped coming to class and schools stopped functioning. Next, there were talks of Ambazonia.
We kept our peace. Even as strike actions began to surge in the Anglophone regions of the country. Peace only turned to panic when we started to hear death tolls, villages scorched and pillaged, and aggression brewing in the country.
2017 wasn’t the best year! It was the first time I heard gunshots. I was fast asleep when an unfamiliar sound cut through the silence like a sword. It was the first time I saw images of bodies dismembered and dumped. With fear in our hearts, we lived through that year, hopeful.
2018-2019 were filled with lockdowns, ghost towns and death. My friends went to the farm and never returned. We had become familiar with the sound of gunshots. More and more pictures of gruesome killings were circulating the web. Some nights I couldn’t sleep because those images of beheaded bodies and human guts scattered on the asphalt would come to my mind. I still find it hard to sleep.
On the 20th of May 2020, death knocked on ours! Separatist fighters “Amba boys” attacked our village. I will never forget the screams and cries of mothers and children. I will never forget the bravery of fathers fighting to keep their families alive. I will never forget the look on my father’s face when he told me and my sister to hide. He put his finger over his mouth motioning us to remain quiet. I will never forget my mother’s whimper as streams of tears ran down her face; forcing herself to quiet down.
I remember hearing heavy footsteps at the front of our house. When the loud knock followed shortly after, I began to mutter prayers. I begged God to preserve our lives but also begged to be accepted to heaven if saving us was too much to ask.
I remember my prayer was cut short when a group of men broke into our home screaming, “na wuna be black legs nor?” My father was an ex-military – naturally the enemy. They pulled us out of our hideout; making us watch them beat my mother. My father tried to protest but his protest was in vain. One of the men grabbed my sister, before our own eyes, he molested her while his partners held the rest of us down.
The armed men asked me to stand up. They said they would spare my life if I decided to join their course. It wasn’t really a choice, it was an order! Come with us or watch your family get killed. I looked back at my mother, I watched as she fell to her knees in supplication. I had been chosen to be my family’s saving grace, the sacrificial lamb. I accepted.
I was taken to stay in a camp in the middle of nowhere where I served the separatists as an errand boy. I would clean their guns, help those wounded all while hoping for a day I could escape. At the time I was there, I had no contact with my family, I didn’t know if they were dead or alive. The Friends I made were ever changing, some would leave the camp and we would only hear that they were now dead. Nothing seem permanent except the horror that surrounded me.
In 2020, one of the commanders told me I had to prove my loyalty by taking a life. It was a rite of passage I had to endure. I was to be sent to Limbe to disrupt the Africa Nations Championship slated for January that year. When we arrived Limbe, there were no possibilities of carrying out our plans. We stayed in Limbe till November when we were given instructions to attack a school in an area around mile 4 and beat up the students. I didn’t want to go, but I feared for my life. The plan was to attack the school, scatter and meet at our hideout. This was the moment I decided to escape.
I ran to buea where I thought I was safe and out of reach. It was fine until January 2021 when I begun to receive threats. I had not tried to make any contact with my family in order to keep them safe. I don’t know how the separatist found me, but they did. They continually sent threats. I changed my phone number every now and then. Moved from one house to the other so they could not track me. In their eyes I was a traitor who knew what they had done and how they had done. I was a threat.
After working several odd jobs and slaving away in Buea. I was taken advantage of by the people I sought help from. I thought about reporting myself to the police, but with the recent officer-involved shootings, I couldn’t trust them to keep me safe. I still can’t. I was finally able to escape to Ukraine in the last months of 2021. These were the events that shaped my life.
I love my country and I would do anything for my family but I cannot go back home. I am the son of an ex-soldier, a former separatist who abandoned the cause. I am wanted by the people who rub us of our peace and wanted by those who swore to protect us. There is no place for me anymore. Plus, the crisis is still ongoing. Although some have laid down their arms and ran away like me, others still hold their guns to their chest and vow to fight to the death. Staying in the country is the only chance I have to stay alive. I hope you can grant me that opportunity.
I have thought about death many times and all the times I could have died. These circumstances have made me value life a lot more. Although I will die one day, I want to be given the chance to live.