The African Nations Championship (CHAN) will kick off in Cameroon on Saturday, but one of the regions chosen for games is in a state of war, and serious doubt has to be cast over whether the town of Limbe should be hosting matches at all.
The state of insecurity and instability in the Southwest and Northwest of Cameroon is far beyond the control of the Government and the Cameroon Armed Forces, to the extent that most top-level government officials, including the two Governors, top military officials and others senior level administrators and officials from the two warring provinces have long fled to relatively stable and peaceful neighbouring regions, from where they govern.
So how can they guarantee safety and security of visitors and supporters who will be attending the games in Limbe, in the Southwest of the country if they themselves do not feel safe in that region?
Although Cameroon’s football infrastructure is finally ready to host the much anticipated 2021 CHAN according Constant Omari, CAF’s Acting President, there are looming fears that the continental body may be prepping some of its top athletes for a possible and potential massacre – a repeat of the 2010 AFCON ‘ Cabinda attack’ in Angola, if not worse; due to CAF’s failure to carefully consider security concerns and measures on the ground in Cameroon as they allow national teams to play in Limbe.
Looming threats and fears of reprisal, kidnapping and possible death of team members and visitors by the so called Ambazonian insurgents (Southern Cameroon Defence Forces) who are fighting for the region’s autonomy, places Group D’s Zambia, Tanzania, Guinea and Namibia in the line of fire, along with and some quarterfinalists and semifinalists who will be competing in this highly volatile region.
During an inspection visit to the region, according to a CAF media report, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Dion Ngute (who also hails from that region), in an effort to allay fears around the dangers of playing in this venue, guaranteed that special security measures will be taken, and the government will deploy police to the venue to maintain security, safety and discipline around the sites.
Yet doubts about Cameroon’s security forces and government’s ability to guarantee safety and security of the CHAN protagonists are rife and would certainly be validated if CAF continues to turn a blind eye to the facts on the ground.
How the government and its troops intend to ensure safety and security of the football family that will be flooding to this region remain to be seen. Considering the fact that Cameroon’s security forces on the ground have since 2016 been unable to contain the insurrections and are continuously losing ground to several Ambazonian /Southern Cameroons warring factions.
Although for national unity and to score political points, it is in the interest of the government of Cameroon to play those games in the region, some pundits contend that Yaounde should weigh its personal and political interest against the impending disaster about to erupt and withdraw the competition from this zone and relocate it in more safer and peaceful regions of the country.
Yaounde’s very inhumane record of extrajudicial killings, abductions, illegal arrests and detentions, indiscriminate burning of more than 120 villages, (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44561929), businesses, and other innocent civilians; including the burning of a sleeping new-born baby and mother, and an 80-year-old woman; all burnt alive in their sleep, in a military scorched earth tactic, has created a sense of distrust and hatred towards the government as victims and witnesses on the ground have vowed to do all in their powers to make the region ungovernable.
“That government is not our government. We are Ambazonians. A government is a father of the nation and a father cannot kill and torture his children like this, just because they ask [for] change. They [government in Yaounde] are wicked coloniser(s) who have killed all our people. We cannot allow that [hosting of the Chan] to happen here in Ambazonia, Mr Journalist hear me well! I say it will not happen, we cannot allow or let me say I will fight for the restoration of the Independence of Ambazonia or die fighting, La Republique cannot organise that thing (CHAN), here no never Ambazonia will never ever allow that here, this is our own country no! They will not try [that]! They should do that in their own country not here. Mr Journalist, they kill us and then come to organise party on top of our head and sufferings … Lie lie to lie sir! [ wusai the La Republique army sef…. Let them come, we will show them that this land is The Federal Republic of Ambazonia,” declared Mrs Pauline*, a local farmer who claims to have lost three relatives to deadly indiscriminate attacks from the Cameroon security forces.
The Ambazonian/Southern Cameroonian insurgents have since 2016 been fighting for the restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia – a region which includes host city Limbe, from the Government in Yaounde which they (Ambazonians) considered as colonisers.
As a result, they consider the organisation of this competition in this region as an incursion into their territorial integrity. This maybe viewed as a provocation which may be met not only with deadly reprisal attacks, kidnappings, extortion, and worse; killing of players and members of the football fraternity as a deterrent measure; but also as a means of attracting international attention to their cause and further place the embattled government in Yaounde under further security and
diplomatic pressure and scrutiny.
“In solidarity, and to declare our future allegiance to the confederation, we hereby notify your offices that the selected venue of Victoria (Limbe) and the entire Southern Cameroons would not be safe for any scheduled games because of the ongoing war. We have called on our people to stay away from the tournament. We urge that all games be limited to the French Cameroon territory with an established international border at her independence from France on 1st Jan 1960,” read a press
release from the Ambazonian Government’s Communications Department to CAF.
Will Cameroon, CAF and the CHAN Group D teams heed to the Press release sent to them by The Ambazonian Government cautioning of a looming disaster if the tournament was to be played in that region or will they as was the case of Cabinda ignore the security and safety concerns on the ground and sacrifice their athletes on the altar of the government of Cameroon’s whims?
Most teams including Group D’s Zambia have already set-up camps in Cameroon in view of the CHAN 2021 will kick-off on 16 January with a curtain raiser between the host, Cameroon and Zimbabwe at the Ahmadou-Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé at 4 p.m. GMT.
This issue of insecurity and the danger it poses to the lives and career of Africa’s valiant sportsmen among others was also voiced by former CAF president Ahmad Ahmad in a media interview, prelude to the “postponement” or withdrawal of the 2019 AFCON from Cameroon in 2019 in which the then CAF president echoed the fact that “we do not need to see another ‘Cabinda 2010’ where high calibre athletes are sent for slaughter”. The 2019 Afcon was subsequently withdrawn from Cameroon as result.
The Cabinda attack, where a separatist group known as the Front for the Liberation of Enclave of Cabinda (Flec) who have been fighting for the oil-rich region’s independence machine-gunned a bus carrying the Togolese National team en route to the team’s base in Cabinda province in view of the 2010 Angola Afcon tournament. The bus driver was killed and nine others injured with the goalkeeper permanently paralysed. The Togolese team later withdrew from the games for security reasons.
Here are the different groups and venues and host cities for CHAN 2021
Group A: Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé
Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso
Group B: Japoma Stadium in Douala
Libya, Niger, DRC, Congo
Group C: Douala Reunification Stadium
Morocco, Togo, Rwanda, Uganda
Group D: Omnisports Stadium in Limbe
Zambia, Tanzania, Guinea, Namibia
*not their real name.