Government says elections must take place despite threats from separatist fighters.
YAOUNDE, Cameroon: Cameroon will organize twin legislative and municipal elections on February 9 despite the socio-political crisis and insecurity plaguing the country’s two English speaking regions of North Wes and South West.
Exchange of gun shots have been going on between government’s military and armed separatists for more than three years now. Few weeks to the elections, separatists have declared lockdown in these two regions that will have to be observed for weeks until after the February 11. These regions are still under threats and gun exchange despite efforts to curb the situation.
“People have to visit the southwest and go down to the fields in the northwest to see if, in a context of war, we can have free and fair elections. I am really going to say no, but I would like someone to prove me wrong,” said Njong Evaristus Ndim, member of the main opposition party, Social Democratic Front (SDF).
According to Njong Evaristus Ndim, offices of Elections Cameroon, (organ in charge of running the country’s elections) ELECAM, are not functional in the North West region.
“Prove to me that you can also visit the electoral offices of ELECAM and how functional they are. Apart from Bamenda, the capital of this region, the other offices are not functional. Everyone is on the run. I am a member of the parliament for Boyo in the northwest, but I am in Yaounde. I can’t even get into my riding,” Evaristus Ndim added.
He added that his fellow MPs from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party, “who are supposed to be privileged”, are also unable to access the areas they represent in the conflict zones.
“Several members of our party have been and are being kidnapped in various constituencies. Police stations should be set up in different localities. And yet there are not many of them. Even the agents in charge of organizing these elections are wondering how they will set up the ballot boxes with the armed conflict. But also how will they get closer to the people so that they will have the opportunity to vote?” said Evaristus Ndim.
According to him, people will be forced only to localities under tied security to vote the representatives they do not even know.
“Is this justice? Local people are supposed to vote for those they know, believe in and expect for the development of their aspirations. But in reality, local people are afraid, threatened and lack confidence because the government fails to guarantee their safety. Meanwhile, the armed groups forbid them to take part in voting. How are these people supposed to go and vote? And if they don’t, who will be their local leaders?” asked the SDF representative.
Real and inclusive dialogue needed before elections
According to the SDF representative, he does not understand why the Head of States, president Paul Biya decided to give priority to these organization of elections instead of looking for ways to first of all restore peace.
“Peace has not yet been established in the two English-speaking regions, it is a fact,” said Joseph Mbah Ndam, a SDF deputy in the northwest.
“We have submitted our voters’ lists to demonstrate the impossibility for these elections to take place in this context,” he added.
He also stated a hindering factor to the effectiveness of the elections.
“ELECAM asked us to put representatives at the police stations and we did not do so. We can’t do it, because everyone has left the districts. So, those are the peculiarities of the situation. How are the elections going to take place when we can’t put these officers?” asked Mbah Ndam.
But he hopes that the president of the country, Paul Biya will in his power allow the elections to take place freely and safely.
“But if, in the end, the pressure is not changed from what we know now, the elections will of course be impossible,” he said.
Evaristus Ndim also wonders how he and voters are expected to go about for elections campaign and voting without security and protection,
He said: “The barrel of the gun can never bring total peace. What Cameroonians need the most is a real dialogue before addressing the issue of elections”.
Wanlo John Chiamua, a member of the parliament from CPDM, optimistically said that he trusts the government, and believes it will take the necessary security measures for her civilians.
“Security arrangements have been made to ensure that, throughout the country, all our citizens can exercise their right to vote. If necessary, they will be reinforced,” said Cameroonian President Paul Biya in his end-of-year speech on Dec. 31. Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji also confirmed this security provisions on monday at a meeting of governors dedicated to the upcoming elections.
“Atanga Nji spoke from Yaounde and he would not dare to venture into conflict zones such as the city of Bamenda without a military escort”, said Evaristus Ndim, being skeptical about the security arrangements.
He also reminded the multiple attacks on the governor of the northwest during his displacement in spite of the armored vehicles and all the security protocol he move along with within these regions.