The Executive Officer of one of Cameroon’s renowned rights groups, Global Links International, Mr Robert Mbella Embola, now lives a refuge life after unknown individuals razed his house and office, in Lyssoka village, Buea.
In somewhat a dramatic scene, allegations on him receiving money from the National Election management Body (ELECAM), so a polling centre could be placed in his compound, precipitated the burning down of everything he owned.
“It all started on Saturday October 6, 2018 when we had a workshop at the office of the Southwest Regional Office of the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms, to drill us on how to observe the 2018 presidential elections. At the end of that meeting, we went out for a group photograph. News went to the village that I have been bribed with 150,000frs by ELECAM, so that a polling centre can be placed in my compound on the election’s day. After I left the meeting, I went home; unfortunately, we had to run to the bush because the military fired heavy gunshots in the village that evening. We spend the night in the bush. It was not until 8:00am on Sunday 7 October 2018, that I received a phone call from a neighbour, telling me that some unknown men set my house on fire in the dawn of the morning. He equally told me, I shouldn’t come to the scene because the arsonists are looking for me, because I have betrayed the course,” Mr Mbella narrated.
It was based on such allegations that everything he ever worked for, was set to flames, hence, leaving him, his family, and the over 25 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), he catered for, to linger in frustration.
“The worst thing is, the house harboured my family and some 25 other IDPs, including 2 pregnant women, 18 children, 4 old men and women, as well as some abled men who had fled Maumu village because their house was equally razed,” Mr Mbella added.
On whether he actually collected such money from ELECAM to carryout that activity, the rights activists swore (in tears) that he did no such thing. He blamed the allegations on his detractors.
“One thing I can say here is that I am very innocent on all the allegations put forward by those who are after my life. I swear in the name of the almighty God who created me, that I received no money from anyone. In the community like ours, you always have people who don’t share your thoughts or ways of doing things, more especially a human rights defender like myself, who shoulders others’ burdens and make sure they attain justice, a couple of people must have posed as my enemies. All the allegations levied against me are cooked up stories from those bearing grudges against me,” he lamented.
The estimated damages lost to the arson attack could be summed up to several millions, given that it was a double apartment concrete structure, filled with modern furniture, household appliances, and office equipment. Most especially, the wounds created in the minds of the effected, especially the children and mothers, would stamp on them for the rest of their lives.
“Since this academic year began, I have not set foot in a class. I am in Form 2 going to form 3, but I cannot go to school because my house was burnt in Maumu village, where I lived with my parents. After the burning, everyone ran away, and I was rescued by this uncle who brought me to his house. Now, his own house has been burnt, making us to run to the bush yet again. Am I the cause of the burnings? Why me?” Little Christina Efeti questions, as she cried.
For the elderly, it was a nightmare that ate all through their reality. Narrating the ordeals, they faced as they ran for safety, one could palpably feel the tribulations they faced, while struggling to survive.
“It has not been easy for us. We travelled by forest for over two hours to arrive at the refuge centre where we find ourselves. We moved through the thorny bushes in the night without even a torchlight before we arrived here. While here, life has been hell to us. We barely have what to eat, but for the humanitarian gesture from some benevolent individuals. We buy everything here, including water, and food. I am using this opportunity to plead for assistance on anyone who can assist us,” Mama Rebecca Mbella narrated.
Meanwhile, other rights Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been accessing the level of damages, and sorting out ways of helping the displaced family. One of such CSOs is the Global Forum for the Defence of the Less Privileged (GFDLP). The Executive Director, Akoh Baudouin, has been making tireless efforts to provide basic necessities for the displaced families.
“Following our humanitarian response plan, we got in contact with a family that has been internally displaced due to arsonism. We have well over 25 IDPs with all their belongings razed by arsonists. So, we thought it wise to come carry out a need assessment, physically, and psychologically, and to sought the immediate ways for intervention. In that way, we can mobilise support to give them at least, something to write home about. From our intervention, we realised that there are 2 heavily pregnant women, 4 elderly men and women, over 10 children and some abled men,” Mr Akoh Baudouin explained.
Going by statistics provided by the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), the conflicts in Cameroon’s English-Speaking regions has led to the displacement of well over 500,000 people. While over 4,000 deaths have been recorded since 2016.
By Yanick Fonki