Monthly Archives: July 2015
Cameroon has banned the wearing of full-face Islamic veil, including the burka, in the Far North region, following two suicide bomb attacks.
Two women dressed in the religious garments blew themselves up on Sunday in Fotokol, killing 13 people.
The governor of the mainly Muslim region said the measure was to prevent further attacks, Reuters reports.
Last month, Chad announced a similar ban after suspected Boko Haram militants attacks in its capital.
Both Cameroon and Chad neighbour Nigeria, where the Boko Haram Islamist group has been based – and both have suffered attacks by the insurgents.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram militants have increasingly been using female suicide bombers as they are often able to smuggle bombs into public places without detection.
BBC Africa Live: News updates
The governor said that Muslims in the north of Cameroon have also been banned from holding large gatherings without permission as the end of Ramadan nears, the Associated Press news agency reports.
“We are also systematically checking all vehicles, and controlling all luggage and the population should collaborate because there is a serious security threat to our nation,” Governor Midjiyawa Bakari is quoted as saying.
The wearing of the full-face veil has not been banned in Cameroon’s other provinces.
About 20% of the 22 million people living in Cameroon are Muslim – and most of them live in the Far North region, according to the country’s National Institute of Statistics.
On Wednesday, Gabon – which borders Cameroon to the south – also announced it was banning the wearing of full-face veils in public and places of work.
The mainly Christian country said it was prompted to do so because of the attacks in Cameroon.
The full-face Islamic veil was banned in May in public places in Congo-Brazzaville, to “counter terrorism”, although there has not been an Islamist attack in the country.
This year Chad, Cameroon and Niger have been helping Nigeria recapture territory from Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria – and are part of a boosted regional force that has been created to taken on the insurgents.
Sexual abuse of mentally ill girls is on the rise in Africa, resulting in an increasing number of vulnerable children on the continent. Many children in West and Central Africa are increasingly joining alternative care families because their biological parents were unable to care for them as a result of mental illness.
On a street corner in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, a filthy, mentally ill girl is spotted sleeping on the tarmac with her baby. Her little naked girl, about one year old, looks frail and dirty, and both seem to find much ‘comfort’ under the scorching sun.
She wakes up, screams and chases away a social worker who attempts to take the baby away.
“We have been tracing her for about two days now and it is not easy to take that baby away from her” said the social worker, Sarah.
She is just one of many girls with mental disorder, roaming the streets of Africa with children born of unknown fathers.
Paul*, now eleven years old is thankful to God for giving him a loving home and family in alternative care.
Paul was born of a mentally ill mother in Ouagadougou and he spent the first five years of his childhood on the streets with her. He joined a family in alternative care at the age of five with a chronic illness.
“He had a strange behaviour when he came. He was scared of the TV, isolated himself from the other children in the house and was looking very pale and sickly. He was seriously malnourished and had typhoid” explained his mother in alternative care, Blandine Koulibaly.
Now, Paul does well in school and is closely followed by a psychologist. His biological mother died three years ago. But before she died, she got pregnant again and had another child, a girl, who now shares a family with Paul.
In another situation, little Larisa* was about two years old in May 2012, when she was offered the opportunity to grow in alternative care in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
Larisa is the daughter of a student who developed a mental illness and took to the streets. Larisa’s mother became mentally ill when she was in her first year in high school.
She became pregnant by an unidentified man on the street and had Larisa.
The child spent the early stage of her childhood on the streets with her mother. It was a difficult life for her as she grew without a home and learned how to feed in a garbage bin.
“When she came, her behaviour was a bit strange. She picked and ate anything she saw on the ground because she had lived with her mother for long” said her alternative care mother, Beatrice Gnanla.
Larissa still has some memories of her mum’s aggressive actions; but does not know that she is her mother.
“She broke the television of my grandmother,” recalls little Larisa
In Yamoussoukro, five-years-old Rita* and three-year-old Arnold*, are children born of a mentally ill woman. Unidentified men took advantage of their biological mother’s insanity and have repeatedly abused her sexually, and now she has six children.
Rita and Arnold, the youngest of the six, had a lifetime of hardship with their mother roaming the streets under the rain and sun.
“They ate like their mother in the trash cans and slept in open air or in makeshift shelters” narrated a social worker, Gnougon Affoue in Béoumi, a town in Cote d’Ivoire where they come from.
When they joined their family in alternative care, Rita was suffering from severe malnutrition but after having proper care she has regained herself and is looking very healthy now.
The stories are similar and cut across West and Central Africa.
Stressor affecting children
Mental health is a state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.
According to experts, a person becomes mentally ill when he or she presents with a dysregulation of mood, thought and/or behaviour.
“A mother who is mentally ill would be unable to bond and show love and affection to her child,” explained Dr Mbong Eta Ngole, public health specialist (MD) and Programme Development Advisor for West and Central Africa, with a child welfare organization, SOS Children’s Villages International, in Dakar, Senegal.
Dr Eta adds that a child whose mother is mentally ill is exposed to danger including neglect and stigma.
“In the long run, it will lead to loss of parental care” he stated.
The increasing prevalence of mental illness among women represents a stressor affecting the bio-psychosocial development of a child.
“For normal bio (physical) and psychological development, a child needs healthy parents, especially the mother who is most involved in caring for children in the early years of life” stated Dr Eta.
Not much is done
Unless there is a scandal or lawsuit, the plight of these vulnerable children never makes headlines and has not appeared to be an issue that governments are concerned enough to act upon.
Although a psychiatric hospital has been opened in Bingerville to care for mentally ill persons and help them get off the streets in Cote d’Ivoire, much is still required to help these children out of their misery.
In Niger, the emerging issue of pregnant or lactating mentally ill mothers is gradually gaining attention in the country.
“It is a big concern for the government of Niger, [they talk about it] but no big actions are taken to address the situation” said Ousmane Nayaya, a social worker with a local NGO in Niamey.
Worsening for girls
Girls in impoverished Niger are particularly vulnerable. The country has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to UNICEF.
In Niger, one in three girls is married before the age of 15, and 75 percent of girls are married before 18.
Experts say most of the girls are overwhelmed by motherhood, leading to depression.
“And this can eventually lead to mental illness” stated a Dakar based sociologist, Ibrahim Ndiaye who owns a private consultancy firm.
Some observers have said the situation requires more attention from non-governmental organisations working with children in Africa as a great number of these children remain on the streets.
*Names of children changed for privacy reasons
By Jude Fuhnwi on assignment in Burkina Faso/Cote d’Ivoire
The source who opted for anonymity for obvious reasons said the coup was a child of the French gov’t and former Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, was going to be at the centre of it by the end of the day. Marafa is currently serving a jail term for alleged corruption and embezzlement. Our source said the French had gained his confidence to facilitate him becoming President at Biya’s exit.
The French, he said, had seized advantage of Boko Haram destabilizing presence north of the country and entered an understanding with the insurgents, disguising French soldiers within the ranks of the terrorists to appear as if they were all African insurgents.
The strategy was to get the northern regions to fall completely to the insurgents and declare their severance from Yaounde and then use the vantage position to demand the release of all the Nordists currently in jail, among them, Marafa and Iya Mohammed, serving prison terms in Kondengue. But that was only to be the first phase.
The second phase would then see an all front attack waged on Yaounde with collaboration with a rebel group East of Cameroon pretending to be Seleka rebels of Central African Republic. The plot was to culminate either in the arrest, killing or escape of President Biya.
He said the French had in Marafa a trust worthy confidant they thought of making President after Biya’s overthrow.
The whole plot he said came down this way. On January 12 this year, Boko Haram launched a fierce onslaught against a Cameroon military base in the town of Kolofata, Far North region. The Cameroon military retaliated and dealt a severe blow on the insurgents – the heaviest the group has known in its history.
Boko Haram casualties according to Cameroon gov’t account ranged from between 200-400. However, unknown to Cameroon forces, there were masked French forces within the ranks of the terrorists. Three of the French soldiers were killed in the onslaught waged by Cameroon forces in the confrontation.
The three, the Cameroon Journal gathered were slaughtered in a knife fight. “A majority of Boko Haram insurgents are untrained. When you see a trained soldier among them, it is easy to tell from his movements and tactics, that is how we targeted some of them and fished them out,” our informant said.
The source said the white French nationals had themselves disguised by painting their bodies black. He added that it is when they were examining the corpses that to their surprise, they realized that some of the corpses were whites.
Later, as they searched the other captured assailants they also found out that nine of them were equally whites and they too had their bodies painted black so as not to be identified. They were interrogated and they revealed their French nationalities with links to high placed Cameroonians currently working for the government.
The French gov’t, the Journal gathered got very embarrassed and very uncomfortable with the development and immediately distanced itself from the nine, however, not until they asked the Cameroon gov’t to release them for trial in France.
Many Nigerian newspapers actually reported the incident. ThisDay newspaper, quoted defence sources in Cameroon as criticizing Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister for ordering Cameroon to immediately release the nine terrorists to French authorities. The Cameroonian official whose name wasn’t mentioned was quoted as telling the French that Cameroon is a sovereign country and not France’s errand boy to be ordered around. And so, Cameroon has since kept the nine under custody in Yaounde up to this day.
Chris Olukolade, Nigerian Major-General and Director of Defence Information addressing the media on the subject, actually confirmed that the French were caught in Cameroon fighting alongside Boko Haram, but stated that the matter was being left to be handled between the French and Cameroonian government.
Our military informant confided that besides the issue of the detained French soldiers; there was also a secret diplomatic row involving the French embassy in Yaounde when security forces in Cameroon learned of a secret movement of military gear in two containers. He said the consignment of weapons was north bound, possibly for use by Boko Haram and foreign fighters for an onslaught that could have seen the fall of the Northern regions completely into the hands of the insurrectionists.
Our source said one of the trucks ended up in the French Embassy in Yaounde which shares a boundary with the military headquarters, and about 500 meters from the National Assembly. Not very sure as to why the truck ended at the French Embassy, he said it is possible the plan was to use it for needed reinforcement had the coup plan descended to Yaounde as planned.
We note that Communication minister Issa Tchiroma was actually questioned by the media at a press conference about the illegal truck load of weapons and he stated that he was not aware the truck with license plate number, LT TR724 which left the Douala port on December 23, 2014 with bombs, grenades, missiles, mines and other war weapons supposedly from Sri Lanka had disappeared somewhere within Cameroon. The truck was purportedly bound for the Central African Republic, CAR. “If I had any such information, I would not be giving it to the press; I think it is a military secret.” Tchiroma said then.
In spite of Tchiroma’s denials, Joseph Otto Wilson, Centre Region Governor, in a release on February 6 this year, had appealed to all ten Divisional Officers under his jurisdiction to treat the issue with utmost urgency, urging them to collaborate with forces of law and order in search of the containers. The governors of the East and Littoral regions later made a similar appeal which was equally relayed by governors of the other regions.
To this day, no official statement has been made as regards the whereabouts of the container. But our source disclosed that the container was dislodged inside the French Embassy in Yaounde. Not surprisingly, it was in same February, precisely on the 28, that in the wake of the weapons allegations Christine Robichon, French Ambassador to Cameroon, was booed and heckled as she showed up in a rally to empathize with Cameroonians on the war against Boko Haram.
From the eastern border of Cameroon linking Central African Republic, our source also disclosed that Cameroon gov’t officials believe the French gov’t is behind a Cameroonian armed group masquerading as Seleka Rebels from Central African Republic whereas they are actually Cameroonians whose target is actually the overthrow of the Biya’s regime.
The group which kidnapped a Cameroonian Mayor, Mama Bakai and some 15 citizens while they were returning from a funeral on March 19 this year demanded a ransom for their release.
However, this month, negotiations with the rebels betrayed their Cameroon connections when instead of asking for the ransom to have the captured released, they changed their mind and instead requested that an elite of the northern region, one Abdoulaye Harrissou be released. Harrissou, it should be noted, was legal adviser to Marafa Hamidou Yaya. He was arrested and detained early September 2014, on allegations he was plotting to launch a civil war in Cameroon from the Central African Republic through the East region.
Marafa is considered by France and other western countries as a political prisoner. Before being arrested and thrown in jail on embezzlement charges, Marafa called the shots in government and in the ruling CPDM; manipulated election results to maintain President Biya in power. But since going to jail, he has admitted that the government doctored election results, population census results to suit Biya’s political ambitions.
His arrest came at the time sources say the French were setting the stage for him to take over power from president Biya. Reports say he had grown very popular among French politicians and the business class. Capitalizing on the massive youth unemployment in the north, calling it marginalization of the north, the French would seize on it to motivate the region to turn on the Biya’s regime knowing that a son of the soil would take over in the event of a successful coup.
To this end, leaflets were printed and circulated in the northern regions detailing the arrest of their kinsmen – the Marafas, Iya Mohammed etc etc. They said it tantamount to a declaration of war against their region. Essentially, our source said, the French were fomenting an insurrection from the north to grab on the opportunity to topple Biya.
Last Friday, French ambassador to Cameroon, Christine Robichon, told the media after an audience with President Biya, that President Hollande is coming to Cameroon to discuss security issues currently faced by countries in the Central African Sub-Region. However, different sources told the Cameroon Journal the visit is more to mend relations between the two leaders and to negotiate the release and repatriation of the nine French nationals who are still under detention in Cameroon prisons.
France obliged to cleanse Biya’s image with presidential visit?
It has been 15 years since a French head of state visited Cameroon. The last French president to visit Cameroon was Jacques Chirac, in 1999. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy visited neighbouring countries to Cameroon such as Gabon and Chad without setting foot on Cameroon territory. Hollande too has visited several countries in the Central African sub-region since he took over power in 2012 without setting foot on Cameroon.
A French media outlet has said Biya’s relations with France started falling apart after Biya realized that France had plans to push him out of power. The online publication said in 2011 many French authorities failed to support Biya in the presidential elections. A spokesperson for French foreign minister is quoted as saying many failures and irregularities were registered during that election and warned that France would not want to see a repeat of it.
Biya’s divorce with Paris
Observers have said France wanted Biya out of the Unity Palace because of Cameroon’s growing economic and military alliance with China and Russia.
Some media reports say President Hollande’s four-hour (6pm to 10pm on July 3) visit to Cameroon was negotiated by French businessmen who think that Biya no longer protects their interest, possibly in retaliation for France’s snobbish attitude towards his mandate for the past 15 years.
A source told The Journal that the French government was taken aback when Biya okayed termination of a major contract between Cameroon and Thales Security Systems, a French company that was responsible for the printing of Cameroon national IDs.
Though the Cameroon government said the termination was based on incompetence and unscrupulous activities carried out by Thales Security Systems, the French company cried foul and claimed 3.5billion FCFA from the Cameroon government; a debt which a source at the police headquarters said was a fabrication.
The company reportedly filed a complaint to both Cameroonian and French authorities to seek redress, which redress it would appear, is yet to yield any fruits.
Our source equally said that Cameroon dealt a heavy blow on France when the consortium led by France’s Bollore failed to make it to the final shortlist of firms vying to manage a new container terminal in the newly constructed Kribi sea port.
The commission charged with selecting a container terminal company had instead shortlisted Philippines-based ICTSI and port operator APM Terminals, a unit of shipping and oil conglomerate A.P. Moller-Maersk saying that their offer was better for Cameroon and the central African sub-region than that proposed by Bollore’s consortium.
The rejected consortium included France’s CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container shipper, and China’s CHEC, which built the Kribi deep-sea port. The Bollore group manages the main container terminal in Douala and had been tipped as favourite among the companies vying for the management of the Kribi port. However, we gathered that the Cameroon gov’t won’t let them have the contract because of the unaccounted for ammunition container which entered Douala port under their watch and then disappeared.
Beginning February 1, this year, gendarmes began wearing new dark gray outfits for daily and official use, replacing the brown colour which they had been wearing for decades. Light gray shirts have also been officially adopted as daily wear for lower rank officers. However, the light green fatigue uniform and red beret will continue to remain in use.
The commander of the first Gendarmerie region, Major General Simon Pierre while presenting the uniforms in Yaounde on February 6, gave several reasons for the change and reportedly stated that the idea of changing the colonial gendarmerie wear first came up around 1974.
Though it appeared just normal for the changes, another source countered the reasons saying that indicators are that Cameroon is riding itself of French imperialism.
Contrary to what obtained in the past, Cameroon is turning more to China than France for funding of major infrastructural projects. China is involved in a majority of infrastructural projects, either financing or executing them fully or partially.
Russia was among the first countries to promise and deliver humanitarian and military support to Cameroon in handling refugees from the Central African Republic and the war against Boko Haram.