civilian targets

Cameroon’s Ngarbuh massacre: revenge, blunder, or manipulation?

By Franck Foute

Posted on February 20, 2020 07:01

Members of the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) march in the village of Ekona, near Buea, Cameroon
Members of the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) march in the village of Ekona, near Buea © REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Controversy flared in Cameroon after the announcement of the massacre of at least 22 people in Donga-Mantung district on 14 February during fighting between the Cameroonian defence forces and armed militias operating in the north-west and south-west regions.

The Cameroonian army which, three days after the incident, claimed it was “an unfortunate accident as a collateral consequence of the ongoing security operations in these regions” was singled out by the opposition and local NGOs for being responsible for the killings.

A communiqué issued by Commander Atonfack Guemo, head of the communication division reported that the incident occurred following the incursion of a group of six elements of the defence forces into a house in Ngarbuh, which had been “transformed into a fortified camp” housing illicit goods, arms and ammunition, as well as stocks of narcotics.

“The response of law enforcement elements [under heavy fire from the fortified house] was to remove seven terrorists at the scene. Fighting continued until several fuel containers exploded, followed by a violent fire that affected some nearby houses,” the statement said, which also lists “five victims, including a woman and four children”.

The Cameroonian Defence Forces denounced the images of the massacre circulating on the web, which have alerted the international community, as “a macabre staging” of some propaganda activists who used images dating from 2009.

Contested version

The people of the Northwest contest this version and have refused to see this tragedy as an isolated case. “Similar attacks involving the burning of houses have been reported in several villages in Bui, Ngoketunjia and Mezam in the North-West, but also in Lebialem and Manyu in the South-West, in the last two months. How can we be led to believe that this is an accident with collateral damage? It is unbelievable!” said Cletus Ngeh, a resident of Bamenda contacted by Jeune Afrique.

The human rights group Human Rights Watch in a 2020 report referred to cases of house fires, accusing government forces and separatist fighters of gross human rights violations.

Confronted by the military’s response contradicting that made public by the UN, there are increasing calls for an international investigation.

English-speaking magistrate Paul Ayah Abine, and lawyer Agbor Balla, president of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), who raised the issue on Facebook, want a commission of inquiry, which should be “independent” and include “members of civil society, the clergy and the government”.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.