« My father was a Prince, the son of the King of Bali Nyonga, a village in the Northwestern Province of Cameroon. He had 5 wives, and 16 children. We grew up in a big compound, his house in the middle while those of his wives and children were around his. We had a very good close relationship. He taught us the importance of unity and instilled in us the love to look after each other. He was a mentor for us and also for others in the village because he paid the school fees of many other children.
We had a big farm, cultivating coffee, beans, palm tree, cola, and other food crops including live stocks. The children and the mothers constituted the greatest workforce. We were involved in bush clearing, tilling, planting, harvesting, drying the coffee beans, etc. We knew it was our responsibility so we did it without complaint. We grew up in the spirit of always helping our parents. At university, I studied geology and became a petroleum engineer. Then, I worked with the Cameroon government for about 10 years. I was living in the capital city Yaoundé with my wife and children. Things were going on well for me. But then, in 2016, the war began.
It started just with a peaceful protest by the English Speaking minority. Cameroon is a bilingual country divided in two regions, the French speaking majority and the English speaking minority. The French speaking majority controlled the government and was bent on assimilating us by destroying our culture, our educational and judicial system. But when we took to the streets peacefully demanding for change and recognition, they sent their military against us. They maimed and killed us. One of my brothers was severely shot just beside me. After that, the young men went to the bushes and took up arms in revolt. And until today, it’s grown up to a full blown civil war.
In 2018, I came to Geneva for a conference at the UN, as part of my duty for the Ministry of Mines. By that time, the war was really at its apex, everybody could be a suspect. When I came back, I was picked up by the police at the airport. They put me in a room and started questioning me, asking if I had travelled to arrange for arms for the separatist. I didn’t have anything to do with the crisis, but they blindfolded me and took me away in their van. I was kept a prisoner for 11 months incommunicado. Maybe you can’t imagine how horrible prisons in Africa… It’s terrible. We were treated very inhumanely.
Many of us were kept in a very small dark room in an underground cell. The room had no toilet or bathroom with only one small window. Not everyone could lie down at the same time to sleep. Some were standing while others rested, and after some time we exchanged positions. There was also a torture room and they would take me there regularly. They’d tie my hand in my back and question me about people involved in the rebellion. They’d pour water continuously on my face so it was very difficult for me to breathe. And they hit me underneath my feet so hard with a baton that I couldn’t walk after for a long time.
My brother… it was really tough. It was a survival of the fittest. Some people would collapse and just die like this in our presence. When you’re in such situation you start thinking a lot, you have anger and it affects your health so badly. So I just decided : okay, I’m not going to think of anything or wonder when I’ll be released. I decided not to have any hope and accept whatever happens. I needed to preserve my energy to stay alive. Because anything could happen at any moment. At one point, maybe they realized that I was innocent, and after 11 months they released me.
After my release, I quickly called my wife. She was speechless and shocked when she heard my voice. Everyone thought I was dead. All she could do was cry in disbelieve. She told me there was still an arrest warrant against me and the police was looking for me. That’s how it works over there : a policeman can take a decision without informing his superiors. So there was nothing to prove I’d been detained for 11 months. She insisted I should run away from Cameroon. I still took the risk to go see them but when I got there, there was a gun battle between separatists and the military. Everyone had ran away into the bushes. So I fled to Nigeria. »
(Quartier de l’Etang, Vernier)