Cameroon concedes that soldiers committed Valentine’s Day massacre

The Cameroonian government has concluded that its military killed three women and 10 children in a massacre in February this year. The massacre took place in Ngarbuh village in the English-speaking part of the country, where the government has been engaged in conflict since 2016 with separatist rebels.

This admission comes after the government initially denied responsibility, following Human Rights Watch’s first report of the incident, claiming instead that it was “an unfortunate accident”. Joseph Beti Assomo, the defense minister, said that the army had acted “professional as usual”. 

After enormous public and internal pressure — including lobbying from the UN, Human Rights Watch, civil society organisations and opposition figures —  the government agreed to set up a commission of inquiry.

This inquiry released its report on Tuesday, finding that the army was indeed culpable. Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, secretary general in the presidency, said three servicemen and 10 local vigilante members will be prosecuted for the act. 

The government’s casualty figure of 13, however, differs from those of rights organisations.

Human Rights Watch said that government troops, aided by armed ethnic Fulani men, had deliberately killed at least 21 unarmed civilians, including 13 children and one pregnant woman. The United Nations said that 23 people were killed, including nine children under the age of five. Local rights groups put the casualty figures a little higher, at 32, saying others were missing.

The official inquiry said that soldiers had tried to destroy evidence of the killings. “Following an exchange of gunfire, during which five terrorists were killed, and many weapons seized, the detachment discovered that three women and ten children had died because of its action. Panic-stricken, the three servicemen with the help of some members of the vigilante committee, tried to conceal the facts by causing fires,” reads part of the report.

The government has been reluctant to consider mediated dialogue to end the conflict with separatists. Instead, Biya has been keen on using a military approach to quash the uprising which has seen an uptick in violence since 2017. The conflict has caused almost 60 000 people to flee to next door Nigeria, and has internally displaced about 679 000 others, according to UN estimates. More than 3 000 people have been killed as the government moves to “neutralise terrorists”.

Amindeh Blaise Atabong is a media fellow with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Amindeh Blaise Atabong
Amindeh Blaise Atabong is a media fellow with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation

Related stories

Cameroon’s tomato industry rots

The country usually exports 10 000 tonnes of the crop each year. But Covid-19 rules have stopped the trade and are ruining farmers

As opposition mounts, Zimbabwe’s president lashes out

Emmerson Mnangagwa has accused ‘dark forces’ of destabilising the country

Climate science’s blind spot for heat waves in southern Africa

The lack of detailed information on extreme heat impacts hinders disaster response and preparedness.

Why Cameroon has slid back since Italia ’90

The Indomitable Lions’ class of 1990 put Africa on the international football map with their showing in Italy, where they stunned the world champions. But they have since gone backwards. Why?

Challenges and opportunities for telemedicine in Africa

Telemedicine in Africa is currently limited by the availability of basic infrastructure, but, considering the lack of doctors in rural areas, it is a vital component in addressing the continent’s healthcare needs

Telling Africa’s story: The future is podcasts

Podcasting in Africa has experienced a slow uptake, but there are active pockets of users in some countries — and huge potential to grow the market of makers and listeners

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday