A prominent opposition figure and senator has been shot dead in Bamenda city in Cameroon’s restive north-western anglophone region.
Gunmen forced Henry Kemende out from his car and then shot him in the chest, his Social Democratic Front party said, blaming separatist fighters. Politicians and civil society groups have condemned the killing.
No group has claimed responsibility, but assassinations by armed separatists of figures deemed to be working with Cameroonian authorities are common in the north-west and south-west anglophone regions.
The regions have been beset by violence since 2017, after protesters took the streets in 2016 accusing the francophone-dominated authorities of marginalisation and of attempting to assimilate their education and legal systems into the dominant francophone system. The protests were brutally suppressed, fuelling violence from armed separatist groups.
Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting, which has killed more than 3,000 people and forced over 700,000 to flee their homes.
Groups from the minority English-speaking regions have sought to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia and have been accused of several gun and bomb attacks.
Schools in particular have been targeted, escalating an education boycott that began in 2017 and has deprived a generation of Cameroonian children of an education, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Cameroonian security forces have been routinely accused of human rights abuses against anglophones, especially in rural areas.
Kemende was elected a senator for the Social Democratic Front in 2018, and was a high-profile critic of government failures to solve the crisis.
“We recovered his body, his chest riddled with bullets,” Joshua Osih, the vice-president of the SDF, told Agence France-Presse. Osih said separatist elements opposed the SDF because it is a predominantly English-speaking party that participates in the political process and is opposed to the partition of Cameroon.
Richard Tamfu, a human rights lawyer and member of Cameroon Bar Council, described Kemende as an inspirational figure in Cameroon. “We call on the government to immediately open investigations for his killers to be brought to book,” Tamfu said. Cameroon’s military said two other people were also killed by separatists on Tuesday night, and three other civilians, including two women, abducted and taken to an unknown destination.
Cameroon’s government has tried to distance itself from the anglophone crisis and the country’s fragile security situation while it hosts the Cup of Nations – the first time it has done so in 50 years.
The government has assured teams and spectators that security for the tournament is guaranteed, and heightened security has been put in place in host cities.
Yet unrest remains a significant challenge. On Wednesday, gunfire was heard across the city of Buea in south-west Cameroon, the home base for the football teams of Mali, Tunisia, the Gambia and Mauritania. The cause was not immediately clear on Wednesday. Buea is about 30 kilometres from Limbe, a coastal city where two games are being played on Wednesday.