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Cameroon’s deadly mix of war and coronavirus

Prominent Cameroonian human rights activist Beatrice Titanji leapt for joy when a major secessionist group declared a ceasefire on 29 March to protect people from the “fury” of coronavirus in the central African state’s English-speaking heartlands, but her hopes have since been dashed as fighting continues to rage.

“It’s a scary situation. Thousands are trapped in the bushes,” Dr Titanji told the BBC.

“How do we tell them about Covid-19?” she added.

The Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (SCDF) unilaterally declared the ceasefire, following an appeal by UN chief António Guterres for conflict to end across the world.

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said.

“It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Mr Guterres added

However, none of Cameroon’s other secessionist groups, estimated to number at least 15, have heeded the appeal.

The Ambazonia Governing Council, which is one of the biggest groups, said a unilateral ceasefire would open the way for government troops to march unopposed into territory under its control.

Hunger and illness

Cameroon’s government, led by the French-speaking President Paul Biya, has not declared a truce either and, to the dismay of aid workers, has banned humanitarian flights, along with commercial flights, in its efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

“If we don’t have the means to reach out to people and give them food and medication, many of them are going to suffer. They will die of hunger and illnesses,” said Dr Titanji, an academic who leads the Women’s Guild for Empowerment and Development, a non-governmental organisation involved in peace initiatives in Cameroon.

Cameroon has so far recorded more than 2,200 cases and 100 coronavirus-related deaths since March, the highest in central Africa.

However, few of them have been in the North-West and South-West, either because of little testing or because conflict has heavily restricted movement, effectively putting many urban and rural areas on lockdown long before the outbreak of coronavirus.

Like most civilians, soldiers are now seen wearing mass-produced protective masks, and using hand sanitizer, as they patrol cities and towns in the North-West and South-West.

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