Cameroon 'ghost towns' protest against French-speaking bias

Closed shops in the town of Buea.
Closed shops in the town of Buea.


On Monday January 9, towns across western Cameroon shut down as part of ‘Operation Ghost Town’, an initiative taken by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium as part of their long-term protest against a government they deem biased towards French-speakers.

French and English are both official languages in the central African country, but English-speakers feel that the government and its policies are discriminatory to English-speakers, particularly in the education and judicial systems.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: English speakers protest discrimination in Francophone Cameroon

Operation Ghost Town was the latest measure implemented by the Consortium as part of a wider protest against authorities, and fell on the day that schools were meant to reopen for the second term of the school year. The Consortium is an organisation made up of civil society organisations, professionals and trade unions to advocate for the rights of English-speakers in Cameroon. It was founded in December 2016 after Cameroonian authorities denied the existence of an “Anglophone problem”.

The empty commercial avenue in Bamenda.

On Monday, the Consortium asked adults to stay at home, children to continue to stay home from school, and for shops and businesses not to open. Normally bustling towns such as Bamenda, Yuku, Nkambe, and Buea came to a standstill, and jubilatory Cameroonians posted photos and videos online of the success of the operation.

A video of the deserted town of Bambili, posted to social media.

Strike actions for lawyers and teachers have been ongoing since October and November respectively. All schools, from nurseries to universities, have been closed in a bid to force the government to address the demands of the Anglophone community.

Protests erupted in the primarily English-speaking western part of the country in November 2016, leading to violent police reprisals and several deaths.

>> READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: Students in Cameroon beaten and intimidated for protesting

Our Observer (to whom FRANCE 24 has given a pseudonym) lives in the town of Mamfé and took photos of the deserted streets.

“There is solidarity amongst English-speakers”

The Consortium organised the strike for the interests of the Anglophone people in Cameroon. News of the operation spread by word of mouth and on social media. The ghost town operation was to show that we [the Anglophone community] have rights, we are autonomous, we can do what we like. Everyone stayed at home. In Mamfé the whole town — practically every single shop — was closed. It was very very effective. I’m actually surprised that the strike action was so respected. What’s more, there was no violence at all. There were security forces going around, but there were no skirmishes between police forces and citizens. During the operation on Monday people came together and understood the need to be united and walk arm in arm.

Pictures of the quiet streets of Mamfé.

A closed restaurant in Mamfé.

A closed high school in Mamfé.

An empty and closed school in Mamfé.

Now the ghost town operation is suspended but there is still the schools strike going on. All of the schools here in Mamfé are closed. Parents are keeping their children at home. There is a sense of solidarity amongst the Anglophones. I don’t think people want to stay at home but they respect the strike action.

We hope the children will be able to go back to school as soon as possible. We don’t really want the kids to stay at home. We hope the government will make some decisions leading to the reopening of the schools. Some people are saying online that the overall objective of the strike is to attract the attention of the international community.

This is not the first time that Cameroon president Paul Biya has been faced with non-functioning towns. The creation of ghost towns is a political tactic that harks back to the early 1990s. In 1991, a series of pro-democracy demonstrations ended in bloodshed after clashes between students and security forces turned violent. The opposition responded by shutting down great swaths of the country by employing Operation Ghost Town.