The most painful thing about the pain, the suffering, and the tragedies in Africa is that much of it can easily be avoided. Most of our leaders are at best incompetent. If that were where it ended, you probably wouldn’t hear us complain about it much. But of course, it is a lot worse than that.
Within the last two months, I have heard a number of phrases that very succinctly describes the reality of the situation of most African countries. Here are some examples of such statements:
“Do everything in your power to leave this country.”
“Just living in this Cameroon is already a full-time job.”
“Being a Nigerian is an extreme sport.”
“Please stay there, son. Don’t come back to this country. As long as you are out of this country, we have peace of mind.”
“Nigeria will not end me” a Nigerian youth tweeted, and then a few hours after that he was killed in his own home during a protest that was supposed to be peaceful.
“My country has failed me.” This particular one has been the cry of a great many. If you know the individual stories behind this statement and some context around it, you wouldn’t say it is entitled. It is a tragic statement. So far from doing anything good for its citizens, the country has failed simply to let them be; to live their lives in peace. Even as a law-abiding citizen, you have to live in constant terror of the bodies set up by the government to protect you.
Recently, Nigerian youths began a peaceful protest demanding an end to police brutality in Nigeria. It was one of the most inspiring displays of patriotism and solidarity I have ever seen. It made me believe that if Africa has any hope, it lies in the youths. It was peaceful and highly coordinated despite having no central leadership. To say that their demand was reasonable is an understatement: in essence, the youths were simply asking for their rights to live as human beings. They were asking the government to end the police unit called SARS that has constantly brutalized, extorted and killed innocent youths over the years.
And what did they get?
On October 20, 2020, at the protest ground in Leki, Lagos, Nigeria, some men said to be sent by the [Nigerian] government were seen dismantling CCTV Security Cameras at the Leki tollgate where the protesters were gathered. Soon after that, the street lights went off, and then soldiers opened fire on the protesters. It was being streamed live to all the world on social media, along with other clumsily executed atrocities by the government such as hiring thugs and deploying them in police cars to disperse the peaceful protest by violent means.
A few days later, the president addressed the nation. He didn’t mention the massacre at Leki. He paid no tribute to the fallen youths. Their lives were irrelevant and their cries for a right to live, a nuisance. At any rate, that’s how I see it.
The really sad thing about all of this is that I was surprised (but no doubt relieved) when calm was restored only a few days later. You see, I am a Cameroonian living and working in Nigeria. I witnessed a similar protest in my country nearly four years ago. It started very peacefully and graduated into a full-on civil war. To this day innocent lives are still being lost. I thought the situation in Nigeria would not be different. Thank God I was wrong. Or maybe this was just one of those miraculous occasions where things don’t escalate into something worse.
I am even mildly surprised when I see Nigerians call out their leaders to account for their actions in these situations. At one point during the earlier stages of the protests in Cameroon, I grew scared of speaking out (online or offline) on the violence that was plaguing us because I feared I might get arrested or even killed for doing so. I had seen enough people get arrested, often in mass, and detained for no apparent reason.
It surprises me when I meet people and they have absolutely no idea that there is a serious crisis going on in Cameroon. It’s been 4 years now. Countless people have lost their lives. Families have been torn apart. Homes have been burned to the ground and tens (if not hundreds) of thousands have lost their means of livelihood as a result. There has been a mass exodus to the bigger cities that are considered to be relatively safer. Even in those cities, the people have lived in perpetual fear all these years.
When the crisis began, we had shreds of hope when we saw the issue being broadcasted to the world on the major news outlets. We grew cheerful and even optimistic when the matter got to the United Nations. We would tell ourselves that it won’t be long before justice is served and peace restored; that the UN would soon intervene and the killings would end. But the killings persisted. To this day there is no end in sight. People are still being killed. Innocent people. Children no older than 14.
Just last week, a group of unidentified gunmen burst into a school in one of the cities in Cameroon, killing 7 kids and leaving about 13 injured. The kids who died were between ages 12 and 14. Those are just the facts. The stories behind these deaths are even more tragic.
One of the kids, Victor, was a 10-year-old son of a woman who had struggled with childlessness for 10 years. It had taken her 10 years of hoping and fighting and praying for a child. She was finally blessed with one. I imagine she must have treasured him as her most prized gift for the 10 years that she watched him grow. Then one day he was killed simply because she let him go to school to get an education.
I also heard that 3 of the kids who died were siblings. Their mother died a few days later, presumably of a broken heart. Today has been declared a national day of mourning for the kids.
We mourn for the kids and we don’t even know the perpetrators yet and we don’t know if and where they plan to strike next. There have been speculations concerning the perpetrators of this act but I think the point that everybody agrees on is that these killings are the result of the ongoing socio-political crisis that has been going on for 4 years.
I have written about Nigeria and Cameroon because I have lived in these places and have something to say about them. I have heard horrific tales of human trafficking, child slavery, rapings, and more in many other parts of Africa.
All this is largely the result of poor leadership…of dishonesty, corruption, embezzlement, incompetence, wickedness, a lust for power, and a monstrous greed that is peculiar to most African leaders. Our leaders are not accountable for their actions. It feels like we are entirely at the mercies of the powers that be. And what is even sadder is that these atrocities can be made known to the rest of the world and there is virtually nothing that the world can do to stop this.
I can feel optimistic when things are hard and when there is hunger and unemployment and all, but when a large proportion of the population stops receiving a proper education under a conducive environment, as is the case in Cameroon now, then this only translates and postpones the problems we are already facing.