25 Feb 2008
Looting,Confrontation and Deaths mark the beginning of a fuel strike in Douala
The date February 25th 2008 will certainly find its position on the historical landscape of Cameroon. A strike called by transporters (mainly commercial motor cyclists and taxi drivers) grounded many parts of the country especially the principal towns.
In Douala, the whole city of close to two million people came to a standstill as all vehicles were grounded as early as 6.am. Some people had to cover distances of over ten kilometers on foot to reach different destinations.
As time went by, the situation continued to degenerate as gangs of youths gathered at various road junctions to try to enforce the strike. Road blocks were raised and old car tires were set ablaze. Police that were sent to clear the road blocks were touted and pelted with stones by the increasingly violent youths. The police replied initially with tear gas and gunshots in the air to scare the population. Before long, the confrontation with the police produced fatalities. Estimates of those killed in Douala on Monday range from three to eight. Sounds of exploding teargas canisters and gunshots went on for most of the morning period. I witnessed two corpses being transported in the direction of the main government hospital in Akwa by a group of youths. Reports received from different parts of the sprawling city indicated that similar incidents that I was witnessing around Deido neighborhood were occurring in other parts of Douala. Some members of the Forces of Law and Order were allegedly briefly taken hostage by a mob of civilians in Bonaberi quarter and there were reports that the police station in Mabanda section of Bonaberi and some buildings at the Douala V Council had been burnt. There were attacks and looting of petrol stations, bakeries and other shops in town. About 10 trucks belonging to a truck company were reportedly attacked and burnt and the company looted. Callers to Ocean City Radio (a private radio station) gave live accounts of the strike action from different locations.
From all indications, this is the most paralyzing strike that has ever affected Douala in its recent history. Unlike previous strikes where vehicles involved in essential services (like drug deliveries and medical personnel cars) could circulate freely, this particular strike grounded everything due to its violent nature. The streets were completely void of cars and motorcycles and I witnessed a moving scene where a woman in labour was being supported to walk a considerable distance to the hospital because there was no means of transport to carry her.
When I raised the concerns to one of the demonstrators that sick people could die at home because of the harsh nature of the strike, he scoffed at my thinking saying; “Even when the vehicles were circulating, did the sick people have the money to go to hospital?” Though the main catalyst for the ongoing strike is high fuel prices ($ 1.355 per litre of petrol) there are other accumulated grievances that have apparently aggravated the situation. Cameroonians opposed to the attempt by the governing Cameroon Peoples Democratic Party to modify Cameroon’s constitution to extend the term of president Biya that expires in 2011 have been itching to make their feelings known on the streets. Some people, particularly in Douala have an axe to grind with the government for closing down a popular private TV station (Equinox) a few days ago. There were quite a handful of mosaic reasons why different people were excited to go on the streets.
As night fell, there was no clear indication that the strike will end. There was an announcement that the government will be meeting with the Taxi Drivers’ Syndicate Tuesday February 26th to find a solution to the crisis.
For business people who fear that they could become the next victims of looters, that meeting on Tuesday seems too far off.
The unrest in Cameroon is raising eyebrows as the less stable landlocked countries like Chad and Central African Republic depend on Cameroon for their maritime imports and exports.
Njei Moses Timah