6 Mar 2008
If you are living in countries prone to instability or even in a stable one that is gripped by unrest, there are several precautions you can take to limit exposure during the crisis. The recent unrest in Cameroon that grounded movement for four days taught me some good survival lessons. Here are simple rules that if you adopt, can keep you relatively safe.
- Never ignore any information pointing to a potential strike or protest. Try to get in touch with as many people as possible belonging to the organization that called the protest or strike before the action begins.
- Get some extra food that can feed the household for a couple of days and also stock enough water.
- Buy extra credits for your mobile phone and keep the phone fully charged and on.
- Fill the tank of your car or motorbike if you have any. You may have an opportunity to flee for your life when the situation degenerates
- Make sure you have a functional torchlight and spare batteries.
- Pick up simple first aid medications from the pharmacy.
- Pack your most essential things like certificates in one bag. In case you need to flee, you will not lose everything.
- Avoid stepping out of your residence esp. on the first day of an ongoing protest.
- Seal your business premises and only open when others have opened theirs.
- Keep some money at home preferably in many denominations
- If you must displace yourself during an uprising, always have some money on you because a small tip can buy your way through an unruly mob or menacing policemen.
- Make sure you have a small battery-run radio to follow events in case electricity fails.
- Monitor the local press if available and also monitor what foreign embassies are telling their citizens. This is a very important indicator for you to gauge the level of the deterioration of the crisis. Remember that most foreign governments seem to have more ears to the ground than you.
- If you are not a participant in any demonstration, try to resist the urge to go and watch. In many instances people that get killed by stray bullets are usually bystanders
- If the crisis is seeming endless, use the slightest opportunity to head for a safer zone (either living the cities to the rural areas or leaving the country altogether). The best time to take that decision is when you notice that foreign embassies are evacuating their citizens out of your country.
A good place to monitor the security situation in your country in times of crisis is the ‘Overseas Security Advisory Council’ OSAC- a US government operated website (http://www.osac.gov/). The ‘Warden Messages’ posted on the Consular Affairs section of this website are very helpful. Below are excerpts from warden messages relating to the week-long crisis in Cameroon (see link to articles on the crisis as posted on OSAC website and one message from the US Department of state. They are placed in a chronological order and it is easy for anybody that was directly affected by the unrest in Cameroon to correlate the warning messages with the evolution of the crisis. The messages to the Americans were in this order; Restrict movement-- consider leaving Cameroon-- restrict movement-- return to normal activity.
U.S. Embassy Yaounde issued the following Warden Message on February 25:
This message is to advise American citizens against travel to the city of Douala on Monday, February 25th 2008. Americans living in Douala are urged to remain indoors avoiding any travel within the city unless it is of an emergency nature. Demonstrations in the city over the last 48 hours have included roadblocks and violent clashes between protesters and Cameroonian authorities which are reinforcing their presence in Douala with more heavily armed "Gendarme" units. Protests appear to encompass both political and economic grievances and are very unpredictable.
U.S. Embassy Yaounde released the following Warden Message on February 27:
Violence has continued throughout the day in the Littoral, West, South West and North West Provinces of Cameroon, most notably in Douala where numerous armed clashes between demonstrators and police and army units were reported. Additionally, Yaounde experienced violence, including looting and rioting, downtown and in residential neighborhoods. Gunshots were reported in Yaounde, including in the Bastos neighborhood where many expatriates reside.
At this time, the Embassy strongly advises against any movement outside of residences, and urges all Americans to take all appropriate security measures. Airports in Douala and Yaounde remain open and operational. American citizens should carefully consider both their residential security and road conditions when deciding whether to travel to airports. Short-term visitors should consider departing Cameroon when conditions improve sufficiently to permit travel to airports. We also encourage long-term residents to review their preparedness for emergencies, and their possible evacuation plans.
U.S. Embassy Yaounde released the following Warden Message on February 28:
Violence and demonstrations continued overnight February 27 in the Littoral, West, SouthWest and NorthWest provinces after President Paul Biya’s address to the nation on that day. Yaounde experienced some unrest following the address, but was quiet February 28 under a heavy security presence. Some violence was reported in the West, South West and North West provinces. In Douala the military succeeded in keeping the access roads through both Bonaberi (western approach) and le village (eastern approach) open to traffic, and most of the city was calm. Violence persists in the Deido neighborhood.
Despite the relative calm, the Embassy advises against uncoordinated movement outside of residences, and urges all Americans to take all appropriate security measures. Airports in Douala and Yaounde remain open and operational. American citizens in Cameroon should exercise extreme caution and try to depart the country if their situation permits. American citizens who wish to depart should contact the Embassy immediately for assistance in identifying and joining convoys heading to Yaounde and Douala with military or police escort.
The Department of State issued the following Travel Warning on February 28:
This Travel Warning is being issued to advise American citizens of the unstable security situation in Cameroon. On February 28, the Department of State authorized the departure from Cameroon of eligible family members of American employees of the U.S. Embassy throughout Cameroon. American citizens in Cameroon should exercise extreme caution and try to depart the country if their situation permits. American citizens outside of Cameroon should defer non-essential travel until the security situation stabilizes and critical services are restored.
U.S. Embassy Yaounde released the following Warden Message on February 29:
The continued presence of military units throughout Douala, Yaounde and in the South West, West, Littoral and North West provinces has resulted in a tense calm throughout Cameroon. As a result, many shops are open, many people are returning to work, and traffic is circulating in a fairly normal fashion.
Despite the relative calm, the Embassy continues to advise against uncoordinated movements outside of cities. The security situation in Yaounde and Douala has improved significantly. However, because of the unknown potential for violence, riots, and possibly planned demonstrations over the weekend, the Embassy recommends that Americans take the following precautions in these cities:
· Restrict travel to daylight hours only
· Remain at your residence
· Travel to grocery stores, banks, or restaurants during daylight hours only
· Make sure all cell phones, radios or similar items are charged and turned on
· Try to keep a full tank of gas at all times
· Closely monitor the local press regarding developing situations
Airports in Douala and Yaounde remain open and operational with reasonable availability of seats, particularly on less common routes. Short-term visitors are urged to consider departing Cameroon when travel conditions allow and to contact the Embassy immediately for assistance in identifying and joining convoys heading to Yaounde and Douala with military or police escort that are being coordinated with Cameroonian authorities. We also encourage long-term residents to review their preparedness for emergencies, and their possible evacuation plans.
Due to the potential for a rapid resumption of demonstrations and unrest the Department of State authorized the departure from Cameroon of eligible family members of American employees of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde on February 28, 2008.
U.S. Embassy Yaounde released the following Warden Message on March 2:
A situation of tense calm continues throughout Cameroon with widespread but unconfirmed reports that a taxi strike will resume, and that demonstrations will take place in Douala or Yaounde in the coming days.
In the coming days it is likely that various events, such as protest marches, will come to the attention of the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy will post notice of protests, marches, strikes and demonstrations on the Embassy website at http://yaounde.usembassy.gov under the heading “Demonstration Notices.” Individual warden messages will not be sent to inform American citizens of these events.
American citizens in Cameroon will continue to receive warden messages with general guidance and updates on major developments or other threats.
U.S. Embassy Yaounde issued the following Warden Message on March 3:
Njei Moses Timah
A situation of tense calm continues throughout Cameroon. The continued heavy presence of security forces in Yaounde, Douala and the affected provinces of the country has permitted the government, businesses, and individuals to return to normal activities.
In light of this situation the Embassy has advised its employees that they may return to normal activities around Yaounde. Americans in Douala are advised to limit travel outside the Bonanjo and Bonapriso neighborhoods to areas which they know well. The Embassy has also authorized unescorted travel of its employees between Yaounde and Douala, but maintains our prior policy banning inter-city travel at night due to road safety conditions. The Embassy reminds American citizens that although the security situation has improved, it is subject to rapid change. Although it is possible to return in large measure to regular activities and travel, citizens are urged to continue exercising caution, and to stay as well-informed as possible about security conditions, particularly before undertaking inter-city travel.