27 Feb 2008
After three days of a crippling fuel strike, the president addresses the nation as uncertainty looms
The national strike that started on Monday to protest the rising cost of fuel enters the third day today. On Tuesday there were expectations that the meeting between the government and representatives of the Drivers’ Union will end with a solution to the crisis but it emerged that the Union representatives were allegedly not talking with one voice and it appears that it was a faction that signed the agreement with the government to end the strike. The concessions they secured from the government on fuel prices were negligible in the eyes of the striking drivers. For example, the price of petrol per litre dropped from 600 cfa to 594 cfa and that of gas oil and kerosene were reduced by 55 and 25cfa respectively. The government controlled radio CRTV, gave the impression Wednesday morning that the strike had been called off and things were returning to normal but the situation on the ground was anything but normal. In different parts of Douala, groups of youths in their hundreds were seen marching with placards while a military helicopter was noticed circling over the city and occasionally throwing teargas to disperse the marchers. All vehicles were off the streets for the third straight day and shortages of commodities were apparent. Shops could not open due to fear of being looted. Long lines formed in front of the few bakeries that braved the odds to serve the public. Also, the few pharmacies that took the risk to attend to patients could not replenish the medications sold to the public as there was no way to get to the wholesalers.
Douala on the third day of the strike
A day before, different personalities including the Douala IV mayor John Kumasi, the Littoral governor Fai Yengo Francis, some traditional and religious leaders made passionate appeals to the protesters to curb violence. As the death toll from the strike nationwide was numbering in double digits, the SDF Mayor of Douala IV Council (that suffered from much looting), marched on foot to meet the demonstrators and “beg” them to stop looting. He also went to Ocean City Radio Station- one of the few radio stations that most protesters view as credible to make a direct broadcast to the demonstrators. Speaking in pidgin English that is widely understood in this multilingual city, the mayor said he was talking to them as a “father” and that he understood their “emotions” but he was making a “solemn appeal” and begging the “mothers, fathers and particularly the youths”. He said “fathers and mothers should call on their children to exercise patience” and pleaded with the youths to “stop burning public and private property and breaking into people’s shops and looting”. John Kumasi’s appeal stood a better chance of getting to receptive ears, because he belongs to the opposition Social Democratic Front party that is generally assumed to be sympathetic to the demands of the protesters. Reports coming from different parts of the country talk of different acts of violence. In Kumba, the depot of Brasseries du Cameroun (a brewing company) in the town was reportedly attacked and looted while the tax department and government treasury in the town were allegedly set ablaze. Reports from Bamenda talk of attacks on property belonging to the office of the Government Delegate to the Urban Council and similar acts of violence were also visited on some people in Yaounde.
Back to the third day of the crisis, it was becoming obvious that the strike was being controlled from the streets with no defined leader and was veering progressively out of control. Veteran activist Mboa Massock (a respected street militant) stepped in to try and steer the protesters in a defined direction. Talking to the youths whom he described as “victims of the excluded tribe” (through Canal 2 TV) Mboa Massock called for the suspension of the strike at midnight Wednesday 27th February while inviting the youths for a meeting at Newbell quarter of Douala on Saturday to dialogue on the future of the strike action.
President Biya Speaks
At 8 pm local time, the head of state addressed the nation on television. Those who were waiting for him to make concrete statements on fuel price increase were somehow disappointed as the president focused his speech on denouncing those he accused of manipulating the youths. President Paul Biya said that some people were trying to “obtain by violence what they could not obtain through the ballot box”.
President Biya addressing the nation on Wednesday. Sees a hidden hand in the crisis.
He decried the violence that accompanied the strike which saw many people’s “years of efforts reduced to zero”. Adding; “Cameroonians know that disorder can only bring calamity and misery. We cannot allow that to happen”. The president concluded by saying that; “To those who are responsible for manipulating the youth to achieve their aims, I want to tell them that their attempts are doomed to failure. All legal means available to Government will be brought into play to ensure the rule of law”.
As Cameroonians went to bed, it was not clear what the following day will look like.
Njei Moses Timah