George Awungafeh
AmbaNews24, Buea, Ambazonia

The once vibrant Azi is fast becoming a forest as the Ambazonia War of Independence rages on towards the fourth year. The nursery, secondary and high schools, the hospital and shops have shut down completely in the locality for more than one year. The sound of music that once filled the market square (central business district) has been replaced by sounds of quirking and clock birds. The roundabout at the foot of the market square once adorned with public art constructed by Azi Students Association (ASA), the location where the head of German Gustav Conrad was raised in the late nineteenth century as Bangwa warriors faced the Germans in the anti-colonial Germano-Bangwa resistance is now covered in grass and growing trees.   

Once vehicle-accessible earth roads and driveways are now impassable as grass and trees are not only growing inside houses but also on the streets. Residents have fled to distant towns and villages as internally displaced persons in a war declared by the Cameroon government. This war has affected 4.5million people, claimed the lives of at least three thousand victims on both sides, displaced more than half a million people, put about 750,000 Ambazonian children out of school, and left more than 300 towns and villages burnt down by the Cameroon military in Ambazonia.

Azi Fon’s Palace, a historic monument and pride of Lebang Fondom being covered by grass and trees

Azi is host to the palace of the first-class Fon of Fontem. The current young Fon, Fontem Azabatong who studied chartered accounting in Canada before returning home to ascend to the throne of the Lebang Fondom just over five years ago escaped to Yaoundé when local fighters in Lebialem began gun battles against the Cameroon military in Azi. Cameroon soldiers burnt down part of his palace when local Ambazonian fighters ran into it during a gun battle with the said soldiers.

The deserted palace also stands in ruins today with grass growing on every footpath and previously vehicle accessible ways. The micro palm-oil plantation behind the Fon’s palace will need hundreds of thousands of US dollars (hundreds of millions of cfa) to restore to its previous production state.

In September 2018, a group of local liberation fighters known as the Red Dragons attacked the Cameroun gendarmerie post in Alou and took military weapons. They moved down into Azi and began shooting randomly in the area, apparently to deter anyone who might have laid in wait to counter attack them. Information of their presence in Azi reached the Cameroon military in Menji, about 30minutes drive away, and a contingent of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (commonly known by its French acronym as BIR) moved into Azi to annihilate the local fighters. The gunfight that ensued caused the residents of Azi to flee for their dear lives, leaving the locality behind for the BIR vs Ambazonia local fighters battles.

The Red Dragons who rejected any assistance from other fighters outside of Lebialem were later overwhelmed by the military and abandoned the locality to the control of the Cameroon soldiers. The BIRs are purported to have later left Azi as it became uninhabitable with dangerous reptiles and smell of unidentified decaying corpses.

Once vibrant Azi becoming a forest after Cameroun military burnt homes

Before leaving Azi to ruins, the Cameroon soldiers burnt down more than fifty houses. The BBC analyzed a video of the razing of one of the businesses in the Azi-market central business area and concluded that it was burnt down by the Cameroon military.

As the war rages on, many Ambazonians are wondering how once vibrant communities can ever be revitalized, especially if still under the control of the Cameroon government that is going bankrupt, and never prioritized the development of localities such as Azi before the Ambazonia war of independence broke out.

If the Ambazonian people were to surrender to Cameroon and abandon their liberation cause, their development experiences under Cameroon should be a lesson. The Cameroon government is one of ingrained corruption. Funds that may be allocated for the reconstruction of these communities will be embezzled in Yaoundé and the crumps will be used as bargain chips to win political allegiance to the ruling class. Ambazonians who try to secure the money for their local development will be reminded that they are slaves conquered in war and must never attempt again to question the occupation of Ambazonia by Cameroon.

New York City with iconic Statue of Liberty was once burnt to the ground by the British Military

The ravaging effects of the war are a test of the steadfastness and determination of the Ambazonian people to secure their freedom, to put an end to the illegal occupation of their territory by Cameroon once and for all. The Americans faced the same: British soldiers burnt New York to ashes during the American War of Independence. General George Washington watched from a distance and saw the city reduced to ruins. Almost defeated, he yet rose and put his army together and fought as never before to win the independence and freedom of America from British rule. Today, Best Cities ranks New York as the third best city in the world and the best largest city in America.

Liberation struggles have often been characterized by destruction of communities such as Azi. In the Scorched Earth Operation of September 1999, Indonesia military razed down over a hundred thousand buildings in East Timor after the East Timorese voted to become sovereign. A determined government of East Timor, working with local leaders and groups rebuilt the communities. It will take a government of Ambazonia that prioritizes the revitalization of Ambazonian communities, and working with community development partners in the diaspora and in the homeland to rebuild effectively Ambazonian localities from the day of independence and sovereignty of Ambazonia. In other words, a future government of a sovereign Ambazonia, at local, federal and national levels will have to work with local cultural and development association branches, philanthropists and business men and women both in the Ambazonia territory and abroad to revitalize effectively Ambazonian communities. Like the Statute of Liberty in New York, these reconstructions should include adorning the villages, towns and cities with symbols that should remind future generations of the fire the brave men and women of this generation have passed through to win for them the freedom, justice, prosperity, democracy and opportunities they must guard jealously against any domestic tyrannical government or foreign forces of recolonization and occupation.