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Enslaved: The children paying the price of Cameroon’s Separatist conflict

The conflict has forced more children into work and left them vulnerable to slave-like conditions

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anglophone crises
Burned buses at the bus terminal in Buea, South West Region, Cameroon. (Photo by - / AFP)

Fourteen-year-old Landa wakes up at 4 a.m. every day to wash dishes and scrub floors before feeding and dressing her boss’s children for school, which she is not allowed to attend.

She has worked as a live-in servant, unpaid, for a year in Cameroon’s commercial capital Douala since a separatist conflict forced her family to flee their hometown in the southwest.

Out of work and living with a cousin, Landa’s mother entrusted her to a wealthier couple who promised to send her to school in exchange for babysitting.

Residents from the South West Region of Cameroon arrive at the bus terminal in Buea as they try to flee renewed clashed in the restive anglophone region on July 15, 2018. – Twenty civilians, including five students and a teacher, were killed on july 11-12, 2018 by the Cameroonian army in two localities in the Anglophone North-West region. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Like many, she was deceived.

“I do everything. I do the dishes, the laundry. I wash the floors. I don’t sleep until everyone else is in bed,” said Landa, whose name has been changed for her protection.

It is a world away from flying planes or delivering babies – the jobs Landa had dreamt would be hers after finishing school.

She is one of thousands of children uprooted by fighting in Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions, where a movement for independence from the majority Francophone country turned violent in 2017.

It was already common for girls from the English-speaking regions, whose population has long felt marginalised, to work as maids in the country’s two main cities, Douala and Yaounde.

But the conflict has forced more children into work and left them vulnerable to slave-like conditions as thousands of schools shut and families fight poverty, said local human rights groups.

The government denied this, saying many displaced children had been welcomed by host families and enrolled in school in Douala, Yaounde and other cities, and that mistreatment of domestic workers was not a problem in Cameroon.

“Cameroon is a country of rights where this type of practice, if it existed, would be severely punished under our law,” said the communications ministry in a statement.

One activist estimated that hundreds of girls from the conflict zone, at the very least, were trapped in domestic servitude in the major cities.

“Most often they promise the parents to educate their daughters, to take care of them and give them a better future,” said Thomas Ngoh Mudoh, president of the Human Rights Defence Club, a national non-governmental organisation.

“But 95% of the time, this is not the case. These young girls, innocent and manipulable, become domestic slaves,” he said.

The girls often work without rest and some are raped or beaten, he said. If they are paid, it is often with rice, salt or oil that is sent to their families in the conflict zone.

Young boys who have fled the conflict also work, sometimes on construction sites or collecting plastic bottles; others are left to fend for themselves on the streets, locals said.

A price to pay

The crisis has forced half a million people to flee their homes and left 1.3 million in need of aid, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Security forces have used heavy-handed tactics to quash the rebellion, including destroying schools, medical facilities and entire villages, said a U.N. rights committee.

The separatists have also closed schools as part of their protests and been accused of kidnapping dozens of children.

Soldiers of the 21st Motorized Infantry Brigade patrol in the streets of Buea, South-West Region of Cameroon on April 26, 2018. – A social crisis that began in November 2016 has turned into armed conflict since October 2017. Several small armed groups demand the independence of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, bordering Nigeria. (Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP)

Landa attended school in the department of Manyu until two years ago, when clashes between separatists and the army reached her town. She fled with her family as houses burned.

They were barely getting by, living seven to a room, when Landa’s mother fell sick and their desperation grew.

The job offer meant one less child to feed.

“My mother accepted. I wasn’t going to school anyway and my boss promised to send me later,” Landa said.

Landa’s boss, who owns two clothing shops, told reporters that she would send her to school next year.

“This year I couldn’t because the children were very sick and there was no money,” she said.

But the family recently bought a new car and repainted their apartment, said Landa, who wants to finish her studies. Before the conflict, she had dreamed of becoming a pilot or a midwife.

Other girls and parents of girls who had left home considered servitude an acceptable price to pay for safety.

“Being employed in a house is better than anything. I don’t hear shooting and cries anymore,” said Katia, 18, who fled the northwest region for Yaounde last year.

She is scolded and humiliated at work and earns just 5,000 CFA francs a month, she said, but her boss also feeds her and gives her old clothes.

“At least there, they are in houses,” said a beautician with relatives who had gone to the cities to work as maids.

“Even if they are mistreated, it’s not serious. It’s the school of life,” she said from her home town of Buea, in the southwest region.

“We are slaves”

For many girls, the alternative to housework is prostitution, said victims, families and activists. The government said these reports were unfounded. At nightfall, in the Bonaberi quarter of Douala, the bars are full of girls, many with childlike faces.

“The prostitution rate has risen. We find many young Anglophone girls having fled the crisis who were left to themselves with no money, no resources,” said Bibiana Mbuh Taku, co-founder of a women’s empowerment association called Otabong.

Residents from the South West Region in Cameroon arrive at the bus terminal in Buea fleeing renewed clashed in the restive anglophone region on July 15, 2018. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Taku tries to source donations for the girls’ schooling, but said it is difficult; even in her educated circle, she said, friends were regularly seeking young girls to do housework.

“I explain to them that it’s slavery. They must understand a child’s place is in school, not in the home,” she said.

Felicity, 15, earns 10,000 CFA francs a month working as a housekeeper which she sends to her mother and younger brothers taking refuge in Douala. Her sister, 17, works the streets.

“It’s hard. They threaten me and I work a lot. One time I even passed out because I didn’t have time to eat,” she said, on a rare Sunday break when she was given four hours off to visit her mother in the outskirts of Douala.

Her mother, 53 and divorced, said she never wanted this outcome for her daughters but that they had fled their home in the southwest with nothing and had no other means to eat.

“Because of the Anglophone crisis, I am a ‘maid’ and my big sister sells herself,” said Felicity. “We are the slaves of this dirty war.” 

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Former Sudan president, Omar al-Bashir appears before a prosecutor

Bashir rode in a heavily-armed convoy from the notorious Kober prison in the Sudanese capital Khartoum

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Fallen Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was Sunday seen in public for the first time since being ousted, as he was driven in an armed convoy to the prosecutor’s office. The former strongman, who ruled his northeast African nation with an iron fist for three decades, was toppled on April 11 after weeks of protests against his reign.

Dressed in a white traditional robe and turban, Bashir rode in a heavily-armed convoy from the notorious Kober prison in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to prosecutors’ office to face charges of alleged corruption.

Prosecutor Alaeddin Dafallah told reporters after Bashir left the office that the ousted president had been informed that he was facing charges of “possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally.”

Meanwhile, a top general from the country’s new ruling military council vowed that those who carried out a deadly crackdown on an iconic protest site that left dozens dead earlier this month would face the death penalty. “We are working hard to take those who did this to the gallows,” Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chief of the ruling military council said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

“Whoever committed any fault” will be held accountable, Dagalo added. Thousands of protesters who had camped outside Khartoum’s military headquarters for weeks were violently dispersed by armed men in military fatigues on June 3, according to witnesses.

More than 100 people were killed that day in Khartoum, according to doctors linked to the protest movement, while the health ministry put the nationwide death toll at 61.

‘Regret’ for crackdown

Protesters and witnesses accuse the feared paramilitary group led by Dagalo, the Rapid Support Forces, of carrying out the assault on demonstrators. Demonstrators and US officials have called for an independent probe into the crackdown.

On Thursday, the military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi expressed “regret” over the crackdown. But the council insists it did not order the dispersal, saying it had actually planned to purge an area near the protest camp where people are said to sell drugs.

“The planning of the operation of Colombia (area) was done by military and security authorities,” the council said in a statement late Saturday. “We assure you that the council is keen to investigate minute by minute facts through its investigation committee.”

Brigadier Abderrahim Badreddine, a spokesman for the investigative committee, told state television Saturday initial findings indicate that “officers and soldiers of different ranks and regular forces” had entered the sit-in without any orders from their superiors.

As calls for an independent probe grew, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit visited Khartoum on Sunday where the military council said he met its chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Bashir had swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Sudan suffered high rates of corruption during his rule, ranking 172 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index. When he imposed a state of emergency on February 22 in a bid to quell protests that erupted in December over the spiralling costs, Bashir issued a decree making it illegal to possess more than $5,000 in foreign currency.

But in April, military council chief Burhan said more than $113 million worth of cash in three currencies had been seized from Bashir’s residence after he was toppled. A team of police, army and security agents found seven million euros, $350,000 and five billion Sudanese pounds

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Church attacked and burnt down over imam arrest in Niger

Witnesses said that late Saturday youths set up roadblocks and burned tyres in the streets of Niger’s third largest city

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Protesters torched a church overnight in the southern Niger city of Maradi after the arrest of a prominent imam who was subsequently freed Sunday, religious and security sources said. Sheikh Rayadoune, the imam of the Zaria mosque in Maradi, was detained Saturday after criticising a proposed law on religious worship as “anti-Islam” a day earlier.

He has appealed to his supporters to end the unrest. The group behind the church attack also burned the pastor’s car, a church official said in a WhatsApp message to parishioners that were sent to journalists.

A local security source confirmed the incident in Maradi’s working-class district of Zaria. Witnesses said that late Saturday youths set up roadblocks and burned tyres in the streets of Niger’s third largest city as news of the imam’s arrest spread.

A police source said that Sheikh Rayadoune had been released Sunday afternoon, adding: “He has acknowledged his mistake and has apologised.” Shortly before his release, the imam published a statement appealing for calm.

“All my supporters must stop burning things and making trouble in town: Islam does not recommend that I have in no way been mistreated by police,” the message said. The imam said he had read a bad translation of the draft law, which had been transcribed from French into Hausa, Niger’s main language.

He added that he would rectify his position at Friday prayers.

Law not ‘anti-Islam

A top interior ministry official said the legislation, designed to lay down official guidelines on worship, was “the fruit of many consultations…There’s nothing anti-Islam in the text.”He said it was aimed at preventing “anarchy and the distortions promoted by obscurantist terrorist groups to gain ground in our country.”

The government adopted a draft bill in late April, saying there was a “total absence of norms” regarding worship in Niger while fundamentalist and extremist tendencies were on the rise.

“To head off risks of abuse seen in other countries … it is vital the state gives itself the means to control practices in the religious sphere,” the statement added. Parliament still has to vote through the text before it becomes law. Niger has experienced several bouts of religious strife in recent years.

Following the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2015 ten people were killed in anti-Christian riots in Niamey. Several churches were destroyed in the capital and second city Zinder.

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GNA announces a new political plan, promises elections in Libya

GNA leader proposed a forum that would be attended by “influential national forces on the political and social scene

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The head of Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord announced Sunday a new political initiative and elections in a bid to move the conflict-wracked country beyond eight years of chaos.

“I present today a political initiative for a way out of the crisis (involving) simultaneous presidential and legislative elections before the end of 2019,” GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj said in a short speech broadcast by Libya al-Wataniya TV, without specifying a date for polls.

He proposed a forum that would be attended by “influential national forces on the political and social scene, and supporters of a peaceful and democratic solution” to Libya’s crisis. Sarraj’s GNA holds Tripoli, but strongman Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army holds the east and much of the south of the country.

The LNA launched an offensive to take the capital in early April, but counter-attacks by forces loyal to the GNA have resulted in a stalemate on the southern outskirts. Sarraj said his proposed initiative would take place with support from the UN mission in Libya.

“Our army and the forces which support it have given a lesson in bravery to (Haftar) and to his militias,” Sarraj said. “His army has been broken, likewise that of his triumphalist entry to Tripoli that he presented as a two-day walk,” he added.

The two camps have so far refused to negotiate a ceasefire. The GNA is demanding that Haftar’s forces retreat to their previous positions, in the south and east. “We are confident that our forces are capable of repulsing the aggressor and of him sending him back to where he came from… victory was our ally, thank God,” Sarraj said.

He alleged that Haftar is seeking to “undermine the democratic process… and to re-establish a totalitarian regime; that of an individual and a single family”. Haftar meanwhile claims he is fighting “terrorists” and refuses to retreat.

Fighting since April 4 has killed 653 people, including 41 civilians, while more than 3,500 have been wounded — more than a hundred of them civilians — according to the World Health Organization.

The UN says more than 94,000 have been displaced by the fighting.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

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