Drivers in one of Cameroon’s restive English-speaking provinces have been banned from driving at night for a month, as tensions run high between government forces and separatists. Vehicles in five of the Southwest Region’s six districts are not allowed on the road between 7:00 pm and 6:00 am (1800 GMT and 0500 GMT) with the exception of ambulances as well as state and police cars, according to an official statement seen late Friday.
The renewable ban, which entered into force at the start of the month, will remain in place for “30 days”, regional governor Bernard Okalia Bilai said in the statement. A push for independence from the majority French-speaking country has sparked deadly unrest in Cameroon’s two anglophone provinces, home to around a fifth of the 23-million population. The English-speaking minority is a legacy of the colonial period in Africa.
The secessionist bid draws on widespread resentment over the perceived discrimination at the hands of the francophone. Dozens of people have been killed in the Southwest Region and Northwest Region and tens of thousands have fled to neighboring Nigeria following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests. The situation worsened at the end of January when 47 separatists, including Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, one of their leaders, were arrested in Nigeria, which sent them back to Cameroon, prompting a fresh wave of violence.
Aside from targeting police and soldiers, some separatist groups appear to be turning to kidnapping, as well as threatening French firms located in English-speaking areas. Cameroonian President Paul Biya has responded to the violence with curfews, raids and restrictions on travel. Observers warn the ongoing crisis could interfere with general elections including a presidential race set to take place at the end of 2018.