AFCON: Tight Security, Lukewarmness Welcome Teams to Buea and Limbe
By Diamelle Denson (in Buea) & Isifu Wirfengla (in Yaounde)
Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam and Garoua are teeming with excitement as Africa’s embattled Cup of Nations is finally set to take off from the ground this Sunday 9 January 2022.
Adorned in Indomitable Lions’ traditional green-red-yellow colours, fans are going helter-skelter with animation. Yaounde echoes with Vuvuzelas, blown by increasing clusters and street dwellers across neighbourhoods.
“It is something that you may see in your land only once. As a Cameroonian, it gives me a lot of joy,” testifies Yaounde city dweller Atangana Willy.
Fon Lionel who resides in Douala says he is “excited about the Afcon because it is hosted in my country. This is an opportunity to watch Mo Salah, Mane, Mahrez who are Africa’s best.”
But in Limbe and Buea, where Group F is lodged, the population is lukewarm. A yearslong anglophone socio-political crisis has birthed an uneasy calm, affecting participating delegations.
The atmosphere is worrisome.
Security has been beefed up in strategic joints. In Limbe, forces of law and order are deployed at the main entrance to the Omnisport stadium, central town commonly called Half-Mile and team hotels.
Others routinely patrol the towns to keep separatist fighters under check. Uniformed men manning checkpoints carry out searches targeting commuters’ bags and vehicles.
Most dreadfully, the military – well armed and equipped with immobile armoured cars – has been deployed in Mutengene and Mile 16 (Buea), sources confirmed.
Though Limbe and Buea are calm, addition of curfew to militarisation poses great concern over stadium attendance.
Armed groups, fighting for a breakaway from the French-majority government of President Paul Biya have banned activities in the area in an attempt to disrupt the success of the 33rd Afcon.
The local administration has responded with a dusk-to-dawn curfew and prohibited motorbikes from plying main streets.
“All nocturnal ceremonies are prohibited from 15 December to 15 February 2022,” its communiqué read.
During the 2020 African Nations Championship – CHAN, such curfews met with the fear of police brutality and gun exchanges between separatist fighters and government forces and scared spectators into their homes.
Upon their arrival, authorities and the Local Organising Committee treated each of Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Gambia to something in between enthusiasm and hospitality. Incomplete and short of the effervescence rocking different host towns.
The restive region’s status-quo has thus roped these nations into the distasteful issues, worse still, wrong side of Cameroon’s first continental showpiece in 50 years.
After arriving through the airport of Cameroon’s economic capital Douala, Gambia and Mali travelled to Buea on Saturday 8 January 2022.
The local administration, led by the Governor of the South West (restive English-speaking region), organised a welcome under tight security.
As their convoys drove from Tiko through to Buea, few individuals could be seen about the streets waving and cheering the visitors. Midway Tiko upped its game for a befitting reception but the delegations were destined beyond.
“You are here in the city of legendary hospitality,” Governor Okalia told Gambia at their training ground in Molyko, shortly after arrival in Buea.
“I pass to say feel at home. You are welcome. We wish you all the best, all the success,” Okalia.
“We are the only English-speaking country in this region [group F]. I hope all the local people support Gambia till the 6th of February,” said Gambia head coach Tom Saintfiet.
“We are proud to be here at the Africa Cup in Cameroon. I think we have to enjoy it. We are also ambitious. We want to give the best of ourselves. We don’t know what the limits are. But we are here to be competitive in our group and at the end we hope it’s enough to qualify for the second round.”
It is a baptism of fire for Gambia who are partaking in the Afcon for the first time.
Group swings into hostility on Wednesday 12 January with Tunisia to clash with Mali while Gambia lock horns with Mauritania.
Cameroonians are proud lovers of football and pride themselves on the glory achieved by the senior men’s national team since 1980s.
No one believed something could stop them from filing into stadiums for a football festival of this magnitude. But the socio-political tensions and Covid-19 requirements are succeeding to do so to many.
Buea-based taxi driver and supporter of the Indomitable Lions, Tata Tilion, has opted to watch matches from home.
“The crisis has killed the zeal to attend matches. I could not dare attend the CHAN. There was curfew that required us to stay indoors from 6 pm – 6 am. Defaulters had themselves to blame. I couldn’t risk my life,” Tata recalled.
“Afcon to me raises a mixed feeling. I should be excited that the world’s most admired game is being played under my nose. Unfortunately, it doesn’t move me an inch because I have more issues to take care of and the blood spilling home is painful to ignore for football,” laments Song Derick.
“Despite having maximum anxiety to witness the game live,” Buea inhabitant Mbah Michael has “not taken any COVID-19 vaccine and I’m not planning to take anyone soon for personal reasons.”
“If taking the vaccine is the only way out, then some persons like myself might have no other choice than to follow the competition on TV,” Mbah.