Separatists in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions have for years enforced a Monday general strike to protest the government. Residents who have had to lived with these lockdowns are finding new ways to network.
It’s 10 am on a Monday in the Mile 2 Nkwen locality of Bamenda, a city in northeastern Cameroon. The streets are empty.
Mondays are “ghost town” days in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon that became engulfed in a separatist crisis some seven years ago.
In many communities, everyone is expected to stay home. Markets are closed, offices locked, and the streets deserted.
The separatists who took up arms against the government in Yaounde make sure enforce the Monday lockdowns. Residents risk being attacked, kidnapped, or shot if they disobey.
The seperatists hope to mount pressure on central government to make concessions for the Anglophone community in the country – by stopping all economic activity once a week.
Cameroon has been plagued by fighting since English-speaking separatists launched a rebellion against the government in 2017. The dissidents say they want the region to secede from the area dominated by the French-speaking majority, and aim to create an independent, English-speaking state.
As a way out of the isolation and boredom of “ghost towns,” residents are finding new ways to network and support each other.
There are social and sports clubs, credit and thrift schemes, choirs or salons to stay active.
Economic social network gatherings
In Bamenda, one economic network benefits all members: financial contributions are saved, pooled and payed out on a rotational basis to individual members.
The “Prosperous Neighbors” social network president, Ambechi Louis, says that despite the difficult security situation, members are finding ways to remain hopeful.
“We use Mondays for our meeting days because we used to hold them on Sundays and people often had other commitments. Since Mondays are a free day in the region, more people can participate,” Louis told DW.
Carine belongs to a social network group for women only; Mondays are her chance to get to know her neighbors better since everyone is busy throughout the rest of the week, she says.
“We are into neighbor solidarity and many others like veteran sporting clubs. Monday is a day to be home, so we want to use that to exercise, participate in online groups, wash clothes, meet friends and socialize,” Carine told DW.
Thriving drinking spots
Pubs in several communities are cashing in in on the ‘ghost town’ days. On Mondays, some pubs even apply a members-only policy and decline to serve drinks to anyone outside of their communities.
One pub owner, known as “Spice Boy,” says strangers aren’t allowed entry for security reasons. Any resident of the community will, however, be served.
“The days that the sales are [good] are Mondays,” he told DW. “The reason is simple: we have meetings that have all been moved from Sundays to Monday and after these meetings, [people] come to drink and socialize.”
“Spice Boy” says a normal day can bring in about €50-70 ($53-73) but a “ghost town” day can net double.
“Mondays can be very boring and to end the boredom people come to drink,” he said.
A local economy ‘on its knees’
But some analysts are worried about the prevailing situation of the ghost towns and the implications for the economic activities in the region.
“You see, ghost towns are very bad to the economy. For seven years, Bamenda, for example has lost its place as the fastest growing city in the sub-region,” Stephen Nsum, an economist and a Bameda-based university lecturer, told DW.
He believes that if the phenomenon isn’t eliminated. it could plunge more people into poverty.
“Thousands have been laid off from their jobs because salaries can’t be paid. Investors have pulled out of the two Anglophone regions and even the biggest state employer after the public service, the CDC, is on its knees,” Nsum said.
“If ghost towns are ended there is hope the region shall gradually return to its part to economic recovery,” he added.
The English-speaking regions of Cameroon remain conflct zones with lives lost, properties destroyed, and the humanitarian crisis worsening.
Edited by: Louisa Schaefer and Benita van Eyssen