(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Unrest spreads to Yaoundé even after taxi strike ends

Rioters burning vehicles and tires in Douala.
Elizabeth Dickinson/IRIN

The violence that started in Cameroon’s main city Douala on 24 February with a taxi strike to protest fuel prices has continued and spread to other cities including the political capital Yaoundé, even after strike organisers declared the strike over.

IRIN spoke to people in Yaoundé who said they were hearing heavy gunfire all around.

“I tried to go to work this morning but I quickly turned back when I saw the situation," said an office worker in Yaoundé who did not want to be named.

“I saw a market being looted and burned. Now I am home and I am not going out again,” the worker said.

Other people have been unable to reach their homes. “I am stuck in a health clinic,” Lucien Mby a patient IRIN spoke to by telephone in Douala. “I cannot leave as I will not take the risk of starting my car,” he said. “The youth gangs will destroy it”

For three days, marauding gangs have looted shops and blocked traffic with burning tires. In Douala corpses were lying in streets in various parts of the city with gunshot wounds, according to eyewitnesses.

Local radio is reporting a total of eight deaths but several people IRIN spoke to put the tally higher.

Beyond the strike

The taxi strike officially ended late on 26 February with the head of the taxi union, Jean Collins Ndefossokeng, announcing on Radio France International: “it is no longer a good time for the strike with the current vandalism.”

He also said the government had conceded to the taxi drivers’ demand of reducing the price of fuel, though the reduction will only be 6 FCFA (less than one US cent) a litre.

The taxi strike was only a catalyst for the population to vent growing frustrations at their deteriorating living standards and a government that they see as ineffectual, say many observers.

“The political class has been very complacent for many years,” Cameroon researcher from the University College of London Ben Page told IRIN in an email, “it is completely out of touch with the urban poor."

The population has faced difficult living conditions in the past with little civil unrest compared to neighbouring countries. Many of Cameroon’s elite have said that their country could never become as violent as others in Africa because it doesn't have any ethnic groups that dominate.

But Page disagrees. “[People say that] because there are so many ethnic groups in Cameroon, no one group can dominate,” he said. “They have assumed that ethnic diversity will provide them with a buffer against violence [but that] assumes there is limited solidarity among the urban poor [to] unite if only to express frustration and self-defeating violence.”

Dead cities

Roads in and out of Douala reportedly remain blocked. In the centre of the city IRIN only found one shop open with a long line of people outside waiting to buy bread.

There has been some informal trade in fresh produce but prices of some goods had more than doubled.

Shops in Yaoundé were also mostly closed on 27 February and in both cities few civilian vehicles were circulating, not even taxis.

In the northwest towns of Bamenda and Kumba demonstrations were also reported. "I saw hundreds of people marching in the street with posters,” a resident of Kumba told IRIN by telephone on 27 February.

He said some demonstrators were holding posters calling on President Paul Biya to step down while others were demanding that the government brings a halt to the rising cost of living.


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