Taxi strike

Yesterday, February 25, the taxi strike meant an inconvenience here in Bamenda, but nothing more. Down in Douala, we heard there was rioting, looting, and there were reports of anywhere from 2 to 6 people killed. A short-term team in Douala intending to come up to Bamenda left yesterday at 5 in the morning, hoping to avoid trouble, but were detained before exiting the city, had rocks thrown at the vehicle, and were forced to turn back. In Bamenda, no taxis were running, but private vehicles were still on the roads, so the only evidence of trouble was less-busy streets.

Today is a different story. Not a single vehicle is on the street and the air is eerily quiet without them; only the muted sound of voices drifts up the hill to the compound, the uneasy peace disturbed periodically by shouting and the boom of tear gas being shot off by the army. Thick black smoke rises from burning tires (or streetside vendors’ stalls, depends who you talk to). The road, which is usually crawling with vehicles, looks curiously empty with only people on foot. At one point, we could see a taxi and pile of burning tires in the middle of the road, with crowds gathered on either side.

Our daily swimming excursion to the Ayaba Hotel pool is not surprisingly cancelled for the day and we’re sitting tight on the compound, waiting for further developments -- hopefully a dissipation not an escalation of hostilities. As best as I can make out, people are blaming the government for the increases in prices they’ve been seeing over the past months. Fuel and food costs have gone up significantly (granted, fuel prices are high in North America, too, and wheat prices have soared on account of supply and demand). Another grievance of the masses is the government: the president is proposing some “reforms” in order to stay in power yet longer. (He’s been President since around 1982 -- always re-elected by democratic vote, of course.)

This morning, the disturbance was fairly remote and fairly benign. Cameroonians here on the compound seemed untroubled, not visibly upset about the developments, but they are far more visible than most days -- people are standing around outside their offices, talking and watching the action down the hill in town, not getting a whole lot of work done it seems. This afternoon, we heard the sound of more tear gas canisters going off, and people down at the lower end of the compound reported hearing a fair bit of gunfire and some breaking glass. As I walked through the compound this afternoon, I heard some cracking sounds echoing from town but wasn’t sure whether it was gunfire or something else.

It’s a strange thing to experience. We don’t feel unsafe here on the compound, so it’s kind of exciting to be in the midst of this. On the other hand, it is very real, and people in town could be getting hurt from all this. It hasn’t been staged so I can come home with a good story -- it’s really going on, and it could get worse.


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