By Simon Fuh Ngwa
The U.N. has an annual tradition of setting aside 16 days towards the end of each year dubbed, “16 Days of Activism”, whatever that may imply. This annual event usually falls within the last week of November and the second week of December. That of 2018, either by error or design was programmed to start on the 26th of November and culminate on December 10th which incidentally happens to be World Human Rights Day. Interestingly enough, the theme for the celebration of 16 Days of Activism for 2018 was, “END GENDER BASED VIOLENCE IN THE WORLD OF WORK, IN SCHOOLS AND AT HOME”.
In Cross River State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and precisely Calabar the State capital, the event was co-sponsored by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) with the collaboration of the ministries of Education, Social Affairs and Women Empowerment.
On Monday 3rd of December 2018, the UNHCR had programmed a talk on the theme of the year at the Margaret Ekpo Government Secondary School opposite the Calabar airport. The program had to feature sketches on issues of gender based violence to be presented by children of Cameroonian refugees especially those who had benefitted from the U.N. education fund. Despite a huge budget of over 1.8 million naira to be engulfed within 16 days of activism, the refugees who as at that period had gone for over six months without a single grain of rice offered to them by the said UNHCR and were living on hope, were still required to transport their children to and from wherever the rehearsals had to take place. When the outreach volunteers for the refugees complained to the UNHCR authorities that the refugees are living in dire straits and won’t be able to bear the burden of transporting the children to the rehearsal centre and back, the response was that if those who benefitted from the U.N. education scheme don’t send their children for the several rehearsal sessions and take part in the event proper of 3rd December 2018, they will be barred from any further benefits from the U.N. education fund.
Of course, since no one can and has ever squeezed water out of a rock except Moses the Messiah, the parents of the refugee children could not afford the transport fare for their children to attend the rehearsals. Furthermore since no provision was made for such expenditure in the U.N. budget of 1.8 million naira, that aspect of the program was called off.
The program of 3rd December 2018 was therefore adjusted to feature just a lecture on gender based violence in schools and at home and the projection of a short video on gender based violence. Could this be likened to a failed manipulative attempt by the UNHCR to use refugee children to portray to the world how well they take care of refugees? Read on and judge for yourself.
The culmination of the 16 days of activism on December 10th, 2018 featured a 3 km long walk from the very famous Mary Slessor Round About to the Ministry of Women Empowerment beside the Governor’s office for those who know Calabar. The UNHCR that had earlier printed T Shirts worth over 800,000 (eight hundred thousand) naira now obliged the refugees in Calabar to come to their office as early as 7 a.m. on Monday 10th of December 2018 to register their names and collect the T shirts to be used for the occasion. Despite the financial constraints the refugees are experiencing, even those who live close to the Mary Slessor Round About were compelled to transport themselves and children to the U.N. office before being transported back to Mary Slessor Round About in a hired bus. From Mary Slessor Round About, they now embarked on the 3 km long walk to the Ministry of Women Empowerment where most of them were left at the mercy of the scorching sun with no canopy to shelter them. Despite the thrilling and animation of the watchful population who responded with thunderous applause as the refugees dressed in the UNHCR T shirts wriggled their waists in acrobatic style as they danced to the tune of the blasting band, the organizers of the event didn’t even deem it worthy to reserve a canopy for them. After all, aren’t refugees considered by many to be people of a lower grade?
While the celebration proper was heating up and group after group called up to display what they had to the watchful population, the refugees were just there to swell the crowd. After over five hours of waiting under the scorching sun and listening to speaker after speaker, no one ever mentioned anything about Cameroonian refugees as if their presence there was an aberration or unrecognized. The U.N. official was kind and generous enough to offer each of the refugees 30 centiliters of water and one puff ball worth 50 naira, while the other participating groups received bloated envelopes from the organizers. The apex of the refugees’ frustration came at about 2 p.m. when they were all asked to find their way home irrespective of whether they had the means or not. It was out of fear of a popular agitation that would have discredited the UNCHR that the UNCHR official asked the driver of the hired bus to run several trips to take the refugees back to their various localities.
The unfortunate ones from neighborhoods out of Calabar who were misinformed to attend the celebration were abandoned to themselves as the UNHCR declined any responsibility over them and God alone knows how they found their way back home. What else could the refugees do? Had the UNHCR Calabar not manipulated a massive turnout of refugees to prove to their headquarters in Geneva that they are working very hard and protecting the interest of refugees?
It should be noted that prior to the closing ceremony of 10th December, a symposium had been organized on Thursday 6th of December 2018 on the same theme of ending gender based violence.
Whether by ignorance or restraint, all the speakers that day limited their contributions to gender based violence to that of the man over the woman or that of customs and traditions considered to portray hostilities against the woman.
But come to think of it; if we look at the role of the UNHCR and UNFPA, both of them specialized organs of the United Nations during the last commemoration of 16 days of activism, can we say the U.N. is on track? The informed wisdom that influenced the founding of the U.N. had as main objective, “To put an end to the scourge of wars around the world”, but what do we witness today?
There are abounding cases of senseless wars with devastating consequences around the world today which would have been averted had it not been that some permanent members of the U.N. security council with veto powers are the initiators and sponsors of such wars. If the U.N. were to respect the purpose for which it was founded, would there have been any war in the Cameroons today? If the U.N. were to respect article 102 of its charter and the U.N. Trusteeship agreement of unconditional independence to all Trust Territories, would there have been war in the Southern Cameroons today?
We all know that wars are a catalyst to acts of violence yet we Africans encourage the western world and their Asian allies to use the African continent as the testing ground for their sophisticated weapons of violence. Paradoxically, instead of us Africans to mount pressure on the West to bring an end to senseless wars in Africa, we ignore that and join them in chanting meaningless slogans against gender based violence.
There are abounding images of genocide around the world being sponsored by the same people who are using the slogan of gender based violence as their version of the Apostle’s creed. Video footages abound of French Cameroon soldiers torturing, raping and dehumanizing Southern Cameroonian women and young girls yet the U.N. Secretary General and his close collaborators and allies look the opposite direction because they are more interested in protecting their rights to the exploitation and extortion of the natural resources of the oppressed people of Southern Cameroons. What do we call these atrocities meted out on Southern Cameroonian women and young girls by Cameroonian soldiers if not unpardonable acts of gender based violence? Can these in any way be compared with domestic violence that the U.N. is paying so much attention to by giving it undeserved publicity and squandering hundreds of millions of dollars that could help refugees in stressful situations around the world? If someone is simultaneously attacked by a snake and an ant, which of them does he tackle first? Does he allow the snake that can inflict a deadly sting on him and go after the ant that can only inflict a negligible inflammation on a tiny spot of the body? How can U.N. that was founded to put an end to the scourge of wars around the world ignore the many senseless wars ravaging human lives and destroying human settlements and focus rather on domestic squabbles between husband and wife? If not a U.N. sponsored masquerade to divert public attention from the real issues, what then do we term the 2018 16 days of activism with the theme, “End gender-based violence in the world of work, in schools and at home?”
Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa once said that, “if the elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you look the opposite way, you shall be guilty of complicity and the mouse shall not forgive you for your indifference”.
H.E. Antonio Guterres and H.E. Patricia Scotland, Secretaries General of the U.N. and Commonwealth respectively should know that the people of Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) in general and I, Simon Fuh Ngwa in particular will never forgive them for looking the other way while La Republique du Cameroun and France, the elephant have their foot on the tail of Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia), the mouse. History will forever judge both of them for receiving a gold statue each from the octogenarian monster in Yaounde and looking the other way while La Republique du Cameroun is perpetrating genocide on unarmed civilians in the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia).
My dear African compatriots, we have come of age and I believe it is high time we start rejecting some of these meaningless slogans churned out from language laboratories in the West and exported to Africa for us to be chanting like nursery school children reciting rhymes whose meanings they know nothing about.
God liberate Ambazonia and Africa.
Simon Fuh Ngwa
Southern Cameroons Activist