I am a staff chaplain working with the Cameroon Baptist Convention in Cameroon –Africa. Since 2017, like other chaplains and religious leaders in this country, I have spent a tremendous amount of energy caring for people who are suffering and displaced because of an on-going civil and genocidal conflict between Anglophone separatists in Southern Cameroon and the official government of Cameroon.
This on-going crisis traces its roots to 1961 when British Southern Cameroon voted to join the French Cameroun. The result of this political union has been a decades long erosion of Southern Cameroon’s political, economic, and cultural rights.
The crisis came to a head in 2017 when tens of thousands of Southern Cameroon Anglophones marched peacefully for autonomy. The official government responded by cracking down with unprecedented force, shooting at crowds, murdering people in their homes, and arbitrarily arresting hundreds and subjecting some detainees to torture. The violence quickly intensified, resulting in crimes against humanity (Balla, Diamond, Wiener, 2019).
A Pandemic in Cameroon
According to an October 2019 opinion piece in the Washington Post, “Cameroon’s army systematically torches entire [Southern Cameroon] villages to the ground, with more than 220 villages already wiped out. More than a half-million people have been forced from their homes, living without sufficient food, water or protection. More than 1.3 million people in the country’s English-speaking regions are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. In this precarious environment, sexual and gender-based violence is on the rise, often against girls below the age of 18, with doctors decrying the alarming increase in rape victims” (Balla, Diamond, Wiener, 2019).
To put it mildly, before the advent of COVID-19, Southern Cameroon was in an anarchical state. Now, COVID-19 is simply adding flames to an already precarious situation. For example, in mid-May, police began enforcing a government order requiring everyone in public to wear a mask. The order included instructions to police to arrest anyone found in streets, markets, bars, and popular spots without masks and to impound any vehicles and motorcycles that are seen with drivers or passengers not wearing masks. Hundreds of people were arrested and numerous vehicles were impounded as a part of this measure.(Kindzeka, 2020)
In addition to attending to the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma from war, I now find myself caring for people facing additional trauma stemming from this pandemic. Not only is there heightened fear of the government and police, there is growing stigmatization and shame attached to people who test positive for and recover from COVID-19. For many, COVID-19 is a curse from God and presents a tortuous temptation to abandon their faith.
COVID-19, Courage, and Hope
As a chaplain during this pandemic, I wrestle with these chaotic, human challenges. To those who are questioning the role of God and the part God is playing during this crisis and pandemic, I try to instill faith and perseverance. To those who hold despair in their minds, carry unbearable burdens, and are hopeless from an indiscriminate virus, as well as from the orchestrated human evil that has led to the loss of thousands of lives from the on-going Southern Cameroon genocidal crises, I try to foster courage and hope.
On a more pragmatic level, I also listen to the news and read newspapers to update myself with information so that I can more effectively help my clients and my counselees deal with their anxieties and fears. With relevant updated information, I am able to offer my staff and counselees reliable, fact based psycho-educational support. Educating and equipping in this way empowers my staff and counselees to take control and be proactive in staying safe from COVID-19.
In a similar vein, I am relying on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to address the heightened levels of stress, anxiety and distorted thinking. Any rise in temperature, cough, etc, leads many to suspect that they or someone they know have COVID-19. Additionally, there are active, public debates and circulating theories about whether or not COVID-19 is caused by nature or humans. Some here believe the virus was created to eliminate enemies or is the result of a scheme by prominent political figures.
In the end, what preoccupies my mind is not whether COVID-19 came from Wuhan University, was orchestrated by human diabolical minds to depopulate the world, or was intended to eliminate enemies. l prefer spending time praying to God Almighty to reveal God’s presence,healing, and supremacy over all the world’s problems. I prefer to be God’s presence in Cameroon.
Post note – As of June 5, 2020, Cameroon has 7,392 reported COVID-19 cases and 205 reported COVID-19 deaths. The current population of Camaroon is roughly 26,500,000.
- Balla,N., Diamond, Y., Wiener, J. (2019, October 3). End the Bloodshed in Cameroon. The Washington Post.
- Kindzeka, M.E. (2020, May 14). Camaroon Arrests People Without Masks as COVID-19 Cases Increase. Voice of America.