Alpha's story. How they killed my husband.
Alpha Bih, 28 years old.
From: Belo village
Former occupation: Hairdresser
Two years ago life changed forever for Alpha. The conflict between the separatist groups fighting for an independent state in the English speaking North West province of Cameroon and the government forces reached her village of Belo.
“One day the shooting got really close and our neighbours told us to quickly lock the house and hide. We did, but men in khakis broke in and dragged my husband out of the house and took him away from us. Me and my kids, we ran for our lives. The next day someone found him along the road and asked us to come to collect him. He was killed. When we dared to go back to the house, we found it burned down to the ground. We lost everything. All the ID cards. Everything”.
Alpha saw no other solution than to escape from her village. With no ID cards for herself and her four children, that journey to a safer place was made even more dangerous. Each checkpoint, either separatist or government controlled, became a new possible life-threatening situation. They made it Bamenda, a bigger city, and a safer place from the fighting.
In Bamenda, she is now renting a small space. Two of her children are with her, while two others are staying with friends in another town, Douala in Littoral province, where schools are still open. Since the conflict started in 2016, a majority of the schools in South West and North West have been closed. Human Rights Watch reports that in order to enforce boycotts of schools following protests by Anglophone teachers against perceived discrimination by the Francophone-dominated national government, separatist groups have attacked and burned dozens of schools, threatened teachers, students and parents, kidnapped principals and violently attacked teachers and students. People we talked to, reported that ransoms up to 200.000 CFA francs, around 300 Euros, had been demanded. Back in November 2018, 78 school children were kidnapped in Bamenda by unknown gunmen and released two days later. Cameroon endorsed the Safe School Declaration in September 2018, but access to education and a safe one, is no way close in the area.
Alpha used to run her own hair dressing salon, with three employees, back in Belo. Life was good, and income was steady. After losing her husband and fleeing, she has lost her main income and is struggling to survive. She takes small jobs, doing hair and nails, but it is far from being enough for the rent and food. They eat cheap, low nutritious food. Some days almost nothing at all. Being a single mother, Alpha feels unsafe in her rented room without a lock on the door. If she could, she would return to Belo, even though her home is gone.
Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC