Mar 22, 2019
The Colbert Factor
Of the demise of Samuel Wazzizzi and how covering the Anglophone conflict has more trappings than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
This reflection is inspired by the saddening although yet to be officially confirmed news this week that the Buea based pidgin news caster, Samuel Wazzizzi, may as well be death in detention, given that neither family, friends, nor the media could account for his whereabouts, 300 days after he was picked up for questioning by forces of Law and Order. If news of his death were to be finally confirmed, it would be a game changer, as it would signal the fact that government is not only fighting an ‘anti-terror’ war in the two English Speaking Regions but more importantly, a media war, as journalists are increasingly becoming soft targets, for simply trying to do their work of informing the public.
It is the more informed by the fact that unlike the aged old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the dispute is essentially over land, the ragging Anglophone conflict in Cameroon is more complex and complicated as claims by conflicting parties are both over land and the people who inhabit it.
It is also inspired by the fact that like in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where each side is convinced that history is on its side, the ‘Ambazonians’ or proponents of separation as well as government functionaries think any journalist with his/her salt must be a militant or supporter, otherwise he/she must have been compromised and therefore should be wazzizied.
As a Journalist living and working in the North West Region, I have been called to order severally by advocates for a separate state and even referred to as an ‘enabler’ for referring to the conflict zone as the North West and Southwest instead of ‘Southern Cameroon’s or forthrightly, Ambazonia. On the other hand, I come under scathing criticism from government circles each time I refer to the Ambazonian or non-state actors engaging government forces in battle in the two English speaking Regions of Cameroon as ‘freedom fighters’ rather than ‘terrorists’. It is even worse when one refers to them as ‘the boys’. You could simply be considered an ‘amba Journalist’ or a Wazzizzi, within government circles for simply apportioning the senseless killings and burning of villages to government forces. As a Journalist, you are not safe if you point out the fact that the so-called amba fighters have been indulging in rape, maiming, kidnapping for ransom, and recruitment of child soldiers.
After completing his tour reporting the Arab- Israeli conflict, Clifton Daniel, Chief New York Times Correspondent for the Middle East in the 60s concluded that: ‘ the words a reporter uses invariably places the Correspondent on one side of the controversy or the other’. In a conflict like ours, Journalists who try to do their work fairly are accused by each side of unfairly favouring the other. Just like in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Journalists covering the minority Anglophone conflict are accused by government for being pro-secessionists or pro-independentists each time they refer to the non-state actors engaging the army in battle as ‘freedom fighters’ instead of terrorists. The freedom fighters themselves or their supporters would come after a Journalist if he/she continuously refer the Regions in conflict as the North West and Southwest Regions instead of ‘ occupied territory’. They would want the Journalist’ to refer to the Cameroon regular army as ‘ forces of occupation’. You would be a real Journalist to them if you use their terminology.
The journalist is expected to make the words ‘La Republique’ become synonymous with ‘occupier’ and Southern Cameroon’s or North West and South West synonymous with the ‘occupied’. They expect the journalist to see in the Administrators in the two Regions ‘colonial masters’. The security measures taken by government to contain the conflict should be seen as ‘collective punishment measures’.
Anna fighters try as much as possible to make journalists and political analysts see Cameroon government’s ‘military operations’ in the North West and Southwest Regions as simply ‘political assassinations’. ‘Physical pressure’ by the military on the population should be considered ‘torture of civilians by the French-financed La Republic army’. Just like Palestinians want the media covering the Middle East to see any Palestinian violence by ‘militants’ against Israelites as ‘ the resistance of the Palestinian fighters’, Ambazonian leaders also want journalists to report any of the violent actions towards the population and the military simply as the ‘resistance of a people against subjugation’ or actions in ‘self defense’.
As stated earlier, journalists living and covering the conflict in the two English speaking Regions of Cameroon face the challenges of maintaining objectivity in a dispute in which each side is certain that history is on it’s side. You can put it down as a general rule that any criticism of government’s handling of the crisis in the two English speaking Regions would be attacked and even rebuked by people in government circles.
Just like there was a noticeable shift in the definition of the aged-old conflict, from Arab-israeli conflict to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the Arab world imposed an oil embargo and cut oil supplies to the United States after the October 1973 War, to an extent that the U S started sponsoring the idea of a two-states solution, there has also been a noticeable shift in reporting the Anglophone conflict ever since Ambazonian militants took up arms in an attempt to achieve what they have referred to as ‘increasing the cost of occupation’.
Given the complex and complicated situation, journalists living and working in the North West and South West Regions, and who are supposed to be objective and independent, delivering reporting that is as close to the ‘real truth’ as humanly possible, are unfortunately treated by both sides as biased. Beyond this, there seem to be a noticeable decline in public trust on the news content journalists deliver. Even though the public’s perception of bias reporting in the media is also based on their own biases, it must be said that no journalist can rise above his or her society. People turn to view media coverage in the conflict zone from the perspective of their own bias. People turn to view bias in media content that disagrees with their own views and fairness in content that supports their views.
But, truth be told: Criticism of the media from all sides is not a sure sign that the media are performing well. Although Journalists may be trained in such practices as objectivity and fairness, they have a human tendency to favour those views and principles that they consider to be ‘right’. For that reason, bias sometimes, creeps into both news and opinion without the journalist recognizing it. It is also for this reason that in trying to do their work, journalists living and working in the two English speaking Regions are always one door away from hell in the hands of both government and amba fighters.
Like Jamal Kharsoggi, the Saudi journalist that was brutally murdered by Saudi officials in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Samuel Wazzizzi may as well have paid the same price. How many more journalists must be killed before the conflict is brought to an end remains the big question.
The Muteff Boy’s Take