Raging Anglophone Conflict: When Colour Becomes the New Battlefield

The Colbert Factor 

Burnt car at Che street 


Colbert Gwain 

In a video gone viral on social media, a handicapped young man (later identified as Fru Joseph Ndeh), is seen wailing profusely following the burning to ashes of his taxi in the inner borough of Mezam, epicenter of the raging existential Anglophone conflict that has been pitting central government forces and separatists fighting for the autonomy of the two English speaking regions of Cameroon. This came to add to several other incidents suffered by taxi drivers and bikers following an order signed last May 27, 2024, by the Senior Divisional Officer, SDO, for Mezam, Simon Emile Mooh, after a May 25, 2024 incident where an Improvised Explosive Device, IED, killed two persons while wounding 29 in a local merrymaking spot below the Bamenda Regional Hospital and metres away from the Police Mobile Intervention station, GMI.

In a retaliatory move, the separatist fighters charged that if the Mezam administration did not immediately reverse the order banning the movement of motorbikes from 6:30 PM to 6:30 A.M, they would in turn disrupt the movement of vehicles in their Mezam turf from 6PM to 6AM, and this, till further notice. As if this was not enough, the separatists went ahead to order that all taxi cabs traditionally painted with yellow upholstery as per the requirements in Cameroon be henceforth adorned with blue and white upholstery, ostensibly being the colour of the new nation they are fighting to restore. 

As taxi cab owners and drivers were still trying to make sense of this succession of orders, individuals suspected to be militants of one of the violent extremist groups, the Ambazonian Defense Forces, ADF, started a ruthless "stop and burn" operation of not only taxis but also motorbikes not respecting their orders. Curiously, government forces also swung into action, stopping and seizing taxi cabs and motorbikes that apparently had colours similar to the blue and white colours of the separatist movement that has been causing havoc since the crisis morphed into an armed conflict in 2017.

In the video referenced above, the said disabled Joseph Ndeh of Mankon extraction is complaining that it were better he be dead than alive without the taxi as it was his only source of livelihood. Sources close to his family reveal that apart from being married and a father of three children, Joseph Ndeh is also the sole provider for his equally handicapped twin brother and his children. That is the man whose taxi has been recklessly burned down, and in a community where the breakdown in economic and social infrastructure has made even able-bodied people to find difficulty making ends meet. That is the city that has moved from the third richest city in the country to the second poorest city in the eight years of the senseless conflict.

The taxi sector in Bamenda alone employs more than 10,000 youths (according to statistics from the office of the Syndicate of the Mezam Divisional Transporters Union), excluding the additional resources it provides to the business owners. If each of the six working days in Bamenda (that is, if the city is lucky not to have imposed prolonged ghost towns for one flimsy reason or the other), a driver brings home only 10,000F to the business owner, that would mean 60,000 per week, 240,000 per month and an average of  2,880,000 per year. This will mean that the taxi sector alone injects 28,800,000,000 FCFA each year into the already battered economy of the North West Region of Cameroon. 

As for the motorbike sector, it is estimated that the city of Bamenda alone harbours 25,000 motorbikes, which by extension would mean that the sector recruits over 25,000 youths who are family heads. Per the tradition in the sector, each biker brings home 3,000 daily to the motorbike owner, everything being equal. This would mean that the bike owner bags 18,000 per week, 72,000 per month and roughly 864,000 per year. Ideally therefore, the bike sector in Mezam Division would be pumping into the economy CFAF 21,600,000,000, each year. When these figures are extrapolated to the other Divisions and boroughs of the North West and South West Regions, we would be talking of over 60,000 youths that are to be affected. It is unfortunately, this vital transportation sector that is now being transformed into the new battlefield.

When Colours become the new battlefield:

While some vehicle owners in Bamenda have in the past days been lucky to only see their cars confiscated by security forces acting on instructions from authorities of the governorate (and on grounds the cars carried blue and white colours even though they were originally so before the outbreak of the conflict), Joseph Ndeh and others have been the unfortunate victims of the separatist fighters senseless actions of outrightly burning cars that are moving with the yellow colour. 

Needless to remind ourselves that the yellow colour for taxis is an internationally accepted colour used by over 70% of countries around the world and especially in Africa where climatic conditions are favourable for its use. Not that originally taxi colours in most countries of the world were yellow. The colour was adopted after an investor in the taxi sector in the United States of America, Hertz, commissioned a university to carry out research on the most suitable colour for his taxi business.

The study revealed that yellow was the most suitable colour for taxis because it can be seen from a distance. Given that the colour stands out from all other colours, the United States and many other countries, including Cameroon decided to adopt it as official colour for the licensed taxi business. It was also judged that for both internal and external tourists not to be confused on which car to flag down when visiting any part of the world, the yellow colour should be preferred.

A social science researcher in the University of Bamenda-Cameroon (who opted to be anonymous by virtue of the urgency of the situation on the ground), holds that if for anything, yellow should remain the preferred colour for taxis in the North West Region not just because of its adaptability to the changing climatic conditions but more importantly because yellow rhymes with the culture of the people of the North West Region, while blue and white are imported colours. According to this researcher, the cultural interpretation of the meaning of yellow is "spirituality and royalty" -  two key values imbibed in every tradition in the western grass fields. He prayed for the day that societal decisions (be they political), would be informed by profound scientific research.

As to why yellow became a universal taxi colour, U.S based taxi historian at Colgate University, Graham Hodges, points to the colour's pop culture prominence and adds another theory: 'There are few cars that are not taxis that are yellow'. In their book: 'Taxicab: An Urban Transportation Survivor', Gorman Gilbert and Robert Samuels mimic Bamenda-based musical icon, Chop Samuel's hit song, Taxi Driver; where the taxi driver offers all the essential services to society (and sometimes at the risk of his/her life), but is always the victim of circumstances as obtains currently in Bamenda where they are found between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

If there was any colour to be changed so as to restore any form of statehood, it should be the colour of the money separatist fighters and their sponsors abroad are extorting from vulnerable and defenseless citizens through ransoming (as well as from the impulsive 'liberation tax'),  not the colour of the taxis that are used to toil and sweat in order to have this money. 

At the same time, the government of Cameroon must do a better job of desisting from constantly escalating the already precarious situation by restraining from thinking that each time a bike is used to commit a crime, bikes should be banned and when a vehicle is next used, vehicles should be barred from circulation. This will mean that when the next atrocious act is committed using the pedestrian pathway, pedestrian pathways would be cordoned off. At least, more innovative, tested and proven counter insurgency strategies are available for the asking.

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