Cameroonian officials have joined hundreds of Muslims and Christians in the capital, Yaoundé, to pray for peace during the Africa Football Cup of Nations games.
Cameroon is hosting Africa's top football championship starting Sunday, including in western regions, where anglophone separatists have vowed to disrupt the games. Police say the rebels set off a bomb Thursday in one of the towns where matches will be held, but nobody was injured.
Imam Souleymane Bouba of Yaoundé's Tsinga Mosques prays in Arabic for peace in Cameroon. During the prayers Thursday (January 5) Bouba asked God to protect football players, fans and match officials coming to Cameroon for the African Football Cup of Nations which begins on Sunday (January 9).
Among the more than 60 Muslim and Christian clerics present was Jean Mbarga, archbishop of Yaounde. Mbarga says the prayer at the Mary Queen of the Apostles Basilica in Yaounde asked God to intercede for a peaceful AFCON in Cameroon.
Mbarga says he knows Cameroonians love football very much and will be coming out to cheer their team, the Indomitable Lions, and other African teams they cherish. He says the African Football Cup of Nations should therefore mark a new beginning for a peaceful, strong and united Cameroon. He says Muslims and Christians have jointly prayed for the safety of players, match officials and football fans who will be in Cameroon for AFCON.
Mbarga said he and the cleric who attended the prayer strongly believe that because Cameroonians love football, AFCON will remove the country from the agony it has been going through in several troubled spots.
Mbarga said the Cameroon Association for Inter-religious Dialogue organized the prayer. Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute represented President Paul Biya at the prayer. The Cameroon Association for Interreligious dialogue said at least 400 civilians, 20 ministers and senior state functionaries attended the prayer.
Cameroon is hosting the continent's top football tournament from Sunday to February 6.
Separatists fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in the French-speaking majority country have vowed to disrupt the games. On social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, the separatists say they are in ongoing battles with Cameroon government troops. They add that Limbe and Buea are not safe zones.
Limbe and Buea are English-speaking western towns that will host group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.
Separatist fighters said Thursday they set off a roadside bomb in Half Mile, a neighborhood in the town of Limbe.
Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, a rebel group in Cameroon's English-speaking North-West and South-West region. Capo says fighters have vowed to disrupt the games in Limbe despite the heavy presence of Cameroon troops.
"The Cameroon government has drawn our forces [separatists] to those venues because they have stationed their military in those areas so we shall combat them. On the 30th of December we planted an IED [improvised explosive device] at Half Mile, today [Thursday] again we planted another IED to send a message to all the visitors that are coming to watch football to understand that they are putting themselves in harm's way," Capo expressed.
Cameroon military confirmed Thursday's explosion in Limbe but called it an isolated attempt to scare football fans, players and officials. The government said no one was injured but called on civilians to collaborate with the military by reporting suspected fighters in their communities.
Biya last week called on civilians to use AFCON as an opportunity to turn a new page in the country that has suffered so many crises. The central African state started a military campaign against Boko Haram terrorism on its northern border with Nigeria in 2013.
In 2013, Cameroon said the political turmoil in neighboring Central African Republic was having a spill over on its eastern border with rebel incursions. The Cameroon military has been deployed to the eastern border with CAR since 2013.
The military is also deployed to stop rebels fighting to create an independent state in the central African state’s English-speaking western regions. The United Nations reports that more than 3,300 people have died in the conflict since 2017.