More than 200 people, most of them women, marched in the city center of Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, on Tuesday against what they call growing intolerance in the Central African state. The protesters, marking this year’s International Day for Tolerance, sang that there is a growing lack of respect for each other’s cultural and religious beliefs.
Secretary General of the Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries of Cameroon Adamou Ngamie took part in the protest. Ngamie says all Muslims, especially Imams, must try to preach inter-religious tolerance because it is praised by God in the Holy Quran. He says intolerance is bringing confusion and discord in Cameroon, which is in dire need of tolerance that will breed cohesion and bring back peace to the country.
In 2020, the government of Cameroon reported on problems of inter-religious intolerance in the central African state. It cited conflicts between Christian Pentecostal churches and Muslim fundamentalist movements on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria. The report said several clashes resulted in casualties but gave no further details.
Tuesday’s protesters noted intolerance in Cameroon spiked in 2017 when Anglophone separatists, complaining of second-class treatment, took up arms against the French-speaking majority state.
Cameroon’s separatist conflict has claimed more than 3,000 lives and displaced more than 550,000, according to the United Nations.
22-year-old University of Yaounde student Anabel Michou marched in the protest. She says hate speech and propaganda on social media by both separatists and authorities promote intolerance.
“We are calling on everybody to join us on board, to build a hate free Cameroon, to promote social cohesion, to ask for peace. Wherever we find ourselves, we have a collective role to play to make Cameroon a better country. There are alternative, nonviolent means of saying what we have and using the right channels for our thoughts to be heard. And we should also remember, we cannot build by destroying. We have to build by making what we have better.”
The Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement, which has been urging troops and separatists to lay down their arms, organized the protest. Movement member Nicoline Nwenushi Wazeh says the separatist conflict would be greatly reduced if Cameroonians learned to tolerate each other.
“We need to acknowledge that every human being is a separate entity [person] and this acknowledgement needs to come from the government through enforceable laws against intolerance. Parents should have a communication around tolerance with their children. In schools, children should be able to know about tolerance. We should be able to promote tolerance.”
In July, Cameroon launched a campaign against what it called growing online hate speech, intolerance, and xenophobic statements.
Rights groups, however, note that along with xenophobic statements, authorities also define hate speech as criticism of the state and long-time President Paul Biya.
The government did not issue any statements for this year’s International Day for Tolerance but has in the past called on all Cameroonians to live together in harmony.