How Collective punishment as obtains today in the North West and South West can only be Counterproductive in the long run 
The Colbert Factor
 This reflection is inspired by the fact that although many are wishing that relations between the population and the forces of law and order rather improves, continuous reprisals from them further distance the population from the military. It is also inspired by the fact that even though collective punishment since became a war crime after the 4th Convention on the Rome Statutes and after the special criminal court decision set up after the Sierra Leone civil war, it is unfortunate Cameroon is instead activating collective punishment when the civilized world is moving away from it. Point is, at one point or the other, one of us, has been involved in one form of collective punishment or the other. I remember in primary school my teacher used to punish us each time one heady child disrupted the class and refused to own up. The teacher would punish the whole class. In each class, and in each school, the back benchers were always known to the heady boys and girls. Each time a student made noise and no student owned up or volunteered responsibility, the teacher would punish the whole of the rear rows. Nobody might have seen it as collective punishment, but it was. At times, the teacher would stop children from going home on time, simply because one of the children who disturbed in his or her class could not be identified. I quite remember a day when in primary school, we were going home and just about the entrance to the Muteff Market, this dreaded native doctor, Shimen, stopped all of us from going home on grounds some of us stole sugar canes from his farm in the morning. He started administering his charms around us and identifying some students for being the culprits. Although his charms spared me and others, one of my friends, Akem, who also passed through without being caught by the charm, later confessed to me that although the charm could not track him down, he was the one that stole Bobe shimen's sugar canes. Collective punishment has been around with us for long. My father would punish all us in the compound if one of us who tethered a goat badly and it died and nobody owned up. I used to see him beat all his dogs almost to the point of death if he found out that one of his eggs had been eaten up by a dog. I also see my wife give collective punishment to all the eight children in the house each time meat has been removed from the pot and nobody is owning up. While in primary school, I was witness to a palpable example of collective punishment in my community. One of my classmates, Ndongdeh was reported to have poisoned the lone child of one Achain native doctor, Mechuao. When the death of his son was announced, Mechuoa refused to mourn. In return, he swore that the family of the culprit, ndongdeh, would die one after another. In line, seven of ndongdeh' mother's children died, one after another. He was the very last to die before the curse could end. This is called familial guilt. Familial guilt as a form of collective punishment was first introduced by the Chinese in the 11th century. In China, when a person committed a crime, the Chinese authorities would punish him and members of his family right up to the seventh member. Although China long abolished this form of collective punishment because of its counter productiveness, it is surprising that countries deemed to be civilized are rather imbibing it. The British through the Boa or Franco- Prussian wars used collective punishment against the French; the Americans used the shouting of of some 16 whites to disgrace 106 black soldiers; the Israelites have been using the blockade in the Gaza to input collective punishment on Palestinians. North Korea had been using collective punishment to fight off incursions in their region. Russia had used collective punishment. From ancient times to present, armed forces have punished people for crimes they bore no responsibility. Collective punishment ends up being counterproductive in the end because otherwise innocent and moderate people who have never contemplated crime get punished. As was the case in Primary School, when the teacher continuously punish Innocent and well behaved children for crimes they did not commit, they end up joining others in committing crimes because they no longer see the reason to be good guys. It is also counterproductive administering collective punishment because, as Hugo Grotius puts it, 'No one innocent of wrong should be punished for the wrong done by another'. Although in ancient times the notion of collective punishment was based on the belief then that it was better to punish 100 Innocent people than to allow one guilty person go unpunished, the notion long outlived its usefulness. The believe then was that, the more people in the rebellious communities were punished the more rebellion would diminish. It was also based on the believe that a rebellion cannot be initiated without the knowledge of members of that community. By razing down whole communities as obtained in Syria and the Gaza where shelling is done from the air and bulldozers razing from the ground, administrators of such collective punishment thought the people's resolve would be quelled. Research now demonstrates such actions only radicalize even the most moderate who would have cooperated with government. The case of the Anglophone crisis is not different. Otherwise moderates and conservatives have rather been radicalized because of indiscriminate collective punishment. How does the careless shooting into a fleeing taxi at 8a.m at Mobile Nkwen and almost squeezing life out of a young female medic rushing to hospital to assist a pregnant woman in painful labour amount to fighting terrorism? Its like saying that Americans would have considered all artists and medical doctors terrorists or criminals because it was an artist who shot at John F. Kennedy and a medical doctor covered up the murder. Is it everybody in Anglophone Cameroon who is a secessionist or restorationist? Even if government's option of collective punishment was informed by the fact that we bear collective responsibility because each time one of us is appointed or promoted or wins an accolade, the whole community joins in celebration or is said to have issued a motion of support, why not rather opt for collective or targeted reward as a way out? What I mean is, since every good or well meaning person who would have sympathized with government gets punish for a crime he/she never contemplated, would it not make sense for Yaoundé authorities and the high military command in Bamenda to open up to rewarding those who proffer information when an attack takes place or is about to take place? It has worked with Americans at home and abroad after the strategy of collective punishment failed woefully. It has been working with Israel in relation to Palestinians. Rather than continuously bomb Palestinian settlements and in the process, radicalizing well meaning and moderate Palestinians as obtains today in Anglophone Cameroon, the Israeli government offers work permits and better incentives to Palestinians who offer to identify tunnels or discourage others from attacking Israelis. How comes crimes are committed in broad daylight and government affords to impose a dust to dawn curfew in Bamenda with firm instructions to shoot on sight? Are we saying the peace loving francophones who dot the Northwest landscape and the teaming well meaning Anglophones who only want to go about their businesses are terrorists by induction? Just that no one be mistaken. The so called Ambazonian marauding forces are also involved in collective punishment. When they consider that anybody living in Bamenda must share in the sins of the SDF's holding of their convention and declare ghost towns, they are involved in collective punishment. They would need to read the conclusions of the Special Criminal Court set up after the 11 years old war in Sierra Leone to know what awaits them in years to come. In plain terms, collective punishment, no matter way it comes from is a war crime. I raise my case.
Derick BAKAH

Derick BAKAH

Bakah Derick is a Broadcast Presenter and Multimedia specialist with focus on sharing with the rest of the world the daily happenings in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. You can contact us on +237 675460750 or

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