Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tense Times in Yaounde

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks packing and preparing to move back to Dallas.

But things have taken an odd turn here in Cameroon.

On Monday, taxi drivers throughout the country staged a strike to protest a recent hike in fuel. But the strike has turned violent and deadly in several cities, especially Douala. Though the labor action was officially called off by labor unions and government officials on Tuesday night, the rioters have kept up the pressure. And the violence spread to Yaounde today.

Throughout the city, protesters have blocked and barricaded streets, threatened stores and businesses to close, and tried to keep all forms of transportation at a standstill. In response, police and gendarme have engaged in a low-level form of warfare, including tear-gas and riot gear.

I have been receiving a series of warnings from the Embassy, cautioning American citizens to stay indoors. I’ve kept the advice, while making calls to friends around the city to compare notes and hear the gossip.

The riots represent something far more than just displeasure with the cost of gasoline – President Biya has publicly announced his intentions to change the constitution to allow him to serve as president indefinitely, for one, an immensely unpopular decision. Add to that the rise in costs of all sorts of items, the closure of a private TV station in Douala because of its reporting on opposition activity, and general unhappiness with the government, and you’ve got a situation ripe for trouble!

President Biya appeared on television tonight, appealing for peace and calm, as well as reasserting his role as leader of the nation. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning to see how it played in the countryside, but the people I’ve talked to tonight were unsatisfied by his comments.

For more information on what’s happening, here are some news reports.

I am scheduled to get on a plane and rejoin my family on March 9. I’m asking for your prayers to make sure that I make this flight – if not earlier! And pray that the violence comes to a quick end.

The people of Cameroon have long prided themselves on remaining a peaceful country, unlike their neighbors. Please pray with me that they do not succumb to the fate of so many other African countries in the last few decades. And remember especially the pastors and people of the United Methodist Church in Cameroon.