The rioting by inmates of the Kondengui Prison in Yaounde on Monday, July 22, was most unfortunate. The fallouts are overwhelming.
The burning down of the infirmary, the library and the wounding of some high profile prisoners, including the former Prime Minister, Chief Ephraim Inoni, and the former Minister of Public Health, Olanguena Awono, are the frontal “dividend” of the uprising.
The incident, that has once more attracted a lot of prevarications from pro-establishment activists, is, once more, giving negative publicity to our country. Yet, it just lifted the thin veil over the deep-seated malaise of our overcrowded prisons that have become the earthly hell of Cameroonians.
As unfortunate as it was, the incident provided another opportunity for those who have confiscated the republic to show how brutal, repressive, barbaric and tyrannical they can be.
A circa 700 brutally armed police and gendarmerie elements joined 101 prison guards to unleash terror on the irate inmates. The press is awash with reports that over 177 inmates were bundled out of the prison to an unknown destination.
The most pathetic image that stirred commotion in the social media is that of the Vice President of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, Mamadou Mouta. He was captured from his prison cell in all barbarism, undressed and driven away to an unknown destination. T
he regime responded to the crisis with what it knows best – repression, tyranny, terror and barbarism. Once more, the authorities have embarked on chasing the shadow rather than the object.
For, the uprising is the bastard of injustice and poor prison conditions that reign in country. Here, it is a kind of Darwinian system of justice which makes it that only the powerful and the rich get justice.
The poor, the powerless and voiceless are dished out injustice with sadistic fanfare. For one thing, the situation in our prisons reeked of a potentially explosive situation before Monday’s anger spill.
Over 80 percent of the 26,000 detainees in the country’s 88 prisons are suffering pre-trial detention. This means that over 20.000 of them are still awaiting trial.
When some human rights defenders visited the Kondengui Central Prison recently, they discovered that some 400 inmates were illegally detained.
The press highlighted the case of one Mr. Tchuinkam who has wallowed in pre-trial detention for 10 years for the simple reason that a certain administrator in Akonolinga ordered for his detention.
A majority of the Anglophone detainees who are reported to have triggered the crisis, are said have been wallowing in detention for a very long time without trial. They have been clamouring for their liberation, arguing that justice delayed is justice denied.
Kondengui Prison, that was constructed during the colonial period for 800 detainees, now has over 5,000 inmates that live in very congested cells. The same situation holds sway for other prisons in the country. The New Bell Prison in Douala, that was constructed for 500 inmates, now has 3,150 detainees.
The problems ailing our justice system constitute a real quagmire that remains a ticking time bomb. There can never be long lasting peace without justice, especially social justice. Besides, the procedural lapses, the miscarriage of the law, corruption and the travesty of justice that bedevil our judicial system, the 1,000 magistrates in the over 90 courts in our country, are simply overwhelmed by a gigantic number of 50,000 cases.
The rioting did not come by happenstance. The inmates are said to have articulated their grievances and forwarded them to the prison authorities. But the prison administration did not budge.
During a meeting with the President of Appeal Courts, Regional Delegates of Penitentiary Administration and other justice officials four years ago, the Minister of Justice enumerated the problems ailing the system. It was in reaction to this that attendees of the meeting that took place in Yaounde, came out with recommendations to arrest the situation.
In order to reduce the number of pre-trial detainees, the magistrates were urged to accelerate the trials before them and ensure that suspects who do not have serious criminal matters face trial while living in their homes. It was resolved that new prisons would be constructed, while some olds ones would be enlarged to conveniently contain the large number of inmates.
Much of the pre-trial detentions and overcrowding in the prisons is the seething volcano that simmered for a very long as a signal to last Monday’s uprising. Yet, the authorities shirked responsibility, claiming as usual that the incident was a manipulation by the CRM political party whose leaders are among those wallowing in pre-trial detention in the prison.
Reports that the prison authorities released other prisoners to confront Anglophone detainees in a bloody fight, are unfortunate. Again, a pro-establishment commentary on State radio that laid censure on CRM, is the latest feat in our lies-telling journalism.
For anybody to claim that Prof. Maurice Kamto and his party officials stirred the uprising because the ruling CPDM party held a rather successful demo in Bafoussam, is a veritable scandal.
Give me a break! Prevarication and procrastination on solutions to our ailing justice system make up ingredients for bigger problems in future. Let the authorities note that repression, barbarism and tyranny can only create us more problems. I take exception to the destruction of State property. But, I state here, intoto, that prisoners have rights, thus, inmates have a right to be angry about their inhuman detention conditions.