Cardinal is Freed After Kidnapping by Gunmen in Cameroon

The 90-year-old archbishop emeritus of Douala had been traveling with 12 other people from Bamenda to Kumbo on Nov. 5 when they were intercepted by gunmen belonging to separatist militias.

Cardinal Christian Tumi, pictured after his liberation on Nov. 6, 2020.
Cardinal Christian Tumi, pictured after his liberation on Nov. 6, 2020. (photo: Courtesy photo / Kumbo Diocese in Cameroon)

WASHINGTON — Cardinal Christian Tumi, who was kidnapped by gunmen Thursday evening in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, has been freed.

“Glory be to God. Cardinal Tumi has been freed by the Separatist fighters. He is fine and in good health,” Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo diocese announced on the afternoon of Nov. 6.

The 90-year-old archbishop emeritus of Douala had been traveling with 12 other people, including a local leader, from Bamenda to Kumbo on Nov. 5 when they were intercepted by gunmen belonging to separatist militias.

Cardinal Tumi and Fon Sehm Mbinglo I, the traditional local leader of the Nso people, were kidnapped in Bamunka, a village in Cameroon’s northwest region, on Nov. 5, a local source told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

Bishop Nkuo of Kumbo reported that the local leader had not been released.

“The Fon of Nso is still being held by his captors. They were taken in two different directions but the cardinal has been released. We don’t know where the Fon is at the moment,” the bishop said on the afternoon of Nov. 6.

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala told La Croix Africa that he had received a call Thursday night from the kidnapped cardinal, who said that he had been questioned in captivity but not tortured. 

A video posted to social media Nov. 6 by the public relations officer of the Anglophone General Conference showed a crowd of Nso people and local priests and religious sisters walking to the village where the cardinal and the Fon of Nso were said to be held captive.

The cardinal’s kidnapping comes amid a conflict between separatists and government forces in the English-speaking territories in Cameroon’s Northwest Region and Southwest Region. Tensions escalated after Francophone teachers and judges were sent to work in the historically marginalized Anglophone regions in 2016, and the dispute has come to be known as the Anglophone Crisis.

Cardinal Tumi has been active in seeking a resolution to the cisis through dialogue after his retirement as archbishop of Douala.

“You don’t bring peace by violence and violence begets violence,” Tumi said in 2018 after military violence against against Anglophone separatists in Cameroon’s Southwest Region.

“I have heard about those destructions and killings … and I think that has to be condemned. So my opinion is simple, we as Cameroonians should respect lives and the life of everybody,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Tumi helped to create the Anglophone General Conference, a framework for dialogue between all of the parties of the Anglophone conflict.

The crisis in Cameroon is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon. The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire’s defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.

Cardinal Tumi was born in what is now Northwest Cameroon in 1930 and served as a bishop in Francophone regions of the country from 1979. He was also the president of Cameroon’s bishops’ conference from 1985 to 1991.

There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Southern Cameroons.

This violence escalated in October when gunmen attacked Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in Kumba in Cameroon’s Southwest region, on Oct. 24 and opened fire on students in a classroom. Seven students aged 12 to 14 were killed, according to Reuters.

Following the attack, Pope Francis appealed for an end to violence in Cameroon.

“I participate in the suffering of the families of the young students barbarically killed last Saturday in Kumba, in Cameroon. I feel great bewilderment at such a cruel and senseless act, which tore the young innocents from life while they were attending lessons at school,” Pope Francis said at the end of his general audience Oct. 28.

“May God enlighten hearts, so that similar gestures may never be repeated again and so that the tormented regions of the northwest and southwest of the country may finally find peace. I hope that the weapons will remain silent and that the safety of all and the right of every young person to education and the future can be guaranteed.”

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