Yaounde, Cameroon—It is 4:30 a.m. in Douala, Cameroon’s business capital, and a severely beaten man with his hands lashed behind his back lies on the road in Bepanda district surrounded by an irate mob.
Blood oozes from his nostrils and ears as his tormentors place two tires around his body.
“Bring me petrol!” a man barks from the crowd. A boy runs to a nearby filling station and returns with a quart of fuel.
Just as the man lifts his hand to light the matches, a police van screeches to a halt and the savage ritual stops. The officers rush the victim to hospital, but it is too late: the 23-year-old man is dead.
This is just one example of a wave of mob rule, known locally as jungle justice, that is sweeping Cameroon where people complain that the police are corrupt and inefficient.
Residents of Bepanda say the dead man was one of four armed robbers who terrorized them. That night, the gang had broken into two homes, seizing mobile phones, money and jewelry, and raped a woman after tying her husband with ropes.
“Our intention was to set fire to that bastard so as to serve as a lesson to others,” said one middle-aged resident. “These are people who don’t want to work, and only wait for others to work and they come and deprive them of the fruits of their hard labor. We have had enough of them.”
Hardly a day goes by without scenes like this being reported on the radio or in newspapers in the Central African country.
The 2006 State Department human rights report on Cameroon blames the sharp increase in mob justice on the absence of an effective criminal prosecution system.
In the town of Kumba, 80 miles north of Douala, Manfred stands over the charred corpses of two young men whom he says were lynched for stealing. The mob placed tires around their bodies and set them alight.
Asked why residents did not hand the alleged criminals over to the police, he laughed.
“Take them to the police? You are not serious, my man! As soon as you turn your back, the police will take money and free them, and before you know it they are drinking with you in the bar and threatening to deal with you.”
Cameroon’s police and judiciary are among the most corrupt institutions in the world, according to Berlin-based corruption watch Transparency International.