‘She was my everything’: Cameroon mourns AFCON stampede victims

Cameroonians grieve after eight were killed and dozens injured in a stampede before an African Cup of Nations match.

Olembe Stadium, after match between Cameroon and Comoros
Olembe Stadium, after match between Cameroon and Comoros [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

Yaounde, Cameroon – Before Veronique Djilo headed to the Olembe Stadium to watch Cameroon – nicknamed the Indomitable Lions – take on Comoros the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), she updated her WhatsApp status as “Lion 4 life”.

And that was the last time her niece, Leokam, whom she lived with, would hear from her.

Djilo, a 41-year-old woman living with disability, was one of the eight people killed in a stampede that occurred outside the Olembe Stadium, in Cameroon’s capital city Yaounde, in which the hosts beat Comoros 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals of AFCON.

Security officers had reportedly delayed letting fans enter the gate via the southern entrance of the 60,000-seat venue before a crush developed as impatient fans tried to enter the stadium.

Tournament organisers had said only 80 percent of stadium capacities would be made available for fans wanting to see Cameroon’s games and 60 percent for other teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But officials said about 50,000 fans had tried entering the stadium during the game.

At least 38 people were also injured during the stampede, according to a statement from Cameroon’s ministry of communication.

Olembe Stadium, after match between Cameroon and Comoros
A purse on the ground at the scene of the stampede at the entrance of Olembe stadium in Yaounde [Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP]

Leokam told Al Jazeera she had received a call telling her that Dilje was badly hurt and being treated in a hospital in Messassi, a neighbourhood near Olembe

“When I went there, she was already dead. I wondered, how can somebody who left home to enjoy [football] in the stadium did not return home?”

“Her corpse is still with the police who are investigating the incident. She was my mother, my everything, because she took care of my education and wellbeing,” Leokam said.

The incident at the brand-new stadium has shocked the football community.

In a news conference on Tuesday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Patrice Motsepe said the institution was devastated by the stampede and has requested an investigation.

“The CAF family is deeply hurt,” he said. “We have a duty to find out exactly what happened and more importantly to put in appropriate measures to ensure that what happened never happens again. When people lose their lives, we all should be angry.”

CAF also said a quarter-final match set to be held at Olembe Stadium would be moved to a different venue. The stadium had been scheduled to host three further matches, including the final.

The deaths have left Cameroonian football fans deeply upset, with some saying they no longer feel safe attending games.

Therese, who survived the crush, told Al Jazeera, “Next time I see a crowd, I’ll change my direction.”

Samuel, who is a motorcycle rider and a die-hard Indomitable Lions fan, had already stopped attending matches in stadiums due to the behaviour of some fans – including one time when he was urinated on.

“The incident at Olembe has only reminded me not to attend games. The AFCON is good, but I prefer watching at home.”

Meanwhile, others said they would still be prepared to attend matches.

“What happened at Olembe was just unfortunate,” Paul, a shopkeeper, told Al Jazeera.

“If I have the chance to watch a game in the stadium, during this period, I will go. We just need to be careful and I believe COCAN (the local organising committee) and CAF will improve safety and security.”

But while CAF has said the tournament will go on as scheduled and that all games will have a minute of silence for the people who lost their lives, Paul believed the matches should have been put on hold for at least a week.

“These are people who have lost their loved ones. CAF needs to halt these games to honour the grieving families,” he said.

This picture taken on January 25, 2022 at the entrance of Olembe stadium in Yaounde shows barriers on the ground at the scene of the stampede. - Eight people were killed and many more injured in a crush outside a Cameroonian football stadium on January 24, 2022 ahead of an Africa Cup of Nations match.
Barriers on the ground at the scene of the stampede at the entrance of Olembe stadium [Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera