SANTA, CAMEROON - Two musicians are traveling through the volatile English-speaking regions of Cameroon in hopes of ending a war that has killed more than 1,000 people. Their only 'weapons' are a guitar and voices they use to spread messages of peace in song.
The musicians are 24-year-old Emmanuel Bilashi and 31-year-old Linford Ci, singing in the northwest village of Santa.
In one of their songs, the two are calling on armed gangs to drop their weapons and stop their attacks, kidnappings, killings, and destruction of public buildings. They ask both the government of Cameroon and the armed gangs to allow children to have their basic right to education.
'We are tired of war, violence. Schools are locked up, our brothers and sisters are being killed every day and things are not moving.... Let them drop the weapons. Violence is not what we need but peace and love,' Bilashi said.
In another song, the two say the best gift of life is love. Ci said even the fighters involved in the conflict pinning government forces and separatist rebels in Cameroon's English-speaking regions against each other need love.
'They are having consciences and they are still having that soft spot in their hearts for the love of the nation. We as young people, we want a future. We have a part to play like nation builders. We are telling ourselves that we do not want to be the leaders of tomorrow, but we want to be the leaders of today. If there is no platform of peace, then that dream of ours, or that reality of today is having no place,' Ci said.
Bilashi said Ci and he teamed up four months ago, after violence in the northwest town of Bamenda killed one of Ci's family members of two of Bilashi's.
Among the two dozen people who came to listen to the duo in Santa was 27-year-old Rigobert Kima, who said he recently fled from a camp of armed fighters near the northwest village of Bafut.
'I opted to come. The thing was not easy. We just managed to escape from the bushes," Kima said.
Unrest in the northwest and southwest regions began in 2016, when teachers and lawyers staged protests against what they said was a marginalization of English speakers in the mostly French-speaking nation.
The government says that since then, over 1,200 civilians, soldiers and armed separatists have been killed.
So far, Bilashi and Ci have performed in Santa, Bamenda, Akum, Nkwen Bambili and Bambui.
Many say the duo's initiative is courageous. Within the past two months, two missionaries - Charles Trumann Wesco from the United States and Cosmas Ondari from Kenya - were killed in the restive regions where they were preaching peace.
Mancho Ivo, a resident of Akum whose poultry business has been shut down by the fighting, listened to the duo and liked what he heard.
He said he prays their message can heal Cameroon, adding 'we thank them for their courage, which may as well be the beginning of the solution to our problems.'