Foul Play Suspected In Death Of Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Balla In Cameroon

The clergy in Cameroon has been hit again.

The most recent high-profile death is that of Jean Marie Benoit Balla, Bishop of Bafia in the Central Region. The 58-year-old had officiated there from 2007 until Tuesday, May 30, 2017, when he disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

On that fateful day, he left his residence at about 11:30 pm on his way to Yaounde. The gate attendant Emmanuel reported that it was strange to see him at the wheel. The bishop rarely stayed out late, to say nothing of departing at such a late hour. The gate man thought a parish was on fire. Unlike before, the bishop neither discussed his journey with anyone nor left a note.

Bishop Balla's car was discovered the next day on the bridge over River Sanaga at Ebebda, 60 kilometers from Bafia on the road to Yaounde. It was facing in the direction of Bafia, though he was supposed to have traveled the opposite direction. 

In the car were his personal documents including his identity card, driving license, and a hand written note on diocese letterhead saying, “I am in the water.”

A search team of divers found his body some 17 kilometers downstream after more than 48 hours. The body was immediately rushed to the Central Hospital in Yaounde where an autopsy was to be undertaken. Meantime, observers who witnessed his corpse by the riverside remarked on social media that the body did not look like one that had drowned. 

While awaiting the results of the investigations and the autopsy, the Bishops of Cameroon met in an extraordinary plenary assembly in Yaounde on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. On Wednesday, the assembly released a statement signed by the president of the National Episcopal Conference, His Lordship Joseph Kledda, affirming that their colleague did not die of suicide.

“He was brutally murdered,” the release asserted. 

The statement also lamented this as “one more murder, one too many," noting that the clergy in Cameroon are particularly "persecuted by obscure and devilish forces.”

The Bishops called for the results of the investigations to be made public and the perpetrators of this latest alleged murder handed over to the judiciary. 

The assembly condemned the killing of other colleagues under similar circumstances, cases where no one has learned exactly what happened. These include Engelbert Mveng, killed in Yaounde in 1995; Yves Plumey, Archbishop of Ngaoundere, in 1991; Anthony Fontegh, who died in Kumbo in 1990; and Joseph Mbassi in Yaounde, in 1988.

One week before the disappearance of Bishop Balla, the Rector of the Bafia seminary was found dead in his room under mysterious circumstances. It is reported that Bishop Bala did not officiate the rector's funeral mass. Some have taken the bishop's absence at the funeral as a sign of exhaustion, while others suggest he was simply devastated by the untimely and suspicious passing of a young priest.

And barely one week later, another priest was reportedly also found dead under similar mysterious circumstances in Nguti, South West Region.