With political leaders in prison, a war with Boko Haram and separatist agitation in the English-speaking regions, Cameroon finds itself in the depths of an unprecedented socio-political crisis. With no dialogue between parties, things are getting worse, reports Frédéric Nonos.
Eight months on from October 2018’s Presidential elections, the political climate remains tense. Political leaders have been arrested, public freedoms are being restricted, civil war with the English-speaking separatist regions continues unabated, and inflation is rising, leading observers to remark
that Cameroon is a country in crisis.
Currently, a solution seems to be some way off. One of the sources of the political unease has been the locking up of Maurice Kamto and his supporters in a prison in Yaoundé, the country’s capital.
Kamto was the runner-up in the October 2018 elections, earning 14% of the vote at the head of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement. However, he illegally declared himself President, and arranged illegal marches on 26 January to protest against the ‘hold up’ at the ballot box that led to the victory of the incumbent, Paul Biya.
Kamto and his supporters stand accused of “insurrection, treason, rebellion and destruction of public property”, and could face the death penalty. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the EU and the US have called for them to be freed, but with no success.
The national unrest on such counts is further amplified by the ongoing war and human rights violations in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Since 2016, these areas, which are the primary English-speaking regions of
the country, have been racked by conflict.
Separatists are seeking autonomy to better govern the regions, but Yaoundé has responded by sending in the military. According to the International Crisis Group, nearly 2,000 civilians have been killed since hostilities began. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 437,000 people have been driven from these areas to other parts of the country, while another 32,000 have fled to neighbouring Nigeria.
Despite the release of some English-speaking activists and a newly-created commission for demobilisation and disarmament, the conflict rages on, and has devolved into episodes of unprovoked violence, with villages aflame and summary executions carried out by both sides. It has all the ingredients of a civil war.
Domestic and foreign politicians alike have demanded an inclusive dialogue to seek a resolution to the tensions. Tibor Nagy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has gone a step further, calling for “an international forum” to put a stop to the crisis. However, Yaoundé claims it is dealing with “armed groups engaged in pillaging and kidnapping, whose separatist ambitions are doomed to failure”.
A scathing report from the European Parliament in April this year criticised Yaoundé’s unwillingness to solve the crisis, and the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has further altered the landscape.
A month ago, the Cameroonian government indicated that it was open to inclusive dialogue. However, this has not yet led to any concrete measures, and it remains to be seen what form and timescale this dialogue will involve. NA