The messages delivered by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, to Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, on Monday have hit the Cameroon strong man like a ton of bricks. The true meaning of the messages is sinking and it is becoming clearer that he is losing his staunchest supporter, France, which is already looking for a replacement for the ailing 86-year-old president who has ruled his country for almost 37 years.
While some of the messages were clearly expressed, some were coded and required time for analysis. The most coded was the picture that the straight-talking American gave to Mr. Biya. The picture of Mr. Biya and late president George Bush Senior was taken in 1991. While Mr. Bush left power a long time ago, Mr. Biya has hanged on to power for many decades and has no plan to leave power.
Americans want him out and there is no better way to let him know that he has overstayed his welcome than by letting him know that his contemporaries are all gone. Sources at the Unity Palace say the 86-year-old Biya is fuming and is losing sleep as his allies are already walking away from him.
Even France is reducing contact with the dictator who is now considered by the French as more of a liability than an asset. The French are gradually coming to terms with the fact that they might lose their influence in Cameroon if they continue to count on Mr. Biya as the only person who is capable of protecting their interest.
Over the last week, the French have been urging Mr. Biya to change course and embrace dialogue in order to address the multiple issues facing the country, especially the Southern Cameroons crisis that has gained international attention for things to return to normal while they continue their search for a new strategy to keep their influence in Cameroon.
Mr. Biya is at his wit’s end. He remembers what happened to President Mobutu of Zaire and he knows that if he does not listen to the Americans, he might incur their wrath. The American ambassador in Yaounde had urged Mr. Biya to think about his legacy in 2018, but the sit-tight leader did not heed the ambassador’s advice.
With the message coming in a different form and from a higher authority in the State Department, Mr. Biya might want to consider his options. Though the meeting between the U.S. diplomat and president Biya was friendly, there were still some rough edges which left the Yaounde strong man ruffled.
During Mr. Biya’s meeting with the U.S. diplomat on Monday, the American urged the president to embrace the frank and inclusive dialogue proposed by the international community, adding that Southern Cameroonians only wanted to be considered as normal citizens of Cameroon and that they would never accept the second-class citizenship the country had imposed on them.
He said that the US administration was closely monitoring events in Cameroon, pointing out that only dialogue could put an end to the crisis in the country. Mr. Nagy also stressed that the route taken by the government to end the crisis was unnecessary and that the loss of human life and property was a clear indication of a disproportionate use of force by the government.
Mr. Nagy also said America would encourage the country to pursue other forms of government that might reduce tensions in the country, adding that Donald Trump’s administration was ready and willing to lend a hand in the development of a truly federal system in Cameroon, a message that had also been sent to the Cameroon government by the Canadian embassy in Yaounde.
Canada, it should be underscored, has significant experience in the handling of minority issues and is very willing to bring that experience to Cameroon so as to enable the two linguistic groups that make up the country to live in peace.
Mr. Nagy used the occasion to remind Mr. Biya that Cameroon was a major American ally in the region, stressing that chaos in Cameroon could spill over to other countries and this could result in disorder that might disrupt life in the entire region.
He hailed Cameroon’s economic potential, adding that the country was blessed with abundant human and natural resources that could be used to bring about shared prosperity and wealth, but for this to happen, there must be peace and justice.
Speaking to journalists after his meeting with President Paul Biya, the American diplomat said diplomatic discussions were always confidential, but added that his discussion with Mr. Biya was frank and direct. A statement which has made sources close to the government to hold that Mr. Biya has been delivered a tough message which he has to take seriously or face destabilization from the frustrated American administration.
Mr. Nagy however said he appreciated Mr. Biya’s wisdom, adding that the United States and Cameroon had much in common and that he would like to bring many American investors to Cameroon so as to create opportunities for the country’s youths.
He said America wanted the best for Cameroon, stressing that he would like young Cameroonians to have the best jobs possible, but that would require peace in the country.
By Linda Embi in Yaounde