The Southern Cameroons crisis that started like a joke in 2016 is gradually producing one of the least expected consequences. When it all started playing out, the Cameroon government thought it could address the issue through military violence. In its view, killing a few demonstrators would send the others home and things would return to normal. But this strategy that has worked for years has turned out to be the government’s worst mistake.
Instead of sending the other demonstrators home after manhandling lawyers and Buea university students, things have instead snowballed and a small problem that could have been nipped in the bud through constructive and inclusive dialogue has metamorphosed into a full-blown conflict that has already consumed more than 1,000 lives. Despite this unfortunate picture, the government still holds that this unconventional war can only be won through conventional methods. It has declared war on the people it is supposed to protect and instead of using the population to gather intelligence so as to gain a better understanding of things, it has resorted to collective punishment which has only pushed the innocent and desperate population into the waiting arms of the secessionists.
Government measures have been anything but effective. Its arrogance has surprised the international community. Its financiers are gradually questioning its management effectiveness and this is gradually manifesting itself through dwindling resources. Pride goes before a fall, so say the wise. And this is gradually coming to pass in Cameroon where a government that has been at grips with a rebellion in the English-speaking part of the country and an endless insurgency in the north is dealing with empty coffers. The arrogance with which the government declared war on Southern Cameroonians a few months back is gradually fizzling out.
Mr. Joseph Beti Assoumou, the government’s defense minister, had declared that his troops would implement the president’s decision without batting an eyelid, but it turned out that Southern Cameroonian fighters, most of whom are ill-equipped, have killed so many army soldiers without batting an eyelid; a situation that has caused the docile Francophone population to start questioning the rationale behind the declaration of a war on fellow citizens as if they were some foreign fighters.
The violence escalated following the extradition of the Ambazonia President, Julius Ayuk Tabe, on Monday, January 26, 2018, to Yaoundé and this has continued for many weeks. Many young Southern Cameroonians have stepped up attacks on soldiers and gendarmes in a bid to express their frustration and anger. Many cities have been the theater of intense fighting for months with Manyu Division being the epicenter and this is costing the government a pretty penny. The government is facing a tough financial situation. Declining oil production and falling commodity prices are hurting a government that has spent more time wasting money on fake elections than on real and sustainable development projects.
The increasing attacks had been predicted by many analysts and politicians who had posited that the arrest and extradition of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe would only exacerbate things as more people would be radicalized. Most analysts based their thesis on the fact that the arrest of Mr. Mancho Bibixy, Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla and Dr. Neba Fontem in January 2017 had only made matters worse and their predictions have been perfect. The Southern Cameroons crisis will not be over anytime soon. Ambazonian fighters are determined and the existence of many armed groups is giving the government much food for thought. It is today fighting an expensive war on many fronts with very limited resources. This is a huge challenge, but due to its legendary arrogance, it prefers to avoid the negotiating table. But this might not continue for a long time. Its Western backers are already skeptical about its ability to win this war.
Despite this, the violence continues. The government is wont to using violence as its weapon of choice to address even the least disagreement with its population. It still believes that it could use the same means to suppress a more determined Southern Cameroonian population that is receiving significant amount of help from abroad. Arms have been shipped into the country and there is a huge pool of willing fighters that is currently giving the government a run for its money. The stiff resistance is causing the government to lose sleep, while its expenses are increasing by the day, with government officials involved in the management of the war effort doing their best to line their pockets.
Despite the poker face that the country’s leaders have been spotting for some time, it is clear that the pride is gradually dwindling, as the country’s limited financial resources head south. The government is cash-strapped and it is in search of money to prosecute a war in the English-speaking regions that will surely last for years. It is also seeking to roll back a Boko Haram insurgency that has killed thousands in the north, including army soldiers who are poorly trained to deal with such a violent and radical insurgency.
The government has been drumming up support for its efforts to stem the tide of Boko Haram attacks in the north, but its efforts are not good enough. Years of neglect of that part of the country have created a vacuum that is being filled by Boko Haram. Years of unemployment among the youths have caused these youths to turn to other sources for help and Boko Haram has used this failure by the government to endear itself to the people.
Decades of corruption and recklessness have begun having an impact on a regime that has been anything but prudent in its financial management. Many former government officials are currently in jail for using state funds to feather their nests, although there are rumors that many of them ended there because they had the ambition of taking over from the country’s long-ruling president, Paul Biya. The country’s maximum security prison in Yaounde is today harboring distinguished personalities who had served in Mr. Biya’s government. A former prime minister, former Secretaries General at the presidency, a former minister of health, and a former minister of finance have all been roped in by anti-corruption campaign that is no longer inspiring fear. Government officials know that Mr. Biya’s time is almost up and given that they have participated in the mess, many of them are using unorthodox means to secure a good future for themselves.
A recent case is that of Basile Atanagana Kouna (BAK) who has simply underscored that there is nothing to write home about the government’s security system. BAK, as he is popularly known, was until early March, the powerful minister of water and energy who had transformed himself into a weapon of mass destruction for young jobless Cameroonian boys, many of whom have been condemned to wearing diapers for the rest of their lives. During his time at CAMWATER and the ministry of water and energy, if any young man had to dream of securing a job or having a promotion, then he had to think of bending over forward. BAK has left behind a trail of destruction and corruption wherever he has been to. At CAMWATER, the mess he left behind is still flowing and it has made its way to many neighborhoods. Even in Yaounde, the nation’s capital, there are many neighborhoods without water and electricity and this has gone on for years. BAK had decided to line his pocket instead of using the money for the purpose for which it was intended.
But BAK is not alone. There is still a long list of people to be arrested and taken to the Yaounde Maximum Prison that is already bursting at the seams. Adolphe Minkoa She, Magloire Ondoa, Jean Parfait Koe, Stanislas Victor Atangana, Rene Martin Mbida and Fidele Solange Ngono are among the people who are being watched closely. The country’s secret services are already on their trail. While in China with a begging bowl in search of financial resources, the country’s dictator had issued instructions that none of the people on the long list of suspects should be allowed to leave the country. He did not want a repeat of Basile Atanagana Kouna’s drama. His instructions were clear and firm and the country’s secret services want to prove that Basile Atanagana Kouna’s drama is just a flash in the pan.
Some of these people are already sick. Enow Agbor Kenneth, a native of Manyu Division, who has made this list of shame, has been suffering from diarrhea ever since he was informed of this decision. A source close to Benjamin Amenguele says his heart is already failing him ever since the country’s secret services summoned him to one of their many offices. Mr. Biya seems to have put all his collaborators on a diet. Many of them are losing weight, but this is against their wish. They know sooner or later, they will be at Kondengui and this is not a place a rich person should end up. Many of them are having violent nightmares and this is already impacting their health.
Biya has failed his people. He has disappointed his financiers. And this is hurting him, big time. With very limited financial opportunities, he is bound to look eastward. In this quest for more resources, China is gradually becoming a good friend. But there are many questions popping up regarding the viability of the corrupt system Mr. Biya has put in place in Cameroon. Even the Chinese have questions, but out of courtesy, they had to spare their host a lot of embarrassment. Mr. Biya has already been to China seven times. None of those visits seems to be producing the desired results.
Chinese are business people and they won’t be doling out money to a man who has run his own economy aground. Like in previous visits, many cooperation agreements were signed, but coughing up the money that will oil that cooperation, will be the hardest part of the agreements. Chinese have worked hard to earn their beautiful spot and respect under the sun. They are surely not going to be throwing their money down a dark and dry hole. If Mr. Biya’s Western backers are reluctant to give him vast financial resources, why would China do so when it knows the West will never allow it to take full control of Cameroon’s economy. China knows Cameroon is simply a fair weather friend. It will therefore not be fooled by Mr. Biya’s vain seduction. Things are clearly falling apart for the Yaoundé government. No matter how it pretends, the world is aware of what is happening.
The government of Cameroon had declared that it would never negotiate with English-speaking Cameroonians who have been demonstrating their frustration with the government for almost two years. This frustrated English-speaking minority has shown a lot of resilience. Its fighters are determined and their determination is something the government has not succeeded to understand. The fighters’ strategies have been evolving and this has produced some unexpected outcomes. They have moved from organizing ghost town operations to kidnapping senior administrative officers and this is spreading fear across the entire nation.
Civil servants sent to the two English-speaking regions now move around with lots of butterflies in their stomachs. The dangerous fighters have a nasty habit of surprising their targets. Even the Minister of Territorial Administration, Atanga Nji, knows that he is in their cross hairs. His out of control rhetoric is not making things better. The country is going through one of its most challenging moments and many people hold that only genuine dialogue can spare the once prosperous nation the pain it is seeking to inflict on itself. Analysts around the world are thinking that with dwindling resources, the government might soon have to eat its own words. It might soon be holding a peace plant and an invitation for an inclusive dialogue. The world is watching and it is really looking forward to that dialogue. Without inclusive dialogue, things will continue to fall apart. Fake elections and presidential decrees will not address the issues.
By Kingsley Betek and Rita Akana
Cameroon Concord News Group