When the Southern Cameroons crisis started in October 2016, many government officials and the majority Francophone thought it would be localized in the two English-speaking regions of the country.
Arrogant ministers like Fame Ndongo, Laurent Esso and Issa Tchiroma were all over the place to prove that they had total control of things. They even said there was no Anglophone problem in Cameroon and that demonstrations by teachers and lawyers were the handiwork of a few frustrated Cameroonians living abroad.
Fame Ndongo is quoted to have said that the two regions were like two cubes of sugar that would easily melt in a large ocean. Two years into the crisis, he is finally figuring out that those two cubes of sugar are actually standing the test of time.
Instead of using dialogue, the conflict management tool par excellence, to address those concerns put forth by the minority English-speaking population, the government resorted to arresting Southern Cameroonian leaders and disconnecting the Internet.
This decision was its biggest mistake and it was counterproductive. The little problem that could have been easily addressed had just been transformed into a monster that would destroy the country forever.
Schools in the region remained closed and the arrest of Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla, Mr. Mancho Bibixy and Dr. Fontem Neba in January 2017 plunged the country into a crisis that is today taking a scary proportion. Schools have ever since remained closed and businesses have been hurt, as the English-speaking minority resorted to civil disobedience to draw the government’s attention to its plight.
But the government of Cameroon is not used to negotiating. Calls from the international community for inclusive dialogue have clearly fallen on deaf ears. The country’s president, Paul Biya, also known as the “monarch” has decreed that the form of the state is non-negotiable and nobody, not even the parliament and senate, can discuss the crisis that is tearing the country’s two English regions apart.
To the Yaounde regime and many Francophones, the problem will forever be contained. It will not spread. But they have all gotten it wrong. The issue which was once considered by the Francophone media as the Anglophone crisis has spread like wild fire into East Cameroon.
While the Majority francophone population is still indolent, it is clear that the crisis has come to bite it too. Escalating food and housing prices are taking a huge bite from their meager incomes.
These prices have been prompted by the mass migration of Southern Cameroonians into East Cameroon. The senseless killing of innocent civilians by government troops has prompted the population to quit the region.
Over the last couple of months, the Minister of Territorial Administration, Atanga Nji, and the Minister of Defense, Joseph Beti Assomo, have manufactured armed militia to kill young Southern Cameroonians aged between 13 and 40 in a bid to prove that they are doing a good job. This plan has been prompted by the need to prove to the president that they are actually delivering the right goods.
The objective has always been to strike fear in the minds of the fighters. It has been the government’s belief that it is possible to wrap up things before elections so that it can prove to the international community that it has put a handle on the situation.
This too has been counterproductive. There is a mass exodus of Southern Cameroonians into East Cameroon and this is an embarrassment to the government which has, so far, been ineffective and arrogant when it comes to dealing with this issue.
In a bid to deceive the world again, the South West governor, Okala Bilai, who once called the people of his region “dogs”, has been pleading with the locals not to leave the region. The helpless governor was seen in motor parks in the Mile 17 pleading with the same people he had insulted not to leave their own land.
Over the last week, residents of the two English-speaking regions have been leaving the place following threats by Southern Cameroonian fighters to implement a strict movement of goods and persons within the region from September 16, 2018 to October 7, 2018. Instead of dealing with the illness, the government has been busy dealing with symptoms. Its objective is to hold elections in these two regions, but with everybody gone, its plan has been foiled.
There will be no elections in Southern Cameroons. Campaigns for presidential elections scheduled for October 7, are currently underway and Southern Cameroonians fighters have vowed to disrupt an election they consider as foreign.
While other candidates are on the ground canvassing for votes, the incumbent, Paul Biya, is clearly snubbing Cameroonians. He hardly campaigns, but has won all elections because of his well-oiled rigging machinery.
It is generally held that Mr. Biya, considered by the ruling crime syndicate as its natural candidate, will emerge as the winner in an election that has already been rigged. But his victory might only plunge the country into a more serious crisis.
But before he wins, he must deal with the rising refugee crisis that is giving the country a bad name. Its collective punishment of Southern Cameroonians has backfired. It is now clear that not all Southern Cameroonians are separatists and terrorists as the government has been characterizing them.
The government has a huge responsibility on its hands. It must take care of those refugees and internally displaced people. In civilized countries, governments will be busy building short-term accommodation for all these people who have fled their homes because the government cannot provide them the security they need in their natural environment.
Early this year, the same government said it had earmarked CFAF 15 billion to take care of refugees and internally displaced persons. Strangely, over the last three months, nothing has been seen in this direction and no account has been provided regarding such a huge amount of money.
With more Southern Cameroonians crossing over into East Cameroon, it is time for the government to bring out this money and use it for the purpose for which it was intended. The international community is watching and as the country stumbles and fails to do its job, the international community is contemplating coming in to ensure another DRC or Rwanda is not playing out in the Central African region.
The Southern Cameroons crisis has hit the country’s economy like a ton of bricks and many state corporations have simply unraveled. PAMOL, CDC and others have taken a punch to the liver and it will take a long time for them to recover. Even the country’s lone oil refinery, SONARA, is struggling too. The government has lost many revenue streams.
The Southern Cameroons crisis that was expected to fizzle out in less than two weeks has eroded the country’ finances. The country’s development plans have been ruined. The Yaoundé government is at a loss for words. It is indeed at its wit’s end.
The crisis is causing the country to lose about CFAF 10 billion a day. This is keeping government officials awake at night. It is also causing the government to look for other sources of revenue and, as usual, it has been all over the world, including to china, to beg.
The country’s president has just returned from China where he had travelled to attend the China-Africa Summit and to seek some cash infusion from the Chinese. Mr. Biya was also in China to persuade Chinese businesses and investors to come and invest in his war-ravaged country. Mr. Biya has also been sucking up to the Chinese government, hoping that it would grant it some loans and grants. But the Chinese are not ready to pour their money into a dry hole.
The Biya government is noted for its recklessness and even the Chinese hold that it would be foolhardy to give huge amounts of money to a government that has constantly proven that it is incapable of managing its own affairs.
While in China, Mr. Biya and his entourage toured a plane manufacturing company and even signed an agreement for the purchase of a presidential jet. This was exactly what Mr. Biya did in Brazil some time ago and nothing came out of the deal.
The jet will not be delivered anytime soon. Cameroon has not got the resources to make a huge down payment as requested by the Chinese. Cameroon is cash-strapped and with its economy bleeding money on a daily basis, it will be hard for the government to find the resources to meet its commitments vis-a-vis the Chinese.
The country’s traditional business partners are hastily pulling out of the country due to a brutal civil war in the two English-speaking regions which account for more than 60% of the country’s wealth.
Mr. Biya and his government have been running the country like a private farm and he has been using the national treasury like his personal piggy bank. The conflict in his country has taken a turn for the worse, with many citizens fleeing the war zone.
For 36 years, Mr. Biya has not built any world-class hospitals in his country. The country’s roads are dead traps and the country’s railway system has simply collapsed. For more than three decades, the narcissistic monarch has been using his country’s treasury as his personal ATM. When travelling abroad, Mr. Biya always has more than 50 persons in his entourage and all of these people are lodged in five-star hotels.
The current crisis in the country is concerning to many local officials. According to a Douala City Hall official who has elected anonymity, the migration of Southern Cameroonians to the city of Douala is not only costly; it is also a major risk. He pointed out that among the displaced could be the fierce fighters who may use the situation to wreak havoc on innocent citizens in the city.
He regretted that the government was letting this situation to spiral out of control, adding that if immediate action was not taken, the entire country could become a war zone.
According to a source close to the Unity palace, Mr. Biya is very disappointed with the Chinese. “He is not very happy with the Chinese,” he said, adding that “he was expecting a huge chunk of money from the Chinese which could have helped to finance his campaign,”
He pointed out that “with Western nations very reluctant to put any money into the hands of this regime, it will be hard for the government to carry out any meaningful projects.” “I think we are not yet out of the woods. Even if Mr. Biya is considered a winner in the upcoming election, this country will still face serious issues,” he stressed.
“With the conflict spiraling out of control, it is clear that Mr. Biya cannot handle the disaster that is playing out in the North West and South West regions. The situation is too big for him. He cannot handle it,” he said. “We have the worst roads in Africa and the unemployment rate is unacceptable. I am scared for our country. We are in for tough and rough times,” he added.
“We may not even have the money to comply the infrastructure we are developing for the upcoming AFCON. I am confused and so too are millions of Cameroonians. Which roads will national team supporters be using to support their teams which will be moving from town to town?” he quipped.
The source that also elected anonymity questioned the president’s silence over the disaster playing out in the two English-speaking regions of the country, adding that the worst was yet to happen. “Many people have been killed and more than a thousand soldiers have died. At what point will the president step in to roll back this disaster?” he asked.
“Though the president is back home, I know he will soon be returning to Switzerland which is more like home to him. His health is failing and we are all concerned. He will not be campaigning, but he will win. The election has already been rigged in his favor,” he said, adding that “we are in for real trouble. Mr. Biya has taken the country hostage.”
Cameroon is going through a tough national unity test. With the current crop of politicians still in power, nothing meaningful will take place in the country. National unity is today a mere slogan. The English-speaking minority is simply walking away from the country and the reckless massacre of innocent civilians in by army soldiers is making the divorce all the more possible.
Cameroonians have their fate in their hands. It is up to them to change their destiny. Mr. Biya and his people are in power to serve their personal interest. Cameroonians must understand that their silence will not solve the huge economic and political problems facing them. Francophones have to join Anglophones to see off this regime that has ruined the country.
The world must not continue to stand on the sidelines. Cameroonians need help. The country’s ruling crime syndicate has reduced Cameroonians to beggars and if nothing is done, millions will continue to be helpless and frustrated.
By Kingsley Betek in Yaounde