Biya to attend Africa-EU Summit as the Ambazonia crisis continues to give the dictator an uncomfortable moment
Cameroon’s Head of State, Paul Biya, will be in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire from November 29-30, 2017, for the 5th AU-EU Summit which will bring together African and European heads of state. The Summits of Heads of States and Governments take place traditionally every three years alternately in Africa and Europe with the aim of taking stock of the progress made in the implementation of commitments and providing political guidance for further work.
The Summit, which will be held on the theme: “Investing in youth for a sustainable future,” will also be attended by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, the President of the African Union and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
The meeting will hold against the backdrop of political changes in Zimbabwe where the country’s former president, Robert Mugabe, has been forced to retire after having led his country for thirty-seven years. It should be recalled that it was Mrs. Mugabe’s vaulting ambition that pushed the former president to make some mistakes which led to the military taking over power and sidelining the 93-year-old Mugabe. Also, having been in power for that long, it was just normal for the country’s population, that had taken the brunt of Mr. Mugabe’s dictatorship and mismanagement, to take to the street in support of the military.
Similarly, the situation of Africans being sold in Libya as slaves will also be on the agenda of the summit, as this incident has shocked the entire world, especially the African continent, with many experts around the world blaming African governments for not doing enough to create an enabling environment for their citizens. It should be recalled that Sub-Saharan African countries have been mired in corruption and poor governance which are blighting the lives of their people and chasing young men and women from their countries to failed states like Libya where they hope to make their way to Europe which they erroneously consider as an earthly Paradise.
It is obvious that the issue of security will also be on the table, as the continent is facing a huge security challenge. Libya is today a magnet for many jihadists groups following the killing of Qaddafi, Somalia is yet to be back on its feet, Boko Haram is making its presence felt in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, while the Malian situation is far from being addressed. The Anglophone crisis will give Mr. Biya and his delegation an uncomfortable moment, given that the entire world is aware that all its efforts to roll back the Anglophone rebellion have been unsuccessful. If not checked, the situation could transform the entire Central African region into a pretty mess. The Anglophone problem will therefore be on the table, either during Mr. Biya’s personal meeting with European partners or during his tête-a-tête with his French masters.
Though the continent has made some baby strides towards modern-day democracy, there is still a long way to go for some countries such as Cameroon where Mr. Biya has been presiding over the country’s destiny for thirty-five years, with no impressive economic and political outcomes. In Cameroon, multiparty politics exists on paper, but political alternation is surely a distant tomorrow affair. Mr. Biya and his party have won all elections organized in the country since 1992 and this speaks to the type of multiparty politics that exist in the country. Political intimidation and physical elimination are still among the tricks and tactics used by the ruling party, popularly known as a crime syndicate, to stay in power.
With regard to human rights, Cameroon has one of the worst human rights records on the continent. Freedom of association has suffered over the last decade, while arbitrary arrests and detentions have been on the rise over the last few years. Over the last year, its response to the Anglophone crisis has been anything but civilized. On October 1, 2017, more than one hundred Anglophones were mowed down by the country’s military which thought it could intimidate the Anglophone minority into silence, but its response has instead made the conflict more complicated to address.
More than 50,000 Anglophones crossed over to Nigeria as refugees on October 1, 2017, with people from Manyu Division accounting for more than 90% of the refugees, as the government wanted to use the occasion to punish Manyu Division which is the birthplace of Anglophone activism and activists such as Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, Chief Justice Paul Ayah and Sisiku Ayuk Julius Tabe who is the current president of the “Federal Republic of Ambazonia”, which is the name of the Anglophone region that wants to secede from Francophone Cameroon.
It should also be recalled that some 100,000 Anglophones have been internally displaced following a botched declaration of independence by the Anglophone minority on October 1, 2017, and this is giving the country a bad name. Mr. Biya and his government have never really addressed concerns expressed by Anglophones who have been discriminated and marginalized for more than 56 years. Mr. Biya who counts on time to solve his problem is gradually coming to terms with the fact that the Anglophone problem will not go away anytime soon, as various Anglophone organizations are working hard to keep the struggle on the front burner in order to erode the government’s reputation and credibility, if it has any. Courts and schools in the Anglophone region have remained closed and diplomatic efforts by Anglophone groups abroad have left the government permanently under pressure.
In recent months, the conflict has degenerated, with soldiers and Special Forces deployed in the Anglophone zone becoming targets for Mr. Cho Ayaba’s military wing of the SCNC which has been calling for the secession of the Anglophone zone from the francophone region which is suffering from advanced economic and political decay due to neglect and mismanagement. Some 20 soldiers have lost their lives in this conflict which many analysts believe could have been averted if Mr. Biya and his government had opted for genuine and inclusive dialogue called for by many, including the Vatican, the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Canada and other partners of the beleaguered government.
Meanwhile, the country’s northern part is still under an insurgency that is making life unbearable to the citizens. Boko Haram has been killing and maiming innocent civilians and its objectives are still unclear. Many Cameroonian soldiers have also been victims of this insurgency that has lasted for more than four years and there is really no end in sight. The Boko Haram insurgency is complicating issues for the government that has to deal with a very vociferous Anglophone minority that is hell-bent on walking away from a union that was flawed right from its inception. If this region succeeds to walk away, Cameroon’s economy will suffer, given that the Anglophone region accounts for more than 60% of the country’s GDP. The South West region alone accounts for more than 40% of the country’s wealth, given that its oil and gold deposits are in the region. The South West region is also the country’s largest producer of cocoa and it is also rich in timber which is being harvested with impunity.
Regarding the country’s economy, the once prosperous economy has been on its knees for a long time due to mismanagement and corruption, with unemployment and inflation attaining unimaginable rates. The country’s road infrastructure has aged and is crumbling, making it hard for farmers to move their produce from the rural areas to the city where the markets are.
Over the last eleven months, the country has reported more 4,300 fatal accidents, with some 20,000 Cameroonians losing their lives. The railway system has also faced some major challenges in recent times. The country’s railway corporation is struggling, as its assets are old and cannot stand the stress of moving large numbers of people and goods. The corporation is currently locked in a class-action law suit following a terrible accident in Eseka in 2016 that resulted in the death of more than 200 Cameroonians. Many passengers on that ill-fated train have never really been accounted for and many families are yet to be compensated for the loss of their loved ones.
As usual, the government is working hard to deflect blame and responsibility and this is earning it so many enemies and adversaries. Cameroon is seemingly a peaceful country, but if you scratch beyond the surface, you will find out that there is a lot of insecurity in the country. Poverty and unemployment have created pockets of bandits and crooks who are marauding the streets of cities such as Douala and Yaounde to prey on innocent citizens. Even uniformed officers are taking advantage of the insecurity caused by the Anglophone crisis to make a quick buck and the government is looking the other way, giving the impression that it has approved of these illegal means used by these criminals to extort money from the population.
While not much is expected from the Abidjan summit, many experts hold that many issues will be dealt with during the two-day summit. They argue that focusing on youths will be good, but seeking to address the issue of insecurity across the continent will help to attract investors who will help to create jobs for the youths. It is hoped that the summit will be used to bring pressure on African leaders to embrace democratic means that will help their economies create job, foster transparency and reduce the insecurity that is helping to stunt the continent’s economic growth.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai with contributions from the editorial team