Cameroonians are taking their grievances against the regime of President Paul Biya to the world. Over the weekend, Cameroonians occupied the embassies of their country in Berlin and Paris, to support protests back home.
Protests continued on Monday in the capital, Yaounde, outside a police station, after at least six people – including opposition municipal council member and lawyer Michele Ndoki – were wounded and 117 people were arrested over the weekend in anti-government demonstrations. The government denied allegations that shots had been fired by security forces. But Ndoki and another opposition member, Celestin Djamen, suffered bullet wounds to the leg.
The government has reacted by accusing the opposition led by Maurice Kamto of wanting to destabilize the country. Territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji, responsible for licensing political parties, threatened to suspend Maurice Kamto’s Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), for failing to respect Cameroon laws. “The MRC political party and its leadership have been very notorious in the disruption of public order since presidential elections were held in Cameroon,” he said.
The opposition won’t give up
Paul Biya, who has been in power for more than 36 years, won a seventh consecutive term in elections on October 7. But the poll was marred by fraud allegations, low turnout, and violence. Kamto’s party has held sporadic protests since then to dispute the result. The party leader himself, whom the government has refrained from arresting as yet, told his followers: “I am out to fight injustice. I am a son of the country who has decided to fight for and with his people until victory is achieved.”
Biya’s government has banned demonstrations and the security forces have not been shy in using force to disperse protesters. Human rights activist Ateba Bruno of the Cameroon Centre for Democracy says that not allowing peaceful protests is another way used by the government to stifle freedom of expression. “They refer to opposition parties as those who want to tarnish Cameroon’s image to the outside world. But after all that we have seen, I ask if it isn’t the opposition or the government who truly want to tarnish the image of Cameroon. We know exactly what is happening and we should stop such acts which do not honor our country,” he told DW.
Calling on the world to pay attention
The protests gained a new dimension over the weekend when Cameroonians briefly invaded andoccupied their country’s embassies in Paris and Berlin. In a video published on social platforms online, Daniel Essissima, one of around 50 protesters in the French capital, said that “Cameroonians are fed up with being taken for idiots.” About ten Cameroonians followed suit in Berlin, without inflicting as much damage to their embassy there as was the case in Paris. A large police squad removed the people from the Berlin premises in the early hours of Sunday.
The action taken by Cameroonians in France and Germany is a sign of growing resistance against Biya. The president is fighting on several fronts at once, including a revolt in the Southwest and Northwest Anglophone regions against what they perceive as discrimination by the Francophone majority. Armed separatists have been clashing with the Cameroonian military almost daily in the country’s equatorial forest.
A slew of problems for Biya
Attacks by Nigerian Boko Haram jihadists expanding into neighboring countries is another conflict Yaounde has to contend with. In the east, armed groups from the Central African Republic are an additional source of instability. All of this is putting a severe strain on Cameroon’s economy, further stoking grievances. And the loss, in November, of the right to host this year’s African Cup of Nations as a result of delays and concerns over violence was another serious blow to Cameroon’s prestige.
The ongoing conflicts have caused a drastic increase in the need for humanitarian assistance. United Nations Development & Humanitarian Coordinator Allegra Baiocchi recently said that the organization estimates that some 4.3 million Cameroonians, or one in six of the population, require lifesaving assistance.