Southern Cameroons Crisis: Yaounde hit hard by American sanctions
Finally, the noose around the neck of the Yaounde government is getting tighter. The corrupt regime is now in a crisis management mode and its dwindling resources indicate that it might not be equal to a task it had assigned to itself. A few days ago, an overzealous government official made some anti-Semitic remarks that caused the Israeli embassy in Yaounde to react aggressively and it is clear that those remarks will come back to bite the entire government that has been anything, but humble.
The country is clearly dealing with many crises. The arrest and detention of Professor Maurice Kamto, the clear winner of last year’s presidential election, has opened a new front in the battle to oust the crime syndicate that has been ruling the country for more than five decades. The crime syndicate is being presided over by the country’s president, Paul Biya, who has been in power for almost four decades and has nothing to show for his long stay in power.
But it is the Southern Cameroons crisis that is finally robbing the Yaounde government of its sleep. For more than two years, the Yaounde government has been ignoring calls for an inclusive dialogue as a major step towards addressing the political and military crisis that has put the country in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. For three years now, the country’s two English-speaking regions have been the theater of a bloody conflict that has already consumed more than five thousand lives, including some 2,000 army soldiers. The number of those injured is in the thousands too and there is no end in sight.
Government forces are the primary suspect of the violence that has made life unbearable in the two English-speaking regions of the country, as they have the nasty habit of shooting at any and everything, especially when some of their colleagues have fallen in combat.
While the Yaounde government thinks it can ignore every call, the Americans have been figuring out how to bring the corrupt government in Yaounde to order. Americans just like their Canadian and British allies have kept urging the country’s president, Paul Biya, and his government to do the right thing for the sake of peace and stability in the Central African nation which, for many decades, was considered by many in the world as an oasis of peace in a desert of chaos.
But the refusal of the ailing and senile Cameroon president to listen to the world has been upsetting many in the international community, especially the United States government which has been extending military and financial help to the cash-strapped dictator in Yaounde. The government’s refusal has prompted the US government to cut millions of dollars in security and military aid to Cameroon amid growing concerns over the Cameroonian government’s dismal human rights record.
According to a US official who spoke to CNN, the US intends to “terminate” over USD17 million in security aid, including funds for radars, four defender-class patrol boats, nine armored vehicles, training programs for C-130 airplanes and helicopters and the withdrawal of an offer for Cameroon to be a candidate for the State Partnership Program.
A planned US funded upgrade to a Cessna aircraft belonging to Cameroon’s elite Rapid Intervention Battalion has also been terminated. The battalion, which has been previously advised by US troops, has been accused of engaging in human rights abuses. Some of the security assistance money had been put on hold by Congress due to those concerns.
Last May, the US Ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Henry Barlerin, gave a speech that accused pro-government Cameroonian security forces of conducting “targeted killings, detentions without access to legal support, family, or the Red Cross, and burning and looting of villages.”
The US government has continued to urge the Cameroonian government to take all credible allegations of gross violations of human rights seriously, investigate those allegations thoroughly, hold accountable the perpetrators of such abuses, and disclose the outcome of the investigations to the people of Cameroon, these calls have falling on deaf ears because the Yaounde dictators holds that only a military solution can bring peace to the troubled country.
“We have informed the Cameroonian government that lack of progress and clarity about actions undertaken by the government in response to credible allegations of gross violations of human rights could result in a broader suspension of US assistance,” the State Department official said, adding that the US has “been assured by the government of Cameroon at the highest levels that US security assistance will not be diverted from other than its intended purpose.”
Another State Department official emphasized that “it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights abuses by security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.”
“The successes of the Cameroonian military — in part as a result of our training and equipment — have yielded long term and sustainable increases in Cameroon’s ability to defend its territory, its borders, and come to the aid of its neighbors, in particular northeast Nigeria and the Central African Republic,” the official said, adding that they “recognize the great cooperation we have had in the fight against Boko Haram and in restoring maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.”
“For the time being, other programs will continue. We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it,” they said. One US official said those programs include education programs for Cameroonian officers focused on professionalization and peacekeeping as well as continuing to support “select counterterrorism and maritime security programs that have been evaluated to have low risk of diversion to the Anglophone region.”
It should be stated that the Pentagon has already withdrawn an offer for Cameroon to participate in its State Partnership Program, a “security cooperation program” that teams US state National Guards with host nation militaries. Originally the Defense Department had intended Cameroon to partner with the Nebraska National Guard. The US has 14 such partnerships with African countries, including Cameroon’s neighbor Nigeria.
The State Department is also seeking to have an additional USD 10 million that was placed on hold released to fund the sustainment of certain military equipment already in Cameroon’s possession such as Cessna airplanes, mud boats for patrolling Lake Chad, and Scan Eagle Drones.
The US has had hundreds of troops in Cameroon tasked with training, advising and assisting local forces in their fight against ISIS West Africa, Boko Haram and other violent extremist organizations in the Lake Chad Basin region.
US Africa Command launched an investigation last August to determine if US personnel were aware of allegations of torture of suspected terrorists being carried out by US-trained Cameroonian troops from the Rapid Intervention Battalion at a base that was also frequently used by US military advisers.
The results of that investigation were not made public, but a US defense official told CNN that the investigation “found that US military forces in Cameroon were not involved in or aware of human rights violations committed by Cameroonian forces.”
However, the official said the Defense Department and State Department “will assess the validity” of claims by Amnesty International that Cameroonian forces engaged in torture in a “separate investigation.”
Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of US Africa Command, is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Trump administration recently decided to cut the number of US troops in Africa engaged in counterterrorism with the bulk of those reductions expected to take place in West Africa.
Meanwhile, another State Department officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Cameroon Concord News Group’s chairman over the phone said that with the events unfolding in Cameroon, it is clear that the Biya regime now belongs to the past. The government is anti-democracy. It is jailing and killing opponents who hold political views that are not in line with its own.
“The US stands for democracy and we will not support a regime that is killing its own people. We grant millions in aid to the government and we support many programs in Yaounde to further democracy in Cameroon, but the government’s behavior in recent years has proven that it is not willing to be part of the democratic world and we think it clearly belong to the past. If Mr. Biya and his government do not take appropriate measures to be in line with 21st Century governance principles, the US and its allies will ensure that the government pays for the violations it has been accused of,” the official said.
“If the reduction in military aid does not bite as planned, our administration will resort to other methods and this will include, but not limited to freezing the assets of senior government officials and refusing them and their children visas. We will be working with our allies to make sure Mr. Biya ends the violations taking place in Cameroon,” the official concluded.
It is clear that these measures will hit the Yaounde government like a ton of bricks, especially as rights groups are working hard to ensure the country’s president acts in accordance with international human rights law.
Amnesty International, a global human rights group, has already called on the US to press other donors to cut assistance to Cameroon. In response to reports that the US government has decided to cut security and military aid to Cameroon amid concerns over its human rights record, Adotei Akwei, deputy director for advocacy and government relations for Amnesty International USA said there was evidence Cameroon security forces had been involved in human rights violations.
“Cameroonian security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested, and tortured people, firing on crowds, displacing thousands of civilians, and destroying entire villages with impunity. These abuses continue, following the presidential elections that took place in October that returned 36-year-incumbent Paul Biya to power.
“The United States must continue to show that it takes human rights violations committed with its aid seriously, through the suspension of all security assistance until the Cameroonian government can show it has not been utilized to commit serious violations of international law and persons responsible have been held accountable. The Trump administration should press other donors of security assistance to review their programs and insist on accountability and reform within the Cameroonian security forces”.
In June 2017, Amnesty International issued a report on torture in Cameron entitled Cameroon’s Secret Torture Chambers: Human Rights Violations and War Crimes in the Fight Against Boko Haram. In June 2018, the organization released a report detailing abuses in Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, ‘A turn for the worse: Violence and human rights violations in Anglophone Cameroon’. The report was based on in-depth interviews with over 150 victims and eye-witnesses, and material evidence including satellite images.
Meanwhile, the fighting in the two English-speaking regions has continued. More than 100 Southern Cameroonians have been killed by the country’s military over the last two days. In Bole Bakundu, soldiers opened fire on civilians who were in the market to conduct their business. Most of those killed were young unarmed men and women who were in the market to conduct business.
In Besongabang, a village some 2 km from the Manyu divisional headquarters of Mamfe, the rampaging soldiers burnt down more than ten houses and killed some 3 unarmed civilians. The soldiers had on Saturday also carried out their punitive measures in Ossing, another town some 5 miles from Mamfe. After burning homes in Ossing, the soldiers arrested hundreds of civilians who are now being held at the Gendarmerie Brigade in Mamfe where they are being asked to pay USD 500 before they can be released.
Also, in Buea, soldiers arrested hundreds of civilians on Wednesday and herded them to an unknown destination. Videos of the arrests are online and it is suspected that many of those arrested might simply disappear or will be used to participate in the upcoming youth day which will be boycotted in many parts of Southern Cameroons due to the lockdown declared by separatist leaders living abroad.
In the Northwest region, many villages and residents are still taking a pounding from army soldiers who are determined to prove that they are doing a great job. Under instructions from the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomou, the soldiers are maiming and killing young unarmed civilians and planting weapons on them. Even babies and women are not spared in the scorch earth policy the soldiers are implementing in the region.
The government seems to believe that peace can only return to the country through the barrel of the gun. Many critics however hold that if the barrel of the gun could deliver such victory, it could have done so a long time ago. If the Southern Cameroonian fighters who are only armed with Dane guns are giving the soldiers a run for their money, it is clear that an outright victory is impossible. Critics of the regime are therefore calling on it to stop military action and call for the inclusive dialogue as a means of putting an end to the bloodbath that is playing out in the country.
By Kingsley Betek in Yaounde with contributions from Irene Nayongo in North America and Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai in the United Kingdom