Last week, the political atmosphere in Yaoundé grew a little more tense. For the first time in his 36 years as head of state, President Biya received a verbal missile fired by the US ambassador Peter Barlerin at Yaoundé. Cameroon Intelligence Report understands no one was injured at the Unity Palace even though Francophone political commentators and CPDM cronies including some pro-Biya comedians have openly suggested the attack was tantamount to an act of war by the US.
The Interim Government of Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia claims that the Biya Francophone Beti Ewondo government is carrying out genocide in West Cameroon with its troops burning and destroying Southern Cameroons towns and villages. The U.S. ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Barlerin, backed the claim during a fiery meeting with the 85 year-old President Biya.
The US recently put a smile on Biya’s face by donating two sophisticated fighter jets and repeatedly warned that the planes were only to be used to counter Boko Haram incursions in the Far North region of the country.
In the short term, this latest salvo fired by Ambassador Peter Barlerin probably won’t result in any kind of direct conflict between Yaoundé and Washington. (Though it will, undoubtedly, result in the collapse of the Biya regime.) However, it will only deepen the friction between Yaoundé and the Western nations that have been supporting Biya for more than three decades. The pronouncements by some Biya loyalists including Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary and Foreign Affairs Minister Mbella Mbella have made the situation very much intractable. Here are some important ways to understand the Yaounde-Washington disputes and suspicions:
The US fears that Cameroon is heading towards disintegration and that may have a spill over effect in neighboring countries such as Chad and Gabon including Congo Brazzaville. It’s true that Washington and Yaoundé have never been on opposite sides of international politics but the rift presently going on is an indication that Biya has overstayed his time.
The war against Boko Haram and the global war on terror have certainly informed the domestic and foreign policy priorities of both the United States and Cameroon. Both countries established solid bi-lateral relations and have been sharing intelligence. But Ambassador Barlerin’s advice to Biya isn’t simply, or even primarily statements that can be ignored. It is abundantly clear that the Trump and Emmanuel Macron administrations agreed on what the ambassador had to tell Biya.
Biya’s poor management of the crisis in Southern Cameroons spawned the tensions between Washington and Yaoundé. But the atrocities being committed by French Cameroun army soldiers in Southern Cameroons played a big role in creating the hostile environment we see today.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai