Cameroon is on the brink of a political crisis after the government branded a leading opposition politician an “outlaw” for declaring victory in Sunday’s presidential elections. President Paul Biya is widely expected to win re-election to a seventh term when results are certified in the next two weeks, but a declaration of victory from Maurice Kamto is threatening to cause new strife in a tense country. The US embassy in Cameroon has called “on all parties to wait until the official results are announced before making pronouncements about the supposed winner”. The election took place with tensions in Cameroon running high as Mr Biya, a francophone leader in power since 1982, faces an armed rebellion sparked by a crackdown on peaceful anglophone protests in 2016.
The poll became a flashpoint in English-speaking regions, where rebels who want to create an independent anglophone state banned voting. The contested result threatens to further undermine elections seen by many in Cameroon and in the international community as neither free nor fair. Mr Kamto, a former minister in the Biya government, said at a press conference that he had “received a clear mandate from the people and I intend to defend it until the end”. He did not cite any evidence for his claim. Mr Biya is among Africa’s longest-serving rulers. Issa Tchiroma Bakary, his information minister, said: “You cannot want to govern Cameroon and not abide by its laws and regulations. We call upon the Cameroonian people, of whose great maturity we are convinced, to wait serenely for the proclamation of the results by the constitutional council.”
Hans De Marie Heungoup, an International Crisis Group analyst, estimated that turnout in the anglophone region was under 5 per cent, compared with about 55 per cent in francophone areas. He tweeted that Mr Kamto’s declaration of victory meant Cameroon was “de facto getting into a post-electoral crisis”.
A number of African countries have in recent years seen opposition candidates claim victory in elections marred by irregularities. In 2016, the government of Gabon responded violently to the opposition claiming victory. Last year’s Kenyan elections had to be rerun after disputed results. This year, security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in Zimbabwe, killing at least six, after the opposition declared victory in what it deemed a stolen election.
Zanda Carol, who lives in Buea in English-speaking Cameroon, said his city of more than 100,000 people was a ghost town on election day. Soldiers stalked the streets, while armed independence fighters declared a ban on voting in what they called an illegal poll. “We are between two devils,” Mr Carol said by phone from Buea, where gunfire raged throughout election day.
The insurgency in the anglophone region, where a fifth of Cameroon’s 24m people live, represents perhaps the greatest challenge Mr Biya has faced in 36 years in power. Hundreds of thousands have fled violence from soldiers and militant separatists. The president rules by decree and has abolished term limits while allowing what critics call a façade of multi-party democracy. The international community has largely been silent about the anglophone crisis, in part, critics charge, because Cameroon is a key member of the fight against Boko Haram, the jihadi group present in the country’s far north.
Culled from The Financial Times