2, June 2016
With the notable exception of Cameroonians, the announced deployment of American soldiers to Cameroon to combat Boko Haram terrorists should not come as a surprise to keen observers. First the Americans have been around for a while under supposedly different circumstances. There can be no gainsaying that the United States stated policy has always been to protect American economic and strategic interests where ever they are located or threatened. The Chad-Cameroon pipeline project and the Pecten Cameroon offshore oil exploitation and others fall within this category. Additionally US strategic interests in the sub-region, particularly in the oil rich Gulf of Guinea, in Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe and the Great Lakes region warrant an American security presence.
There is no doubt that terrorist groups like Boko Haram which has publicly declared its allegiance to ISIS and others like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and other criminal gangs in Africa Sahel have publicly declared and have the capacity to strike US interests in the sub-region or from basis in the sub-region. The US decision to deploy its soldiers in Cameroon to enable it participate in the ongoing war against Boko Haram is the clearest evidence that either terrorist groups have set up basis in Cameroon warranting US direction intervention. Also, the US might have found sufficient factors and indicia of reliability that Cameroon is or potentially a sanctuary of internal and international terrorism. To this extent, there is no reason to blame the US for taking measures to protect its regional and global strategic interests. The United States policy in this regard is well known and should therefore not surprise anyone.
The problem however lies with Cameroon. There is no gainsaying that Boko Haram and the threats of international terrorism posed grave danger requiring appropriate response. The response included urgent remedial tactical and strategic military action. However the declaration of war from a foreign capital by President Paul Biya was an unprecedented violation of the constitution he swore to defend and an assault on the sovereignty of Cameroon. To this extent, both the Boko Haram that the President declared war against from a foreign capital to combat and the President can be said of being culpable of crimes against the sovereignty of the nation.
Added to this, his prosecution of the war betrays a despicable lack of leadership and respect for the victims of the war and the sacrifices in life and limb of our valiant men and women in combat for the defense of the fatherland. Worse, President Paul Biya rushed through the National Assembly a liberticidal law against terrorism whose purport is to support his perpetuation of eternal power through the suppression of civil liberties and fundamental freedoms. This law places the country under emergency rule and gives tacit blessings to the very culture of fear that Boko Haram hoped to instill in the citizenry. Inviting the USA into the war as he did the French before without informing his people and seeking a mandate to do so from the National Assembly is proof of a potential treasonable violation of the constitution and disregard for sovereign will of the people.
The Americans are thus deploying in a war and war zone of potential distinct strategic interests. Observers have not lost sight of the fact that the war in both the US and France forces are deployed or are deploying was in part fueled by arms indiscriminately dropped by France under Sarkozy to criminal gangs in the Libya and African Sahel. These were intended, according to that Sarkozy, to combat the forces of Muammar Ghadafi. There can therefore be no doubt that by the participation of the US and NATO in the war for regime change in Libya the US and France raised the profile of terrorists in parts of Africa, Boko Haram being one of the most visible.
In Libya and elsewhere as we see in Syria, the US , France and Great Britain have characterized terrorist groups into good terrorists and bad terrorists, although the difference between both categories can easily be conflated or even tenuous to ascertain. The transmutation from good rebels to bad rebels indeed is hard to ascertain as the US, NATO in the world has come to learn in Libya where the criminal gangs they left in place after Khadafy have invited ISIS to take control of the state and opened a floodgate of unprecedented migration to Europe. So far thousands are dying in the Mediterranean on the watch of the supposed moral guarantors of the supposed civilized world.
Coming back to the US intended deployment to Cameroon, there is no doubt that the mission as announced is genuine but the signals it sends are obvious. Regarding these signals, we must first consider the cacophony of actors in the field. There are a recently constituted regional forces with Head Quarters in Ndjamena, French supposedly reconnaissance Units a euphemism for a French military presence and now the US. Only a person with jaundiced eyes will doubt the fact that French colonial military and economic pact with Cameroon makes the polity under potential French military control. The US military deployment will alter the balance of power and influence in Cameroon and the sub-region.
One obvious fact which must be stated is that with this deployment, the US will remain in Cameroon for a long time to come. Inviting the US to deploy its forces seemed easy for Mr Paul Biya but asking them to park and go home may be problematic in the future. Rather than put a time frame for it to execute and end its mandate, it will be re-enforced and given a more robust mandate with time.
The deployment also may be construed as a rare signal that President Biya’s more than three decades of personal power may be coming to an end. If this deployment and other international and internal dynamics do not end it, the French will conclude that he no longer serves their interest and kick him out from power.
There are emerging signs that the end of President Paul Biya may plunge the country into a potential blood bath due to a paucity of a viable constitutional arrangement for a smooth transition. Overtime Paul Biya and the international community by neglect and insufficient attention have allowed the Southern Cameroons problem to snowball into a potential time bomb that may explode drawing in communities in neighbouring Nigeria and international involvement. The complexity of the Southern Cameroons problem makes France an unlikely country to intervene once it explodes. The presence of the US forces may be construed as a potential stabilization force that may caution the potential fallout and obviate a needless bloodletting.
Many Cameroonians fear that the presence of American soldiers will invite American enemies far and wide worldwide to the Cameroon warfront. Cameroonians are however divided whether the deployment will attenuate or put brakes to the vampirism of French colonial and neocolonial policies that plunged the sub-region in the bloodletting that is ongoing. No matter from which perspective one may see it, this deployment marks the beginning of a potential new era and the end of one. None echoes the independence that most Cameroonians and African crave for. But both put the spotlight on those who profess to effectively rule Cameroon. It is from this perspective that we should anxiously consider this significant development. Let the truth which President lacks the courage to admit to inform his country men and women be told, this deployment by the greatest superpower on earth marks a significant development worth noting.
Lest we forget, Cameroon is at war, an international armed conflict. That fact and the deployment place its sovereignty and destiny in the hands of foreign powers. There is need therefore for a change of guard at the helm of the state to manage this and other developments. The time for the Cameroon Army to be tele-commanded from foreign holiday resorts and hotels may be coming to end. The deployment of US forces carries symbolic weight. One thing that this deployment may beacon is that the time of directing the war effort while foreign forces and those from the super power are on the ground may soon be over.
By Soter Agbaw-Ebai and Oke Akombi Ayukepi Akap