18, June 2020
Maurice Kamto is the leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) and was the main challenger in Cameroon’s 2018 presidential election. He was imprisoned by the government from January to October in 2019.
Nearly one year ago, on August 2, 2019, journalist Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe—better known as Wazizi—was arrested and detained by government forces in Buea, located in the South-West region of Cameroon. Since 2017, Buea has been home to unrelenting violence between the government and separatist fighters. For three hundred days after his arrest, despite numerous domestic and international calls to produce Wazizi, authorities in Cameroon remained silent about his fate. This detention was indeed a textbook case of enforced disappearance. Despite holding out bleak hopes that Wazizi might eventually emerge alive, our worst fears came true when we learned he had died in custody following torture.
Like many other critics in Cameroon—including additional journalists—Wazizi was accused of “collaborating with separatists,” though his lawyers claim he had not been charged with any offense prior to his disappearance. I personally experienced this treatment. In early 2019, I was charged by a military court with rebellion and “hostility to the homeland” after my political party—the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM)—staged peaceful protests in major cities, following a rigged presidential election in October 2018. Since that time, I have been repeatedly intimidated by the government and its associated militia groups, often being threatened with arrest and death.
Luckily, I am alive today and can raise my voice, while Wazizi can no longer. His commitment to basic freedoms, and his legacy, will surely live on. Importantly as well, his death at the hands of Cameroonian authorities raises major questions about the future of our country. Just last week—for the second year in a row—Cameroon topped the Norwegian Refugee Council’s list of “most neglected crises” worldwide. Our country is hemorrhaging under the boots of a dictatorship. More than ever, we need international assistance.
Indeed, for Cameroon to meet the long-subdued aspirations of its people, we must implement a democratic agenda—a viable path forward. The situation demands leadership and it is evident that the current ruling regime is unwilling to exercise the necessary courage.
First and foremost, all political prisoners incarcerated in Cameroon must be released—this would include Ayuk Tabe, the Anglophone separatist leader, and Mamadou Yakuba, our first Vice-President at the CRM. Secondly, to ensure that Wazizi’s death is not in vain, the government and key political and civic actors, should agree to a consensual political roadmap that principally includes an overhaul of the electoral system to end the ongoing post-electoral crisis.
Lastly, we must agree to definitively end our country’s ongoing civil war in the Anglophone regions. Too often over the years, the government has used conflict to justify the incarceration of journalists like Wazizi and opposition leaders like myself and my colleagues. This is why the international community must organize an all-inclusive dialogue with Cameroonian leaders across the political spectrum. This initiative would ideally fall under the auspices of the United Nations and cooperate directly with African Union leadership and Cameroon’s development partners.
For now, it is not yet too late to act. But act we must.
Culled from Council on Foreign Relations