Southern Cameroons Crisis: Government reputation suffers 0

As the fighting between the government and separatist fighters rages on in the country’s English-speaking regions, many authoritative voices are already coming out of the shadows to express their disappointment and frustration with the government’s failure to properly handle a situation that started as a strike by teachers and lawyers.

Ghana’s former president, Jerry Rawlings, has been very critical of the government and its French backers who have been looting the country for centuries. He castigated the French for their moral and ethical bankruptcy, urging the world to take appropriate action to ensure the killings of Southern Cameroonians by the Yaoundé government come to an abrupt end.

Speaking recently in a video that has gone viral on the Internet, Mr. Rawlings called for an end to the French government’s carte blanche which gives it the right to enjoy the natural resources in Southern Cameroons without paying attention to the plight of the suffering masses in the country’s English-speaking region.

Southern Cameroons is a resource-rich region and this has made it the center of attention in the Central African country of Cameroon. These resources have been a huge source of foreign earnings for the Yaounde government for decades, but very little of this money has trickled down to the people who inhabit the region. This, among other reasons, is at the center of the conflict that is tearing the country apart.

The country’s natural resources which should be a blessing have been transformed into a curse by a greedy government that has made waste its hallmark. Southern Cameroonians hold that they have to walk away from this unfortunate marriage with their Francophone compatriots that has only brought them death and destruction.

But this is certainly going to be very challenging as walking away from that ‘political marriage’ implies taking with them about 60% of the country’s wealth. Southern Cameroons natural wealth includes oil, gas, diamond and timber. Its rich sub-soil has brought lots of economic benefits to the country. For almost 50 years, the Rio Del Rey estuary has been the source of more than 90% and at times 100% of all the country’s hydrocarbons, specifically oil.

Over the years, these resources have netted the government billions of dollars which are hardly reported in the country’s budget. In 2014 alone, Cameroon exported US$5.88 billion worth of products, of which US$2.65 billion, about CFAF 1,650 billion, was from crude oil. But the ordinary Southern Cameroonian has remained a sorry spectator of events in his country. He has always been watching from a distance as his wealth is being carried away to East Cameroon and, eventually, to France.

But beyond the unethical exploitation of the Southern Cameroonian, the government’s reputation has also been dented regarding its human rights record. The United Nations has openly indicted the Yaounde government for its huge appetite for torture and human rights violation.

Government agents and troops have been on a human rights violation spree across the country. In the English-speaking regions just as in the northern part of the country, government troops have made life a living hell for the people inhabiting these regions.

In Southern Cameroons, government militia are on the prowl for young Southern Cameroonian men who they hold pose a huge threat to the country. Many have been shot point blank even when not armed. Government forces have been ineffective against Southern Cameroonian fighters whose hit-and-run tactics have been very effective. Government troops and militia seem to be taking their frustration on innocent civilians.

In recent times, rape is also being used by government forces and militia as a weapon of choice to dehumanize Southern Cameroonian females. This week a video of a government army soldier raping a 17-year-old female in the northwest regional capital of Bamenda surfaced.

The world has been prompt at condemning such government-sponsored acts of brutality. This has resulted in the government announcing another investigation which will, of course, not produce any meaningful results. The world is still waiting for results of previous investigations of senseless killings by army soldiers. The Internet is awash with videos of abuses in northern Cameroon and in the English-speaking regions.

As response to these increasing abuses, the United Nations human rights chief on Wednesday, July 25, 2018, said he was “utterly appalled” by a recent video appearing to show Cameroonian soldiers shooting to death women carrying small children as suspected Boko Haram extremists.

“I am deeply worried that these killings captured on camera may not be isolated cases,” the statement by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

Mr. Zeid also said he was deeply alarmed by reports of abuses in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions where deadly fighting has grown between security forces and Anglophone separatists.

The unrest that began in 2016 when demands by teachers and lawyers calling for the respect of the regions’ English education and justice systems led to a government crackdown and the emergence of armed separatists seeking an English-speaking state.

The government in largely French-speaking Cameroon has barred the U.N. human rights office from those areas, Zeid said and this makes it hard for the abuses to be fully and objectively reported.

Human rights groups have accused both sides of abuses including torture and the burning of homes, and the U.N. has said more than 180,000 people have fled.

Mr. Zeid added that the government’s “heavy-handed security response” will only make life worse for civilians; a situation that has pushed many civilians to take refuge in the forests. The region’s jungle is today home to more than 30,000 civilians who are running away from government brutality.

The government has condemned separatist attacks and defended its security forces, saying all alleged atrocities are being investigated. However, the Yaoundé government is not known for any objective investigations. Besides, reports of such incidents are hardly published.

Warnings about Cameroon’s security crisis are growing as the Central African nation faces an October election in which 85-year-old President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, says he will run again.

Many moral and religious authorities around the world have been calling for an inclusive dialogue that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, including the Pope. But the government has been indifferent to calls for an inclusive dialogue and this is giving secessionists more confidence and time to spread their gospel. The government’s military action has transformed it into a monster and this has pushed the civilian population into the arms of secessionists who are making hay while the sun shines.

Meanwhile, last week, Human Rights Watch released a report that was damning to the government because of human rights abuses. Although Southern Cameroonian fighters were also taken to task for their actions, it was the Yaoundé government that took most of the punches from the human rights watchdog.

According to Humans Rights Watch in its July 19, 2018, report published in New York, “Government security forces and armed separatists have committed grave abuses against residents of Cameroon’s Anglophone region, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The region has been rocked by protests and violent clashes rooted in long-standing political grievances by the country’s Anglophone minority.”

The report, based on research in the region, satellite imagery and video analyses and entitled, “These Killings Can Be Stopped’: Abuses by Government and Separatist Groups in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions” found that both government forces and armed separatists have abused civilians in the western part of the country, displacing over 180,000 people since December 2017.”

“Anglophone separatists have extorted, kidnapped and killed civilians, and prevented children from going to school. In response to protests and violence by armed separatists, government forces have killed civilians, used excessive force against demonstrators, tortured and mistreated suspected separatists and detainees, and burned hundreds of homes in several villages,” the report also adds.

“The human rights situation in Cameroon has reached crisis level and could still get much worse,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “International action is needed to ensure that both sides protect civilians and ensure justice for crimes against them.”

Human Rights Watch has documented abuses by both government forces and a variety of separatist between late 2016 and May 2018. It interviewed 51 victims, relatives of victims, or witnesses of abuse, as well as 31 education and medical professionals, lawyers, and key international sources. The interviews were conducted in the northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon in April.

Cameroon has been caught in a downward political spiral that clearly needs a United Nations military intervention. Condemnations and calls for inclusive dialogue will surely not bring the warring factions to the negotiating table.

The world has to stop the genocide that is unfolding in Cameroon. The country’s government is incapable of addressing the issue. It lacks the resources and will to accomplish such a mission. Its faulty premise that military action will stop Southern Cameroonians from walking away is costing the country lots of money.

Besides, the country’s military is losing its soldiers to Southern Cameroonian fighters who have displayed great courage. Their determination and bravado have caused many army soldiers to desert. Even the government is concerned. The government’s concern is contained in a confidential ministerial order which has been leaked by Cameroon Concord News Group military sources.

The order, a copy of which was faxed to the Cameroon Concord News Group’s global headquarters in the United Kingdom, indicates that the government would no longer be sending its troops on foreign missions as it has discovered the number of desertions have skyrocketed. The memo has been signed by the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo.

The world must therefore jump in to ensure that Cameroon does not unwind. A chaotic Cameroon is bad news to its neighbors who have had more than their fair share of political and military chaos. Cameroon is the sub-region’s largest and most developed country. Political chaos in Cameroon will surely affect trade and development. Chaos will roll back Cameroon’s neighbors into extreme poverty. The world still has time to prevent a meltdown of the sub-region. Long speeches and calls for inclusive dialogue have failed. This is the time to send a peace-keeping force to Cameroon to stop the chaos.

By Kingsley Betek and Irene Nanyongo