Southern Cameroons Crisis: U.S. inflicts more pain on Yaounde 0

The Trump Administration, which has made its stance on the Southern Cameroons situation known, has once more delivered a dazing blow to the beleaguered government that is not yet ready to dialogue with Southern Cameroonians who are fighting for an independent country.

Last week, the Trump Administration threw another dangerous blow at the cash-strapped and dying Yaounde government. The U.S has decided to cut off Cameroon from a trade pact that granted the Central African country access to the huge and lucrative market that has brought significant economic and financial gains to Cameroon over the last ten years.

The world’s only super power is accusing Cameroon of persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed by the country’s reckless and unprofessional security forces.

The decision to wean Cameroon off AGOA was contained in a letter to the United States Congress on Thursday, October 31, 2019, citing accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings of citizens by the country’s military as the reason for removing the Central African country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

AGOA  is a piece of legislation approved by the U.S. Congress in May 2000. The objective of the legislation is to assist Sub-Saharan African economies and to improve economic relations between the United States and the region. After completing its initial 15-year period of validity, the AGOA legislation was extended on 29 June 2015 by a further 10 years, to 2025.

AGOA provides trade preferences for quota and duty-free entry into the United States for certain goods, expanding the benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. AGOA expanded market access for textile and apparel goods into the United States for eligible countries, though many other goods are also included. This resulted in the growth of an apparel industry in southern Africa, which created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

However, the dismantling of the Multi Fibre Agreement’s world quota regime for textile and apparel trade in January 2005 reversed some of the gains made in the African textile industry due to increased competition from developing nations outside of Africa, particularly China. Some factories shut down in Lesotho, where most of the growth occurred. Orders from African manufacturers stabilized somewhat after the imposition of certain safeguard measures by U.S. authorities, but Africa’s share of the U.S. market was still reduced after the phaseout.

AGOA has resulted in a huge success in some well-organized African countries. In addition to growth in the textile and apparel industry, some AGOA countries have begun to export new products to the United States, such as cut flowers, horticultural products, automotive components and steel.

While Nigeria and Angola are the largest exporters under AGOA, other countries, particularly South Africa have been more diverse and unlike the former are not mainly concentrated in the energy sector.

To some countries, including Cameroon, AGOA is still of critical importance. Agricultural products constitute a promising area for AGOA trade. However much work needs to be done to assist African countries like Cameroon to  meet U.S. sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards.

The U.S. government is providing technical assistance to AGOA eligible countries to help them benefit from the legislation, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other agencies. The U.S. government has established three regional trade hubs in Africa for this purpose –  Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; and Nairobi, Kenya.

AGOA therefore has significant opportunities for Cameroonian businesses and the Cameroon government, but if Cameroon has to continue trading with the U.S., it must meet certain criteria including a good human rights record; a test it has failed woefully, prompting Washington to develop huge doubts about its ability to be in compliance with its international obligations.

Besides concerns by President Donald Trump, other U.S official have also been expressing concerns about the Yaounde government’s persistence on the path to self-destruction. Ever since the Southern Cameroons crisis started, the country’s military has killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians, with some roasted to death in their homes.

Also, some 200 Southern Cameroonian villages have been deleted from the country’s map and more than one million Southern Cameroonians have been displaced, with half of this number fleeing to neighboring Nigeria where they are living in precarious conditions.

Similarly, in a bid to give the separatists a very bad name, the Yaounde government has been burning down hospitals and schools. For more than three years, many children in rural areas in the restive regions have not gone to school as the government cannot guarantee their safety.

The Yaounde government has continued to murder its own citizens and its indifference to international calls for an inclusive dialogue that could bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict is clearly having a negative impact, not just on the country’s economy, but on the country’s international image and reputation. U.S officials are clearly upset with Mr. Biya and his ineffective and counter-productive measures aimed at resolving the crisis.

“The US government remains deeply concerned about persistent gross violations of human rights being committed by the Cameroonian government against its own citizens,” Deputy US Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said in a statement.

This is not the first time the U.S. Administration is calling the Yaounde government to order. In February 2019, it cut more than USD 17 million in security aid and support to Cameroon over concerns about its human rights record.

It has been frowning upon the Yaounde government’s use of U.S. military equipment granted to the country to fight Boko Haram for the killing of innocent civilians in other parts of the country, especially in Southern Cameroons. After the BBC released a documentary detailing gruesome atrocities committed by Cameroon army soldiers in the northern part of the country against a mother and her children, the United States promptly ended its military cooperation with Cameroon.

Over the last few years, the Yaounde government has become so dictatorial, arresting and imprisoning its opponents without trial. The arrest and detention of Cameroon’s opposition leader, Professor Maurice Kamto, for eight moths speaks to the violations it is being accused of.

Though the AGOA decision is causing the Yaounde government many sleepless nights, it has been quick to prove that it can do without the benefits it has reaped over the years from this partnership with the United States.

Cameroon’s Minister Delegate at the Ministry of External Relations, Felix Mbayu, last week claimed that the sanctions were not biting and were not related to its human rights record.

“The simple truth is that the US is unhappy with a certain stance we take with China,” he said.

“The government has no move to make; we have other partners like China, Russia and Singapore who are ready to do business with us… We have no reaction to the US,” Mbayu told CNN during an interview.

“The least of our worry now is about the AGOA issue. By the way, it is a very small part of Cameroon’s relationship with the United States,” he added.

He estimated Cameroon’s exports to the U.S. under the trade legislation at USD 5 million, mostly consisting of agricultural and petroleum products which he said the U.S. “cannot do without.”

But the United States has been prompt to demonstrate that Cameroon will be losing a lot following the United States decision to cut if off AGOA.

In a statement aimed at reassuring Cameroonians despite the biting sanctions, the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon valued the country’s export to the U.S. at USD 220 million in 2018. It added that more than a quarter of the exports came off the AGOA legislation with 90 percent from petroleum exports.

Cameroon therefore stands to gain, and actions by the country’s authorities to down play the impact of the AGOA decision are being considered by many Cameroonians as a bluff that will not help the country and the government that is gradually being pushed to the wall by economic challenges and financial mismanagement.

 By Joachim Arrey in Canada