The Central African region is facing remarkable pressure on several fronts, with its economic power house, Cameroon battling for political and economic survival.
The decline in commodity prices since 2014 has triggered an economic crisis in Central Africa. It has exposed existing structural contradictions and the already frail sociopolitical fault lines of the petro-dependent economies of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC). The immediate outlook for the regional economy is bleak.
But even as the region is yet to conquer pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, Boko Haram in Far North Cameroon and the skirmishes in the Central African Republic, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt another blow on the survival of the state in the region.
There is also growing uncertainty around future political transitions in Cameroon where Paul Biya has been President since 1982, in the Central African Republic, CAR where Faustin-Archange Touadera has been in troubled waters since taking power in 2016.
Stability is also far-fetched in Chad where Idriss Deby has been in charge since 1990, just like in the Republic of Congo where Denis Sassou Nguesso has stamped his authority since 1979. Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been ruling Equatorial Guinea since 1979. In Gabon, Ali Bongo succeeded his late father 2009 and he has of late not been in good health.
Although the region faces serious problems, interconnected regional and country specific policy approaches which provide the best opportunity for peace and prosperity in the region have not proffered solution.
Since 2016, the Anglophone crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon resurfaced, bringing with it a new wave of growing political violence in the country. At the heart of the current crisis is the historical marginalization of English-speaking communities, especially in the governance, judicial and educational systems.
The government’s mixture of repressive and conciliatory measures to deal with the Anglophone issue only appears to have emboldened the proponents of independence for the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
The state’s zero-sum framing of the crisis has made it positioning itself as a unionist force opposed to the secessionists who are bearing arms in the bushes and others fanning the flames in the diaspora.
While the plight of refugees and the internally displaced from the conflict in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions is adding to the many burdens of an already impoverished population, the situation is grimmer than meets the eye.
Professor Maurice Kamto, the man who claims he won the October 7, 2018, presidential election and his victory was stolen by President Paul Biya was detained for eight months along with his aides and allies. Until this day, Kamto and his Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, are yet to accept defeat.
Human Rights Watch has documented widespread kidnapping, torture, and killings of civilians as well as the destruction of property, by separatist fighters since 2018. Armed separatists have also killed hundreds of members of security forces amid growing calls for secession of the Anglophone regions. Government forces have also committed serious human rights violations including unlawful arrests, killings, destruction of property, sexual violence, and torture according to HRW’s latest report.
This situation notwithstanding, CEMAC member states are yet to intervene to bring peace to Cameroon. Cameroonians have also not risen up in their vast majority to demand accountability from the regime in Yaounde.
Can protest in Mali be a lesson for Cameroonians, CEMAC?
What if ECOWAS, West African leaders tackled the Anglophone crisis like the political crisis in Mali?
ECOWAS has been holding talks over Mali’s political crisis. The regional bloc’s virtual meeting comes days after mediation efforts by five West African leaders ended without a deal.
West African leaders have kicked off an extraordinary summit to propose measures to help resolve an escalating political crisis in Mali, AL JAZEERA reports.
The virtual meeting of the 15-member ECOWAS regional bloc on Monday comes days after unprecedented mediation efforts by the presidents of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal in Mali’s capital, Bamako, failed to end the impasse.
For weeks, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been locked in a tense standoff with an opposition protest coalition known as the June 5 Movement that has been demanding his resignation.
After the daylong talks on Thursday, an influential Muslim leader and protest mobilizer Ibrahim Dicko told journalists that no progress had been made. “Nothing has moved for the movement,” he said.
For his part, Mahamadou Issoufou, Nigerien president and current ECOWAS chair, told reporters: “We have decided that we will report back to all the heads of state during an extraordinary meeting on Monday, July 27.
“ECOWAS will take strong measures that will contribute to the resolutions of the crisis.”
Regional leaders are eager to avoid further instability in Mali, a country of some 20 million people that has been plagued by a conflict that began in 2012 and has since spilled into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
“The regional security concerns are real,” Demba Moussa Dembele, president of the Dakar-based African Forum on Alternatives, told Al Jazeera.
“If the crisis lingers on, Mali is likely to descend into chaos, which will affect the morale of the military and weaken its fight against the terrorist groups. In that case, there is a risk that neighbouring countries, like Senegal and Guinea, will be affected, which in turn will affect other countries.”
But the Institute for Security Studies think-tank warned on Thursday that there was an “unfavourable prejudice” towards the regional leaders amid suspicions they were protecting their own narrow interests.
“The search for solutions will have to take into account the need to improve the daily lives of Malians,” the think-tank said.
Unlike in Mali, the Cameroonian opposition is yet to unite and rally the masses to the streets to demand reforms.
But why is Cameroon’s neglected?
Can ECOWAS intervene in Cameroon’s crisis in the North West and South West Regions? Cameroon is seen as a French-dominated country although it is constitutionally bilingual. The crisis-prone Anglophone regions geographically fall within West Africa, but Cameroon as a whole is classed under the Central African region.
Be it as it may, Nigeria which is an ECOWAS country plays host to Cameroonians fleeing the conflict.
The UNHCR Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Antonio Jose Canhandula, conducted a fact-finding mission to Benue State, North Central and Cross River State, South-South Nigeria from 8 to 10th January 2018, where he interacted with Cameroonian refugees in the Abande, Kwande Local Government Area (LGA), Utanga and Amana in Obanliku LGA.
The Representative held meetings with state government and traditional leaders, and he expressed UNHCR’s commitment to work closely with local authorities to provide assistance to the Cameroonian refugees without neglecting the host communities.
“We are committed to working with the Government of Nigeria to ensure that we provide a safe community environment for Cameroonian refugees and their host communities in Benue and Cross River states,” said Canhandula. “As such, our recommendation is that the refugees should be moved away from the border per international standards,” he added.
UNHCR’s immediate priority is to work together with the State Emergency Management Agency in the spirit of the 2016 New York Declaration, to create temporary camps, pending identification, with a long-term view to exploring avenues that should allow refugees to live in host communities, gain access to opportunities where they can become more self-reliant and contribute to the local economy, thus fuelling the development of the communities hosting them, he explained.
Since October 2017, UNHCR has seen a steady increase in the number of people predominately from Cameroon’s Anglophone region who have fled their homes for their own safety to Cross River and Benue states in Nigeria. Regarding the number of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, the UNHCR Representative noted that 8,050 refugees have been registered, mainly in Cross River state. Many more have not been registered. It is estimated that the figures have gone above 50,000 to this day.
In the meantime, together with the National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, UNHCR will continue biometric registration for new arrivals in Cross River and Benue states.
“I would like to express my appreciation to the Government of Nigeria for the support shown so far and appreciate the efforts of the state authorities for the relief assistance provided to those arriving,” said Canhandula, This, he added, is a critical life-saving measure for many that arrive empty-handed.
Many of these refugees are women, children, and the elderly, and they are currently being hosted by locals in Nigerian communities near the border with Cameroon. Those that have managed to cross the border into Nigeria have passed through several unofficial entry points.
The situation could worsen if a solution to the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone region is not quickly found. UNHCR is concerned that as the crisis in Cameroon continues and the government adopts extra security measures, more asylum seekers will arrive. Political dialogue is also needed, as it will help end the current crisis.
It is therefore in the interest of Nigeria and ECOWAS that the crisis in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions is resolved.
Mimi Mefo Info