Cameroon is said to be the bulldog of the CEMAC sub-region. It has the largest economy and population size, as opposed to the other five member countries of CEMAC.
But events point to the fact that Cameroon is a bulldog without teeth, even in the face of unfathomable provocations from Equatorial Guinea.
Cameroonian authorities seem to be drinking champagne in cozy offices in Yaoundé while their fellow countrymen are being treated by slaves in neighboring Equatorial Guinea.
The tiny oil-rich central African nation of Equatorial Guinea is known for its controversial actions, including chasing out foreigners and carrying on plans to erect a wall along its 183km-long border with Cameroon.
Hundreds of Cameroonians and other expatriates in Equatorial Guinea have been trapped in a controversial mass arrest, torture, and repatriation.
They say the government of Equatorial Guinea has launched an operation to rid the country off foreigners with irregular resident documents.
The operation reportedly began less than two weeks ago and concerned mostly those without the appropriate legal documents but has this week extended even to those with legal documents.
According to sources in Equatorial Guinea, this operation comes without any prior notification on the part of the government of Equatorial Guinea.
They add that the process to renew basic documents like ID Cards, Resident cards, Drivers’ Licenses amongst others had been suspended till further notice by the receiving government close to one year ago and that those who had initiated the procedure to renew these documents are equally trapped in the clampdown.
The operation has sparked a wave of antagonistic exchanges online between Cameroonians and Equato Guineans. Victims of the incident say they expect the government of Cameroon and other African governments and continental institutions to react promptly before it degenerates into a diplomatic crack.
This is more so given that Cameroonians are stranded in Equatorial Guinea. They have been left to fight on their own, as authorities there force many to return.
The case of Equatorial Guinea is not isolated. We have seen cases in Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait, and elsewhere, how the Cameroon government stayed mute when its citizens are mistreated. Judging from the attitude of the inertia-infested government of 88-year-old President Paul Biya who has been in power for 39 years, Cameroonians are on their own within and without the country.
The suffering and persecution of citizens in Cameroon are no different from what Cameroonians are going through in Equatorial Guinea.
On November 11, opposition leader Maurice Kamto issued a statement on the mistreatment of Cameroonians in Equatorial Guinea and the unacceptable indifference of the Cameroonian government.
“Recently, information reaching us on the situation of Cameroonians living or being in Equatorial Guinea is alarming. These reports mention violent raids, even beatings, targeting emigrants in general and Cameroonians in particular,” Kamto said. “The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is a sovereign state. It is, therefore, free to enforce the laws it has adopted. However, this sister country has ratified several international conventions that protect human rights, including the rights of foreigners, whether they are residents or migrants.”
Based on the aforementioned considerations, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) of Professor Maurice Kamto issued a protest against the mistreatment of Cameroonian nationals by the authorities of Equatorial Guinea: profiling, gratuitous violence, inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment, theft of property, spoliations, etc.
“Even in the event of a lack of a residence permit, the migrant deserves to be treated humanely,’ Kamto said.
The CRM deplores the fact that these expulsions of Cameroonian nationals, organized in violation of applicable international rules, are unfortunately not the first. The CRM invites the authorities of the sister Republic of Equatorial Guinea to become aware of the perception that these brutalities convey in Cameroonian opinion.
“The Cameroonian people wish to maintain good neighborly relations with the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, but not at the cost of permanently sacrificing the dignity and interests of Cameroonians living on Equatorial Guinean soil,” Kamto said. “The drama of Cameroonians living in Equatorial Guinea, like unfortunately the fate of the Cameroonian Diaspora in general, does not seem to concern the Government of our country. What happens to the property and assets of Cameroonians expelled under the conditions described above? How are our compatriots forced to rush back to Cameroon received and supported for their reintegration into their country?”
“As usual, when faced with the distress of Cameroonians abroad, the government in power remains silent, ashamed of a reality that exposes the extent of its economic and social failure after nearly forty years of autocratic management,” Kamto said. “The Cameroonians, who are permanently subjected to unacceptable humiliations in this neighboring country, are compatriots who are fleeing misery in their country, a country that once provided development aid to other countries.”
The CRM calls on the Government to urgently demand explanations from the Government of Equatorial Guinea.
“The CRM stands alongside the Cameroonians, victims of these abuses on Equatorial Guinean soil, and calls on the Government of Cameroon to guarantee consular assistance to them, and to put in place emergency assistance to those of them who return to Cameroon by whatever means,” Kamto concluded.
End of the road for Cameroon – Equatorial Guinea relations?
Protractedly rickety relations between Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea may be drifting for the spoils yet again. Should the hundreds of fraught-looking Cameroonians trapped in Malabo be brought back home, retaliatory attacks against Equato-Guinean nationals residing in Cameroon are feared.
The penniless and homeless soon-to-be deportees say they were yanked from the streets of Malabo and other localities in Equatorial Guinea over immigration papers, dumped in jail and are now set to be expelled without a chance to recuperate their savings and belongings.
“We have been wounded and I bet you, we will also wound Equato-Guineans living in Cameroon. They say openly that between a snake and a Cameroonian, the Cameroonian should be killed first. The government should look into this matter,” one of the victims says.
Ever since Equatorial Guinea began pumping and exporting oil in 1991, its relations with neighbours in the six-member Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States, and particularly Cameroon have recurrently rippled between bitter and sour.
Beginning in 1994, Cameroonians residing in the new oil Eldorado have repeatedly complained of xenophobic assaults, arbitrary arrests and expulsions, systematic confiscation of their residence permits, amid a long list of acts of harassment by the country’s security forces as well as its 668,000 inhabitants.
“I was coming back from my job side one day and the police arrested me. They beat me, handcuffed me and asked for 200,000 FCFA which I didn’t have,” says Carlson Kwene, a Cameroonian expelled from Equatorial Guinea years back.
“They took me to a prison called Guantanamo. There, we were mixed with pregnant women. We slept with handcuffs and given no food and at times when Christians came to give us food, they were not allowed. I have all my legal papers. But when you’re caught, they don’t bother and even when you present your documents, they are torn in front of you,” he added.
Apart from denouncing maltreatment at the hands of Equato-guinea security forces, the deportees also complain over the exorbitant cost of residence permits. The precious document costs 500,000 FCFA and up to a million and they say it is only available after lengthy procedures, administrative bottlenecks and the payment of bribe.
But the recent situation have come to cast doubt among Cameroonians over the sincerity of Malabo authorities. Many have heaped blame on the government for being “too lenient with Malabo” and have been calling for a freeze of food exports to Equatorial Guinea especially since December 2006, when swelling tensions over a massive expulsion of Cameroonians brought both countries dangerously close to the brink of confrontations.
In 2007, thousands of Cameroonians were again expelled. In 2008, tensions surged again following the alleged killing of a Cameroonian fisherman in the border town, Campo. Equatorial Guinea again sealed its border.
Elsewhere, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has in the wake of such renewed tensions held talks with a special envoy of his Equato-Guinean counterpart, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Baltasar Engonga Edjo, Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Sub-regional Integration has after such audience often told reporters he was bearer of a sealed message. Another trip to Yaoundé is expected following fatal ongoing assaults on several Cameroonians by Equato-Guinea security forces.
Cameroonian economic migrants currently numbering in their thousands in Equatorial Guinea according to crude statistics. The External Relations Ministry assure them of better conditions in the future although many such promises have hardly even been kept.