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The Central African country of Cameroon—whose tourist slogan for years was “all of Africa in one country”—presents itself as a unifier of diverse environments, languages, and culture in this nation located in the middle of the continent. The last weeks in Cameroon, however, suggest the worst of conflict, corruption, and colonialism, primarily relating to the country’s intensifying repression against the English-speaking minority in the region of Ambazonia, little-known even to Africanists and anti-colonial academics from the Global North. Despite the efforts of Ambazonian scholars based in the U.S., and a trickle of not-always-helpful information from Amnesty International and the BBC, the escalation of military violence over the past few months, and especially a new “scorched earth” burning of entire villages since last May and several massacres in the first half of July, have gone largely unnoticed even by human rights experts.

On the evening of July 11, 2018, five students were separated during a round-up by government military forces at the University Center in the town of Bambilli, allegedly for not having identification cards. Bambilli is a college town north in the Ambazonian territory. Though BBC reported on the incident, they did not make the connection to the pattern of attacks on Ambazonian students, activists, and community leaders which have worsened over the past year. Three days later, ten more unarmed Ambazonians and one Ghanaian pastor who was working with them were slaughtered in the town of Batibo.

Though this news may never have surfaced if not for the connection to clergy in Ghana, organizations such as the Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa have begun to analyze, document, and report on these incidents. Several Pan-African groups, including affiliates of the prominent Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (which share a collegial relationship with the Pan African Nonviolence and Peace-building Network), have raised growing concerns about military-perpetrated, government-instigated violence in the area which makes up the southern border of Cameroon and Nigeria.

Nonviolence has always been the strategy and philosophy of choice there, with the decades-long freedom slogan focusing on the logic of Ambazonia freedom, by “the force of argument, not the argument of force.” In1961, the United Nations Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons voted for full independence from colonial Great Britain, and neighboring Francophone Cameroon quickly incorporated the territory into its own “United Republic” of Cameroon. Since that time, a mass, unarmed civil resistance movement has declared its desire for full independence, given its distinct languages (English and Indigenous African), culture, history, and geographic base. In 1984, when Cameroon President Paul Biya removed the “United” from the official name of the country, an even more intense crisis ensued. “All this time, however, from the 1960s until 2017,” noted Eben, U.S. facilitator of the Ambazonian Prisoners of Conscience Support Network, “barely a single stone was thrown as part of our resistance. Armed resistance was never a tactic we engaged in.

Following a series of lawyer-led uprisings which began on October 1, 2016, escalating nonviolent civil resistance, and a massive general strike in September 2017—met with gunfire from Cameroon government helicopter gunships—some Ambazonians did initiate an armed struggle on October 1, 2017, declaring independence and setting up a government in exile. Cooperation between the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon might play a negative role in the aspirations of Ambazonians, as Nigeria handed over some who were taking refuge there, and who now make up a growing political-prisoner population in Cameroon.

Nigeria’s inability to resolve their “Boko Haram problem”—the Islamist fundamentalist-military movement with close ties to Iraq—also plays a role. Nigeria can push Boko Haram forces across the border into Cameroon, and Cameroon in turn attacks both Boko Haram military units and Ambazonian independence activists as if they represented the same “nuisance” to the common people. It is the ordinary civilian, however, who is most caught between governments, militaries, and borders. A horrifying video of Cameroon soldiers murdering two women, a young child, and a baby—apparently in mid-July and because their families allegedly had ties to Boko Haram—has begun to go viral and gain the condemnation of Amnesty International. In an eerie flash-back to words uttered fifty years ago in Vietnam at the heinous My Lai massacre, one soldier can be heard asking his commanding officer: “Are we going to kill the children too?”

Ironically, Amnesty—widely seen as the unquestioned expert on human rights in the region—has been slow and significantly misguided in reporting the facts of events in the region. An incredibly detailed and well-documented critique of the June 2018 Amnesty International report on “Anglophone Cameroon” spotlights ways in which the respected organization has misunderstood and distorted the reality of Ambazonian life and struggle. The popular refrain that there “is violence on both sides” not only gives too much emphasis to a very limited armed struggle, dismissing the decades of previous history, it also ignores the fact that the last two years have seen a sharp increase in the breadth and scope of nonviolent civic engagement on the part of Ambazonians, both in the territory and in diaspora. An entire network of home-front media producers has congealed around a Southern Cameroon TV project, dozens of diaspora organizations have formed and successfully pressed for attention from local and national politicians, the Southern Cameroons Congress of the People was formed as a political party, and a veritable social media army has begun to link refugees, political prisoners and their supporters, home front organizers, and those living abroad.

Independent internationalists might be especially confused by the July 19, 2018 briefings and commentaries issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW). On the one hand, their poignant report “These Killings Can Be Stopped” recounts in 59 detailed pages how the area “is slipping into a protracted human rights crisis in the largely Anglophone North-West and South-West regions that border Nigeria.” It documents how, for the past two years or so, the Cameroon government has responded to demonstrations, legal challenges, and unarmed protests with “heavy clamp-downs,” “repression and arrest,” and “abuse” which likely caused a radicalization on the part of the Ambazonian freedom movement.

On the other hand, in HRW’s summary press release sent out the same day, “Cameroon: Killings, Destruction in Anglophone Region,” they misleadingly and inaccurately assert that “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.” Want to find evidence that the HRW summary press release is inaccurate? Read the HRW full report! The poor attempt to be “even-handed” tragically dilutes HRW’s basic good point: these killings can and must be stopped—by support for justice-seeking nonviolent campaigners and a condemnation of government-based military violence and oppression.

The crisis in Ambazonia—like so many anti-colonial crises that seem to be escalating in this age of neocolonialism—cannot easily be resolved, especially by traditional military or diplomatic means. As grassroots women’s and social groups inside the country and supporters or allies in the Diaspora continue to put pressure on the colonial regime, unarmed civil resistance is the best hope for lasting change. But change cannot take place without clear, pro-justice, international attention and support—which so far has been sadly lacking.

Source: forusa.org

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Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a letter signed by a group of Democratic Senators to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raising deep concerns about violations of human rights, the breakdown in the rule of law, and elections fraud in Cameroon. In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

The Senators write, “Cameroon has become an increasingly important regional counterterrorism partner and the United States has increased its commitment of security assistance in recent years. However, rising tensions in the Anglophone North West and South West regions, coupled with credible reports of human rights abuses by the Cameroonian armed forces in those regions and the Far North, where Boko Haram is active, have changed the tone of discussions regarding U.S. security assistance.”

They continue, “Reports indicate that government forces are responsible for extrajudicial killings, the burning of villages, torture, and other human rights abuses, including a much-publicized video reportedly showing soldiers executing two women, a child, and a baby they accused of being members of Boko Haram. The violent death of American missionary Charles Wesco underscores the level of bloodshed engulfing the Anglophone areas of the country. United Nations figures indicate that more than 21,000 Cameroonians have fled to neighboring countries and 160,000 are internally displaced.”

The Senators close the letter urging, “The U.S. government should make clear to the government of Cameroon that, while we remain dedicated to the fight against Boko Haram, our commitment to human rights and the rule of law is steadfast and we expect our regional partners to share that commitment. We must also emphasize the critical importance of a political solution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions, work with civil society groups to ensure that elections are free, open, and transparent, and offer our assistance as mediators. The United States should impose sanctions on individuals found to have committed gross violations of human rights, consistent with the law. In addition, we will work with our colleagues in the Senate to assess whether additional conditions should be imposed on security assistance to Cameroon.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

We are writing in response to concerns that have been raised about the recent elections in Cameroon, the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone regions of the country, and human rights abuses related to the crisis and the campaign against Boko Haram.

Cameroon has become an increasingly important regional counterterrorism partner and the United States has increased its commitment of security assistance in recent years. However, rising tensions in the Anglophone North West and South West regions, coupled with credible reports of human rights abuses by the Cameroonian armed forces in those regions and the Far North, where Boko Haram is active, have changed the tone of discussions regarding U.S. security assistance.

Reports indicate that government forces are responsible for extrajudicial killings, the burning of villages, torture, and other human rights abuses, including a much-publicized video reportedly showing soldiers executing two women, a child, and a baby they accused of being members of Boko Haram. The violent death of American missionary Charles Wesco underscores the level of bloodshed engulfing the Anglophone areas of the country. United Nations figures indicate that more than 21,000 Cameroonians have fled to neighboring countries and 160,000 are internally displaced.

In addition, recent elections were marred by irregularities and intimidation. Voter turnout in the Anglophone regions was reportedly “marked by apathy, and in some regions, outright fear,” and driven to unprecedented lows by the military’s campaign against Anglophone separatists, which has often veered into human rights abuses against civilians. The results of the election remain heavily disputed, and multiple presidential candidates have petitioned for the results to be voided, citing allegations of ballot stuffing and intimidation. The program director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group told Foreign Policy that “[t]here is an emerging civil war. Anglophones feel completely disenfranchised, but they didn’t need the elections to tell them that.”

The U.S. government should make clear to the government of Cameroon that, while we remain dedicated to the fight against Boko Haram, our commitment to human rights and the rule of law is steadfast and we expect our regional partners to share that commitment. We must also emphasize the critical importance of a political solution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions, support civil society groups to ensure that elections are free, credible, and transparent, and offer our assistance as mediators. The United States should impose sanctions on individuals found to have committed gross violations of human rights, consistent with the law. In addition, we will work with our colleagues in the Senate to assess whether additional conditions should be imposed on security assistance to Cameroon.

We look forward to working with you on this critical issue.

Sincerely,

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Source: vanhollen.senate.gov

An American missionary was shot dead on Tuesday in Cameroon during clashes between the separatists and government soldiers. Charles Wesco, 44, was traveling with his wife, son and a driver when they came under fire.

More than 400 civilians have already died in the conflict between the country’s French-speaking majority and its English-speaking minority. But perhaps the tragic death of a Westerner — one who had devoted his life to helping Cameroon — will now prompt the United States and Europe to stop looking away.

President Paul Biya, in power for 36 years, is set to be sworn in next week for another seven-year term after claiming victory Oct. 7 in elections marred by allegations of fraud. Despite ample evidence of vote tampering and insecurity on election day, Washington was quick to congratulate the people of Cameroon on what it called a “largely peaceful elections.”

Cameroonians, who have long been yearning for peace, can hardly be blamed for regarding that statement as a mockery. Most of them, not only the English-speakers who are fighting desperately for independence, had hoped that Biya would leave the palace. Those hopes are now dashed.

I spent voting day in Buea, the capital of the southwest Anglophone region. I didn’t see a single person voting after midday — apart from the governor, who showed with a bodyguard of heavily armed soldiers. Most of the locals stayed indoors for their safety. In this region, where people have taken up hunting guns to fight his regime, Biya shamelessly claimed he won the majority of votes. Villages around Buea are entirely deserted — people are living in the forests, from fear of the president’s soldiers. Some 500,000have been displaced by the fighting. I could hear gunfire before, during and after the election. More than a dozen people died in the Anglophone areas in the course of 24 hours. How could Washington give this farce a clean bill of health?

After the voting had closed, African Union observers said the ballot went well — despite the fact they couldn’t send any of their team to the far North, where the Boko Haram insurgency is wreaking havoc, or in the English-speaking regions, where the secessionists are fighting the regime. The AU verdict was not entirely surprising, because it routinely approves flawed elections; the U.S. statement in support of Biya was, however, a disaster.

If Biya, as expected, remains in office for the coming seven years, it is highly likely that the country will slide into a terrible civil war — one of which the world will take notice only when nobody is left to save. The worsening crisis is largely the result of the Biya regime’s refusal to address the grievances of the country’s English-speaking minority, who have long suffered from systematic discrimination. In silencing them, soldiers have killed about 4,000 Anglophone civilians, according to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, a nongovernmental organization based in Buea.

Decaying bodies lie scattered on the streets of the capital. Sources tell me that hospital mortuaries in the city of Bamenda in the northwest are full, no place left for fresh bodies. The sights triggered memories of my own experience of Rwanda’s genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. The comparison is more apt than it might seem at first sight. France, Biya’s leading supporter in the West, is repeating the same mistakes it committed in Rwanda.

The killing of Anglophone Cameroonians is not only the problem that confronts the country. Corruption is also ubiquitous. Though I had valid documents to travel and work in Cameroon, I had to pay money to be allowed to pass through every police and military checkpoint. Even at the international airport in Douala, staffers there extort money from passengers. This is not fiction. It’s my personal experience.

Bribes are common in many African countries, but Cameroon has reached another level. The anti-corruption organization Transparency International ranks Cameroon among the most corrupt nations in the world, having it tied for the 153rd spot out of 180 countries.

Biya remains unconcerned. He has spent at least four and a half years in total on private trips in the 36 years he has been president, according to research conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. He has made himself at home in Geneva’s five-star Intercontinental Hotel, spending an estimated $65 million on stays there since he came to power. Back home, most Cameroonians are struggling to make ends meet, and war-displaced women and children have no place to sleep. Meanwhile, critics are killed or locked away in maximum-security prisons; many others have gone in exile.

It’s high time for the West to reconsider its relationship with Biya — or at least to hold him accountable for the atrocities committed under his rule. Cameroonians, both English and French speakers, should stand up for their country and remove the leaders who are tearing them apart. Thirty-six years of pain is too much to endure. And they have nothing left to lose.

Author: By Fred Muvunyi

Source: washingtonpost.com

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Security

Cameroon is a linchpin both in the global war on terror and in support of UN and African Union peace operations.

The United States has trained the BIR (Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide) for operations against Boko Haram and continues to maintain a significant presence, but the BIR is now active in the west, operating from its large base in Ambas Bay, near Limbe with the same impunity as it does in the far north.

Concerns have also been raised in Israel about its past training and equipping of the BIR.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic depends on the port of Douala and Cameroon’s road network to transport needed supplies to the landlocked country, in addition to the 1,000 troops, Cameroon deploys there.

Besides the historically strong security ties with France, China is becoming a close defense partner.

The African Union selected Douala as the site for its AU Continental Logistics Base.

Economy

Large investments by French, U.S., Chinese and U.K. firms further insulate the Biya regime against international censure.

The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which luckily for Yaoundé does not transit the western regions, ships crude oil for landlocked Chad produced by two major international producers: ExxonMobil and the China National Petroleum Company.

U.K.-based New Age LNG Ltd finalized an agreement in June with the Cameroon government for its offshore natural gas production near Limbe in the Southwest region.

Ambazonia groups raised alarms about the nature of this deal with New Age.

Early in 2018, Kribi Port was officially commissioned, a deep-sea container terminal built and financed by China and operated by a Franco-Chinese consortium.

The fees, taxes, and royalties from these projects and others fund administration, military expenditures and Biya’s frequent travel, but they don’t incentivize the government to build the foundations of an inclusive political and economic system or worry about falling cocoa production by small-scale producers, mostly in the west.

These factors clarifies why the government is not heeding to any calls and the UN and AU are liptied.

Only the people of Cameroon can decide their future.

Source: thepostnewspapercameroon

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