Cameroon hits boiling point by Barry Morgan

Cameroon hits boiling point

After 60 years of peace, country is descending into full-scale conflict.

Barry Morgan

Images of refugees fleeing southern Cameroon returned to our television screens this week, with eyewitness reports of harassment and the use of military arms against civilians forced to escape through the forests into neighbouring Nigeria.

The UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR) says 30,000 have now fled, admitting the unregistered figure is far higher, and that two more settlements are under construction to handle the influx, offering some relief to the 40 border villages in Nigeria where they have mostly congregated.

Aid workers say hundreds are arriving almost every day.

Skirmishing escalated last October after minority English-speaking separatist militia declared an independent state of ‘Ambazonia’ with fighting predicted to ramp up again as this year’s anniversary approaches, just as Cameroon President Paul Biya plans to hold elections to secure a seventh term.

Officials say efforts under the current licensing round to allocate onshore and near-shore acreage are unaffected, but threats have already been made and the industry has been deafeningly quiet about bids from successful companies — all supposedly notified on 18 July.

Analysts warn that partisans may link up with militants across the border in Nigeria’s contiguous oilpatch, in another headache for Biya’s besieged regime.

Cameroon Amnesty International last week urged Serbia to suspend exports of military equipment to Cameroon as Serbian weapons have featured in “systematic violations” of human rights, including extrajudicial killings, says the campaign group’s arms control researcher, Patrick Wilcken.

Meanwhile, the government has denied access for UN monitors to the English speaking areas, according to UNHCR Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussain.

“Given the seriousness of the reports, we asked for access so as to verify allegations made against the security forces and other armed elements, but now we shall need to explore other options. I am deeply worried that the killings captured on camera may not be isolated cases,” says Hussain.

UK Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, welcomed Biya’s announcement that images purporting to show the execution of women and children will be studied carefully with those responsible brought to book, and the pressure is building.

Then, former Ghana president and current UN Special Envoy to Somalia, Jerry John Rawlings, took his turn to intervene, claiming that after six decades of peace, Cameroon is “deteriorating rapidly into full-scale conflict”.

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto, told the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee he did not believe US arms supplied to fight Islamist terror group Boko Haram were being used against separatists, but Congress remains unconvinced.

“The UN and the African Union must ensure no superficial solution is imposed on the English-speaking half of the country, so I urge French President Emmanuel Macron to be part of the solution in restoring justice and equity,” Rawlings told a cultural gathering in London.

Cameroon is strategically located between west and central Africa, straddling a fault line between Anglophone and Francophone communities — a veteran player in la Francafrique and a fully-fledged member of the Commonwealth.

The country’s bilingual and bijural credentials may lie in tatters, but informal sources canvassed by Upstream indicated a growing reluctance among military rank and file to accept deployment against their fellow citizens. And the pot boils.

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