Cameroon’s diaspora: learning to live with the enemy within

The Africa Report | While exchanges of friendship continue between Paul Biya and some of his compatriots living abroad, Cameroon’s President clearly has not digested the violent protests by activists during his recent visits to Europe.

He referred to the protests in his traditional 31 December speech, criticising the “excessive behaviour of some of [his] compatriots in the diaspora” — and questioning “whether they are or are no longer Cameroonians”.

“I think they should, out of patriotism, refrain from negative comments about their country of origin,” Biya said. “One should always respect one’s homeland, its institutions and those who embody them.”

The head of state’s attempt to sound reasonable is unlikely to smooth relations with his critics.

Rights and duties

By distinguishing between those who are Cameroonian and those who are no longer Cameroonian, he is, in effect, creating a category of second-class citizens. While Cameroon does not recognise dual nationality, those who have acquired a new one and have therefore in principle lost or renounced their original one, with all the rights attached to it, are nonetheless subject, according to the President, to the obligation to be patriotic. Otherwise formulated, they have no rights, only duties.

Economic migrants

How can one demand a love of country from people whose exclusion was planned by national laws? Men and women who are both ineligible and banned from voting but also subject to visa requirements to go on holiday or visit their families in their home countries?

One can understand, if not share, the acrimony Biya feels towards, in particular, those who barricade the headquarters of the French and Swiss hotels where he loves to stay. But the head of state must know that they too have grounds for complaint.

Since the 1990s, the profile of the “diaspos” has changed. They are no longer mostly globally educated students from families of executives. They are now mostly economic migrants, young people from less-privileged backgrounds who have decided to take the road to exile as the situation in Cameroon deteriorates.

At the end of the 2000s, the trend became even more pronounced when the middle classes joined the flow of travellers. They emigrated far away but kept family ties and, sometimes, real estate in their home country.

It is therefore fanciful to believe, even for a second, that these people could resign themselves to being dispossessed of any possibility of improving governance in Cameroon. They will never be satisfied with being perceived by the authorities as nothing more than providers of foreign currency – in 2018, according to the World Bank, Cameroonian migrants transferred about 201bn CFA francs ($340m) to their country of origin.

Retrograde scheme

They will never accept a shadowy nationalism that questions the loyalty of the diaspora and treats it as the “eleventh region” of the country or the “fifth column”, as the case may be. Of course, there would be no war in the North-West and South-West regions without the funding of some of the English-speaking emigrants. However, it would be wiser to address the root causes of this devastating conflict rather than its symptoms alone.

Cameroon has a choice. It can establish dual nationality, as the vast majority of countries on the continent have done, which has a more respectful and rewarding approach to the diaspora. This measure would have the advantage of removing obstacles to mobility and would make it possible to reap the economic and emotional benefits of openness. It could also maintain this retrograde and counterproductive arrangement, which is concerned with excluding rather than bringing together. But it will then have to resolve to live with this enemy from within.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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5 comments

  1. I thank, the author of the above write-up. A nutshell, of the whole big picture.
    Once those who matter, from the times of Amadou Ahidjo to now Paul Bya,
    those cameroonians, are more equal than others – the real cause, of the migration
    / genocide as we see it there today. As other countries in africa are opening up,
    but Cameroon is still sitting on the same spot because of greed, tribalism, language
    barriers etc etc, only lies telling alone, makes the country great, afterall.
    Diaporans, are actually very patriotic. They can live their lives outside to finish.
    And it will be alright. But love for homeland, remains premodial. Therefore, not
    even a president or any constitution, needs, to disturb the bond and love for
    country. Ahidjo / Biya, have not done us much good.

  2. Biya is a pathetic excuse for a leader. He calls on the diaspora to be patriotic while he hasn’t shown the same to Cameroon; he’s rigged every elections & jailed political dissidents. He didn’t give the new 1996 constitution one chance of being observed; he uprooted the term limit he agree to and set a new amendment to stay on for life. Now, that’s really UNPATRIOTIC.
    Those of us who want the country to succeed won’t give a blind eye to this kind of dictatorship and bad governance. There are many brilliant Cameroonians who can govern better, stop the corruption, set up the much needed semi-autonomous federated states and follow the examples of Ghana, S. Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, etc.
    The diaspora according to the W.Bank supports Africa more than any institution since 2012.

  3. “Nyamoto Kpwatolo” Biya is the most unpatriotic dictator on planet earth.

    Why????

    Biya:

    1. Single-handedly changed the Name of the country to La Rep. Du Cameroon
    2. single-handedly changed the Name of Victoria to Limbe
    3. refused to implement Article 66( Declaration of assets)
    4. single-handedly declared war against Boko Haram
    5. single-handedly declared war on Southern Cameroonians
    6. single-handedly invited foreign mercenaries to kill Southern Cameroonians
    7. amended the constitution at his pleasure
    8. hijacked the other branches of the state
    9. rigging elections in caporalisant media
    10. using public resources and staff to beat his campaign
    11. used taxpayers’ money to gallivant with a bloated suite in Geneva
    12. etc., etc

  4. Ask Agbor Balla and he will tell you that none of what you listed is true even though there is a mountain of evidence that can be used to corroborate your list.

    Agbor Balla and Fru Ndi MUST go. They MUST be eliminated.

  5. When I have listened to the Biya rhetoric, one wonders whether patriotism amounts to supporting the activities of a dictator and his band of kleptomaniac ministers. This is a man who has no respect for his people or country, reclusive and absentee presidents who lives in a palace built by taxpayers who are not allowed to question him. A president who spends millions of state funds in pursuing pleasure in foreign private travels, appoints ex-convicts as ministers, authorizes the army to shoot and kill protesting citizens, wages a war against his own people and promises them outright military annihilation if they dare to have opinions other than his. Diasporans support the country economically, their crime being the demand for accountability from those in power. That is true patriotism.

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