Opinion: Why the African Union must not ignore Cameroon

Deutsche Welle | When the 33rd African Union Summit begins on Sunday, the conflict in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions should be on the agenda. Yet the violence is unlikely to be seriously discussed by African leaders.

If the African Union (AU) is to live up to its founding charter’s high ideals, its members must confront the human rights abuses occurring in Cameroon, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.

Cameroon’s historically English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions are home to 20% of the country’s population. The UN-backed referendum following independence in 1960 failed to give the Anglophones the option to form an independent country.

Although they were promised a degree of autonomy under a federal system, power shifted to the Francophone-dominated capital, Yaounde, by 1972. There has been an ‘Anglophone Problem’ of marginalization in Cameroon ever since.

Peaceful protests began in 2016, when the government imposed French-speaking teachers and judges on Anglophone schools and courts, with a systematic process of eroding the common law.

Impartial international human rights groups believe the regime responded with disproportionate force. Escalation over the past three years has seen more than 200 villages burned, opposition leaders and journalists detained and tortured, civilians randomly fired upon and terrorized, causing 656,000 people to flee their homes for the bushes, Francophone regions, or next-door Nigeria where 50,000 people are currently living in refugee camps. More than 2,000 people are thought to have been killed.

In response, some of the more extreme Anglophone secessionists formed increasingly violent militias over time, forcing schools, clinics, markets, and businesses to stay closed.

Human rights organizations report atrocities on both the government and separatist sides. The economy is at a stand-still, and normal life is impossible for many of the 5 million residents of the Northwest and Southwest.

The National Dialogue was supposed to resolve the crisis but peace in the English-speaking regions is still distant

Reacting to international pressure, the Cameroonian government held a Major National Dialogue over several days in October 2019. These limited talks were boycotted by separatist groups and some members of civil society were unable to safely attend.

The government subsequently granted ‘special status’ to the two Anglophone regions. However, critics argue that the proposed level of autonomy remains loosely defined, with power remaining in the centralized Francophone administration in Yaounde.

Even so, any implementation is uncertain, especially in light of the legislative and municipal elections set for Sunday February 9, in which few Anglophones are expected to participate or vote due to worsening violence and horrific threats.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland has offered to facilitate peace talks, but the Cameroonian government has not consented to take part. Very recently, the Africa Forum announced a Symposium on Cameroon in April to support a peaceful resolution — a welcome development.

The African Union role

The AU is well aware of the violence suffered by unarmed civilians in the Anglophone regions. As recently as November 2019, a delegation including the chairperson of the AU Commission urged President Paul Biya to implement the conclusions of the Major National Dialogue, encouraging peace and stability through this nonviolent process.

Yet, in his New Year’s message, Cameroon’s leader reminded his citizens that the armed forces would carry out their duties “without weakness.” Biya persists in believing a military solution will resolve the Anglophone issues.

In January 2020, Cameroon delivered a 190-page report to the AU, measuring its own performance against its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The document, which amounts to a student marking her own essay, boasted that Cameroon had ratified sundry protocols protecting human rights.

Its description of Cameroon is at odds with the findings of watchdog groups such as Transparency International and Freedom House, both of which give Cameroon the lowest ranking.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International would also struggle to recognize the country as it appears in its report to the AU.

Read more: Cameroon crisis: ‘Federalism is the solution,’ says opposition leader Maurice Kamto

The Cameroon government congratulates itself for creating a National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, aimed at “maintaining the peace,” “consolidating national unity” and “maintaining social cohesion.”

The report to the AU also justifies shutting down the internet in the Anglophone regions for four months in 2017, saying that people were using it to stir up “hatred, violence, insurrection and secession.” Freedom of speech applies only if used in a “responsible manner.”

Three months ago, 65 mainly African human rights groups wrote an open letter to the chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, calling on the AU to urgently take specific actions to address the deteriorating security situation in Cameroon. They received no response.

Among many observers, the AU has a poor reputation. Some criticize it for spending more time seeking to guarantee its leaders’ immunity from prosecution than persuading its members not to persecute minorities or detain political opponents.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights held its 2019 summit in Egypt under the leadership of current AU Chair and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — US President Donald Trump’s “favorite dictator,” who is not known for respecting civil liberties.

If the AU is to gain legitimacy in the eyes of African citizens, it must prove it exists not for the well-padded political and business elite, but to speak the truth when one of its members violates the founding principles of the AU.

Cameroon deserves more than the slap on the wrist delivered in a 2018 AU resolution. Diplomats know there is a difference between hand-wringing resolutions urging Cameroon to respect human rights, and exerting genuine, sustained pressure on President Biya behind closed doors.

The only way forward for Cameroon is through inclusive peace negotiations between the government and both moderate and extremist Anglophone voices.

The AU summit — whose 2020 theme is “Silencing the Guns” for development —should make it clear to the Cameroonian government and the armed separatist groups that there will be consequences if they refuse to participate in the proposed Swiss-led peace talks, and the upcoming Africa Forum symposium as well.

If the AU’s African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is to mean anything, it must apply to a situation like Cameroon’s.

Co-authored by Felix Agbor Nkongho from the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa and Rebecca Tinsley of Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon, UK branch.

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21 comments

  1. The AU is a useless organisation that has not benefited Africa in any way. AU lives on handouts from the Chinese, EU and France and prefers adoration of these countries because of juicy packages of fresh cash received from them for self sustenance and not African citizens. Very sad!

    • Original K-Town Man

      Another problem is that, most African countries are facing similar situations like Cameroon. For example, Nigeria is dealing with Biafra. Ethiopia, Ghana, to name a few are facing similar issues. The African Union (AU) are familiar with the situations. However, they AU find it difficult to take sides with the truth (the marginalization of Ambazonia). How can they support the Ambazonia predicament without opening a can of worms, in addition to the oppressive and barbarically ineptitude leaders, whose objectives are to suck the people dry. Cameroon will find it difficult to let the Ambazonia go. Majority of the resources comes from amba-land. If they are allowed to go, where is the money to steal? This is a big dilemma, and Ambazonians has to fight for their rights.

  2. The AU is a toothless organization made up of old men and dictators. Since its birth it has done nothing to help the continent and no one should ever dream or think that it would change. Southern Cameroons must be freed rain or shine.

  3. If you put a bunch of thieves in the same house and give them authority you have basically flip the norm upside down, normalizing the abnormal. Until the present line of colonial African leaderships leave office, we will continue to be waiting for others to resolve our problems. One can’t count past two true leaders on the continent who put country and continent first. Otherwise, Biya, Museveni, Obiang, Nguesso, etc, would have long been removed.

    • Powerful men at the top have no ideas; men of ideas at the base have no power.

      AU draws largely from a Maghreb philosophy: Camels do not make fun of each other’s humpbacks. Obviously since they all have skeletons in their cupboards, who will raise a finger?

  4. The government did not impose French-speaking teachers and judges on Anglophone schools and courts in 2016!!!

    If lawyer cannot state the facts correctly, how can any court deliver a fair judgement?

  5. It is not rocket science.

    All of this is because of one man who has the military at his disposal and the people, even so called elites being afraid of persecution, imprisonment without trial, disappearance or being shot dead. The barrel of the gun remains the most primitive tactic adopted by dictators without love of country to stay in power- Russia, China & Hong Kong, Syria, etc?

    President Arap Moi of Kenya is dead at 95. When prompted by his cronies to amend the constitutional term limit to stay in power, he declined & retired since 2002. It set a legacy of peaceful transformation to the opposition. Mwai Kibaki peacefully handed over to Kenyatta. The same happened in Ghana with J. Rawlings, Nigeria with Gen. Aboubakar & Liberia with E. Johnson. Biya is evil.

    From an honest patriot.

  6. Martin Singap adhère jeune à la Jeunesse démocratique du Cameroun, mouvement des jeunes de l’UPC. En 1955, il suit les dirigeants de l’UPC5 dans leur exil à Kumba en zone sous contrôle britannique. Il sert alors comme agent de liaison de part de d’autre de la frontière franco-britannique.

    En 1957, à la suite du début des massacres en pays bamiléké, il abandonne l’école et met sur pieds la SNDK (sinistre de la défense nationale du Kamerun). L’organistion est basée à Kumba et est considérée comme une partie du comite directeur de l’UPC. Considere comme combattant radical et intransigeant, il est porté à la tête de L’ALNK (armée de libération nationale du Kamerun).

    En juillet 1960 à Accra, Felix Moumié, Abel Kingué font de Martin Singap le chef d’état major de l’ALNK6. Il multiplie les atte

  7. Ndeh Ntumazah (1926 – 21 January 2010) was a leader of the pro-independence movement in Cameroon in the 1950s. He was forced into exile, and was unable to return to his country until 1991, when he returned to the political fray. After his death he was honored by an official burial.[1]

  8. Castor Osendé Afana (1930 – 15 March 1966) was a Marxist economist and militant nationalist who died in 1966 while fighting as a guerrilla against the government of Cameroon.

  9. John Ngu Foncha (21 June 1916, Bamenda – 10 April 1999) was a Cameroonian politician, who served as 5th Prime Minister of Cameroon.

  10. Ernest Ouandié (1924 – 15 January 1971) was a leader of the struggle for independence of Cameroon in the 1950s who continued to resist the government of President Ahmadou Ahidjo after Cameroon became independent in 1960. He was captured in 1970, tried and condemned to the death penalty. On the 15th of January 1971, he was publicly executed in Bafoussam.

  11. Ruben Um Nyobè (1913 – 13 September 1958) was an anti-colonialist Cameroonian leader, slain by the French army on 13 September 1958, near his natal village of Boumnyebel, in the department of Nyong-et-Kellé in the maquis Bassa. He created on 10 April 1948 the Cameroon’s People Union (UPC), which used armed struggle to obtain independence from French colonial rule. After his death, he was replaced by Félix-Roland Moumié, who was assassinated by an agent of the SDECE (French secret service) with thallium in Geneva in 1960. Until the 1990s, any mention of Ruben Um Nyobè was prohibited in Cameroon.[1]

  12. Ni John Fru Ndi (born 7 July 1941) is a Cameroonian politician. He founded the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the main opposition party in Cameroon, in 1990, and he has led the party since then.[1]

  13. Ethno-fascist, that is CMR, KILL it…bunch of idiots…

    • Feeble mind.Pathetic!

      • CHINEKE dan already punish you enough witi tree planting ana newspaper delivery…you go deliver newspaper for Sweden for le sharp sotey you hear mwing.

        You bin be di mimba sey you too go turn-turn be BIG man for Amba, no be so?

        Eske dem di read newspaper for CMR? Dem go wrap puff-puff witi ya newspaper…

  14. Une fois de plus, Biya vient d’être battu à son propre jeu.

    Les forces de défense et de sécurité du Cameroun ont incendié des maisons et des magasins en AMBAZONIE. Nous avons la liste de ce qu’ils font en plus de leurs actes barbares.

    Ils pillent, ils brûlent, ils tuent, ils mangent des chiens, volent du bétail
    Pour se faire passer pour des Ambazoniens.
    Ils s’habillent en clochards dans les rues et cachent des armes.
    Ils infiltrent pour écouter ce qui se dit.
    Les fonctionnaires vivent dans le chantage permanent
    Ils volent les pc, les téléphones et tout ce qu’ils trouvent.

    LA RIPOUBLIQUE thief our ressources, buy weapons with the money then come and kill us with the weapons from the money of our ressources way dem thiefam.La Ripoublique Voleur. Assassin. Bandit. NoBoDy can Accept slavery

  15. May force and wisdom always guide the people of Southern Cameroons, AMBAZONIA. Freedom is a human right. Together we stand to win, separated, we may easily lose. We shall prevail against all odds. AMBAZONIA shall be free amidst all thorns.

  16. ZamZam lef people we have decided to leave.
    Deal with that.
    In other news, participation in the sham elections 15%
    So much for the legitimacy of the government in larepublique

    • Please leave ASP…until we teach our children our own history, they will continue to fall prey to the likes of Cho, Ayuk, Sako…who are worse than the status quo, equatorial Saxons.

      Any CMR who is well-versed in our history, not that one-sided history that is passed down from accomplice-fathers to son but the real history of CMR as archived in many libraries, especially in Bundes, can never pay attention to adventurers like Cho and Co…

      Learn your history and free your mind…

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