Friday, April 11, 2008

Cameroon: Another Failed State? Cameroon's Descent

Relatives gather on February 24, 2008 in the Madagascar district of Douala in front of the house of Raoul, a 20-year-old man who was reportedly shot dead by police trying to disperse during a demonstration after protestors erected barricades on the eve. Police in Cameroon fired tear-gas and water cannon at a crowd of several hundred gathered for an outlawed demonstration against President Paul Biya's constitutional reform plans here yesterday. But opposition politicians behind the protest said police acted despite the rally being postponed at the last minute amid efforts at getting the state to overturn a ban its officials said was to avoid another 'Kenyan scenario'. A 20-year-old man was reportedly shot dead by police trying to disperse during the demonstration after protestors erected barricades. AFP PHOTO / FANNY PIGEAUD (Photo credit should read FANNY PIGEAUD/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu


Unless there is clear political reform that will allow citizens to finally enjoy basic civil liberties - including full freedom of expression, free elections and the rule of law - a crisis is inevitable. But within days of our arrival in my country, riots and protests ignited by the rising costs of fuel and food resulted in a nationwide lockdown.


Much of the public's frustration is due to the stark need for political reform. Cameroon's 75-year-old president, Paul Biya, suggested in his New Year's address that he intended to modify the Constitution to extend his term in office beyond 2011.


Biya has been in power almost as long as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Under his rule, Cameroon has endured endemic corruption, weak institutions, official impunity and fraudulent elections. During our trip, I found the presence of armed security forces across the capital's hilly landscapes frighteningly reminiscent of the atmosphere in Rwanda and Burundi in the mid-1990s.


Thousands of ordinary citizens suspected of participating in the protests were arbitrarily rounded up and detained, subjected to summary trials and harsh sentences, some for up to six years in prison. Witnesses reported that many people in custody were beaten, tortured and abused.


There were also reports of dead bodies floating on the Wouri River in Douala, the country's economic capital, although it is unclear how many people died. Even more disturbing is the inflammatory and divisive rhetoric by some high-level government officials seeking to incite hatred and manipulate ethnic differences. In a country with over 125 different ethnic groups, this is a sinister game that could trigger inter-community conflict. The president recently made good on his New Year's promise.


The ruling party has formally introduced a bill that would amend the Constitution to allow Biya to run for another seven-year term after his current mandate ends in 2011. It is unclear what may happen next. Resentments were simmering long before Biya's New Year's speech - resentments that could have been addressed, but weren't. Instead, the president ignored all warnings in his bid for increased power.


The outcome could be very scary indeed. Although calm appears to have returned, for now, the human rights situation is seriously deteriorating. The few human rights lawyers in the country are overwhelmed. Intolerance and hate speech are rising. Campaigners for a civil society report that the government has them under surveillance and that their family members do not feel safe. There also are reports of increased arms trafficking into the country, with ordinary citizens buying and burying guns in their backyards - "just in case." The international community could take steps to help prevent a crisis.


Unfortunately, promises of preventive measures and "never again" rhetoric regarding Africa rarely translate into action on the ground. I fear that the international community will wait until it is too late to prevent a major conflict in Cameroon - and will then have to spend massive resources in response to a humanitarian crisis. Today, many people are trying to leave the country. But most of Cameroon's neighboring countries are themselves collapsing states and cannot provide a safe haven.


Unless there is clear political reform that will allow citizens to finally enjoy basic civil liberties - including full freedom of expression, free elections and the rule of law - a crisis is inevitable. Cameroon is another Central African country where time is running out.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kenya, Zimbabwe, and now Cameroon, Africa's latest hotspots

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing dear Etse... this unending spiral of heart wrenching tragedies continue to loom over africa like a deadly plague... My president, Paul Biya raped our constitution last week to get lee way to run for elections again in 20011 for another 7 year mandate... this is his 26th year in office...
We must pray!
afeseh.

Anonymous said...

Why on earthshould we all doubt the reality facing our fatherland? Where, if not in failed states will people be, "shot dead by police trying to disperse during a demonstration after protestors erected barricades on the eve" A country with an 'open-mandate' constitution, poverty, unemployment and poor living conditions. The Biya regime has degraded our fatherland. Where will fellow Cameroonians stand up to say, "enough is enough?" Oh God, help us all and our country.(Marco)

Anonymous said...

Why on earth should we all doubt the reality facing our fatherland? Where, if not in failed states will people be, "shot dead by police trying to disperse during a demonstration after protestors erected barricades on the eve" A country with an 'open-mandate' constitution, poverty, unemployment and poor living conditions. The Biya regime has degraded our fatherland. Where will fellow Cameroonians stand up to say, "enough is enough?" Oh God, help us all and our country.

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Evaristus said...

Cameroon certainly is a state of rights. It is unheard of that a handful of individuals, under the pretext of political claims instrumetalizes youths by sending them into the streets, with the aim of generating uprising. Youths have to show some proof of maturity and thoughtfulness.

gregroire said...

Giving such delicate and important information in a conditional manner will obviously not be on the front due to lack of sustained facts. However, the media hype surrounding these facts benefits nobody else than those who plot evil in order to tarnish the image of our country.

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Evaristus said...

All humans are prone to mistakes and that should be a reason to throw that on the government. I don’t think President Paul Biya can give orders for a compatriot to be shut down deliberately.

Barbara said...

Even in the most developed countries of the world mistakes of lost bullets are seen. Mistakes are human and I don’t think the head of states can order deliberate shooting down of his compatriots.

Moussa said...

Sincere condolence to the bereaved family. I don’t think President Paul Biya who loves his compatriots can give orders for them to be shutdown. I know the pain felt upon losing a beloved one, it was a mistake and it happens in all countries, we are all humans and prone to mistakes, I don’t think it was deliberate shooting, the police was just trying to disperse crowds.

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