Friday, March 15, 2019

the disturbing gloaming of Paul Biya's regime

Go unnoticed while making yourself indispensable. Since becoming President of Cameroon more than 36 years ago, Paul Biya has adhered to this principle.President at rare public appearances - his latest photos, published on the occasion of his 86th birthday when he reveals himself in an unusual pastel pink tunic, have been widely commented on social networks - he has placed himself as a valuable ally for all those interested in this pivotal region between West Africa and Central Africa. An area that, in recent decades, has had to deal with the tumults of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Central African Republic or even Chad.

French, Americans and Chinese could then, in a great unanimity, sing the praises of this discreet autocrat who made his country an apparent haven of stability and a land of investment. But then, what has happened so that, in the same week, the European diplomacy and the US State Department publicly expose their concerns when the direction taken by Cameroon?

It was first the US Under Secretary of State for African Affairs who sent the first salvo on 4 March to Radio France Internationale.On the eve of embarking on a tour of Central Africa, to be held on March 17 and 18 in Cameroon, Tibor Nagy urged the Yaoundé authorities to release opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who officially came in second in the presidential election. of October 7, 2018, because, he judges, "whether true or false, he is perceived to have been incarcerated for his political activities".

"Emergence of hate speech"

The next day, it was Federica Mogherini's turn to issue a statement on behalf of the European Union (EU), in which she said that "the arrest and prolonged detention of several leaders of an opposition party, including its leader Maurice Kamto, and a significant number of protesters and supporters, as well as the opening of disproportionate proceedings against them in the military justice, increase the political malaise in Cameroon. "

Other reasons for concern for the head of European diplomacy: "The emergence of hate speech based on ethnicity", mainly to the Bamileke, the community of origin of Mr. Kamto, and "the persistence of violence and human rights violations in the North West and South West regions, "the two Anglophone majority regions which, since October 2016, have gradually slipped into a civil war that refuses to say his name.

On this last point, Europeans and Americans also share the same analysis.Asked by Le Monde, Donald Trump's "Mr. Africa", Tibor Nagy, explained that he did not understand "why this crisis is continuing when it is clear that we need a dialogue open to all, without limit, for to reach a resolution of this situation. Perhaps it will have to be done in an international forum. "

The reactions from outraged Yaounde were quick. "Slightly veiled and unacceptable interference with the internal affairs of Cameroon", "ignorance of the stakes, realities and facts", was offended by the Minister of Communication and government spokesman, René Emmanuel Sadi. "We are shocked by these foreign reactions that are completely out of step with the reality," says a close associate of President Biya, saying that "the head of state will appreciate when Mr. Nagy will be there if he has to Give explanations".

Maintaining an uncompromising line

Whether the crackdown on the opposition since the end of January or the conflict in regions with English-speaking majority, the Cameroonian government unfolds the argument of the attacker, who reacts with the arms of law and is misunderstood by the outside.

Maurice Kamto, who calls himself "the president-elect", his campaign team, and nearly 200 people have been arrested since the protests on January 26 and detained in the squalid Kondengui prison in Yaounde. The government mobilized military justice against these opponents, accused in particular of "insurrection, hostility against the fatherland, rebellion and destruction of public property".

In theory, they incur the death penalty."Kamto and his activists have committed reprehensible acts such as the sacking of embassies in Paris and Berlin, where the head of state's effigy was even pissed off.He proclaimed himself president in violation of the law, organized banned marches and, when he speaks to the Bamileke, he plays on the tribalist fiber by calling them to wake up ", justifies the relative of president Biya previously quoted, before conclude by being satisfied that "alas for them, the street does not follow them, the social body is block.Everything is solid.

With regard to the crisis in the two English-speaking regions, the government also maintains an uncompromising line, claiming to have to deal with "autonomous bands that plunder, kidnap and have nothing to do with a pro-independence political project", but that "the actions of the military begin to bear fruit". "Many of their" generals "have fallen on the battlefield, hundreds of their fighters are fleeing. The only problem we have is these kidnappings committed by the Amba Boys [the separatist groups] that frighten people, "says a security source.

"The French rolled in the flour"

"It's archifal to say that the problem is being resolved. The proof is that when separatists decree a dead city day, it works. The Cameroonian government refuses to face the problem and maintains its arrogance, "replies Elie Smith, secretary general and coordinator of the Anglophone General Conference.

According to the few observers on the spot, the conflict took the face of a dirty war in camera, with its lot of abuses, destroyed villages, alleged accomplices of a camp or the other executed, racketeering the few entrepreneurs still active in the area and kidnappings for ransoms.According to the UN, 437,000 people were internally displaced by the conflict and another 32,000 fled to Nigeria.

From a good source, negotiations, secret to preserve the pride of both sides, could open at a date and place still unknown."Western countries are exasperated by the level of violence of the Cameroonian forces and, if Yaounde refuses to dialogue, the Americans consider individual sanctions against personalities of power," says a personality invested on this issue.

The latter also reports that the Cameroonian authorities could no longer benefit from the protective umbrella of Paris: "France, which has always been supportive of the government, is embarrassed. After his reelection, Biya made the French believe in a deep governmental shake-up, from which the hawks would be excluded, and the creation of an independent commission to surround negotiations with the anglophones. France then lobbied to curb the chancelleries who were on a harder line. But force is to note that the power rolled the French in the flour. "

Illegitimate regime"

As paradoxical as it may seem, the main beneficiaries of the hardening of the authorities may be to look for the opposition. "The illegitimate regime has done us an enormous service," said Olivier Bibou Nissack, Maurice Kamto's spokesperson. Why would he trigger a judicial cabal to discredit someone who only collected 14% of the votes? The regime has put a spotlight on the electoral hold-up of which we were the object by refusing the recount of the voices, and showed its dictatorial nature by deploying all the arsenal judicial, police and military against us. "

A late analyst of the political situation even envisages that "being arrested was part of the strategy of Mr. Kamto - who was minister of Paul Biya - to legitimize himself as an opponent in a country where they are traditionally bought by the power.Moreover, going to prison allowed him to attract international attention to himself and to Cameroon. "

According to this source, the stiffening of the authorities shows that" the image of Paul Biya, its central element, the regime is out of breath. In the struggle for succession, which began long ago, the hard-liners who seem to be in charge now have to eliminate external competitors like Kamto before delivering the battle in-house. " This struggle in the shadows does not spare those of the power whose ambitions for the future seem too obvious.On March 6, former Defense Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo'o was detained in Kondengui Prison as part of a "financial malpractice" case.

Disillusioned report from a diplomat stationed in Yaoundé: "We are hoping for an awareness of the current dangers facing Cameroon. But the government does not help itself by getting angry with its friends abroad. Until now, he had the good sense to suggest that Cameroon is a democracy. "