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Monday, October 7, 2019

Cameroon: A complicated end of Paul Biya reigns

Nearly a year after the re-election of Paul Biya, Cameroon remains stuck in two armed conflicts and a political crisis unprecedented in nearly 37 years of power. 

After being uncompromising, the head of state, who has just ordered the release of his main opponent Maurice Kamto and his supporters, as well as those of detainees linked to the Anglophone crisis, seems to play appeasement.

English-speaking separatist crisis 

The North West and South-West regions, populated by the English-speaking minority, which represents 14% of Cameroonians, are the scene of intense conflict over the last two years between the Cameroonian armed forces and English-speaking separatists fighting for the creation of an independent state. 

The conflict has killed more than 3,000 people in two years, according to Human Rights Watch. More than half a million people have fled their homes, according to the UN.

At the beginning of the year, signs of openness had begun to emerge on both sides, but the July 20 jail sentence of Julius Ayuk Tabe, self-proclaimed pro-independence president, had once again tense the trade. 

The announcement in mid-September of President Biya to convene a grand national dialogue to try to end this deadly conflict was a surprise. 

These talks that gathered more than 1,000 participants, but were boycotted by the main separatist leaders, ended on Friday with the adotpion of a special Statute for the two regions, which if it were endorsed by Yaoundé, would offer them more autonomy than a simple decentralization. 

The Boko Haram threat 

Although weakened, the jihadist group Boko Haram remains very active in the far north, bordering Nigeria.

In late June, the country observed a day of mourning in memory of soldiers killed by the Nigerian Muslim extremist group, after an attack that killed 37 people according to security sources. 

The Boko Haram insurgency, which began in 2009 in northeastern Nigeria, killed more than 27,000 people and forced nearly 1.8 million people to flee to neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. 

The imprisoned opposition 

The main opponent of Paul Biya and his challenger in the presidential election of 8 October 2018, Maurice Kamto, was for nearly nine months imprisoned in Yaoundé where he was awaiting trial in a military court for "insurrection" with 88 of his supporters. 

The defendants were theoretically incurring the death penalty, even though it did not.

President Biya ordered Friday the release of Mr. Kamto, and those of 101 of his supporters. 

Since the election, Kamto's party, the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC), had been organizing peaceful protests, denouncing the "electoral holdup" of 2018. According to the official results of Yaoundé, Mr. Kamto, who came second, 14.23% of the votes, compared with 71.28% for Mr Biya. 

Political tensions remain exacerbated in the country, where the legislative and municipal elections, scheduled to take place in 2019, have been postponed until 2020.