Monday, October 7, 2019

Liberation of Maurice Kamto: Paul Biya still under pressure

'We are half-fig, half-grape because everyone has not benefited from this measure'

Day of jubilation in the Cameroonian capital. No sooner had the news fallen than a crowd gathered in front of the Yaounde Military Court, to greet loudly the release of the opponent Maurice Kamto. After nine months of imprisonment, the national president of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (RCM), officially 2nd in the presidential election of October 2018 - but claiming victory - and 101 party leaders and activists found the freedom Saturday, October 5th.

"We are half-fig, half-grape because everyone has not benefited from this measure. Activists remain imprisoned, "laments Sylvain Souop, lawyer at the head of the defense collective Maurice Kamto. "This release is a breakthrough. But, I think we must forgive everyone, even those who have already been sentenced, to bring peace, "engages Félix Agbor, another lawyer of the collective.

"Promoting a climate of peace" 

The day before, Paul Biya, 86 years old, president of Cameroon for 37 years, had announced "the stop of the lawsuits" against these people arrested for having participated in marches of protest against what they considered to be an electoral "hold-up". They risked the death penalty.

The Cameroonian president justified his gesture by "his desire to promote a climate of peace, fraternity and harmony" between Cameroonians. This decision comes mainly hours after the end of the "great national dialogue" which took place from September 30 to October 4 with the aim of ending the ongoing separatist conflict in the North West and South West; the two English-speaking regions of the country. A war that has already killed more than 2,000 people, forced more than 500,000 to flee and forced more than 600,000 children to drop out of school.

The Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon boycotted the event for lack of a release of its leaders, activists and supporters as well as all those arrested and still detained in the context of this crisis that began in 2016. He also asked for an amnesty for separatist leaders including Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, president of the self-proclaimed state of "Ambazonia", sentenced last August to life imprisonment. He also proposed the choice of a neutral personality to lead the dialogue. The Cameroonian government, which has long denied the existence of any English-speaking problem, has swept away these pre-requisites, preferring the boycott of the MRC.

"Basically, why was Maurice Kamto arrested? Why was not he released before the dialogue? If we did it today, that means we could have done it before. Later, it may be Sisiku Ayuk's turn. Why waste so much time when innocent people die every day and when peace is increasingly threatened in our country? "Wonders annoyed, a member of the Rassemblement démocratique des peuple camerounais (CPDM, in power), from the English-speaking area, who wished to remain anonymous.

Like the other delegates present at the dialogue and interviewed by Le Monde Africa, he is very critical of its progress. Beyond the absence of exiled separatist leaders who have not made the move, he denounces "oriented" discussions, a unilateral choice by the government of the themes and leaders of the eight commissions.

"A staging" 

"The government wanted to oversee this dialogue too much and this caused frustrations. It's a bit of a staging, "says Dr Ernest Folefack, who was part of the Education Committee. Although this law professor at the University of Dschang in the west of the country welcomes the fact that "speech has remained free for many," he protests against the "excessive presence of officials of the system."

A situation that pushed some opposition leaders to slam the door, denouncing a "single word", "a monologue".  According to them, the conclusions were known in advance.  "I thought I was participating in a dialogue," said Akere Muna, a former presidential candidate in 2018. Before I even went there, I was told that those who were going to speak were already identified. Afterwards, we brought a list of the members of the commissions, and I told myself that it was not a dialogue but a show of which I am a spectator.  I went ".  For Alice Sadio, president of the Alliance of Progressive Forces (AFP), "what was offered to us instead of the national dialogue is more like a mega-meeting with a strong CPDM sprinkled with some opposition figures to make  politically correct ".

 Those who remained, especially, focused on the commission "decentralization and local development" where they hoped to debate the shape of the state and reach a consensus.  In the English-speaking areas, a large majority of the population is dreaming of a return to federalism as the separatists lean toward secession.

 The discussions were heated and pro federalism delegates even temporarily deserted the room, tired of the "directives" of the ruling party.  In vain.  After four days of debate, the landmark resolution was the granting of a "special status" for these two English-speaking regions.  If the outlines are still vague, voices are already raised to denounce a decentralization "bis" guaranteed by the constitution of 1996 and never fully applied.

 "This will ensure more autonomy for these regions.  This is a breakthrough, yet wants to believe Elie Smith, spokesman for the English General Conference, who participated in the debates.  I think we have to go gradually, "he says.  An analysis shared by Felix Agbor Balla, lawyer and pro-federalist, who wants to believe that this part of the country will eventually become "fully autonomous".

 More autonomy for these regions

 The holding of this great national dialogue did not stop the violence in the two English-speaking regions where kidnappings and fighting continued.  On 1 October, the separatists even raised their flags in several localities because in the history of the country this date remains central.  The birth of the Federal Republic of Cameroon following the reunification of Southern Cameroon and French Cameroon took place on 1 October.  It was in 1961.

 To calm the game, President Paul Biya announced on the third day of the dialogue, the lifting of the lawsuits against 333 Anglophones arrested in the context of the crisis.  Measure considered insufficient by the separatist leaders who confided in Reuters.  The latter demanded the release of their leaders and all other English-speaking prisoners, the holding of a dialogue outside Cameroon, led by a neutral mediator.

 "On the ground, the war is getting worse.  President Biya does not have much time to convince his English-speaking citizens to disassociate themselves from the separatist adventure.  To begin, he must meet the real English-speaking actors that are the separatists.  There are imprisoned leaders and those in the diaspora, "says Arrey Ntui, an analyst for Cameroon at the International Crisis Group (ICG).  It remains to be seen whether the liberation of Maurice Kamto will be the only gesture of opening moment, or whether the separatists will in turn recover freedom.