Paul Biya has won another battle but he is gradually losing the war

Judge Clement Atangana was accused of supporting President Paul Biya during a post-election hearing that saw him dismiss 18 opposition petitions against the running of the elections. In a move that his accusers may see as confirming their suspicions, President Biya in the brazen manner that has characterized his presidency of 36 years, is planning to get Atangana a new house.

The government through the Ministry of State Property and Land Tenure launched an open national invitation to tender for the construction of the residence of the President of the Constitutional Council. According to the tender announcement, the construction of the residence should take less than eight months to complete with an estimated budget of 272m CFA ($473,000). To many in the opposition, if there was any chance the constitutional court would reopen their petitions, it’s gone now. Biya will be in power for another seven years unless he decides to follow in Robert Mugabe’s footsteps.

In more than three decades of his leadership, Cameroonians have endured failed promises. Before every election, Biya comes out with a promise of economic recovery and prosperity but the country has sunk deeper into poverty. In 2014, 8.1 million poor were recorded in the country of 24.05 million people. This number increased by 12 percent between 2007 and 2014, owing to a poverty reduction rate that lags behind the population growth rate. It becomes more difficult to reduce the poverty rate with the country suffering from weak governance, which hinders its development and ability to attract investments. Cameroon ranks 153rd out of 180 countries in the 2017 Transparency International corruption perceptions index and 163rd out of 190 economies in the 2018 Doing Business report.

Cameroon
Cameroon – Foreign direct investment Source: Index Mundi

According to the World Bank, poverty is increasingly concentrated in Cameroon’s northern regions, with 56 percent of the poor living in the North and Far North regions — areas affected by violence due to conflict between Anglophone secessionists and the military in the north west, as well as insurgency by terrorist group Boko Haram in the far north. On the night of 25 October, the group, which also wreaks havoc in north east Nigeria, killed two civilians in Amshide, a frequent occurrence these days, most of which are seldom reported.

A week earlier, the terrorists abducted eight women and a baby in Vourkaza, Mayo-Moskota, another Far North Region of Cameroon.

Fighting Ambazonians

Once dedicated to ensuring Cameroonians are safe from Boko Haram attacks, the military now has another task which some believe has been prioritized over fighting terrorists; it’s keeping increasingly vocal secessionists quiet. President Biya has called the separatists “terrorists” and Cameroon’s military have been treating them as such.

The military said on Thursday that “many have been killed” in fighting with Anglophone separatists after it launched attacks against them on Tuesday following the announcement of Biya as winner of the presidential election. No fewer than seven suspected separatists’ training grounds in the Northwest region was attacked by the military. Reports say fighting went on in villages in Bui, Donga Mantung, Mezam and Ngoketungia administrative areas for about 24 hours. The Associated Press said one of its reporters saw at least 18 corpses.

Francophone Cameroon control elite circles in the Central African country. For decades, there have been complains that Anglophones are marginalized; often overlooked for top ministerial jobs, with Francophone teachers and judges being sent to Anglophone schools and courts despite complaints. Anglophone Cameroonians eventually communicated their concerns loudly through protests last year, but the military responded violently, killing some protesters and arresting others.

Growing poverty in addition to their pent up anger against the center for their marginalization did not help matters as the military’s violent response enraged Anglophones who threw their weight behind an armed movement trying to secede from Cameroon to create an English-speaking state called Ambazonia. Things deteriorated thence, as armed factions emerged, increasing violence in the region.

Avoiding war

President Biya, who was the flag bearer of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement(CPDM) at the last presidential election, was reported to have said ahead of the polls that he would crush the secessionists when he is re-elected. With growing discontent with his reign, his opponents fancied their chances but as it has happened in the last three decades, Biya won again. However, reactions before and after the elections show that Cameroon is closer to changing its fortunes, whether with Biya remaining president or not. There have been shows of intent by his opponents to continue “fighting for Cameroon”.

Joshua Osih, who ran against Biya through the Social Democratic Front, though conceded defeat, but told the president of the Constitutional Council that “nothing will be ever be as it was before”.

He also advised President Biya to allow partisan feelings give way to patriotism, adding: “Mr. President of the Republic, please listen to the people who need peace and reconciliation, work….”

“If our ideologies and our beliefs oppose us, we must know that there is greater than our political parties, there is Cameroon. I hope that this election, Mr. President will have been a highlight not only for the people of Cameroon, but also for you.”

He said all these, while maintaining that the election was fraught with irregularities, an opinion shared by the United States Department of State. In a statement, the Department said while the irregularities might not have affected the outcome of the election, they “created an impression that the election was not credible or genuinely free and fair”.

But more importantly, the United States, like the rest of the world wants an end to the crisis in the anglophone regions of Cameroon.

The United Kingdom also expressed hope that “President Biya will reach out to all sections of Cameroonian society and work to build confidence and trust”.

“It is crucial for all parties to engage in a peaceful and structured process leading to constitutional reforms, as previously set out by the President, and avoid excessive use of force,” said UK’s Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin.

President Biya has an opportunity to bring Cameroonians together and ensure peace reigns in the country. Boko Haram is still a challenge in Cameroon’s far north; the terrorist group is the real enemy Cameroonians need to fight collectively, not one another. Thus, the president has to rein in the military and open channels for a peaceful dialogue and reconciliation.

However, considering the number of lives already lost and people displaced, peace may not be easy to attain, but it’s the best and only option for Cameroon. If Biya fails, the Central African country might sadly be on its way to civil war. Already close to 200,000 people are displaced within the country and thousands, maybe ten thousands, of others have fled into Nigeria.