Biya leaves for Europe amid strife in Cameroon

Monday June 24 2019

Cameroon President Paul Biya and his wife

Cameroon President Paul Biya and his wife Chantal leave Yaounde International Airport for Europe on June 23, 2019. Mr Biya, 86, has been accused of ignoring international calls for dialogue on the humanitarian crisis in the English speaking, western region of the country even as the UN warns of human rights abuses caused by war between the army, separatists and terrorists. PHOTO | NDI EUGENE NDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

PETER MUNAITA
By PETER MUNAITA
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NDI EUGENE NDI
By NDI EUGENE NDI
More by this Author

President Paul Biya left Cameroon on Sunday for "a brief stay" in Europe amidst growing global indignation over human rights abuses in the country.

The crisis in the English speaking western part of the country is causing outrage from the United Nations to the sports fields and movie theatres as social influencers also demand intervention.

"This is genocide and we are acting like it does not matter. African leaders keep acting like the presidency is the birthright or inheritance," Nollywood Stella Damasus tweeted on June 18, in an attempt to raise awareness on the civil war in Cameroon that appears to be passing under the international radar.

Under the hashtag #helpcameroon Ms Damasus pleaded with "everyone who has social media and can type a message" to spread the word.

"People are dying, babies are being killed please. We can put a post on our pages and condemn this," she wrote, asking people with connections with the UN or any agency to "reach out to them and speak out."

The actress' was not a lone voice.

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Two days later Cameroon attacker Ajara Nchout Njoya chose the ongoing FIFA Women's World Cup going on in France, a possible destination for Biya's sojourn, to highlight the crisis back home.

"We play for the people of Cameroon because we want peace in Cameroon," Ms Njoya said after scoring the Indomitable Lionesses winning goal in a 2-1 victory over New Zealand.

The win took Cameroon to the quarterfinals where they lost 3-0 to England in controversial circumstances on Sunday.

Biya, who has ruled the country since 1982, congratulated the team for its heroics before leaving for a "brief stay" in an undisclosed destination in Europe. He had spent close to a year in Cameroon, the longest time he has spent in the country in recent times.

He leaves behind a Cameroon is facing a myriad of security challenges including a separatist movement in the Anglophone region and a Boko Haram insurgence to the North.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said last month the number of people in need of aid in the central Africa country was 4.3 million, up by a third from that last year, while more than 1,800 people have been killed in the crossfire.

This has been exacerbated in part by an influx of refugees from the Central African Republic and Nigeria. "The level of the crisis is more alarming than ever," Mr Lowcock said.

In seeking to bring the situation under control, however, President Biya's administration has placed military might above a political solution prompting human rights excesses by both state, separatist and terrorist forces.

Communities caught in the middle have formed vigilantes of their own with some working with the main protagonists depending on where their interests are best looked after.

Clips of mothers and children being sat down, blindfolded and executed by alleged government forces have since March strengthened the case for intervention.

The EU has warned severally that the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon is worsening while the International Crisis Group has proposed a political solution, including Biya, 86, coming down a pedestal to negotiate with militant at terror groups.

In May Biya raised hopea this would happen when he sent his prime minister Joseph Dion Ngute to Anglophone Cameroon with a message of peace.

Dr Ngute said Biya was laying the ground for dialogue on everything except secession, a remark that appeared to rule out any negotiations with separatists.

Despite truckloads of humanitarian aid leaving Yaounde regularly for the conflict hit western region, the country's Parliament has been at the forefront in rejecting any international involvement in resolving the dispute.

Hon Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, Speaker of the National Assembly said "there was a conspiracy against Cameroon with the aim of destabilizing the country.”

He said conspirators had branded the Cameroonian political system "as resistant to any dialogue, a system condoned impunity and violation of human rights” in order to get a basis for interfering in the country's internal affairs.

“All these allegations are baseless. The National Assembly vehemently denounces and condemns,” Hon Cavaye while still calling for support from bilateral and multilateral partners.

In a letter to Parliament last week, Biya said council and parliamentary elections that have been outstanding since last year would be pushed to February 2020 "in order to harmonise the organisation of a twin municipal and legislative poll."

A bill to that effect is expected to be tabled in Parliament where despite political party affiliations, it is expected to pass as a matter of course.

With the extension Mr Biya has one eye on the Finance Bill been passed while many observers think a conference on the future of Anglophone, disallowed by the government, since 2017, should also be prioritised.

The Cameroon government has been accused of “lack of will” to call for a dialogue to solve the armed conflict in the English speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of the country where separatists want to create a new country called Ambazonia.

In April, the EU parliament in a resolution called on President Paul Biya's government to immediately take all steps to bring an end to the violence and impunity in the country “in a non-violent and inclusive manner, respecting fundamental rights and the rule of law.”

During a visit to the country in May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet Jeria warned that the crisis was getting out of hand and the window for reconciliation closing.

The African Union has stood by the non-interference clause contained in its charter despite calls from civil society groups for it to act.

On May 14, an informal discussion on the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon at the UN Security Council floundered when African members of the security organ - Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast and South Africa - joined China and Russia in opposing a UN intervention.

The session was also attended by Germany, Britain and the Dominican Republic.

Instead, they argued, the international community should support Cameroon in tackling the civil strife.

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