Cameroon Alert!

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Text from a Facebook post 23 June 2016: Common lawyers rubbish new penal code Bill: A penal code that says ministers cannot be arrested or tried (immunity). A penal code that says any judge who tries  a minister and sentences him will be sent to jail. Wonders!!

Gradually we’re starting to get more information from West Cameroon, where a strike by lawyers has been evolving into a general strike among teachers and finally protestsscreenshot_20161212-085944 in several towns in this part of Cameroon that were met with violence by the State. Today, 12 December: A call is being made on the internet for declaring a Ghost Town in Southern Cameroon (see Facebook post); what will be the response? The essence of the argument in the protest is the imposition of the Francophone laws, teaching etc. on the Anglophones, a discourse that stands for so much more.

Common Lawyers strike
It started with the strike of the Anglophone Common Lawyers. I witnessed through the eyes of a former student from Leiden the long process leading up to the strike: the first steps were made this summer. It went from a peaceful protest to a harsh and violent encounter between the lawyers and the government. On Thursday 10 November 2016, several lawyers in Buea were beaten, and their wigs and gowns seized.

From a Facebook Post summarizing the process, beginning December:

Hello Prof. Mirjam! The Common Law Lawyers of Anglophone extraction have been on strike across the entire Common law jurisdictions of the North West and South West regions. This is on account of the systemic extinction of the Common Law principles by officials of ‘La République’. Prior to this strike action we had tabled a series of demands to the head of state. It is a shame that instead of responding to our demands, the government turned a deaf ear and instead employs its traditional policy of divide and rule as a means of frustrating our cause.
Consequently, we have resorted to remain resolute, determined and steadfast to our cause. We are henceforth synergizing with other unions to advance the cause.

Cameroon on fire?
Are the protests that we are witnessing today an outcry over years of neglect and oppression? And will they finally lead to change in Cameroon? For long, journalists and academics have been wondering why there was not more protest in Cameroon. I asked this question several times to my Cameroonian friends whose answers would vary; from ‘we do not like conflict’ to ‘oppression is too harsh’. Are today’s protests a turn in Cameroonian history? Will the Anglophone grievances be picked up by the Francophones who suffer similar marginality, who are also neglected by the state and have a ruler whose family has been bathing in wealth for the past 34 years? The splitting of the country in Francophone and Anglophone parts at independence (1961) has ever since served as a language to formulate anger and to search for justice.

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@From the blog post of Vera Bakker

I cite from a friend’s detailed report to me (in the week of 12 December). He was writing this in a cybercafé while the protests were ongoing on 30 November 2016:

But the unique aspect of the union of French speaking and English speaking Cameroonians is that it was not one through a formal union treaty. It was an informal arrangement between the peoples of the Cameroons who only share the commonality of German colonization from 1884 to 1916 who decided to cohabitate from October 1961. That is why the union has been described as a ‘Tontine Union’ in reference to the commonly found informal associations which function on the basis of unwritten agreements.

We preach no violence. At least not before peaceful options have been exhausted! But it was high time we got Yaoundé to understand that we have inalienable rights. It was high time we got Yaoundé  to understand that we are all children of God, made in his own image and lines. That we have been recognized by the international community as a people; and so we stand side by side with them as two peoples equal in status. That, flowing from that, we shall never again glorify the status of second class citizens.

Deep roots
Walter Nkwi, University Professor in Buea,  shared his analysis with me per e-mail (12 December 2016):
‘(…) Of course the problem of Bamenda [the anglophone capital of the North West Region, MdB] cannot be explained in a single email. It has deep historical roots and cannot be separated from the political upheavals of the 1990s. Over the years, the city has been abandoned by the ruling government to the extent that there is virtually no road.fb_img_1481529808525
This time around the story started with the lawyers who insisted that the government should translate the OHADA Law, which is a business law for the whole of French Africa. Interestingly this law has been there since 1999 or so. Apart from the translation the lawyers also demanded that the government should withdraw all the Francophone magistrates, who cannot pass and write judgment in English, from the Anglophone courts. This was also because the government had been insensitive to the fact that while the Francophones are trained in civil law the Anglophones were trained in common law. After a persistent plea to the government and the government stubbornness to listen to their plight they now called a strike.
In the midst of the strike, Anglophone teachers of secondary and higher education called a strike, firstly, in solidarity with the lawyers and also because the francophone had adulterated the English education; University of Buea [the capital of the anglophone South West Region, MdB] and Bamenda joined and all now are asking for a federal system of government while others are asking for complete secession with the francophone government. An attempt to diffuse this problem by the Prime Minister in Bamenda failed. This led to a rally in Buea to preach national unity by the CPDM [main political party, of president Paul Biya, MdB] stakeholders. This was happening just after Frundi [opposition leader, central in the riots in the 1990s] had visited Buea to attend the students who had gone on rampage on 28 November demanding for their bonuses, also known as the Presidential excellent award. Their names were omitted at the level of the Ministry of Higher Education and the university authorities were still in the process of getting the problem resolved. However, in Buea the rally “went well” but the attendance was very timid.
The CPDM delegation left for Bamenda where they met stiff resistance from the population, mostly the youths who put up barricades, blocking all the entrances into the city. The military replied with grenades and life bullets and in the confusion some youths were killed. The other youths resorted to burning down the electric and telephone poles as well as the police station at the Meta quarters and military cars. CPDM vote holders were even taken hostage at Ayaba hotel, one of the big hotels in Bamenda.
Bamenda, Buea and Cameroon at large are very tense. Anything can start at any time. The personnel of the University of Buea has been on strike for one month now and nothing is moving. Administrators have abandoned their offices and once in a while the police, in full combat gear, comes round. Nobody can say what will happen next. Like during the French revolution of 1789.  All the ingredients for a great outburst in Cameroon are present. There is an inefficient and corrupt government; a dismembered civil society; a very high level of unemployment; an efficient military; popular masses suffering from the main base of the state; a lousy 300 parties democracy; inadequate health facilities; inadequate portable water; very poor road infrastructure etc. All need a single spark to set everything alight. The conflagration can come at any time.

I have told you in trust my mind.’

Walter permitted me to publish this text that hardly contains his anger but is also an analysis that needs to reach the eyes of the readers.

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Emerging civil society and the elections in Chad

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Dominance of MPS banners in the streets of N’Djamena. (Photo: Bokal).

‘No I was not an activist, but yes I have become one, a little bit. It has to stop, this crazy country, it is a crazy country; we have oil, manpower, gold, gas, but nothing is going; life is expensive, and nothing goes; that is how it is here…’

‘I study in Douala, private law; yes the universities are good in Cameroon. Here in Chad nothing goes… so it is time things change, and I want to do something.’

‘Yes I write.. I am on Facebook… we need to do something.’ (27 March 2016)

I am sitting at the back of the moto-cycle of a friend, driving around N’Djamena to search for an ATM that still has some money. The SGTB and UBA, the bigger banks, have no money. Finally we find the Ecobank cash machine, where I can get the money I need to pay my bills. The friend tells me about his new vocation: being active in civil society. We drive along the roads where the symbols of the leading party of President Déby, the MPS (Mouvement Patriotique du Salut), are shouting at us: the colors blue and yellow with the symbol of the hoe and the Kalashnikov crossed, as if both are weapons of survival in Chad. The campaign started on 20 March, and nobody can by now ignore the MPS, possibly the winning party at the Presidential elections that are due 10 April.

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Banner of presidential candidate Kebzabo. (Photo: Bokal).

Gradually in the days after the 20th, another party – with orange colors – became visible in some streets: the UNDR (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau) of Saleh Kebzabo, who was also present during the first elections in Chad just after the 1990s when Idriss Déby took power from Hissène Habré. A power he never left. But will he do so this time? Will civil society be able to force him out of his position? Speculations are part of daily conversations, but nobody knows.

The streets speak
The discourse of my friend resonates wildly among part of the moto-taxi youth in N’Djamena, who tell me they will vote, but not for Déby. It has been enough!

And it is not only these young men who adhere to this message. Also Youssouf, the Fulani driver who helped me out when I needed help, will vote for Kebzabo, he is certain:  ‘No way, Déby nafataa (he is of no use), he did not work, and nothing has changed over the past years. So what should we do? I vote for Kebzabo’.

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Photo: Sjoerd Sijsma.

 

Election hype
I was in Chad from 6 March to 4 April, and saw the election hype emerging. According to the short interviews I did with the ‘clando’s’ and friends, the race will most likely  be between current President Idriss Déby, Saleh Kebzabo (who is presenting for the third time) and Laoukein Kourayo Médard, who is the mayor of Moundou, the economic capital of Chad and presenting for the first time. Both latter candidates are pro ‘alternance démocratique’. These are three candidates of a total of fourteen.

It is the first time that the elections will use a biometric voter system. It is not clear if the cards will be ready in time and if this new technology will really stop fraud. Rumours about these cards are rampant (www.rfi.fr/afrique/20160404-tchad-trafic-cartes-electeur-opposition-inquiete). Would Déby need to fraud the elections to win? Read the different interpretations on the RFI site.

Emerging civil society
Youssouf and my moto friend are part of the emerging civil society in Chad. Earlier, I wrote a blog on the events in March 2015. Many people now refer to these protests against the wearing of helmets as the beginning of change in Chad. People then became aware that they can protest and need to do so for change and probably a better life, without poverty and without ugly inequalities, with electricity 24/24 and water that flows from the taps when you need it.

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The day of whistling: early in the morning, people blew on their whistles to protest. (Photo: Deub’h Emmanuel).

Since a few months a new civil society language is appearing. The actions are unique. The day of whistling: when people early in the morning blew on their whistles to protest and show solidarity for l’alternance. There was the day of ‘ville morte’ when many people followed the call not to go to their work and leave their shops closed. There are also plans for a general strike in the administration and a strike by university students. The various appearing civil society organisations are increasingly working together in their actions. Despite the prohibition to demonstrate until after the elections, there have been many attempts to demonstrate: the recent arrest of four leaders has led to demonstrations that were brutally suppressed (see this blog by Zyzou). These actions show solidarity among the Chadians. And not only in N’Djamena, the capital, but also in Abéché in the East, in Moundou and Sahr in the South. It seems that the first protests in March 2015 have been the announcement of a new socio-political dynamic in Chad (see earlier blog).

Are these all signs of change, of a civil society that will be able to say ‘stop’ to injustice and to a President who has been there for too long? Will my friend and Youssouf find their right? Or is it still too early and does Chad not yet have the civil society that is needed for change?