On the 26th of November 2016, Lawyers from the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon took to the streets of Bamenda, Kumba and Buea to protest a dozen judicial policies introduced by Cameroon’s Ministry of Justice, which according to the Lawyers undermined their Common-law standards and practices.
This protest which began as a disputation in the legal field soon spilled into a large-scale conflict, as diverse groups joined the lawyers to protest Cameroon government’s incessant abuse of the rights of its English speaking population.
One under reported facet of this conflict has been the silent hope that US, once the crusader of democracy globally, will intervene and back the Anglophones protesters against Biya’s regime, as the US did in Libya, Egypt, and Syria.
After scores of calls on the US to intervene and protect Anglophones against Biya’s highly equipped, abusive, and lethal military, the US is yet to show any sign of direct support to the Anglophone secessionists. Will the US provide military and other logistics support to Anglophone fighters against Biya? I believe looking into the nearest future, unfortunately, the answer is no.
First, by supporting the secessionist the US will contradict and significantly undermine a cardinal US foreign policy goal in Africa, the fight terrorism, instability and piracy. Reporting on former US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson’s visit to Africa, the Brookings Institute, a top US foreign policy think tank, stated that ” the set of countries that Tillerson is visiting indicates that security is indeed the primary focus” of Trump’s Africa’s policy.
Cameroon is in a strategic economic and security position for both the US and other emerging powers like China. Astride between Central Africa, West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, the country plays an instrumental role in the global fight against terrorism and piracy in Africa.
The US is unlikely to jeopardize its core goal of fighting Boko Haram and Al Shabab to promote a secessionist movement that will likely further destabilize the region, thus, requiring more US military resources and possibly lives, and undermining security in the region.
Second, since World War II, the US has relied on multilateral actions with its “allies” or the use of multilateral institutions to promote and achieve its foreign policy. Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples. But it can hardly get that multilateral support in the case of Cameroon.
The scepter of Libya is hunting US and European elites, and in fact that may have been one of the invisible hands that propped candidate Trump to the White House. Thousands of migrants today leave Africa to Europe, taking the risky trip through Libya, a wreckage made by Obama, NATO and Gaddafi’s authoritarian policies.
Cameroon is no different from Libya. Thus, ousting an authoritarian and incompetent government, without an adequate plan of action as in Libya and Iraq will only lead to instability and maybe mass migration into Europe.
Besides, key US’s European allies, French, Germany and Britain are unlikely to support any direct military action or multilateral sanction against the Biya’s government, that may destabilize the country.
Paul Biya has enjoyed strong and unexplained support from the Macron’s government. The French President has vowed to support Cameroon’s territorial integrity. Meanwhile, Germany and Italy are unlikely to support any policy that will destabilize the Central African region and possibly the whole of the African region. Europe wants to stop migration. That is their key foreign policy goal with Africa. And the Ambazonian movement is not a viable solution to that problem, it can rather instigate more migration.
China and Russia are likely to veto any direct military intervention or sanction brought by US or other western country against Cameroon at the UN Security Council. China has provided Cameroon with FCFA 4.5 billion of weapons this year. China needs Cameroon to fight piracy and threat to Chinese trade and lives of Chinese nationals in the Gulf of Guinea.
France, Germany and Britian, may want Biya out of power in Cameroon. But they are unlikely to use or support separatist forces to achieve that goal
Furthermore, Trump has told us blatantly that he does not really care about what goes on in Africa. The Brookings Institutes has repeatedly argued Africa is of marginal importance to US foreign and defense policy makers. Besides referring to African countries as “shit-hole countries”, Trump as made limited economic, military and diplomatic engagement between high level US and African leaders. The point is Trump is not ready to take any costly decisions in Africa.
In addition, Trump has shown an uncanny love for authoritarian leaders like Putin of Russia and Kim of North Korea. America under Trump is no longer the police of the World, but the sheriff of US interest. He has focused on arbitrating between the US and its allies as well as foes to promote and protect America’s interest. Fighting Human Rights and promoting Democracy is not a corner stone of Trump’s foreign policy and he is unlikely to promote the Ambazonian movement.
Notwithstanding, the US has very “strong set of institutions” and junior level officials who can drive the country’s relationship with the Biya’s regime to an angle one cannot logically deduce from Trump’s policy.
For example, the US Ambassador to Cameroon reportedly call on Biya to resign and think about his legacy in the minds of future Cameroonians. Notwithstanding the backlash from Cameroonian politicians, the Ambassador’s words were a strong rebuke of Biya, and a reflection of the US State Department position.
While the State Department may use the threat of sanctions against top Biya’s officials, and even cut its aid to Cameroon, that is possibly all the US can do.
Finally, for more than fifty years, Africans and scholars of third world politics have protested western intervention in Africa’s domestic politics. Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism, stated that western intervention in the domestic affairs of third world countries is a hallmark of US and western imperialism. America may be listening to their criticism, especially after the Libyan debacle. And with these criticisms any intervention in Cameroon will be carefully weighted.
Amabazonians may win their struggle against the legitimate government in Yaounde. But that will hardly be due to the military support of Americans. They may have to look for support elsewhere.