Cameroon is a nation blessed with many natural resources, but its prospects are fading. Over the past few decades, a tragic situation has developed, of which few are aware.
In the capital city, Yaoundé, Amadou Vamoulké, who is 70 years old and seriously ill, has spent nearly four years in Kondengui prison. Respected for his high moral qualities and management skills, he was the Director of the Radio Television of Cameroon (CrTV) corporation for many years. I heard his story by pure chance and, after learning of his unjust imprisonment, inflicted by a cruel and oppressive regime, I felt the need to share his story. The letters we exchanged inspired me to write the book: Cameroon? We All have to Stop this Comedy (This title was suggested by Vamoulké himself, who often uses humor to help him get through the day). More importantly, these letters allowed me to immerse myself in Cameroon’s history and its current dire political state. The injustice suffered by Vamoulké is not an isolated case but is endemic in the country. The Cameroonian system does nothing for the individual, except for a few in the ruling elite. Any opposition to the government or even voicing a concern can have ruinous consequences for a person’s life.
The Coronavirus epidemic has led to even worse conditions in Cameroonian prisons. This has made the case for releasing a number of prisoners even stronger and was the spirit of the letter from five American Senators to the President of Cameroon, Paul Byia, in support of the last World Press Freedom Day. This letter included the line, “the free circulation of information and ideas is essential to fighting Covid-19, and journalists can’t do their job from behind bars.”
In late 2016, a violent civil war erupted in English-speaking Cameroon. Many political prisoners, anglophone and francophone, have also been detained pending a trial which may never come.
On February 14, 2020, a new atrocity occurred with the Ngarbu massacre, in which the Cameroonian army killed 23 civilians, including at least one pregnant woman and nine children under the age of five. This type of political violence is not rare in countries that were victims of European colonization, like Cameroon. Although they have won their independence, the legacy of colonialism still remains. In 1962, the French ecologist René Dumont outlined this problem in his book, False start in Africa, which advocates for small-scale agricultural and industrial development and more global cooperation focused on empowering Africans within their political systems.
Through social networks, the Cameroonian diaspora, local NGOs and courageous Cameroonians, have been able to provide a lot of reliable and terrifying information on the conflict. We cannot pretend that nothing happened. Luckily, Cameroon is a country too open for the dictatorship to control social networks. Politicians and the international community must learn to integrate what social networks can teach us, as they did during the 19th century - when it comes to the work of journalists. The new global communication standards should not stop at their dark side. The Internet can also be a positive political tool.
Today more than ever, it is through news cooperations that we can help end these cycles of instability and violence. As an elected member of the French parliament, I believe firmly in the ideals of Freedom and Equality that both France and America or UK were founded on. These compel me to take action in the face of injustice, and to call others to do the same.
We are in march 2021… Massacres intensify in Southern Cameroons.
Thus, if a positive impact is to be made in Cameroon, it is essential that three things are to be accomplished, in emergency for some:
First, the French Parliament, UK and American Congress should urge the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights to establish an International Commission of Inquiry on Cameroon. The Commission’s mandate will be to conduct a fact-finding mission, and investigations to determine whether acts of genocide or internationally-recognized human rights violations have taken place and to identify their perpetrators.
Second, the Presidential elections of October 2018 and the legislative and municipal elections of February 2020 resulted in a post-electoral crisis and crackdown on opposition leaders. Accordingly, the international community should urge the Cameroon government to invite all political stakeholders to join in a consensual review of the electoral process. The European Union, African Union and USA have to provide assistance to Cameroon to strengthen its electoral processes and to reform its electoral institutions.
Third, the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, first adopted in 1957, and revised and adopted in 2015 as the Nelson Mandela Rules, must be applied in Cameroon. Political prisoners must have a fair and just trial or they must be released.
Together, we can end this on-going tragedy and set an example for the rest of the world.
We must work together for Cameroon. Peace is not just a word on the internet.
Written by Dr. Sebastien Nadot MP
- twitter @Sebatsien_Nadot
Dr. Sebastien Nadot MP is a member of the French Parliament for Haute-Garonne, and sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee.