Paul Biya recently won his seventh term. Biya, who is 85 years old, has been the president of Cameroon since 1982. Despite the horrendous human rights abuses that the government of Cameroon inflicts on its own citizens, the United States decided to release astatement congratulating Cameroon for having “largely peaceful elections”. The same statement concluded: “With the conclusion of the presidential election, the United States strongly encourages both sides involved in the conflict affecting the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon to focus on resolving differences through peaceful dialogue and to allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid workers.” In other words, the United States acknowledges that there is an ongoing conflict in Cameroon, but refuses to officially blame Biya for the conflict. The European Union has taken a similar position by urging Biya to unite his country, despite the fact that Biya’s government is the very reason for Cameroon being disunited in the first place.
President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana recently stated that efforts at “integration of the continent will be negatively affected if African countries continue to battle with the human security challenges which confront their peoples.” President Akufo-Addo is correct, but how do African governments assist each other with alleviating these challenges when the continent’s leaders adopt the same position that the United States and the European Union have taken? That position is one which recognizes that political issues exist on the continent without actually condemning or taking action against the people who are responsible for those issues. For example, President Akufo-Addo involved himself in the ongoing political turmoil in Togo by acting as a mediator between the Togolese government and the opposition. This dialogue has been ineffective because the government itself is the problem and the only true solution to Togo’s problems is one which sees Faure Gnassingbe leaving office, but President Akufo-Addo and other regional leaders in West Africa have refused to make this demand on Faure, so Togo’s crisis lingers on and more Togolese continue to suffer. Similarly, the only solution to Cameroon’s political problems is an end to Biya’s dictatorship, but African governments are working to solve Cameroon’s problems, so the crisis there is lingering on as well and many Cameroonians are dying as a result.
Earlier this year the government of Botswana issued a statement criticizing Joseph Kabila for the unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but African governments are typically very hesitant about speaking out against other governments on the continent and this is one of the reasons why the situation in Cameroon has gotten as bad as it has become. The footage of soldiers in Cameroon executing women and children gained international attention, but there was little outrage or condemnation from other African governments. In effect, other African governments have decided to stand by as helpless women and children are being massacred in Cameroon. Biya is emboldened to continue his actions not only because he benefits from the support of Western governments, but he benefits from the silence of other African governments as well. The African Union’s statement regarding elections in Cameroon was to urge restraint, but the African Union should have instead been calling for Biya to step down because of the abuses that he has inflicted against his own citizens. President Akufo-Addo is correct to point out that integration will be negatively affected by the challenges that confront African countries. The solution to this is that African governments that are serious about integration and unity can no longer remain silent as leaders across the continent abuse their power and exploit their people.
-Dwayne Wong Omowale