Paul Biya Visits China Amid Escalating Armed Conflict in The Cameroons
Chinese Ambassador to Cameroon H.E Wei Wenhua revealed on Tuesday, March 13th 2018 that President Paul Biya would be visiting China for a working session with his counterpart President Xi Jinping. The revelation was made during an audience at the Unity Palace in Yaoundé. The visit, slated for March 22 and 23, comes amid tensions brought about by an escalation of a government bred crisis that started late in 2016 between Paul Biya’s government and the people of Southern Cameroons pursuing the restoration of their statehood from a 56year failed union. Skeptics have projected this visit as a desperate effort to find much-needed finances to finance the ongoing war declared by President Paul Biya against the people of Southern Cameroons late in November 2017.
Although the visit, the 6th of its kind, is officially presented to be just a highlight of the good relationship that exists between The People’s Republic of China and The Republic of Cameroon, economic analysts have pointed out that, Paul Biya’s crisis-hit economy is in dire need of liquid cash to revamp important economic sectors like agriculture, energy, public infrastructure, real estate, education and healthcare. The choice to visit China is financially motivated considering the amount of money that China has in recent years injected into Cameroon’s economy. In 2015, China was Cameroon’s first trade partner, while the latter was the second largest beneficiary of Chinese aid in Africa; FCFA 1,430 billion. How such money has helped the economy, is questionable.
President Paul Biya’s recent official visits to other parts of the world like Europe and The United States of America have been marred by the resentment of groups opposed to his dictatorial rule and activists fighting for the restoration of the statehood of Southern Cameroons. It will be recalled that at the 72nd edition of the UN general assembly last year 2017, Paul Biya was booed and humiliated in New York by demonstrators. In the same year his hotel in Geneva – Switzerland was invaded by demonstrators in spite of the presence of over 200 secret service security officers guarding him. These shameful incidents and the heavy presence of diehard anti-Biya groups in these parts of the world have made Europe and America hostile destinations. China is for the time being a kind of safe haven for Paul Biya right now.
China has a vibrant CPDM community of supporters of Paul Biya’s regime headed by embassy staff. China has over 650 Cameroonians, 80% of them from French speaking Cameroon. Associations like The Association of Cameroonian Students in China (AECC) (French acronym) are usually very instrumental as far as the mobilization for the reception of dignitaries from Cameroon is concerned. Things have been different this time around because of the conflict back in Cameroon. English speaking Cameroonians in China have withdrawn their participation in such activities, which they consider a betrayal. They have chosen to stick with their allegiance to Southern Cameroons pro-independence groups who now also have their China based units. “If China didn’t have a repressive regime very similar to that in La Republique du Cameroun, I am sure many Southern Cameroonians would be demonstrating in Beijing on March 22nd and 23rd to shame Paul Biya’s regime in front of our Chinese friends. I am boiling inside me but I will respect the laws of China which don’t allow us to demonstrate.” An English speaking Cameroonian lamented in anger while requesting anonymity for the purpose of safety.
China has been often accused of using soft power techniques to acquire strategic assets in vulnerable crisis-struck countries in dire need of cash like the republic of Cameroon. Will this be another opportunity for that accusation to hold grounds? Time will tell. While China usually adopts a neutral position on issues concerning other countries, it is hard to ignore the fact that giving a huge amount of cash to Paul Biya during this visit will be considered by many as an indirect way to finance the war against the minority people of Southern Cameroons currently being oppressed by Paul Biya’s regime.
China must stay clear of such a sensitive crisis as the one in the Cameroons or will be blamed for the outcome like Tchad, Nigeria and France, recently dragged into the crisis by the Republic of Cameroon. Recently, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, another crisis-struck African country was deposed shortly after a meeting took place between their leadership and China. Nobody knows what kind of deal was struck in such a meeting but the change suggested that there must have been some arm-twisting considering China’s investments in Zimbabwe. The timing of president Paul Biya’s visit to China and the fact that 2018 is election year in Cameroon are suggestive and one cannot exclude the fact that there could be some secret arm-twisting during the March 2018 visit, leading to some drastic changes on the ground in the Cameroons this year. Again, time will tell.