The West and Hypocrisy on the Cameroons
By Ntumfoyn Boh Herbert (Yindo Toh)
Western democracies, global organizations and the world’s biggest media outlets have either maintained criminal silence or opted for a shockingly high level of hypocrisy on the 36-year-old tyranny of Paul Biya, 85, in the Cameroons.
Whereas the West has chased leaders of Biya’s ilk from power under similar conditions in Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, The Gambia and Zimbabwe, excuses are made to roll out the carpet for Biya.
On Tuesday, the 36th anniversary of Biya’s first inauguration as president in November 1982, the ruthless dictator was sworn in for yet another seven-year term. Biya’s longevity in power would have been impossible without the West, notably France, looking the other way.
Often seen, on account of its unpopularity, as being on political life support, Biya’s regime has survived on the back of brutish repression, state terrorism, constitutional coups, massive vote rigging and election hold-ups. Biya is the civilian façade of a clan-based de facto military regime. It thrives on divide-and-rule, fuelling the many fractious factions of the opposition.
It is a regime that pays lip service to majority rule but survives on minority rule through its rejection of election run-offs, its dismissal of remedies that could be offered by vote recounts and its profession of faith in the infallibility of decisions handed down by Biya’s hand-picked Constitutional Council, the supreme authority on the bankrupt electoral system the regime counts on to cling on to power.
But, if you arrived earth today from Mars, you would be forgiven for concluding – based on global media coverage of the Cameroons this week – that the most important challenge facing this two-in-one failing or failed nation founded in 1961 is the kidnapping of 81 students and their teachers. It is not. Yet, it is the only story that every single one of the world’s leading wire services (AP, Reuters, AFP, etc.) and broadcast outlets (CNN, BBC, VOA, RFI, DW, etc.) have cared to cover extensively, despite the shallow nature of the facts. When the dust settles, world media may be able to admit that the Biya regime played political Drama Queen on this incident, leading the world and world media by the nose.
In a hurry to have the scoop on a story that they sensed has global appeal and front-page staying power, reporters created a storm in a teacup, embarrassing audiences around the globe with a poorly-sourced, hardly fact-checked, wildly distorted, misleading and inaccurate accounts of the kidnappings. Western capitals took the bait, issuing statements expressing concern and calling for the immediate release and safe return of the kidnapped students. None expressed concern over why an officer of Cameroon’s army was unmasked in photos as the lead kidnapper.
Acting urgently as Western capitals did is understandable. There is, indeed, no higher priority than to seek resolution of a crisis. However, on these kidnappings and even before all the details are known, one thing is clear. The kidnapping of the 81 students and teachers looks increasingly like a sadistic prank by the Biya regime. It was aimed, ostensibly, at reenacting the April 2014 kidnapping by Boko Haram Islamic extremists of 276 Chibok Girls in Nigeria’s Borno State. It is the kind of fabrication the Biya has been desperate to find to mobilize world support for listing the pro-independence campaign as a terrorist movement. It is the kind of crisis every tyrant prays for when they need to divert world attention from real challenges.
Like a deer in the headlights, Western powers and Western media houses are caught in the regime’s self-incriminating web of lies, endless political spin, and pure propaganda. How else?
If Western democracies were not just going along with the regime’s poorly masked campaign of demonization of pro-independence campaigners in Ambazonia, one would have expected them to show the same level of concern for other vulnerable citizens. For example, hundreds of thousands of Ambazonian children – most of them far younger and more vulnerable than the students kidnapped – now live in the wild (in bushes, farmlands and forests). It is the only choice they have if they hope to survive brutish French-speaking troops whose occupation of Ambazonia has led, among others, to the looting and burning to the ground of over 140 villages. As a result of scorched earth practices in blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, more than 100,000 people have fled into exile or refugee camps mostly in neighboring Nigeria.
Victims of these horrendous abuses cannot be blamed for doubting that the West truly believes in the sanctity of life – for all. The congratulatory messages to the Biya regime for staging another election theft in broad daylight has many doubting the commitment of the West for democracy, human rights and the rule of law for citizens of the Cameroons. Especially because both London and Washington, DC, congratulated the “election thief” way ahead of countries like North Korea and China. France’s ownership of the natural resources of the Cameroons in keeping with a pre-independence accord signed on 26 December 1959 and Britain’s preoccupation with sealing oil and gas deals suggest that the West cares more for these pay-to-play deals than over the welfare of Ambazonians.
The hypocrisy is blatant. France’s foreign minister played Pontus Pilatus when reporters asked whether or not Cameroon’s most recent presidential elections were free and fair. Paris hid behind the very convenient, but utterly false, claim that France respects Cameroon’s so-called sovereignty. Besides, where else did the West evoke national sovereignty in a crisis they were interested in preventing or ending? Under the “Responsibility to Protect” principle adopted by the United Nations in 2005, the West can – if it truly cared – intervene unilaterally in Ambazonia to put an end to an unjustified war against the English-speaking people of Ambazonia who, overwhelmingly, favor peaceful separation from recolonization by Cameroon.
While the world has looked away, thousands of pro-independence campaigners have been massacred, injured or “disappeared” in one of the world’s most under-reported war and humanitarian crisis. The number of the internally displaced is probably north of a million people. It is genocide – a crime of intention. French-speaking troops are targeting and slaughtering English-speaking citizens simply for insisting to be who they like to be: Ambazonians.
No students – or anyone else for that matter – should suffer kidnappings. The prank this week would have been avoided had Western democracies not shown the kind of indifference, criminal silence and outright failure that has been promoted as policy in the corridors of global organizations like the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations whose job, at all times, should be to call out regimes like Biya’s. Sadly, the leaders of the United Nations and the Commonwealth have bothered more about being on good terms with a tyrant who lavishes them with gifts of gold than uphold resolutions adopted by and pending full implementation by the institutions they lead – if such could be called leadership.
As with the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the massacres in Bosnia in 1995, there is no excuse for Western democracies doing nothing to end the carnage in Ambazonia. Especially because the Biya regime has telephoned their every move and have lived up to every one of their sadistic pledges. For example, from the very beginning of the war against Ambazonia, the regime committed officially that its troops will target civilians indiscriminately – in order words, that they will commit war crimes. The only adjustment that has been made to that policy has been the regime calling on its troops to stop documenting their atrocity crimes and crimes against humanity on video posted on social media. Biya’s minister of territorial administration promised, from the onset, that the regime’s troops will treat Ambazonians worse than Boko Haram terrorists. The regime has delivered on that promise. Not surprisingly, therefore, the war against Ambazonia has been more deadly than the counter-terrorism campaign Cameroon is waging against Boko Haram in the northern regions of the country.
Facts don’t lie. Western democracies, global organizations and the Western media are proving, shamefully, that they held former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe to a different standard than they are willing to hold the Biya regime. America readily approved support for rebels who formed a never-before-known state in Benghazi in defiance of the central authority of ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but are unwilling even to uphold America’s YES vote – along with 63 other countries on the floor of the United Nations in 1961 – in favor of independence for Ambazonia (then known as Southern Cameroons).
The West evoked Responsibility to Protect as soon as the Gaddafi regime promised “rivers of blood”. Yet, the same Western democracies are sitting on their hands even as the Biya regime not only promises but is actually spilling “oceans of blood” in Ambazonia. The same United Nations which deployed Peacekeepers to arrest further descent into violence in a far less bloody civil war in Cote d’Ivoire has mouthed platitudes tantamount to giving Biya a pass even when his regime has prevented the deployment of human rights and humanitarian missions. The same France which, with support for America under former president, Barack Obama, did not hesitate to lead a military invasion to drag out of the presidential palace the former leader of Cote d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo and install the person the West believed to be the rightful winner of the ballot in that country, now has its head buried in the sands of so-called sovereignty of Cameroon.
Talk of hypocrisy!