Cameroon’s governance and security problems have historically attracted little outside attention. But this seems likely to change, for two reasons.
Roughly 20% of the country’s population of 24.6 million people are Anglophone. The majority are Francophone. The unfair domination of French-speaking politicians in government has long been the source of conflict.
Activists in the country’s Anglophone western regions are protesting their forced assimilation into the dominant Francophone society. They argue that this process violates their minority rights, which are protected under agreements that date back to the 1960s. Anglophone political representation and involvement at many levels of society has dwindled since the Federal Republic of Cameroon became the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972. There are growing calls for the Anglophone region to secede from Cameroon.
This festering conflict represents a major test as Cameroonians prepare for the October elections.
Three things are urgently needed now in Cameroon. The first is to understand the origins of the crisis. The second is to support an inclusive national dialogue. And the third is to ensure that the 2018 elections are free and fair for all.
Before 1961, the Southern Cameroons were a British administered territory from Nigeria. They elected to join the Republic of Cameroon by UN plebiscite in 1961 around the time of decolonisation.
A power-sharing agreement was reached: the executive branch of government was meant to be shared by Francophones and Anglophones. But that agreement has not been upheld and, over the years, Anglophone political representation has been steadily eroded.
The crisis came to a head in late 2016 when lawyers, joined by teachers and others with similar grievances, led protests in major western cities demanding that the integrity of their professional institutions be protected and their minority rights respected.
President Paul Biya responded by deploying troops to the region and blocking internet access. When peaceful demonstrations were met with violent repression it exacerbated tensions and escalated the conflict to a national political crisis.
On 12 June 12 2018, Amnesty International issued a report documenting human rights violations in Cameroon. The International Crisis Group says that at least 120 civilians and 43 members of security forces have been killed in the most recent waves of violence.
More than 20,000 people have fled to neighbouring Nigeria, and an estimated 160,000 are displaced within Cameroon.
Some human rights activists worry that Cameroon could be the site of Africa’s next civil war.
Agbor Nkongho, an Anglophone human rights lawyer and director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, told the Washington Post:
We are gradually, gradually getting there (civil war). I’m not seeing the willingness of the government to try to find and address the issue in a way that we will not get there.
Another issue is that there are diverse views even within the Anglophone and Francophone communities about what would be best for Cameroon going forward.
Obstacles to national unity
In October 2017 the separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe declared the independence of the Republic of Ambazonia. His interim government laid claim to a territory whose borders are the same as the UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons under British rule (1922-1961).
The interim government’s spokesman, Nso Foncha Nkem, invited Francophones to leave the region and called on Anglophones in Biya’s “rubber-stamp” government to return to Ambazonia and support the movement. He also pleaded for unity, asking that Anglophones speak in one voice.
However, that call has not overcome the challenges posed by diverse viewpoints within the Anglophone population itself. Some favour secession. Others want to return to the 1961 federation and the power-sharing agreement. There are those who prefer decentralisation that would devolve power to regional leaders, and some who simply want an administrative solution that would leave the Republic of Cameroon as it stands.
And among the Francophone population, there is some support for the radical separatists, while some see the Anglophone situation as a general crisis of governance and others deny any problem exists.
Mongo Beti, a Francophone novelist and activist who spent 30 years in exile, observed after returning home in the 1990s that a general absence of identification with a viable, unified nation due to various divisions had frayed Cameroon’s social fabric and was a significant impediment to progress.
It is unclear whether Biya, who is 85 and in power since 1982, will run for re-election. His 38 years in office as a corrupt, absent leader have left the nation in tatters. The vast majority of Cameroonians, whether Anglophone or Francophone, are hungry for change.
The way forward?
There is an urgent need for an inclusive national dialogue to harness this desire for change.
The government must recognise that it faces a substantive national crisis and take extraordinary steps. A general conversation about governance in all its regions is also necessary. Given the depth and severity of people’s grievances, a holistic approach is needed that would address issues of governance, security, and civic engagement to mend the bonds that have been broken.
This is necessary if the current crisis it to become an opportunity to develop a new road map for the future that could empower citizens.
Phyllis Taoua is the author of African Freedom: How Africa Responded to Independence (Cambridge University Press, 2018) and was a Tucson Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project.
Sometimes a throwaway sentence is more illuminating than it ought to be. A line in an article in Roads & Kingdoms in January about the Chinese in Lagos did just that. Near the end of the piece, the author wrote:
On my final night in Lagos, Fang invites me to the Huawei offices for dinner, handing me a guest pass and taking me through a winding corridor that opens out into a futuristic canteen. Staff can pay for their meal through Wechat, the Chinese social media app.
Being fairly acquainted with Nigeria’s tech scene and mobile money regulatory environment the last sentence jumped out at me—paying for things with WeChat is not something that is currently available to Nigerians as an option. I asked a couple of my friends in the Lagos tech scene how the Chinese were able to do this in Lagos and they simply shrugged and said “they are running their own little country here.”
It is not hard to come by data showing the scale of China’s investments and influence in Africa—the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University estimates that, from 2000 to 2015, the Chinese government, banks and contractors extended $94.4 billion worth of loans to African governments and state-owned enterprises.
From a few million dollars in 2000, the amount of loans topped $16 billion in 2013 alone. Whether or not these loans are value for money or just a flow of money from the Chinese government to Chinese companies via Africa remains a matter of debate. A $600 million Chinese loan to fund the installation of CCTV cameras across the Nigerian capital Abuja has since been mired in corruption and scandal. It is hardly an isolated story.
But there is another part of the Chinese story in Africa that is rarely documented. That of the ordinary businesses who head to Africa, often without state backing, seeking to make a fortune. These businesses have mostly been careful to remain outside the spotlight and rarely ever speak to local media. A surprising McKinsey report from June 2017, based on extensive fieldwork, estimated that there were more than 10,000 Chinese owned firms operating across Africa, nearly four times what the numbers from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) showed. No one can say for sure—not even the Chinese government—how many Chinese businesses are in Africa, never mind what they are doing there.
One of the McKinsey report’s authors, Irene Yuan Sun, has however written a book—The Next Factory of The World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa—that helps to illuminate the experience of Chinese businesses in Africa. Being of Chinese descent herself, she was able to get Chinese business owners in Africa to open up in a way that they almost never do to local media. What emerges is a surprising mix of success and failure with a good dose of fear and loathing thrown in. As someone who grew up in Nigeria until a decade and a half ago (and still maintains strong ties to the country), I found the book to be full of surprises and insights.
A broad pattern to these businesses can be sketched out—a Chinese business finds business increasingly hard to do in China, mostly due to rising costs and fierce competition. The business owner embarks on an exploratory trip to an African country and makes a decision to invest on the spot. In short order, they are pouring millions of dollars into building a factory in the African country. Beyond the narrow sectors of the economy in which they decide to operate, the Chinese businessmen remain almost completely out of sight to the local population. When Chinese businesses get reported on in the local newspapers, it is almost always about the maltreatment of local workers or a racist incident (often borne of misunderstanding).
In Nigeria, I am yet to hear of a marriage between Chinese and Nigerians in Nigeria and in my frequent visits to Nigeria, it is hard to recall bumping into Chinese revelers on a night out or sharing a restaurant or bar with them. Nigerians and Chinese in Nigeria are, to borrow Longfellow’s famous phrase, like ships that pass in the night and speak to each other in passing. This was comically illustrated by a line in Sun’s book where the author interviews a Chinese businessmen about the seemingly permanent tension between Chinese factory owners and Nigerian workers. In frustration, the Chinese businessman said, “Nigerians complain that Chinese people spit. But they pee in public on the side of the road all the time!”
Some of them have had spectacular success such as the Tung family who run a billion dollar steel business and sit on the board of one of Nigeria’s premier development finance institutions—Africa Finance Corporation.
Then there’s the Lee family whose Lee Group produces everything from bottled water to bread as well as 1.2 million pairs of flip-flops everyday, retailing them for around a dollar a pair. They have practically a 100-percent market share of the flip-flop market in Nigeria and West Africa but this monopoly is not visible to most people purely because they have achieved it through very low prices making it impossible for smugglers to compete against them and crucially, dispensing of the usual practice of local businessmen to get the government to ban or impose tariffs on the competition for them.
Yet there is more to the story. The Tungs and Lees are only the surviving two families out of four that settled in Nigeria decades ago. The other two lost their businesses in one of Nigeria’s many economic shocks. There have been plenty of Chinese failures across the continent and in Nigeria, in particular. The stories of Jason Han and John Xue are particularly instructive. In their 50s and seemingly bored in semi-retirement in China, they heard about a Chinese company that was struggling to develop a free trade zone with a state government in Nigeria’s south west.
They embarked on a week long trip to Nigeria, their first ever visit to the country, and while there concluded that they could help the state turn around the project. In a matter of weeks they had moved to Nigeria and taken over the running of the free trade zone. In four years under their management, the zone managed to attract 24 businesses and provide employment to 4,500 people, with only 200 of those being non-Nigerians. The zone was praised by the Nigerian and Chinese governments as a shining example of China-Africa relations.
And then the music stopped. The old management company which had been terminated still had friends in the state government and decided it now wanted the zone for itself again. A campaign of harassment and intimidation was launched against Han and Xue including the detention of one of their managers for two weeks. Jason Han appealed to the Nigerian president in an open letter about their ordeal but in the end, they were forced to abandon the zone and leave Nigeria.
This illustrates a particular kind of risk faced by Chinese businessmen in countries like Nigeria—politicians are able to trample on their rights without consequence because the Chinese are still viewed with some suspicion by the average Nigerian. The Chinese are thus ever only one infraction away from being scapegoated by a politician seeking cheap popularity or votes (all Nigerian politicians are populists) and the Chinese government is always reluctant to come to the aid of private Chinese businesses in Africa, if it even knows they exist at all.
What then to make of all of this? The most obvious is that there are a very large number of Chinese businesses on the ground in Africa making their way in often impossible circumstances. Many of them have met with great success and many others have lost everything.
Even after spending decades in the country, you often cannot find any meaningful reporting on them in the local media as is the case with the Lees and Tungs in Nigeria. Meanwhile the western media tends to focus, sometimes anxiously, on the government side of the relationship that comes in large dollar numbers but is often far less than meets the eye. The Chinese and their hosts continue to live side by side but far apart—the gap between them inevitably filled by mutual suspicion. The Chinese in Lagos retreat into their own world where they can make payments with WeChat, just like in China, thousands of miles away.
One can be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of this relationship. Much of it is useful in providing cheap products and employment while a lot of it remains frustrating borne of the seeming refusal of the Chinese to engage with their hosts creating a kind of standoff.
Even after many decades of doing business in Africa, Chinese businesses in Africa can hardly claim to be friends with their hosts. Like ships that pass in the night and speak to each other in passing.
Credit: Nigerians in South Africa
I&E Window transacts $900m, as reserves stagnate at $47.6 billion
There was near excess in the quantity of money in circulation last week, save for the increased mop up exercise by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), following the repayments of N66.7 billion and N377.6 billion worth of Treasury Bills (T-Bills) and Open Market Operations.
The movement in system liquidity during the week had risen in two of the four trading days, resulting to 3.7 per cent rise in the quantity of money in circulation to N842 billion compared to N812.1 billion in the preceding week.Consequently, the two most popular traded instruments among banks- Open Buy Back and the Overnight rates, trended southwards by 0.7 percentage points (ppts) and 0.5ppts to 2.8 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively.
During the rollover of the instruments, investors showed apathy for short tenored bills, as they asked for higher rates, causing an under-allotment to reduce cost for government, which subsequently left a sizable quantity of money in circulation till the weekend.Analysts at Afrinvest Securities Limited said this week, despite the absence of maturing bills, except N183.3 billion worth of OMO maturities, the apex bank will sustain its trend of liquidity mop ups and money market rates could trend higher.
Similarly, at the foreign exchange market, the naira remained stable, defying the influence of speculations ahead of the biannual meeting of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, Austria, at the weekend, which increased oil production by one million barrels per day.
The decision, which is expected to influence global oil price, would further affect Nigeria’s external reserves that have remained stagnant in weeks at $47.6 billion, as crude oil accounts for a large proportion of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
Specifically, the reserves have stagnated in the last three weeks, with an earlier back and forth movement, as reports showed that Nigerian crude oil cargoes from the June programme took long before they were cleared, as demand was not strong enough and differentials were too high to spark much buying of July barrels.During the week, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) continued its weekly intervention, offering $210 million through the Wholesale SMIS window to maintain stability, as well as sustain liquidity in the foreign exchange market.
Consequently, the CBN spot rate appreciated five kobo when measured week-on-week to N305.80 per dollar from N305.85 per dollar in the previous week, while at the parallel market, the naira traded flat for the second consecutive week at N362 per dollar.
In the same vein, the local unit, at the Investors and Exporters’ (I&E) forex Window, appreciated seven kobo week-on-week to N361/$ from N361.07/$ in the previous week.On the activity level, transactions improved by 15.1 per cent at the autonomous window, as investors exchanged about $900 million against $800 million recorded the previous week.
Source: The Guardian