Cameroon’s constipated constitution
Israel’s assault on Gaza continues to shock. But, sadly there are other regimes which continue to earn their shameful ranking in the roll-call of dishonour and brutality.
Take Cameroon. Strategically wedged between oil-rich Nigeria, Chad and the Congo, and with access to the Atlantic ocean, it is probably best known for its outstanding footballer Théophile Abega of the Cameroon Indomitable Lions, who died last week.
It is not only the country’s footballers who capture the imagination. Cameroon shares in the outstanding musical talents of West Africa. Its makossa and bikutsi musicians, such as Lapiro de Mbanga and Anne-Marie Nzié, have reached global fame.
But along with the people of Cameroon, they continue to suffer from one of the longest-ruling dictatorships in the world – that of 78-year old Paul Biya, who has been in power for over three decades.
Earlier this month, elite government troops and police savagely repressed a peaceful march organised by the Musicians Trade Union of Cameroon (SYCAMU). Their crime was to protest against a violation of the government’s own ruling that artists should be able to receive royalties before they are transferred to official collection organisations.
The 85-year-old Nzié was amongst the 500 artists who were thrown to the ground and beaten by order of the national security chief. Some 63 were detained without charge for over seven hours.
Union representatives, including SYCAMU president, and International Federation of Musicians vice-president Roméo Dika, remain under threat. Pro-regime media accuse him of an attempted insurrection, which is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Biya and his cronies were infuriated when Lapiro de Mbanga penned a song Constitution Constipée, which lampooned the regime’s efforts to extend presidential rule in 2008. He was arrested and sentenced to 3-years in prison. He only survived due to the efforts of his wife and Freemuse organisation, which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide.
When students from the university of Buea and others gathered in the streets of Kumba city last year, inspired by the uprisings of the Arab spring, Kingsley Ndip Ashu was arrested, thrown into jail and beaten. The Cameroon Centre for Democracy and Human Rights is campaigning for his release and against the barbaric treatment of demonstrators.
The United Republic of Cameroon, formed in 1972 from British and French-controlled territories, has only had one president since the Cameroon’s gained independent from France after a long anti-colonial struggle.
“Cameroon is ruled by a gang of geriatric aristocrats with astonishing access to the country’s treasury, incredible looting of the country’s resources, unimaginable cruelty towards ordinary Cameroonians, and with dynastical power ambitions for their families,” says the Cameroon Centre.
Behind the corrupt and repressive regime is the connivance of oil corporations Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and Elf Aquitaine, backed by western governments and the World Bank. They are heavily involved in the controversial Chad–Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project. Most of the 1070 kilometre pipeline stretches through Cameroon on its way to the coastal town of Kribi. Construction has damaged local ecosystems and affected locals who depend on fishing.
Vast areas of natural forest are being cleared by the US Herakles Farms company in the southwest of the country to establish palm oil plantations, ten times the size of Manhattan. Greenpeace and other groups are currently protesting the arrest on November 14 of Nasako Besingi, the director of the Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), a local NGO, and his three colleagues. They have not been charged with any crime.
It is not only western companies who are exploiting Cameroon. China’s notorious Three Gorges Corporation signed a contract last year to work on a hydropower project on Cameroon’s Sanaga river. It also signed a memorandum to set up a huge car manufacturing plant in Kribi.
The presidential election, originally scheduled for July last year, is due to take place this February. It’s clear the regime wants any opposition to its corrupt rule to be suppressed in advance. But as the country’s musicians, democracy and ecological campaigners demonstrate, a groundswell of opposition is rising.
A World to Win secretary
20 November 2012