“National Stability” in the Absence of Human Security in Cameroon.
Due to Cameroon`s political “stability” the country is fondly referred to as a haven of peace in a sub-region undermined by a multiplicity of violent conflicts. It is for achieving this that the country is regarded in certain quarters as Africa`s success story in matters of stability, human security and development. In spite of this fact, Cameroon continues to be found wanting in matters of human security. Citizens` insecurity resulting from state actions ,including human rights abuses ,the absence of democratic experience and general political discontent is on the increase ,as reported by many national and international institutions .Since 1998 Transparency International in its classification of world corrupt nations has been rating Cameroon as one of the world`s most corrupt nation. The US State Department and Amnesty International in their annual reports have been faulting Cameroon on several human and people`s human rights issues. On the economic front Cameroon was in 2002 classified as a highly indebted and poor country under the World Bank Initiative (HIPC).This makes Cameroon a country of many complexities. How then can a country that seems to enjoy such stability be so corrupt, poor and have such a dismal human security record.
In order to attempt to illustrate why Cameroon is stable but insecure, a clear understanding of the context of human security is important. For quite a long time the concept of security was interpreted to mean security of territories from external aggression, protection of national interest or as global security from the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Emphasis was not placed on the individual on the assumption that the security of individuals emanates from that of the state .In 1994; however, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) pioneered a new concept of human security. This was an expanded definition of human security that includes the legitimate concerns of ordinary people who seek security in their daily lives (UNDP 1994 Human Development Report) This new concept which is universal and people- centered is concerned more with the satisfaction of these needs often dependent on the role of the state and the degree to which its institutions and managers are responsive.
The two essential components of human security are freedom from fear and want but it also includes freedom from any form of oppression. It is assumed that without the provision of effective national security, neither the citizen nor the community can be personally secure in the broader sense of the term. The assumption is based on the fact that the state is considered as a protector or provider of the individual`s human security.
Cameroon is the world`s 53rd largest country and carries within its territory almost all of the continent`s vital resources, making it to aptly fit the description “Africa in miniature”. On the wake of independence, the will of the Cameroonian people was to reunite into the Federal Republic of Cameroon after forty years of separation during which they had undergone and adopted Gallic and Anglo-Saxon cultures. Though this unification was achieved against the backdrop of violence caused by the UPC (Union des populations du Cameroun) rebellion, this was easily crushed, with the help of France. However, the UPC resistance had the effect that it led to the institutionalization of authoritarian rule. Ahidjo had asked and obtained full powers or “plein pouvoir”, which he used to install an authoritarian regime in Cameroon. The need to conserve and centralize power led to the scraping of political parties throughout Cameroon in 1966 and the institution of the one party state. Henceforth, the government was highly centralized and presidentialised.
In 1982,Ahmadou Ahidjo resigned and was replaced by Paul Biya in what was termed peaceful revolution of transition. In 1984, barely two years after assuming office, the new president faced an aborted military coup. Just like Ahidjo and the UPC rebellion, Biya used the aborted coup to install dictatorship. The result was that Cameroon continued as a republic dominated by strong presidency, with the parliament and judiciary operating more or less like arms of the government but of the executive. The desire by the government to centralize and monopolize power has undermined individual and collective security in Cameroon.
Having had only two Presidents since independence, Cameroon is considered by many as one of the most stable and peaceful countries in Africa. This political stability is backed by economic growth that surpasses those of the region. Cameroon has the most diversified economy in the sub-region and has achieved the most industrialized and is the incontestable leader of the Economy Monetary Community of Central Africa(CEMAC), comprising six countries with a common border(Gabon,chad,Cental African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Congo) If oil production is excluded, then the country accounts for close to 60% of goods produced by the 6 CEMAC countries. Its central and geo-strategic position within the sub-region makes Cameroon the principal gateway for landlocked countries such as chad and C.A.R (central African republic)It is also thanks to its geo-strategic importance that the country has become a viable destination for the US`s new sources of energy. With all the positive indications, one would expect Cameroon to be leaders in matters of human security and development.
Contrarily, Cameroon for several years has occupied an unenviable position among countries classified in the UNDP`s. (united nation development program) The rich and abundant natural resources of the country have been poorly managed-to benefit a few political elite. Though Cameroon was declared food sufficient since 1985, price hikes especially food and fuel is almost a daily occurrence. This has led to a social dislocation and overall deterioration in people`s living standards. In The meantime, the rich and abundant natural resources of country have been poorly managed –to benefit a few political elite.
This is partly as a result of the fact that economic programme like the Five-year Development Plans, Green Revolution and Community Development introduced by president Ahidjo were ignored. Together with other external factors, this brought about the economic crisis in the 1980s and 90s.
Though there has been economic growth for close to a decade now, economic take-off has continued to be undermined by wide spread and rising corruption, embezzlement of state funds by government ministers and directors of state-owned companies. Some state barons of the Beti/Bulu ethnic group take advantage of a common origin with the Head of state to pillage the economy. The bad situation has further been compounded by institutionalized nepotism. Consequently, the relative economic growth has not been translated to concrete realities as the common man has not realized a change. It was therefore not surprising that in 2010 Cameroon was classified as a highly indebted and poor country, placed under the World Bank Indebted Poor countries (HIPC) initiative.
Projects such as the Cameroon-Chad pipeline that is supposed to be of benefit to Cameroonian people has not been of any effect. The world bank and European Investment Bank, chevron-Texaco,Exxon mobli,PATRONAS Malaysia one would expect with all these actors involved in a development project,security would be guaranteed to the Cameroonian people.Taking from the environmental phases of the project the citizens are losing more than gaining.Yet lots of money continuous to change hands and majority of Cameroonians are still on less than one dollar a day.
Unfortunately, the citizen`s inability to force the government to be responsible and accountable is limited or nonexistent. The democratic process inaugurated in 1990 has not brought about the expected positive change but instead led to more frustration. Attempts by the ruling elite to accumulate and consolidate power have greatly rendered the democratic process incapable of ensuring the construction of a secure society.
To maintain power the Cameroonian government is appreciative of Chinese support in international relations as the Chinese policy is non interference and partnership without conditionalities such as the rule of law, respect of human rights and good governance. Hence for the past decades the political aspects of Cameroon`s foreign policies has revolved around the issue of power sustainance.This explains why the Cameroon government has been sued at African commission on human and people`s rights. These suits are indicative of Cameroon`s poor reputation at the international scene.
Violence caused by inter-tribal wars has been a major threat to human security in Cameroon. This has occurred more frequently in the North West province and in some northern provinces of Cameroon. In 1995 and 1998, the villages of Bali-kumbat in the North West Region attacked and almost completely destroyed the neighboring village of Bafanji.In the attack of 1998 led to about 12 dead and over 10,000 displaced. At the beginning of 2007, Bali-nyonga attacked the neighboring village of Bawok and set ablaze all the houses in the village and transforming the villagers to internally displaced persons. In the same year, inter-tribal violence erupted between the Mbessa people in the Boye Divisions and the Oku people in the Bui Division, with disastrous consequences.
Living in Fear under Traditional- Rulership.
In many parts of Cameroon, traditional leadership constitutes a major threat to human security. Traditional power-holders have committed many human rights abuses that have soiled Cameroon`s human rights record. In the Northern and Grassfields regions of Cameroon where traditional rulership has a strong sway on the people, some traditional leaders operate like absolute despots, making many to wonder whether the rule of law actually prevails in Cameroon. Any attempt to dissent is countered with violence and torture. Some maintain dreadful prisons in which they incarcerated all those who opposed them, while others have been associated with the trafficking and proliferation of small and light weapons used in perpetrating violence. Amongst the traditional leaders most cited for posing human security threats to the population included the late Abdoulaye Ahmadou,Lamido of Rey Bouba
During his reign, the late Lamido of ReyBouba operated like an absolute monarch. He had a dreadful prison in which he incarcerated all those who opposed him. His secret service and private army, the doungourou, detected and tracked down dissenting voices. In May 1993, he ordered his army to raid the villages of Mbang Rey for simply protesting against their traditional ruler. This attack led to the death of ten villagers and several wounded. The lamido was particularly hostile to his political adversaries. He arrested, imprisoned and even battered to death members of the opposition parties. For example, 8th January 1996, the National Union of Democracy and Progress (NUDP) MP from Mayo Ray, Hon. Haman Adama Daouda, was rushed to the hospital following severe beatings meted on him by the lamido `s army .He never recovered from his wounds as his death was announced by his party on the 18th February that same year.
The way some of the Muslim leaders of northern Cameroon have operated since 1990 has inspired some of their peers in Southern part of Cameroon, who have tried to mimic them, amongst whom are Fon Doh Gah Gwanyim III of Bali- kumbat ,North West Region.
Fon Doh`s misdeeds came to the head when on 20th August 2004, Fon Doh and his thugs brutally murdered the already physically challenged John Kohtem,a member of the SDF Party(social democratic front) , because of political differences. He and his men battered the victim to death. This incident shocked both the national and international community and the call for justice was heard from far and wide. In the court judgment pronounced by the Ndop High Court on April 12 2006,Fon Doh and nine of his men amongst whom were two of his children received a 15 year jail sentence and the fine of FCFA 500,000.
Although there is a legislation condemning criminal acts of this nature it is rarely enforced against traditional rulers, especially when it concerns a loyalist chief. Worse still, given the aura of chiefs, a “subject” does not dare sue the chief to court for fear of the unknown. Additionally villagers are afraid to give evidence against their traditional ruler .Given the failure of the state in many instances to protect the citizens from despotic monarchs responsible for criminal acts, the population have resorted to alternative forms of liberating themselves, one of which is to physically eliminating their traditional leader.
Another case is that of the battering and roasting to death of Simon Vugah II, the exiled traditional ruler who attempted to sneak into the palace to recapture the throne. His brutal murder shocked the entire nation, that a people could turn against their own chief considered a sacred being, to the point of eliminating him. This incident led to further violence and death.
While tension was still brewing high following the burial on 21st February 2006 of the Fon Vugah, the government, in what was dubbed “operation Kedjem-Keku” the government ordered gendarmes to arrest more people suspected of participating in the assassination of Fon Vugah. This led to further confrontation with the already irate population.
Police Brutality on Protesters
In Cameroon, the security of citizens has been seriously undermined as a result of state actions, especially by security forces .In a democracy, people who suffer from severe want use strike actions and other forms of peaceful protests to draw attention of government or the authorities that be to their plight. In like manner, Cameroonians have most often used protest marches and demonstrations to vent their frustration and express unaddressed grievances. Unfortunately, national responsibilities, which are principally in the hands of the national police and the gendarmerie, are mostly employed to protect the interest of the growing elite, with limited provision of human security for their citizenry.
They are essentially and practically there to keep the citizens in check or at bay. Understandably, therefore, the ruling government has survived popular uprising thanks to security officers (the police and army) which often apply brute force and unscrupulous tactics to intimidate and break down the protesting crowd. This has even extended to university campuses .Hardly has there been a confrontation between the striking students and the forces of law and order without heavy casualties being recorded on the part of the students. In 2007, police brutality reached its peak as so many deaths were reported in many parts of Cameroon. Two persons were shot dead in Abong-Mbang and one in Kumba as the population protested against AES-Sonel (the electricity company) for prolonged power shortage in both localities. In Bamenda police opened fire using live bullets on protesting bike riders (motor taxi) when they reported to the police station to complain about the shooting to death by the police of one of their colleagues.
Though Cameroon has experienced some economic growth since 2000, the purchasing power of Cameroonians has remained low due to unequal or inequitable distribution of wealth. The increasing unemployment in the country has led to an increase in criminality .Where the basis of their livelihood seems to erode and oppression/injustice are perceived to be prevalent, violent ensue. Many young people no longer view hard work and education as a sure means to achieve modernity dreams. Organized crimes are becoming more popular. With very limited choices for survival, many impoverished and disillusioned young people have turned to illicit means of enrichment such as trickery( scams or feymania) armed robbery. Urban criminality resulting from this situation has increased the citizens` insecurity.
Petty thieves operate in markets ,bars and parks while the more organized ones attacks homes ,highways, banks etc. In recent times taxi`s have become regular avenues for serious aggression or attacks. In this method, a group of thieves usually 2 or 3 parade a taxi around looking for a possible prey they sit inside as passengers then identify a victim whom they later rob. This researcher has been a victim to such attacks countless times. In some major cities, notorious armed gangs operate with almost total impunity, making people question the role of the officers in charge of law and order. We can recall the successful operation of the Ecobank in Bonaberi (douala) few months back. These men operated in broad daylight and carried away hundreds of millions. Many say when the forces of law and order were called none of them showed up ,ironically its said those guys came from neighboring Nigeria. Have we forgotten of the incident in Limbe when another bank was robbed for almost five hours and nobody came?
Due to the fact that the three Northern provinces are not linked to those of the south by tarred road, highway transportation from the north has been hampered by organised gangs. This situation is encouraged by the political instability the neighboring Tchad and Central African Republic have witnessed in recent years.
The flow of arms from these countries has not been easy to control and has led to what is popularly known here as the “coupeurs de route” (road blockers or highway robbers) phenomenon. And on countless occasions have police people been arrested for either suppling weapons for armed gangs or act as armed gangs.Even regular clashes between government forces and these gangs have not succeeded to completely stem the situation. Foreign nationals are advised not to travel from the South to the North by road except well guarded. Even inhabitants of the country go by train. Unfortunately, the railway network that links the three Northern Regions to the South of Cameroon is not well developed. The journey is covered only by night and takes over 16hours. Consequently, passengers are mostly exposed to petty thieves and swindlers .No matter the wagon of the train, stealing is quite rampant. These factors make movement by train, especially for foreign nationals, a dangerous mode of transportation. But what has been the reaction of the state in the face of this mounting urban criminality?
State Failure and the Proliferation of Jungle Justice
In Cameroon, human security is not threatened by conventional threats of armed attacks by a neighboring country but the very weakness of the state and its incapacity to have full control of its own territory .In fact, the security system it inherited from its erstwhile colonial master, France, reflects the configuration of the state-it was mounted to protect the imperial scheme and not the individuals and so even today security services are more state-oriented than citizens-oriented.
Though police stations and checkpoints are dotted everywhere around the country their reaction to combat crime is hardly as rapid. Worse still, security officers would hardly render a service without immediate financial returns. They are subservient to receiving bribes and extorting money from public transport drivers and businessmen, making it to be rated by Transparency International as the most corrupt sector in Cameroon. Even worse, many security officers have also been found guilty of promoting arm robbery. If they are not participating in the acts of robbery directly, they provide arms and cover to bandits to carry out robbery along the high ways.
Besides, the Cameroon security service is also considered inefficient. In March 2006, over 10.00 were sent back for retraining due to what was described as “scandalous poor performance in the field”. A majority of those who were sent back for training were said to be people who gambled their way into the police school between 2000 and 2004
The numerous human rights violations and security problems committed by security officers is largely responsible for Cameroon`s dismal human rights record. For instance, when in 2000 President Biya created a special military operational command unit to combat the high crime wave that had bedeviled the economic headquarters of Douala, it turned out to be a unit against the population. The excesses of the operational command led to the disappearance of 9 young inhabitants of the neighborhood Bepanda, igniting protest and civil strife by the population. As a result of these unfortunate incidents, the Head of State disbanded of the special security command unit without it accomplishing it original mission, which was to curb the crime wave. Hence criminality continued in the urban areas unabated. As reported by The Courier:
( created in 2000 to curb high levels of criminality in Douala the country`s financial capital, commandment operational unfortunately gained notoriety after the discovery of mass graves and reports of torture, inhumane treatment, extra-judicial executions and collisions between its members and gangs- courier, Number 193,p.64)
In situation where the state cannot provide protection and security to the people the citizenry withdraws its allegiance to the state and resorts to alternative means of protection. In fact, any state that cannot guarantee its citizens loses legitimacy in the eyes of its people. When people receive threats to their immediate security, they often become less tolerant. The failure of the state to provide human security coupled with the desire of the masses to bring the situation under control, as a means of self or collective defense, has therefore led to the upsurge of mob justice.
In Cameroon, the threat of human security and not poverty accounts to the high level of insecurity that characterizes some of our major cities. Though the country does not fall among the African states described as failed, weak or collapsed states, many of the characteristics of such states are present. It has been argued that Cameroon`s stability is largely founded on a faulty foundation based on an alliance between their group and the state.(courier: July-august 2002 ,p.63). According to Amnesty International, ensuring the respect for fundamental rights warrants an independent judiciary system and a disciplined law enforces. It is hoped that with the enactment by the Cameroon legislature of a new criminal procedure code whose focus is human rights would improve the human security situation.