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Cameroonians losing faith in seven-term president

International | Paul Biya’s electoral victory fuels separatist tensions among English speakers
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/30/18, 01:55 pm

Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Africa’s longest-serving leader, secured a seventh term in a landslide electoral victory earlier this month. But the vote took place amid accusations of fraud and an increasingly deadly separatist crisis in the bilingual nation.

Biya received 71 percent of the vote in the Oct. 7 election, while lead opposition candidate Maurice Kamto garnered just 14 percent, according to the Constitutional Council.

“Thank you for your renewed and large confidence,” Biya tweeted. “Let us now join in taking up, together, the challenges that confront us.”

The council maintained the result was “free, fair, and credible” and rejected more than a dozen legal challenges from the opposition. Ahead of last week’s announcement of the results, the government deployed heavily armed troops in major cities to avoid any opposition-led demonstrations against the integrity of the vote.

Biya, 85, has served as the Cameroonian president since 1982. His government in 2008 scrapped presidential term limits, paving the way for his unlimited rule. But his latest victory points to increased apathy among Cameroonians: Only 54 percent of eligible voters participated, compared to 68 percent in the 2011 election and 79 percent in 2004, according to the website ElectionGuide.

“Biya always wins,” Suh Emmanuel, a driver in the English-speaking region, told The Guardian. “I am not interested in the results.”

Unrest began in the country’s English-speaking regions in late 2016 after lawyers and teachers demonstrated against marginalization. Cameroon is officially a bilingual French- and English-speaking country. English speakers make up 20 percent of the population.

Following the government’s violent response to the demonstrations, armed separatists declared the region a new state called Ambazonia. Fighting between separatists and security forces have killed hundreds of people and displaced more than 240,000 others.

In the English-speaking Northwest Region, voter turnout was 5 percent, while only 15 percent of voters turned out in the Southwest Region, which is also English-speaking, or Anglophone.

Since Biya’s victory, anti-riot police have arrested more than a dozen peaceful protesters, and the government banned all public demonstrations. Last week, at least 15 people died when the military staged a raid on suspected separatist training grounds in the Northwest. Many residents fled the region, and others planned protests in churches and schools to try to avoid clashes with police.

Christa Banla, who lives in the region’s village of Ngarum, told Voice of America the military drove residents from their homes. “We were only coming back in the evening to discover that the compound was destroyed by the military and burned down,” she said. “We do not even have food to eat, no clothes to wear.”

Hans Heungoup, the Central Africa senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Biya’s stance on the Anglophone crisis, as well as on other security and political issues, has ruled out inclusive dialogue and openness to reform. “There’s no sign that he has shown that makes us think he will change the way he rules the country,” Heungoup said.

Associated Press/Photo by Altaf Qadri Associated Press/Photo by Altaf Qadri Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh at an Aug. 25 prayer service to commemorate the first anniversary of the crackdown that lead them to flee Myanmar

Still suffering

Genocide against minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues even as the government denies committing human rights violations, United Nations investigators said last week.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the independent UN fact-finding mission, said thousands of Rohingya are still leaving for neighboring Bangladesh after last year’s deadly military crackdown that sent at least 700,000 Rohingya fleeing. An estimated 250,000 to 450,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar continue to suffer repression and restrictions, he said.

“It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment,” Darusman said.

In September, the UN fact-finding mission called the systematic violence against the Rohingya “the gravest crimes under international law.”

Darusman said the Myanmar government’s hardened position confirms the international community needs to take action since “accountability cannot be expected from national processes.” He also reiterated calls for targeted sanctions against senior military generals. Myanmar Ambassador to the UN Hau Do Suan rejected the report as “full of prejudice” and condemned the mission’s calls for an independent investigation. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Ariana Cubillos (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ariana Cubillos (file) Gold bars in a military plane in Caracas, Venezuela

Gold rush

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is illegally exporting gold to Turkey to cope with his country’s failing economy, a United States Treasury official said last week.

Speaking at an event at the Brookings Institution, Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Treasury assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said Maduro’s government shipped more than 21 metric tons of gold in recent months without approval from the Venezuelan opposition-majority National Assembly. He said the “looting” is a new strategy to replace Venezuela’s crashing state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.

“This gold is being removed from the country without any of the customary safeguards that would ensure the funds are accounted for and properly catalogued as belonging to Venezuelan people,” Billingslea said.

The Venezuelan economy began a downward spiral in 2014 as the oil industry collapsed. The downturn resulted in shortages of food and medicine and sent millions fleeing the country. The United States has imposed sanctions on some of the country’s top-level officials, including Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores. —O.O.

Madam President

Ethiopia on Thursday elected the country’s first female president, the latest move in a string of government reforms.

Sahle-Work Zewde assumed the largely ceremonial role last week. The seasoned diplomat has experience in the African Union and the United Nations and vowed to work for peace. “I urge you all to uphold our peace in the name of a mother, who is the first to suffer from the absence of peace,” she told Parliament.

Zewde is the sole female leader on the African continent after it’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, stepped down earlier this year. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has taken several major reform steps, including instituting the first Cabinet with 50 percent women and the first female defense minister. In the past few months, Ahmed has extended an olive branch to neighboring Eritrea, ending two decades of friction. —O.O.

World’s tallest statue

India this week will unveil its Statue of Unity, which stands four times the height of the U.S. Statue of Liberty. The 597-foot monument, set to debut Wednesday, honors Sardar Vallabhbhai, India’s “Iron Man” and first deputy prime minister, who helped unite 562 princely states to the rest of the country in 1947. Some 4,000 laborers assembled the statue in the town of Gujarat. Struggling farmers in the town expressed frustration over the lavish $430 million statue. But the project also counts as a political move for Prime Minister Narendra Modi: The unveiling will launch his campaign for reelection in 2019. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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  • Kiwi's picture
    Posted: Tue, 10/30/2018 05:59 pm

    Thanks for reporting about Cameroon.  A missionary that our church supports was murdered there just today, leaving behind a wife and 8 young children.