Cameroon: Next for the Headlines?
Author: Simon Stander
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 06/05/2007
Cameroon, a country of 16 million in West Africa, may jog the mind in a number of ways, depending on your interests. A plane crashed there after taking off in neighbouring Nigeria and 114 people died in the jungle. Though tragic it didn’t stir much debate about Cameroon itself. Watching Barcelona, there is the thrill not only of Ronaldhino but also of Samuel Eto’o, a key player in the Cameroon football side that has taken the African continent by storm. Recently scientists have set off to deepest Cameroon believing that they will find the source of HIV/Aids among a tribe of monkeys there. (So HIV wasn’t a CIA plot after all…) More significant than all these facts might be that sources have claimed that the country has the worst corruption and the worst dictator on earth. That is saying something given the levels of corruption and authoritarian regimes dotted round the globe. It looks, too, that the potential for conflict will lead to Cameroon replacing the Congo and Somalia as the site of the next conflict with the so-called international community likely to make things worse rather than better.
What will thrust Cameroon into the headlines? It is that deadly combination of ethic division, tribal and clan division, power hungry regime, oil and pipelines and with TNC oil companies and the World Bank, with its brand new head, Robert Zoellick, still to warm his bum on his Morocco-leather office chair.
This issue of the Peace and Conflict Monitor is a special edition that makes a plea to find ways of preventing what seems to be the very likely one of the next headlines. It looks as if we are due for prolonged and desperate spoliation of yet another piece of West Africa as we see already in the Niger Delta further west (to say nothing of the disturbances yet to emerge fully over the Bakasi Peninsula). We carry A Tale of Nationalism and Dissidence, Celebrating 44 Years of Cameroon’s Unification: Has it Succeeded?, A Prevailing Movement, and New Anti-corruption Drive Leaves Many Sceptical.
Cameroon is a roughly triangular shaped country that reaches up from the Gulf of Guinea to the now oil rich but formerly arid lands in Chad. On the west is the massive country of Nigeria with its population almost ten times the size of Cameroon. It also has borders with Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Though natural resources and agriculture make Cameroon a potentially wealthy country, life expectation is around 50, half the population is below the poverty line and unemployment is over 30% and agricultural productivity is low.
Its colonial history makes it especially unstable. Originally colonised as part of the German scramble for Africa, it was ceded partly to the UK and partly to France the German Empire ws dismantled at the peace treaties after 1918. The dangerous legacy is that most of the resources are in the Anglophone region to the north west and south west. The government, however, is dominated by the more numerous francophones under the iron hand of Paul Biya and his coterie. As we report in this issue the record of human rights is worsening with the Anglophones suffering most. Foreign intervention is such that the French support the regime while the British stay clear with their hands full elsewhere such as Sierra Leone. The real danger lies with the recent injection of funds from the World Bank to build the pipeline from Chad to the sea to bring out, among others, Exxon-Mobil’s oil. A small per cent of the oil revenues are supposed to be returned to improve the communities in Cameroon as well as Chad. With the pipeline still not complete oil spills are causing local havoc much to the chagrin of the World Bank:
The World Bank continues to monitor the Cameroon oil spill to determine its causes, assess any immediate consequences and gain lessons to help improve preparedness in the future. On January 23 and 24 World Bank staff travelled to Kribi, Cameroon and its environs to contact government officials, officials with the Cameroon Oil Transport Co., local decision-makers, media, civil society leaders, and villagers. The Bank team also visited areas at sea and on land that might be affected by the spill, which occurred January 15 (2007).
Environmental watchers are concerned that the Cameroon are not likely to benefit nearly as much as promised and the World Bank intervention is, in effect, a subsidy to Exxon-Mobil, Elf and Shell:
International development assistance for two of the poorest countries in Africa could soon be used to support a project planned by big oil companies. An international consortium consisting of Exxon, Shell and ELF is planning a multibillion dollar oil exploitation project with serious environmental and social risks that many fear may create another Ogoniland, Nigeria’s oil-producing region which has seen environmental devastation and brutal human rights violations. The project consists of the development of the Doba oil-fields in southern Chad, a landlocked nation, and a 600 mile pipeline through Cameroon to transport the oil to an Atlantic port from where it is exported.
What makes the project so potentially dangerous is that the Anglophones in Cameroon may welcome the English speaking US interests as saviours against their Francophone oppressors as the pipeline comes through their region of the country.
That deadly mix of oil deposits, pipelines, foreign TNC interests, high oil prices, sharp internal divisions, foreign intervention, corrupt government, greed and, amongst many other factors, a country where the median age is 18…plenty of young men and children to be recruited for potential “rebel” forces with 4,500 kilometres of leaky borders to escape across into half a dozen different countries, and small arms available at ten a penny.
If internal war breaks out in Cameroon it ill be generations before it is put right. Prevention is better than cure. Anyone got any ideas?
Bio: Simon Stander is Editor-in-Chief of the Peace and Conflict Monitor.