Cameroon’s 85-Year-Old President Wants a 7th Term as Massacres Grow

Cameroonian President Paul Biya speaks during the regional security summit on Boko Haram threat to African security in Abuja, on May 14, 2016. Regional and Western powers were urged to do more to stop the threat from Boko Haram, as the UN voiced concern about its ties to the Islamic …
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
FRANCES MARTEL

The U.S. State Department on Monday condemned the release of a video appearing to show soldiers in Cameroon killing a woman and infant, among others.

As President Paul Biya, 85, prepares to run for a seventh term as president, foreign governments and human rights organizations are increasingly sounding the alarm on growing violence between French and English speakers in the country.

Biya announced that he would seek a seventh term as president on Friday, having clocked 36 years as the nation’s head of state in which most of the country, but not those in government, have experienced a significant economic decline. Should Biya win the election, he will be 92 years old by the time his latest term ends.

Another significant issue with Biya’s rule is that he does not live in Cameroon for much of the year, preferring Switzerland to his own country. The New York Times noted this week that Biya has spent 4.5 of his 36 years in office abroad, even though his country faces major economic challenges, regular terrorist attacks on the part of neighboring Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and growing strife between francophone and anglophone Cameroonians.

According to Voice of America, few doubt that Biya will be able to keep power, given that his announcement of an intent to run triggered almost immediate support from a variety of smaller parties unaffiliated with his ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement.

Specifically, one minority party leader reportedly endorsed Biya because he “is the right person and the real person to handle the anglophone problem.”

Protests have been ongoing in Southern Cameroons, the English-speaking part of the country, since November 2016. Anglophones complain that the government gives favorable treatment to those who speak French and have largely ostracized English speakers from society. Among the complaints have been the failure of the government to translated laws and important documents into English and the imposition of French in schools where most speak English, despite both French and English being official state languages.

Biya’s government has responded to protests largely with violence, triggering the rise of a secessionist movement to establish a new, English-speaking country called Ambazonia. Biya himself has promised to take “all measures” to end the uprising.

The violence in Southern Cameroons made headlines again this weekend with the surfacing of a video on social media appearing to show government soldiers killing two women and two children, one an infant. The NGO Amnesty International confirmed last week that it had “gathered credible evidence” that the men in uniform in the video were indeed soldiers acting under Biya’s authority. Biya’s government has denied that the video shows state actors, calling it “fake news.”

“Extensive analysis of the weapons, dialogue and uniforms that feature in the video, paired with digital verification techniques and testimonies taken from the ground, all strongly suggest that the perpetrators of the executions are Cameroonian soldiers,” Amnesty International concluded.

The group also concluded that the video was likely filmed in the Far North region of Cameroon, not near the Southern Cameroons area where much of the violence is occurring. The Far North is where Cameroon has many of its run-ins with Boko Haram, however, as it is near Nigeria. Biya has sent troops into the Far North to attempt to find and kill Boko Haram members.

There is no evidence that the women and children in the video have any affiliation to Boko Haram or to Anglophone separatists. Yet the violence depicted has nonetheless triggered outrage in the context of crackdowns against civilians the government uses the fight against both groups to justify. Multiple killings occurred in the South West region of Cameroon last week, as well, the dead belonging to both police forces and Anglophone separatist groups.

“The United States is gravely concerned over the recent video depicting men wearing military-style uniforms executing two women and two children, one an infant,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday. “We call on the Government of Cameroon to investigate thoroughly and transparently the events depicted in the video, make its findings public, and if Cameroonian military personnel were involved in this atrocity, hold them accountable.”

Biya’s government has yet to roll out a campaign platform for the incumbent that addresses concerns with state violence nationwide.

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