Friday, December 28, 2018

Cameroon Anglophone crisis: Real threat of Genocide -- but not necessarily by the Military

For over two years Cameroon has been engulfed in a political impasse that has over time degenerated into a humanitarian and human rights crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. Many people have been killed and thousands displaced internally and internationally, and there have been allegations of a genocide happening in the affected regions. While there is evidence of possible war crimes committed by the Cameroonian military operating in the Anglophone regions of the country, there is no concrete evidence of a genocide - in the true sense of the word - happening yet. However, there is a real possibility of a genocide in the future if the crisis is not addressed, but the impending genocide would not necessarily be committed by the military. The Bangourain attack, allegedly by an armed group from the English-speaking region, and the retaliatory attack against Anglophones in Bangourain that followed are a warning sign and a blueprint of what could spark a genocide. 

In 2016, lawyers in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon went on strike - decrying what has been described as the "Francophonization" of the legal system in the regions by way of, for example, appointing French-speaking judges to courts in English-speaking regions. When their demands were not met they took to the streets in peaceful protest. The protest were met by tear-gas and a heavy-handed response by state security forces. Teachers, students and the general population joined the protests, and the situation morphed into a mass uprising against marginalization of English-speaking Cameroonians in a majority French-speaking country. The government's heavy-handed response continued and what started as a call for reform turned into calls for outright secession of the English-speaking regions.

Armed groups emerged and the Anglophone regions of Cameroon became engulfed in outright armed conflict between separatist groups and state defense and security forces. Hundreds - if not thousands have been killed, schools and houses burnt down and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes in Cameroon's Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 437,000 people in the Northwest and Southwest have been displaced internally as of November 30, 2018. The socio-political situation in Cameroon remains tense, and there have been a proliferation of non-state armed groups. According to UN estimates, thousands of Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria. Over 20,000 Cameroonian refugees were registered in Nigeria as of March 2018.

Civilians have been caught in the crossfire and "genocide" has been used to describe atrocities committed in the region, sometimes against whole villages. "This is a genocide", a woman reportedly told The Guardian. According to The New York Times, many have accused the Cameroonian military of "genocide".


A genocide, according to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, means "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm  to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
Drawing from the afore definition, genocide is a serious crime. It is not a word to be thrown around lightly else risks losing seriousness. That said, atrocities have been committed in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, and the Cameroonian military has been linked, by credible sources and analysis, to the atrocities. These atrocities including extrajudicial killings and the burning down of civilians' houses and in some cases the razing down of whole villages. In June 2018, using satellite imagery and eye-witness testimonies, BBC Africa Eye linked Cameroon's state security forces with the burning of villages.

Some of the atrocities committed by the military rise to the level of war crimes, but, in my view, fall short of genocide. The atrocities include burning down of villages and houses, destroying sources of livelihood in civilian areas, torturing and killing captured suspected separatists. War crimes have, without a doubt, been committed in the armed conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions. These war crimes include the burning of schools, destruction of hospitals and health centres and kidnapping of civilians, including students and teachers by non-state armed groups. 

As to genocide, it looms but has not been committed yet. It will happen when Anglophones or Anglophone non-state armed groups will target and kill Francophones or vice versa, and the affected group retaliates -- targeting and killing members of the other group "with intent to destroy in whole or in part" as retaliation. Last weekend there were glimpses of what could spark a genocide in the context of the Anglophone crisis when homes were set ablaze in Bangourain in the West Region allegedly by armed Anglophone non-state actors. The reported attack on the French-speaking community reportedly happened on December 23, 2018, and was captured on video that was widely shared on Facebook. In the video a voice is clearly heard saying the attack is retaliation for the treatment of Anglophones. According to BBC News Pidgin the assailants were about 300
 gunmen. One person was killed, about 80 houses burnt down and 15 people kidnapped. Members of the Bangourain community on their part retaliated three days later by publicly beating to death two Anglophones suspected of involvement in the Bangourain attack, and reportedly asked Anglophones to leave the area. The gruesome killing that could be aptly described as a public lynching was also captured on video and widely shared on Facebook.

I am afraid we have not heard the last of Bangourain yet. Both sides, Anglophones and Francophones in Bangourain and in the rest of the country must exercise restraint in order to avoid an escalation that could lead to mass killings along linguistic lines or, yes - a genocide.   

The Bangourain tragedy is a warning sign and a blueprint of how a genocide could be sparked in the context of the Anglophone crisis. The genocide would not necessarily be committed by the military. It would be committed by civilians, when, for example, someday, for some reason, French-speaking Cameroonians turn against English-speaking civilians or vice versa. That is how the Rwandan genocide happened. Hutus turned against Tutsis.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Africa didn't win the FIFA World Cup 2018. France did

Africa was represented in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia by five countries: Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. With the elimination of all African teams from the tournament in the group stages - the last to exit the big stage being Senegal - many Africans, either out of ridicule or genuine support - turned to France, and dubbed the European country's squad an "African team". Others referred to it as the "United Nation of France" or "Africa United" - due to the large number of players of African descent in the squad. Many claimed that there was still an "African team" in the tournament, despite the fact that no side from Africa made it to the knockout stages. France went on to win the World Cup, and the chatter surrounding the French side continued - with some claiming Africa won it for France.

Africa, according to the BBC, suffered its worst World Cup display in 36 years, with no side from the African continent making it to the knockout stages for the first time since 1982. France went on to win the tournament, with nineteen of its 23 players being immigrants or children of immigrants, according to AJ+ on Twitter. According to an article posted on The Undefeated, twelve of the 23 French players are of African ancestry. The BBC puts the number at fifteen out of 23.

Since all teams from the African continent exited the tournament the ethnic composition of the French national team has been making the rounds on social media. After the final, social media was awash with tweets and Facebook posts about the African ancestry of French players. One Twitter user, for example captured it all when he congratulated Africa for the victory.

That was the general point of view of Africans online after the final whistle in Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018.


France, not Africa, won the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is true that on account of personnel, the French national team is made up of Africans but it is, in fact, France's team. The French players - be it Samuel Umtiti whose parents are reported from my home country, Cameroon, or Adil Rami whose parents are reportedly from Morocco, or Paul Pogba whose parents reportedly hail from Guinea, or Blaise Matuidi whose parents hail from Angola and Congo, or N'Golo Kante whose parents reportedly hail from Mali - are French. They are French nationals, and France gave them the training and opportunity they need to play football at the highest level. They wore the French colors and represented France, not Africa - which by the way is not a country.

The way I see it, France takes almost all, if not all, credit for winning the World Cup, and it would be disingenuous to argue otherwise. The only credit I give Africa is ancestry - and ancestry alone, I believe, cannot win tournaments.

The French starting XI at the World Cup final was made up of many players of African descent: Kante, Pogba, Matudi, Mbappe and Umtiti. But Africa's contribution to their success in terms of football is almost non-existent. None of them has ever played professional or academy football in Africa. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that chances are, due to bad governance and corruption, including nepotism and lack of basic infrastructure many of the French star players, including 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe whose father reportedly hails from Cameroon and mother from Algeria would not have had an opportunity to reach their full potential had there been in Africa. As a Cameroonian, I am all too aware of how bad governance has ruined the nation, including sports. Mbappe who won the FIFA Young Player Award would, I reckon, probably not have made it into the Cameroonian national team due to nepotism. He might not even have had an opportunity to play football as a tot due to socio-economic limitations. And even if he beat the odds and made it into the team, corruption would have stunted his development in the trade.  

I would argue further that many Africans who recognize French players now would have probably not embraced them had they not won the World Cup, or if a team from the continent had gone further in the tournament. It would have been interesting to see the reaction if France came up against Nigeria, for example.

The representation of the French Team as an "African team" is opportunistic and intended to divide and provoke France - a country many Africans see as responsible for the sorry-state of affairs on the African continent as a result of colonial and neocolonialism. It is also a somewhat racially divisive point to make -- as it pits people of African descent against the rest of France. It plays right into the hands of racist far-right extremists who hold the view that immigrants or children of immigrants born and raised in France are not and can never be French.

The players who won the World Cup are French. They recognize themselves as such, legally and socio-culturally, and that is what matters. They are of African descent but they are also French. In fact, Paul Pogba, speaking ahead of a the game said, amongst other things, that "we all feel French, we're all happy to wear this jersey".

If Africa wants credit for winning the FIFA World Cup it should start investing in its young people, and, of course, their parents, so that they won't have to leave the continent - sometimes making perilous journeys across the Mediterranean sea - seeking refuge and opportunities elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Push to criminalize forced marriage in Finland

Forced marriage is often presented as a third world problem - a grave injustice in distant lands across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But, in reality, it is a global phenomenon that negatively impacts young girls and women across the globe, including in developed countries like the United States and Finland. In February 2017 the Washington Post reported, for example, that thousands of American children are wed annually. The case of an 11-year-old forced to marry her rapist in Florida was revealed by the New York Times in an opinion piece by Nicolas Kristof. Regardless of where forced marriage prevails it should be outlawed. Those living in forced marriages or those at risk of being forced into marriage should have appropriate legal protection from the harmful practice. In Finland, the Finnish League for Human Rights, known nationally as Ihmisoikeusliitto is leading the charge to criminalize forced marriage in the Nordic country.

The Finnish League for Human Rights is running a petition (in Finnish) to criminalize forced marriage in Finland. The organization defines forced marriage as marriage that is entered into without the full consent of one or both parties, and into which they or any of them is forced or pressured. According to the organization forced marriage in Finland takes many forms. The practice was brought to light by studies by the Finnish League of Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice in 2016 and 2017 respectively but present legislation is not enough to intervene. The government of Finland has to send a clear message that it does not approve forced marriage, according to the Finnish League for Human Rights. The organization urges its supporters and supporters of the campaign to outlaw forced marriage to sign the petition, which is addressed to Minister of Justice Antti Häkkänen.

The Finnish League for Human rights states in the petition, among other things, that forced marriage has been designated a violation of human rights in many international human rights agreements such as the United Nations convention on women's rights and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention -- which Finland ratified in 2015. The Convention  is legally binding on Member States, and demands, among other thing, the criminalization of forced marriage. The practice is outlawed by many countries in Europe such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

My Take

I signed the petition to criminalize forced marriage in Finland. No one should be forced into marriage. Marriage should be entered into freely by both parties - without any form of coercion whatsoever. And, in addition, marriage must be between consenting adults. This explains why child marriage, in my view, is forced marriage since minors - like adults under duresss - cannot give consent.

Finland's current legislation does not go far enough to address forced marriage. According to the Finnish League for Human Rights the practice could be punished under the Finnish Penal Code as aggravated human trafficking or coercion but present legislation does not cover every coercion. In addition, coercion is currently an injured party crime whereupon it is the victim's responsibility to initiate criminal proceedings. This is problematic, in my view, because victims of forced marriage, usually children, cannot be reasonably expected to initiative criminal proceedings against their parents. Forced marriage is a practice rooted in harmful cultural norms and traditions, including patriarchy. Young girls and children, more often than not, cannot challenge long-standing cultural norms within their families and communities by, for example, making police reports against their fathers or family members who force them into marriage. Challenging the norm or tradition could be seen as bringing "dishonor" to the family, and could lead to disownment -- or even death in some cases.

Ala Saeed, vice-chairperson of the Iraqi Women's Association, told the Finnish League for Human Rights that girls go into forced marriages because they do not want to lose their families. I think, in the same vein, victims would not initiate criminal proceedings for the same reason. Victims of forced marriage cannot protect themselves; they need the authorities to protect them. They need civil society to remind the authorities of their obligation to protect them. In order to adequately protect victims of forced marriage the authorities, including police and prosecutors should be able to initiative investigations and legal proceedings on their own initiative. Onus should be on the authorities, not victims. The only way this can happen is by criminalizing forced marriage, and taking it off the "injured party crime" category.

The petition to criminalize forced marriage will be submitted to the Minister of Justice on April 5, 2018. Sign the petition now. When I signed the petition it had garnered 4591 signatures, including mine. As of today, one day before it is delivered to the Minister of Justice, 5468 people have signed it.

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