Friday, April 5, 2019

It's official: Cameroon is a dictatorship

The Republic of Cameroon has been ruled by one man, Paul Biya, since November 1982. By virtue of the president's longivity at the helm alone- and the fact that in 2008 the 86-year-old eliminated presidential term limits from the Constitution of the Republic - Cameroon has been tagged a dictatorship by many analysts. But recent, more disturbing events, including the arrest and imprisonment of a political party leader and presidential election candidate and his supporters have added weight to the assertion that Cameroon is, in fact, a dictatorship.

On January 28, 2019 Maurice Kamto, leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement - a party that contested the results of the 2018 presidential election, was arrested in Douala along other political activists, including one who was pulled out of his hospital bed where he was recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during a peaceful protest, according to The Guardian. Kamto was arrested after his opposition party organized several peaceful protests in towns across the country, including one in the economic capital Douala on January 26, 2019 during which police opened fire on protesters - wounding two prominent figures of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, namely Michelle Ndoki and Celestin Djamen. Human rights group Amnesty International condemned the violent crackdown and called for the release of more than a hundred peaceful protesters arrested for exercising their right to peaceful protests. The rights group also expressed concern that Maurice Kamto and more that a hundred supporters face the death penalty as Cameroonian authorities intensify crackdown of critics.

Screenshot: The Guardian
One month after the arrest of Kamto, Michele Ndoki, a lawyer and political activist of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement was arrested. Prior to her arrest, she was among those shot and wounded by police during a peaceful protest in Douala. She is one of the lawyers who argued before the Constitutional Council for the annulment of the 2018 presidential election. Amnesty International launched a petition calling for her release. According to the human rights group, she was arrested on February 25, 2019 while trying to cross the border to Nigeria. She faces charges of rebellion, hostility against the homeland, incitement of insurrection, offence against the president of the republic and destruction of public buildings and goods. She faces the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.

Earlier this week, a popular Cameroonian musician popularly known as Longue Longue was reportedly arrested in Douala in relation to a video he posted on social media criticizing the government and results of the disputed 2018 presidential election. He was reportedly released later.


Cameroon is a dictatorship. It has always been under 86-year-old president Paul Biya who has been in power for almost four decades -- but the arrest of opposition leader Maurice Kamto and his supporters on trumped up politically motivate charges solidifies Cameroon's place on the global list of dictatorships where authoritarian regimes crackdown of political dissent using riot police in the streets and judges in politicized courts, including military tribunals.

By arresting a political party leader and members of his party for protesting, Cameroon has now checked all the boxes of what makes a dictatorship:
  • Crackdown on peaceful protesters
  • Killing of protesters by riot police
  • Presidential elections marred by allegations of massive systematic fraud
  • Arbitrary arrests, torture and incommunicado detentions
  • Eliminations of presidential term limits
  • Arrest of opposition political party leaders and political activists
  • Stifling of free press through arrest and imprisonment of journalists
  • Prosecuting civilians before military courts
If you ever doubted whether or not Cameroon, under the Biya regime, is a dictatorship where human rights and fundamental freedoms are assaulted -- doubt no more. With an aggregate score of 19 out of 100 (19/100), the country is classified "Not Free" in the Freedom in the World 2019 report published by Freedom House

Dictatorships can always claim elections were free and fair, especially when, in some cases, bogus international observers like those uncovered during the 2018 presidential elections in Cameroon endorse the results. But dictatorships cannot deny the arrest and persecution of opposition political party leaders, political activists and journalists before military courts. According to Amnesty International in its 2017/18 annual report, human rights defenders, including civil society activists, trade unionists and journalists in Cameroon "continued  to be intimidated, harassed and threatened", and unfair trials continued before military courts, which are often "marred by irregularities". The report documents military court trials against journalists like Radio France Internationale correspondent Ahmed Abba.

Cameroon has always been a dictatorship. A country where the Head of State has absolute control over all branches of government, including the judiciary which is routinely being used to silence political dissent with the help of a sweeping anti-terrorism law -- a law that severely restricts freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and has landed several journalists, political activists and peaceful protesters before military courts on trumped up charges.

The mere fact that the Head of State, 86-year-old Paul Biya, Africa's oldest president who will be 92 when his new term ends, according to The Associated Press, recently won a seventh consecutive term in office - all disputed - after eliminating presidential term limits from the Constitution of the Republic in 2008 - points to a dictatorship but sometimes more evidence is needed to prove a case. Recent events in Cameroon over the past couple of months, including the arrest of political party leader Maurice Kamto and political activists of his party, Cameroon Renaissance Movement, have provided plenty of supporting evidence -- evidence that adds weight to the long-standing assertion that Cameroon under the Paul Biya regime is a dictatorship. 

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