Anglophone crisis in Cameroon: the lobbyists’ war rages in Washington
Tensions are inexorably rising between the United States and Cameroon. Washington has imposed sanctions on a top Cameroonian official, but the authorities in Yaoundé are launching a counter-offensive. Cameroon has hired a public relations firm with close ties to the Republican Party to promote its image in the US.
Since the beginning of July, US lawmakers have taken two unprecedented measures against the Cameroonian government.
- On 2 July, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Gendarmerie inspector general Colonel Jean Claude Ango Ango and his family from visiting the US “due to his involvement in significant corruption related to wildlife trafficking.”
- On 23 July, Congress adopted Resolution 358 condemning “abuses committed by the security forces” in the country’s English-speaking regions. The resolution calls for “dialogue without preconditions” to resolve the conflict, but Yaoundé continues to exclude secession from any discussion on how to end the crisis.
In March, US under-secretary of state for African affairs Tibor Nagy also described the imprisonment of the country’s main opposition leader Maurice Kamto as “unacceptable”.
$220,000 to restore Cameroon’s image
Cameroon entered into a contract with the lobbying firm Clout Public Affairs, a subsidiary of the Axiom Strategies group, on 12 July.
- The company is owned by Jeff Roe, a Republican Party political strategist who ran Texas senator Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2016.
- Clout Public Affairs is expected to promote a “positive and favourable image” of the Cameroonian government through digital advertising, “by placing targeted points of view in conservative media”.
- According to the Foreign Agents Registration Act document, the $220,000 contract covers a four-month period, ending in October 2019.
- Two former aides to senator Cruz, David Polyansky and Catherine Frazier, as well as former Huffington Post editor Jimmy Soni are working to restore Yaoundé’s image in Washington.
New strategy to counter political opponents
The road ahead looks difficult for Clout Public Affairs. While Anglophone activists, represented by leaders of the secessionist cause, are organising more public rallies, the opposition, on the other hand, is calling for a relaxation of the political climate in Cameroon.
These two forces are united around a common objective: to encourage the US to weaken Yaoundé’s position.
- Activist Ebenezer Akwanga, former opposition presidential candidate, Akere Muna and Kamto’s lawyer, Adil Shaban, are the most prominent figures.
- Their actions are financed by crowdfunding, or from their own pockets.
The adoption of Resolution 358 by Congress is one of the most tangible manifestations of their efforts. It states that “government forces … have attacked medical facilities and health workers in the North-west and South-west regions”.
“The investigations conducted there have not yet delivered their conclusions,” said Eric Leonel Loumou, a communications strategy specialist. “This shows how secessionist activists succeed in getting their rhetoric across to US elected officials,” according to Loumou.
Muna has been on tour in the United States, including the State Department on 16 July. Two days later, Nagy came out in support of the Forum of Former African Heads of State to address the political crisis in Cameroon. Muna also supports the initiative and reportedly enjoys close ties with the former heads of state.
The bottom line: In March, lobbying firms, Glover Park Group, Mercury Public Affair and Squire Patton Boggs did not prevent the suspension of US military assistance to Cameroon due to “serious human rights violations” in the fight against Boko Haram. Will Clout Public Affairs lobbyists succeed where others have failed?
The article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.