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Emmanuel Macron remarks spark public outcry in Cameroon

By Franck Foute
Posted on Wednesday, 26 February 2020 13:36

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya
French President Emmanuel Macron and his Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya - November 2019. Cameroonian Presidency

The French president’s controversial comments, in which he condemned “human rights violations” in Cameroon, continue to fuel public debate. The Cameroonian government ended its silence, stating that it “intends to retain control of its destiny.”

French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks from Saturday, in which he condemned the “intolerable” human rights violations in connection with the Ngarbuh massacre after being interviewed by the leader of Calibri Calibro’s Brigade anti-sardinards (BAS) activist group, continue to fuel heated public debate in Cameroon.

Stirring up condemnations and questions alike, supporters of the regime and members of the opposition are clashing over Macron’s response to the activist, particularly as regards the French president’s current ties to his Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya.

READ MORE Cameroon massacre: Macron denounces “rights violations”

At the Paris International Agricultural Show, the French head of state assured that he had demanded the release of opposition leader Maurice Kamto and made Biya’s attendance at a conference, held in Lyon in early October, conditional on the execution of this demand.

Regarding the Ngarbuh massacre, Macron added: “I’m going to call President Biya next week and we’re going to put as much pressure as possible to bring an end to the situation.”

“Prejudicial comments”

Cameroon’s government, initially tight-lipped after a video of the interview was published on social media, ultimately ended its silence, expressing outrage over Calibro, who it described as “a nobody” and blasted for his “foolish and irresponsible” behaviour, and rejecting “the lies” told by the activist.

READ MORE Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis: No dialogue between close enemies

However, Cameroon’s Minister of Communication René Emmanuel Sadi carefully avoided overtly criticising French authorities, merely requesting that they “help Cameroon handle the problems it’s currently facing.” In a statement, the government affirmed that it “intends to retain control of its destiny.”

Nevertheless, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, a minister and leader of the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD), one of the parties forming the presidential majority, berated Macron and denounced his “prejudicial comments that attack the honour and dignity of Cameroon’s president.” During a televised discussion, political scientist Mathias Eric Owona Nguini said with irony that “Macron’s remarks aren’t worth a micron.”

“Who’s in charge in Cameroon?”

Meanwhile, others viewed Macron’s comments as “courageous” and of the sort that can only be said in a country where freedom of expression is sacred. “The vitality of a democracy is also reflected in it being possible for leaders and their citizens to engage in an honest dialogue. What’s certain is that this conversation could never have taken place in Cameroon,” wrote a certain Francis Kengne on the internet.

Broadly speaking, the question of France’s involvement in the decision-making process of Cameroon’s leaders has been the focus of everyone’s attention. “Who’s in charge in Cameroon?” read the front-page headline of daily newspaper Le Messager this past Monday, repeating a question that is clearly on the minds of a sizable fringe of Cameroon’s population.

This past Monday morning, a few dozen young people took to the streets, gathering outside the French embassy, to protest Macron’s comments. However, a number of observers believe that the Cameroonian authorities were behind the demonstration given their reputation for rarely allowing protest marches to be held.

Oddly enough, during his conversation with Calibro, Macron suggested the possibility of this type of reaction: “France has a complicated role in Africa. When France says, ‘Such and such leader wasn’t democratically elected’, the Africans respond, ‘Why are you interfering in our business?’”

For Macron, what it comes down to is that “France can’t make democracy happen in Cameroon; it’s up to the Cameroonian people to make democracy happen.”

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