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Cameroon: Should Biya worry about US President Biden’s Africa policy?

By Mathieu Olivier
Posted on Tuesday, 23 March 2021 19:54

Cameroonian soldiers in the streets of Bamenda, in the English-speaking region, in February 2021. © Franck Foute/JA

Will new US President Joe Biden change the situation in Yaoundé? Opposition leader Maurice Kamto certainly hopes so. However, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who intends to maintain his relationship with the US, hopes that it will not interfere in Cameroonian affairs.

On 19 January – in front of US senators – Antony Blinken was sworn in as US secretary of state. Delaware Democrat Chris Coons asked him about Africa. Blinken replied, saying that “I share your concerns about the recent elections held in Uganda and Cameroon, especially the violence directed against the English-speaking population.”

President Paul Biya’s balancing act

He added that “there are a whole series of places where I think the United States can help make a difference.” Blinken – who is already familiar with Morocco, Djibouti, Nigeria and South Africa – has for years been in favour of a stronger partnership between the US and Africa.

In a speech broadcast on 7 February at the 34th African Union summit, US President Joe Biden echoed this sentiment saying that “America is back. [We will work] to renew our role in international institutions and regain our credibility and moral authority.”

But what form will this turn of events take? As soon as Biden was elected, Cameroonian opposition leader Maurice Kamto welcomed the news. Congratulating the Democrat, he wrote that “The United States is proving that democracy and democratic institutions matter. So does political change. I look forward to working with the Biden administration on a new path for Cameroon.”

A diplomat in Yaoundé adds that “the opposition’s future is also at stake in Washington. Due to the crisis in the English-speaking regions and the fact that opponents are being incarcerated, Paul Biya does not have good press there.”

The fight against Boko Haram as an asset

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya knows that the Anglophone crisis is a subject of concern for Washington, which advocates dialogue to resolve the conflict, while Yaoundé favours the security approach.

“For the moment, the United States has not gone further than the stage of declarations, notably at the instigation of the Senate, but the Biden presidency could go a step further,” continues the diplomat. One of Yaoundé’s fears is that the new US administration will bring up the Anglophone crisis more regularly during UN Security Council meetings, through their ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield, who is an African-American and a seasoned diplomat who was former President Barack Obama’s Africa adviser, knows the continent well and met with Biya at a UN General Assembly in 2016. She has already set up a team to work specifically on African issues in New York.

“However, Paul Biya does not lack assets, such as his army’s fight against Boko Haram, which is important to the Americans,” says an analyst.

To conclude: “On the one hand, he does not want to cede anything to the Americans or the opposition regarding the Anglophone crisis. On the other hand, he does not want Cameroon to be blacklisted or for some of its officials to be targeted by sanctions. He has to find a balance between firmness and tact.”

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