President Paul Biya’s regime seems intent on establishing itself as one of Africa’s worst. The eighty-five-year-old president, with an estimated personal wealth of some $250 million (though nobody is really sure) is spending more and more time at a luxury hotel in Geneva. What had once been a federation between francophone and anglophone regions has become a centralized, if inefficient, despotism dominated by Biya and his cronies, enforced by his presidential guard and the security services. He has just been reelected to his seventh term in elections widely regarded as rigged and with low voter turnout.
Boko Haram remains active in the north, and the anglophone part of the country is approaching a full-blown insurrection, with an estimated four hundred killed so far. The security services have responded in a particularly brutal way in both areas. Non-governmental organizations credibly report atrocities on all sides. An American Baptist missionary was killed at the end of October, though the killer is not known. In the anglophone region, separatists are attacking workers at state-run industries, and are seeking to close schools in protest against the regime.
On November 4, two days before Biya’s inauguration, seventy-eight students, the principal, and two staff members were kidnapped from a Presbyterian school near Bamenda, in the Anglophone part of the country. On November 7, officials reported that the seventy-eight students were freed the day before, as was a staff member. As of November 8, the principal, a teacher, and perhaps more children, were still in captivity.
A Presbyterian minister asserts that anglophone militants conducted the kidnapping, and individuals in a video supposedly showing the kidnapped children claimed that they were “Amba Boys,” a common reference to separatist forces. The video stated that the children would be held until the Biya regime accepts their demands for an independent, anglophone country that they call Ambazonia. However, it is not clear that the kidnappers were actually Ambazonian separatists, and at least one Ambazonian organization, the Ambazonia International Policy Commission, has denied any link. Apparently, the speaker in the video spoke Pidgin English poorly—spoken widely across anglophone Cameroon—and one of them was heard speaking French.
Perhaps attempting to placate the militants, at his inauguration, Biya promised greater autonomy for the anglophone region, and called on them to lay down their arms. His promises are likely to have little credibility. With Boko Haram in the north, an anglophone insurrection in the west, and a sclerotic and despotic regime in power in Yaounde, Cameroon’s outlook is grim.