Cameroon: Biya’s Reelection and Worsening Separatist Violence
The reelection of Cameroonian President Paul Biya in October likely forebodes the further destabilization of the Central African nation. Cameroon has been a relatively reliable counterterrorism partner against Boko Haram since 2013, with Cameroonian forces helping reduce the group’s operations within their borders and denying them a safe haven outside of Nigeria. Violent tactics and repressive policies directed at both Boko Haram and Cameroonian citizens, however, have already fomented further violence elsewhere in the country, particularly the Anglophone areas known locally as Ambazonia.
The roots of the separatist insurgency in Ambazonia date back to the 1960s and Cameroon’s independence. The conflict has escalated significantly since 2016 when the government violently responded to civil society groups protesting the economic and political marginalization of the region. The government’s response helped lead to the formation of several armed groups in the region, including the Ambazonian Defense Forces, the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front and other smaller, less-organized groups. The Ambazonian Defense Forces eventually declared war against the government in September 2017 (All Africa, August 30).
Clashes between separatists and Cameroonian security forces since late 2017 have resulted in the death of several hundred individuals and the arrest of even more—many of whom do not have firm ties to separatist groups. Furthermore, civilians have repeatedly come under fire as security forces have allegedly carried out countless extrajudicial killings, razed entire villages in the search for separatists, and incidentally killed civilians in the crossfire (Journal du Cameroun, November 7). Notably, U.S. missionary Charles Wesco was shot and killed while traveling in a vehicle with his wife, son and a driver to a marketplace in Bamenda on October 30 (Afrik, November 2).
President Biya’s reelection for another seven-year term makes him the second longest serving African head of state, a testament to the lack of viable political opponents and unlikelihood of significant political reforms. During his inauguration speech on November 6, Biya promised to uphold the unity and integrity of Cameroon and to defeat terrorism, undoubtedly referring not only to Boko Haram but also to the armed separatists (Punch Nigeria, November 6).
His speech was fittingly preceded by the mass kidnapping of 79 students and three employees of a Presbyterian school in Bamenda, though he made no mention of the incident in his speech. All of the kidnapped individuals were released unharmed near Bamenda just two days after being taken. Biya quickly blamed the separatists, though an unidentified spokesman reportedly denied the claim (Punch Nigeria, November 7). While the kidnappers have yet to be identified and no group has claimed responsibility, separatist attacks and clashes with security forces have largely centered on Bamenda. Separatist groups have also repeatedly forced the closure of schools and have warned students and parents not to attend as they believe the lessons contain government propaganda.
The government banned all vehicular traffic aside from emergency vehicles in Bamenda while security forces scoured the area to identify and arrest the kidnappers. Clashes have been ongoing in the region since. It is unclear at this time what the full response to the kidnappings will be. With Biya just reelected amid promises to defeat terrorism and Cameroonian security forces’ track record, there will likely be an escalation in violence that will only further destabilize Cameroon.
Libya: Meeting Highlights Divisions
Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte hosted a meeting of key Libyan stakeholders in Palermo, Italy on November 12-13. The meeting was called in an attempt to chart a roadmap to bring rival factions together after years of fighting between warring militias and competing government bodies. The meeting in Palermo was held just days after UN Special Envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, announced that a “National Conference” bringing together key Libyan political and military figures would take place early in 2019 to start the process for the country’s long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections, which he anticipates will occur later in the spring of 2019 (AlJazeera, November 10).
Renewed efforts to jumpstart the political process after attempts to push for elections to occur by the end of the year have fallen flat. Additionally, it comes after months of fighting between rival militias in Tripoli that left more than 100 people dead and amid increasing insecurity throughout the greater Sahel region as militancy continues to spread around the country’s borders.
International attendees included Prime Minister Conte, Special Envoy Ghassan Salame, Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Sisi, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay as well as delegates from Algeria, Tunisia, and Qatar among others (AlJazeera, November 13). Among the most notable Libyan attendees were Fayez Al-Sarraj, leader of the UN-backed presidential council and General Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army. General Haftar, however, did not confirm he would be attending until the last minute, stopping in Russia for meetings beforehand and skipping the main conference for separate parallel informal talks with international leaders, including a brief meeting with his rival Al-Sarraj.
Going into the conference, the most obvious international rivalry on display was that between France and Italy, as the conference in Palermo followed a similar summit in Paris in May. Both France and Italy are vying for European primacy in Libya to bolster their own economic and security interests. Meanwhile, Egypt and Russia’s participation in the meeting was key to ensuring Haftar’s participation, which subsequently led to Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay leaving the conference after Haftar requested that he be excluded from a meeting between Haftar, Sarraj, and other international leaders (Hurriyet, November 13).
The meeting, unsurprisingly, did not result in any profound solutions to the ongoing tumult. The informal meeting between Sarraj and Haftar was reportedly cordial but no agreements were made. Instead, it underscored not only the contentious politics within Libya, but also the competition between external stakeholders. The relative success of the meeting hinged on whether Haftar would decide to come to the table, and once he did show up he managed to dictate the inclusion or exclusion of international stakeholders, most notably excluding both Turkey and Qatar from discussions with Sarraj.