Cameroon in Turmoil as Government Arrests Opposition Leader
As of January 26, 2019, Cameroonian opposition leader Maurice Kamto was arrested and has been subsequently brought into custody by state authorities. Kamto is the presidential candidate of the Cameroonian Renaissance Movement(CRM) that faced off against Paul Biya the current leader of the country. Since the October election Kamto has claimed the results to have been rigged.
The elections took place on October 7, 2018, and were filled with turmoil. The civil strife surrounding the elections was concentrated around the English speaking populations of Cameroon. In many of these regions, voter turnout was as low as 5%. What ensued was a resounding victory for Paul Biyain which he allegedly received 71% of the vote securing his 7th term as the President of the country. However, since election day Kamto has been calling the elections fraudulent. The allegations have thrown the country into major political turmoil and a standoff in which Kamto has been calling for mass protests.
The calls for protests have been heeded all across the country since election day and they are being largely organized by the CRM. The protests have continued and reached a boiling point on January 26 when Kamto was arrested. The protests have been met with a major response on behalf of the government. A response which saw the use of teargas and rubber bullets to subdue the crowds. Mass arrests then took place all over the country of those associated with the opposition in which allegedly up to 100 people were arrested. This includes the arrest of many of the top opposition political leaders including Kamto. The leaders of the opposition are reportedly being charged with treason in which they could face the death penalty. In response the CRM leaders are launching a hunger strike in protest, Christopher Ndong, CRM operative, claims “the strikers aim to show that President Paul Biya's re-election to a seventh term in October was a stolen victory.”
Many watchdog groups including Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have called the opposition crackdown a gross violation of Human Rights. These groups claim that this is a somewhat unsurprising act by a government that has a long history of cracking down on any sort of opposition. Ida Sawyer Deputy Director for Africa from the Human Rights Watch said the following, “The Cameroonian government’s crackdown shows that it is unwilling to accept a role for opposition parties, sending a chilling message to those who would dare challenge the status quo.” Similarly Amnesty International issued the following statement, “Instead of taking steps towards improving the country’s human rights record, we are witnessing the authorities becoming less and less tolerant of criticism. This must stop.”
The Cameroonian government response to the criticism has been one consistent with their actions, they claim that the opposition has been causing mass turmoil and they have the right to arrest them. What is clear is the political situation is tense and only growing in strife. It is being reported that there are many more scheduled protests to take place in the coming weeks. The protests will be calling for the release of Kamto and for a recount in the October election.