22 September 2011

Cameroon: State Fears Ethnic Clashes Following Wikileaks Cable

Wikileaks, the famous news leaks website has accused the Cameroonian Justice Minister, Amadou Ali, of making tribalist statements regarding President Paul Biya's succession. The 'leak' has sparked heated debates on the streets of Cameroon and in the media. Some even fear possible ethnic clashes.

Amadou Ali is one of the major actors on the Cameroonian political scene. According to a diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, he is reported to have declared that some ethnic groups from the south will not rule the country again after the end of President Paul Biya's reign. Paul Biya, who has been at the helm since 1982, belongs to one of the ethnic groups in question.

Currently serving as Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Justice in the Biya administration, Amadou Ali has been part of the government for more than twenty years. He comes from the northern part of Cameroon, just like former president Ahmadou Ahidjo who ruled the country from its independence in 1960 to 1982.


The 'revelation' by Wikileaks has caused a general outcry in the central African country. The article was in the newspaper headlines for several days and has caused a stir on the streets of Cameroon. "Such statements are a threat to our country's stability. If ethnic groups fight each other for power, we might find ourselves in the same situation as Rwanda in 1994," fears Edjouma Alain, a civil servant in the capital Yaoundé. Charles Ateba Eyene, a sympathiser of the ruling party, is also concerned: "This kind of speech is dangerous, because it is the speech of division and exclusion. As a young person, I am concerned because such statements are a threat to peace in Cameroon." "Northerners have already ruled the country under Ahidjo. We don't want them anymore," declares Daniel Belobo, a student.

Strong sense of ethnicity

In Cameroon, where ethnic consciousness continues to shape social relations, some citizens do not hide their desire to see their ethnic group rule the country. Rebecca, a housemaid from the Littoral Province, believes that the president will appoint the current Secretary-General of the Presidency, Laurent Esso as his successor, who comes from the same region as her. Arouna, a Cameroonian who is used to making do with less, insists that he will always vote for the CDU (Cameroon Democratic Union) candidate, Adamou Ndam Njoya, who is Bamoun (ethnic group in the Western region) like him.

North-South divide

Cameroonian Society is characterised by a North-South divide and a bilingualism (French-English). In fact, many believe that after the reign the current President, Paul Biya (who is from the South), the rule of the country will return to the North (region of the former president). "There is definitely a secret agreement between Paul Biya and the northerners. See how most candidates from that region abstained from the presidential race and how they support Paul Biya. He will most certainly hand them back the reins at the end of his rule. I am sure there is a secret agreement", reasons Ahmed, who works at a Bank.

Northerners, who represent more than 30% of the Cameroonian population according to estimates, are the majority ethnic group in the country. However, in order to rule the country, successive presidents in Cameroon have often resorted to complex ethnic alliances. For instance, the appointment of ministers follows delicate ethnic balancing guidelines. The "policy of regional balance" for instance, guarantees quotas for admission into government institutions for each of the country's ten regions. Furthermore, President Paul Biya has always ensured that the Prime Minister and the President of the National Assembly positions are held by candidates from the Northern region or the Anglophone region. A strategy that we have seen a lot lately.

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