20 October 2017

Cameroon: How Yaounde is Stifling Freedom

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Etudiants au Cameroun
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Cape Town — The regime in Yaounde has a simple way of making sure citizens toe the line. Rights provided for in the constitution is simply for reading pleasure. It is meant to please the international community and other human rights organisations. It makes it impossible for those rights to be used. This is once more evident in the banning of the march called by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, together with other smaller political parties to show solidarity with the plight of the Anglophones who have been in collision with the government in a crisis that started close to a year ago.

After initially giving the go-ahead, authorities made a U-turn hours before the scheduled solidarity march. The usual excuse of "protection of public order".

The question here is, what does this really mean? What public order can a peaceful march disrupt? This is simply an excuse to prevent contrary ideas from being spread. It has become the favourite excuse for a government that is bent on hindering freedom of expression, and will go to great lengths to make sure freedom is stifled. Simply put, it is a dictatorship wrapped up in a democratic packaging. The press is also not left out in this scheme.

It is inconceivable that the ruling party on October 1 organized a match to counter demonstrations from the Southern Cameroons who were out to commemorate their independence day - a date that has long been ignored by the government. The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Party (CPDM) had no difficulty in obtaining a permit, but will refuse a permit request from the opposition to air their views on the same issue.

In a democratic dispensation, a permit is only required so authorities can provide protection to the marchers. It is not their prerogative to decide whether the march holds or not. If any concerns are raised then they have to resort to the courts for an interdict. The application must clearly state why authorities think the demonstrations should not go ahead, and the judge will decide from the facts presented to him or her if the concerns are well-founded. These are examples of a real separation of power between the state and the judiciary.

The right to protest is a democratic right guaranteed by the constitution and it is the arm of government charged with interpretation and protection of the right that must be approached - not the executive.

The continuous deprivation of citizens of their rights might prove costly to the country as the Southern Cameroons continue defying these orders. The government has in all interactions with the protesters responded with brute force, leading to unnecessary loss of lives.

The focus is once again on the government and police this weekend, as the opposition prepares to defy these orders come Saturday, October 21, but any bloodshed will be on the government. The blood spilled on October 1 is still fresh on the minds of Cameroonians and the global community, and any further violence will only help to sink the country deeper into crisis.

Michael Tantoh is a content editor at Allafrica.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of allAfrica Global Media.

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