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Cameroon - Introduction

Cameroon has a low profile on the international stage. Cameroonian Governments have always enjoyed close relations with France. Cameroon lies in the Gulf of Guinea and borders Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The country is a mixture of desert plains and savannah in the north, mountains in the central regions and tropical rainforest in the south and east.

Cameroon has the ingredients of serious instability: a long-serving president out of touch with his people and in the last period of his life/tenure; no viable constitutional succession mechanism; slow economic growth amid rising expectations; ethnic divisions below the surface (reflecting the country's 280 ethnic groups); increasing crime; and a troubled neighborhood. Average Cameroonians would say they were economically better off in the 1990s than today. There are high levels of banditry and other forms of crime. The constitution does not provide for a viable succession process and many Cameroonians (even the President's detractors) fear that, under the current system, Biya's death could trigger chaos or a military intervention.

Cameroon is a generally stable and largely peaceful country, which over the past 50 years (and unlike many of its neighbors in the Central and West African region) has not experienced major wars or extended periods of civil strife. Stability and peace are therefore Cameroon’s most important advantages when it comes to investment environment. However, over the past three years new threats have emerged in the Northern part of the country with the activities of the radical, militant Islamist group Boko Haram, and also in the East with the influx of refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR). Another potential source of insecurity is the uncertainty about political transition. Cameroon’s President Biya is 84 years old and has ruled the country uninterrupted for 34 years. Over the past five years, questions about political succession have dominated analysts’ outlooks.

In February 2016 Amnesty International accused Cameroon of arbitrary arrests and human rights abuses against suspected Boko Haram supporters. Amnesty said more than 100 people have been sentenced to death since July 2015 in trials it described as "deeply unfair." In March 2016 Cameroon began arresting or dismissing members of local self-defense militia in the country's north amid fears that Boko Haram might try to turn some of them against their communities. The insurgents promise better conditions and deceive some vigilantes to work as spies. The crackdown followed an investigation by security agencies. Authorities were organizing self-defense groups so, going forward, they'll coordinate with security forces and denounce suspects. Self-defense groups say they've helped the military by patrolling villages and hard-to-reach border areas, but say they need more training for the hard, dangerous work.

The security situation in northern Cameroon is being directly affected by the violent conflict in northern Nigeria. The Nigeria-based militant group, Boko Haram, is undertaking an extremely violent campaign of terror, centred in the Nigerian states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Militants regularly cross the border to carry out attacks in Cameroon’s Far North, North and Adamaoua regions, including through the use of suicide bombers. In the Far North, suicide bombers have targeted large markets, hotels, parks and sporting venues.

In response to these ongoing attacks, Cameroon has joined its neighbours, including Nigeria, in escalating military operations against Boko Haram. This has adversely affected security in the border regions of Cameroon. As a result there have also been movements of large numbers of people into and across parts of northern Cameroon, including internally displaced persons and refugees from Nigeria.

Attacks could take place at any time and could target locations frequented by westerners, including tourist, commercial and transport facilities, as well as public places such as markets, places of worship and educational institutions (including schools, colleges and universities). There is also a very high threat of kidnapping in the Far North region and in areas close to the border with Nigeria’s Borno and Adamawa states. A number of foreigners have been kidnapped by militants in this area in recent years.

On occasion conflict in the Central African Republic has spilled across the border into Cameroon, affecting outposts in the Adamaoua and East Regions. In March 2015, a number of kidnappings and attempted kidnappings occurred in or near Garoua-Boulai, in the east of Cameroon, near the border with the Central African Republic.

In June 2016, the government reported that at least 1,400 people had died in Boko Haram attacks and related fighting. The actual figure is likely higher, as many people die in the bush and are not accounted for.

In September 2016 Cameroon’s government said it was restricting unlicensed private security firms in an effort to improve public safety and enforce regulations. It planned to close all but nine of the country’s nearly 50 private companies. The sector's numbers had risen sharply in the previous two years since the militant group Boko Haram began carrying out attacks in the country’s northern region. Cameroon had an estimated 70,000 private security guards, compared with about 15,000 armed policemen.

The closings could leave tens of thousands of people jobless, authorities say, but they contend the sector has become rife with crime. Criminal suspects are all too common among the ranks of private security guards, according to Senior Police Commissioner Ossomba Ansleme. He said two guards had been taken into custody as suspects in a rape case being investigated this week in the capital. A poorly trained guard, does not know where his powers begin and where his powers end. Obviously, there is a problem. Most of these workers that are putting on uniforms – let us say 80 percent of them - have not been trained. But government inefficiency also was faulted. Some owners said it could take authorities years to process applications for security businesses.

The man handling the shutdowns is Issanda Issanda Alain Solomon, the Ministry of Territorial Administration’s director of political affairs. He said public safety is the top concern. He said any well-trained guards losing their jobs because of the closings will find new opportunities with authorized private security companies. The law permits licensed firms to recruit up to 5,000 guards, yet most have 2,000 or fewer. Issanda Issanda said guards for authorized security companies should wear yellow uniforms. He dismissed local media criticism that the proliferation of private firms reflected the government’s failure to provide adequate security.

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Page last modified: 26-09-2016 19:07:21 ZULU