On Sunday, October 7, citizens across Cameroon bravely queued to vote in a momentous election. President Paul Biya, Africa’s oldest head of state, and in power since 1982, stood for a seventh term amid credible allegations of vote rigging, electoral fraud, targeted threats of violence, and an ongoing, bloody uprising in Anglophone regions. As expected, voter turnout was woefully low and the fleeting hopes of many — both in Cameroon and worldwide — were dashed by the highly visible and ominous presence of the country’s security forces – personnel who are widely perceived as biased and loyal only to President Biya’s dictates.
One day after voting took place, Maurice Kamto, leader of the Renaissance Movement party — who joined a historic coalition with Akere Muna of the Popular Front for Development — declared victory, claiming he had “achieved his goal” and called on President Paul Biya to hand over power peacefully.
According to Cameroonian law, only the country’s Constitutional Council is allowed to announce official election results. While prematurely announcing victory, as Mr. Kamto has done, may allow a convenient pretext for additional and unnecessary violence on the part of government authorities, the penalty for remaining silent in the face of attempts to stifle democracy and impose the continued rule of a dictatorial regime may indeed be higher.
To be sure, reclaiming peace in Cameroon, and in turn, the Central African region, is of paramount importance today and moving forward. It is manifestly evident that the Biya government is both unwilling and incapable of achieving these necessary ends, which are being demanded by the country’s long beleaguered citizens, as well as neighboring countries. In light of these facts, we urge the Biya government and opposition leaders to commit to a mediated process of political dialogue with the aim of securing a genuine democratic transition, which is long overdue in Cameroon.
In the meantime, the international community and Cameroon’s development and security partners — including the United States and European Union — must demand that the Biya government respect the basic human rights and democratic aspirations of its citizens; and in so doing, refrain from the sort of truly horrendous abuses and overreach that has characterized the Biya government for nearly four decades, and most brazenly over the past two years.
Only a genuine political transition can set Cameroon on a democratic path. We implore the country’s current leadership to embrace this fact and to once and for all unite a visibly damaged country at this critical time.