French media organ, Mediapart, is reporting that French authorities are growing very uncomfortable and very disgruntled over growing economic and military alliances between Cameroon on the one hand, China and Russia on the other.
Madiapart’s report suggests that it is for this reason no French President has visited Cameroon in the past 15 years, and that French government is no longer in bed with a Biya’s long-drawn-out stay as President of Cameroon.
The trend of events pointing to the straining of relations between Cameroon and France, Mediapart says, include the booing and jeering on Feb. 28 last year, of Christine Robichon, French Ambassador to Cameroon. She was greeted at the 20th May Boulevard with anti-French placards and calls for France to leave Cameroon.
Though she had turned up to empathize with Cameroon in an anti-Boko Haram rally, youths overtly accused her country of secretly funding the Nigerian based terror group.
The report also observes that the Ambassador didn’t show up for Biya’s traditional New Year wishes ceremony at the Unity Palace which took place few weeks before the February 28 rally. For the 32 years that Biya has ruled Cameroon, this was the first time a French Ambassador won’t show up at the traditional end of year party. Mediapart pontificates that to an extent, this is proof that relations between both countries are no longer what they used to be.
The publication says Biya’s relations with Paris started falling apart after Biya realized that France had plans to push him out of power. For instance, the publication says in 2011 many French authorities failed to support Biya in the presidential elections. Mediapart quotes a spokesperson of French Foreign Minister as saying many failures and irregularities were registered during that election and stating that France hopes such issues do not repeat themselves. For the paper, this was a little unusual coming from French authorities because they have never been known to criticize elections in Cameroon though results have always been systematically fabricated.
French President at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, waited for three weeks before congratulating Biya after the declaration of the results of the elections. Cameroonian authorities, Mediapart said, were given a cold bath when Sarkozy added in his message that he hopes government will put in place reforms and required means for the proper functioning of ELECAM in order to reinforce democracy in Cameroon for subsequent elections.
A source told Mediapart that Biya had promised Sarkozy that he would leave power in 2013, prompting Paris authorities to streamline possible successors. But when Sarkozy lost French presidential elections in 2012, Biya reneged on his promise to leave in 2013.
Sarkozy was the first among French leaders to have visited neighbouring countries to Cameroon such as Gabon and Chad. Francoise Holland too has visited several countries in the Central African sub region since he took over power in 2012. The report notes that the last French president to visit Cameroon was Jacques Chirac – that was in 1999.
Mediapart says Yaounde is very convinced that the French are looking for ways to hasten the end of Biya’s reign before the 2018 presidential elections. Mediapart points to media organs close to Cameroon’s presidency as reporting for several months about provocation of instability in Cameroon with fingers pointing at France.
Mediapart quotes Sphinx Hebdo as stating in 2014 that Paris is maneuvering to control the impending regime change in Yaounde to better manage its interest and strategic positioning of the French army in Cameroon and Central Africa. Afrique Media TV is also cited as another media organ which insists that France is sponsoring a Cameroonian Boko Haram in the northern regions of the country.
Government officials say off the record that France, which has a strong military base in Chad, has long refused to give Cameroon aerial and satellite captured military intelligence on the goings-on in the northern regions.
The report also points out that Cameroonians have still not stopped criticizing France on the Boko Haram issue in spite of reassurances from French authorities including French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius. The situation was made worse when visiting Chadian Communication Minister stated in Cameroon on March 10 this year that 40% of weapons used by Boko Haram were French-made.
French language daily Mutations is quoted to have questioned what game France is playing, when the country declared Cameroon’s Far North region a ‘red zone’.
According to Mediapart, things have never been this bad between Biya and the French; “he has always protected their interest, ensuring the success of about 100 subsidiaries of French companies in Cameroon. In return, France has always helped him to stay in power.”
“Times have changed. Biya is no longer the man of the moment. At 82 and sick, he has no great authority over political personnel and the absence of his governance speaks uncertainty which is a handicap for business.” Says Mediapart
Biya worsened relations with the French business and political class when he turned to China for most economic investments in Cameroon. He visited China in 2011 and according to Mediapart, China has become Cameroon’s leading partner in the supply and funding of projects.
Giant construction contracts are awarded mostly to Chinese companies. Between 2000 and 2011, France lost 14 points in Cameroon public contracts, according to a 2013 report by French minister, Hubert Védrine. The report said the situation is worse than Gabon where the country lost 8 points and Ivory Coast where they lost 11. This year, Cameroonian police boss terminated an important contract with French company, Thales Security Systems, they were responsible for printing Cameroon ID cards.
As regards the military, Mediapart reports that President Biya has equally sought cooperation elsewhere whereas France considers Cameroon its first partner in security and defence cooperation. Cameroon signed an agreement with China in 2014 for supply of military equipment and signed another agreement in January this year; this time with Russia to supply arms.
Cameroon military cooperation with China and Russia, Mediapart reports, was not appreciated by France which had already expressed disapproval of the creation in early 2000 of an Israeli-trained elite Rapid Intervention Battalion of the Cameroon Armed forces, commonly known as BIR.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back, according to Mediapart, happened when Biya sacked and imprisoned all potential presidential candidates the French government had identified as Cameroon’s next leaders; officials of the regime who had ties with political and economic circles in France.