United States to end Cameroon’s preferential trade status in 2020 because of alleged human rights violations, a charge the West African nation’s government disputes.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision in a written message to Congress on Thursday, saying Cameroon’s government “engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights … [including] extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.”
As of Jan. 1, Cameroon would be removed from the list of countries benefiting from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The 2000 law aims to stimulate U.S. trade and investment in sub-Saharan Africa and bolster economic growth in the region, primarily by enabling participating countries to market goods to the United States duty-free.
Cameroon was among 39 countries participating as of last January. Participants must show evidence of working toward a market-based economy, upholding core labor standards, establishing the rule of law and respecting human rights.
Activist groups such as Human Rights Watch have reported “credible accounts of torture and abuse” in Cameroon, where a two-year crisis over Anglophone-speaking regions’ push for separation from the predominantly French-speaking country has left at least 2,000 people dead.
In August, for example, HRW said Cameroonian authorities had held more than 100 detainees for weeks in overcrowded conditions, subjected them to torture and delayed trials. Detainees complained of beatings “with wooden clubs and machetes.”
Trump blamed rights violations on the administration of Paul Biya, president since 1982.
Cameroon’s information minister, Rene Emmanuel, defended the government.
“We think Cameroon is certainly one of the countries in Africa [that] has done a lot in terms of democracy, in terms of promoting liberties,” he told VOA in a phone call Thursday from the capital, Yaounde.
But, he added, “Maybe there is a lot of injustice in our country where the respect of human rights is concerned. So I think we will have to look into this decision.”
Critical of treatment
Emmanuel said Cameroon’s government was being treated unfairly.
“Bad things are committed by separatists and not widely condemned. The humanitarian organization … behaves as if they don’t see anything concerning all the atrocities or forces who are there to take our citizens,” he said, suggesting government security forces were “there to preserve the integrity of the country.”
Cameroon is the United States’ 128th-largest trading partner, with $413 million worth of goods exchanged in 2018, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Last year’s top U.S. exports to Cameroon included machinery, steel and iron products, and plastics. The top imports from Cameroon included mineral fuels, wood products and cocoa. (VOA)
It has been a year of protest — from Hong Kong to Bolivia, and from France to Lebanon. Few parts of the world were spared significant protests in 2019.
In Russia’s capital, Moscow, protesters were outraged by rigged elections. In Britain, people rallied against Brexit, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Serbia, Ukraine, Albania and the central European states all experienced major demonstrations. Separatists battled police in the restive region of Catalonia. Dissent in the Middle East prompted talk of a new Arab Spring.
In the Americas, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela all experienced popular unrest. And the list goes on.
“The data shows that the amount of protests is increasing and is as high as the roaring 1960s,” according to Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, an academic who studies social change at Vrije University in Amsterdam.
Protest like it’s 1848
The year 2019 has drawn comparisons to 1848, when the ruling elites and monarchies in Europe were at a loss as to how to deal with the turbulence and anger tearing through the continent.
Then, as now, the immediate grievances propelling protesters onto the streets differed from country to country: 170 years ago, some were protesting at the dysfunction and corruption of their states and anger at hidebound elites for resisting modernization and liberal change. Have-nots marched out of economic despair. Nationalists wanted to break away from empires. Anarchists wanted to blow everything up.
In the so-called Spring of Nations — revolutions of 1848 — seemingly small incidents or government decisions could spark the trouble. So, too, in 2019.
France’s Yellow Vests, drawn largely from low-income earners in small-town and rural France, took to the streets and blockaded roads to protest higher “green” taxes on fuel. The same in Chile and Ecuador — planned sharp rises in fuel prices and metro fares triggered the fury this year of low-income and rural communities.
But behind the immediate causes, far more substantive and structural grievances have fueled the worldwide protests. In Lebanon, demonstrators initially took to the streets because of frustration over a tax on WhatsApp, but that was just the spark for an ongoing conflagration of rage over corruption and Iranian influence on the country. The Yellow Vest agitation morphed into a general exasperation about being left-behind economically.
In Hong Kong, an extradition bill was the prompt, but also a symbolic one for protesters furious about a creeping Beijing-dictated authoritarianism.
The 2019 protests have had some common themes, say analysts, including anger about stifled democracy and the demand for greater political freedom. Anger about corruption and the perception that political systems are rigged have been common grievances.
Some commentators have tried to tie all the protests together, arguing rallies and demonstrations and blockades more often than not are a reaction to anti-democratic and right-wing forces taking hold in many places around the world.
Maybe so for some but not all, and there are plenty of contradictions. And then and now, protesters on the left or right of the political spectrum share on thing in common — a firm conviction that things should and can change.
One big difference with the past, though, has come with social media and the internet. Modern communication has helped to fuel anger and assist greatly in the organization and recruitment of protesters to take on authorities.
“The traditional system of enforcing power from top to bottom is increasingly being challenged,” says Thierry de Montbrial, of the French Institute of International Relations.
Populist nationalists rallying in the past year in Italy and Germany have nothing in common with huge pro-EU protests in Britain, where those taking to the streets wanted to force a second referendum on leaving the European bloc. Climate-change protesters sowing havoc in Britain and Australia are demanding the kind of green tax increases that are enraging the Yellow Vests.
“Some protests may look like a sign of democratic decay amid a rise of populism and alienation with the political status quo — for example, in Brazil, the United States or France,” according to Richard Youngs, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington-based research institution.
“Others may look like a futile rattling of the political cage under growing illiberalism and authoritarianism, such as in Hungary, Morocco or Thailand. More optimistically, protests in places like Algeria, Venezuela and Sudan may signal a heartening indicator of the persistent aspiration for democracy and peoples’ willingness to fight for it in very different parts of the world,” he added in a commentary.
Maybe the attempt to impose a catch-all order to the unrest of 2019 misses the point and the historical comparison should be with the immediate years of upheaval after World War I. In a new book, “Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-24,” historian Charles Emmerson suggests that countries lose all their moorings during periods of unrest and the result is just chaos.
“The established order is swept away,” writes Emmerson. “People who were nothing are catapulted into prominence … the real becomes surreal.”
In the immediate postwar years that Emmerson chronicles, many people felt powerless, lost faith in the ability of traditional political authorities to protect them and to restore predictability, and resented unequal distributions of wealth and power. So, too, now. (VOA)