By Emma M. Osong, D.M.
Conventional wisdom suggests that unity is essential to safeguard freedoms and ensure our collective progress as a species. The standard if it is one comes with a ready built-in tier scale. As of February 24, 2022, a new era of terror and privilege has been unleashed in the world by the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin, the big man in Russia (the latter will call its presence in Ukraine a denazification effort). In the wake of war, whereas Europe, Great Britain, and the Americas had plausible deniability about their racist or imperialistic tendencies, the swift and unified actions towards victims in Ukraine measured against anemic, lackluster, and non-existent support for others fleeing similar deadly wars elsewhere, laid bare an irrefutably, repugnant, and unsustainable two-tiered class system.
When the 8979th UNSC meeting failed to unanimously adopt a draft resolution to end the war in Ukraine because one member, Russia, holding veto power, frustrated the will of the majority, meanwhile, China, UAE, and India prioritized interests over human lives and abstained, a once-powerful body stood helpless. There would be only one option. And that was to bring the matter before its general assembly. That was February 24, 2022, and the decisions coming out from the UNGA will also prove troubling.
The UNGA met as the bombs rained down laying to waste cities and villages, killing innocent civilians in Ukraine, as millions, mostly women and children, fled into neighboring countries. At the conclusion of the UNGA session, the vote to reprimand Russia for its wanton and callous acts of aggression towards the sovereign nation, Ukraine, passed. It was clear this was a fast-moving humanitarian crisis that in barely days had dwarfed those of WWI and II. An incessant wall-to-wall mostly western coverage detailed every minute of events in Ukraine. Cats and dogs got airtime. Here’s where the UN gets interesting and to the casual observer, it is doing the job it was meant to do–maintain world peace and prevent destabilization of the world order. Except the world order is and remains a two-class world system of favored and least favored peoples. As the US and Europe move to impose sanctions, a new archetype of a refugee emerged. Try as some may, it’s difficult to ‘unring the bell that there are blue-eyed, blond hair, civilized refugees welcomed everywhere they run to who are different from the brown/black skin type fleeing similar horrors of a war ostensibly from uncivilized countries.
At the end of the UNGA emergency session, we now know 141 of 193 members states voted to reprimand and take punitive actions against Russia. Just over half of the 54 African member states voted for Ukraine. 17 African countries sat in the voting but abstained. They did not cast a vote. The remaining eight (8) countries of which La Republique du Cameroon is one of them, practiced ‘chaise vide’—they did not bother to show up. In all, there was support for Ukraine. And that is important.
On closer examination, the ghosts of complicity lie obvious in their concealment. Let’s take it a notch down.
A recent report by The Intercept reveals the deep embeddedness of the US government in Cameroon and the Biya regime not only economically but militarily. We learned of a classified program, dubbed 127e, which authorizes US special forces to assist the foreign military. In the case of Cameroon, under the 127e, the US not only trains and provide material support but also fights alongside the Battalion Rapide d’Intervention, (B.I.R). The Intercept reports that not only personnel but assets meant to fight the war on terrorism, ISIS of West Africa in the north of Cameroon, were diverted by the military and used in committing atrocity crimes and gross human rights abuses in the “Anglophone” areas now caught in a 5-year war. The US has acknowledged this and cut off some military aid, but according to the report, not all funding to the Biya regime under the 127e. Based on the report, the 127e program continues and congress now demands answers as crimes against humanity in the war pills up against the Biya regime.
On the eve of the US bombing of IRAQ in 2003, President Paul Biya of La Republique du Cameroon visited the US and was hosted by the Bush Administration ostensibly for both leaders to discuss issues of common interests. A few days before, the AU had taken a clear stance against the growing tension between the US and Iraq over weapons of mass destruction. In their statements published days before the invasion, the AU reiterated that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be respected, that peaceful means should be pursued, efforts put in place to avoid war, and that UN takes its role in maintaining peace.
Biya did not maintain neutrality or practiced chaise vide, instead in perhaps the worse form of stagecraft, and international protocols, a foreign head of state bucked its continental body and stood shoulder to shoulder as another declared war in a faraway country. President Biya’s visit could aptly be construed as contempt of the AU and its mechanism for conflict prevention. Yet, to date, the AU indulges the man. The US was going to war without the UNSC’s consent much in the way Russia sees its war in Ukraine with the exception that the former did not seek to permanently take over Iraq as the latter avow to do so in Ukraine.
Just as France remains by far the most implicated foreign power propping up the long-standing Biya dictatorship in Africa and a tiered world order, the AU, US, and the UK are close runners up. Clearly, these actors with sometimes divergent reasons want to see Biya stay in power beyond his interminable six (6) decades dating back to 1968 when he served as Secretary-General and later as Prime Minister under the first president, Amadou Ahidjo’s regime before assuming power as president in 1982. The reasons are numerous.
One reason for such stalwart support lurks just below the surface. In the restive ’90s and 2000s, the crisis in Cameroon was acute and Biya needed all the help he can get. The US had its own interests too. The Exxon Chad-Cameroon pipeline was an American interest never mind strong objections for the deleterious environmental impacts. US and others were keen financiers. It was a volatile time for Biya. The All-Anglophone Conference I&II (AACI&II) created great unease for the regime. By now there were calls for a return to the 1961 Federation, the French dreaded two states of equal states form of state. Biya needed legitimacy and support not only from France but from the US to stay in and consolidate power. And he was prepared to go it alone even if that meant giving the middle finger to the AU, who incidentally simply frowned but did nothing about his continuous repression of dissent and dictatorial reaches to hang on to power. More, Biya could use an infusion of cash to keep his elites comfortable and to wade off detractors. He would seek that not only from France but also from the US. President Bush also needed African states’ support to go to war. He found an all too eager and willing candidate in Biya.
It is now February of 2022, and Russia is about to declare war on Ukraine. Biya does not fly to Moscow for a state visit. Rather, as the world gathered to discuss and vote on the grave concerns about Russian aggression and how to stop a war, he is absent. In true character as France’s best student, Biya does not care enough to sit down with other member states as they make their arguments for or against reprimanding Russia. He is AWOL.
Could it be that at the same time the UNGA debated the crimes being committed in Ukraine, the American trained and funded B.I.R in Cameroon is committing similar atrocities and his presence on the floor of the UNGA would have highlighted his own crimes? Or could it be that there are still some things that are too shocking even for his own conscience to bear? Perhaps not quite so for one so long in power, distant from his own people’s suffering. For President Paul Biya, power has always been about himself, and not even human suffering in his backyard or in Ukraine is motive enough to sit down to deliberate and take a moral stance.
Practicing chaise vide meant not going against the US or Russia, the latter being firmly planted next door in the Central African Republic with the capacity to destabilize him. The former with a big stick capable of heaping punitive measures if he is labeled a human rights abuser. Biya is also aware that with respect to his senseless war in Southern Cameroons, which has left one out of every 2 people in need of humanitarian help, Russia, a country that does not play by the west’s international rule book, could possibly turn against him and support the Ambazonia cause for independence. A vote against Russia puts a bull eye on his regime. Abstention would be equally damaging. Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place—tetirrel qwate yho’o, as my grandmother would say, Biya takes the cowardly path—do nothing, neither appease nor antagonize friends. Clearly, there will always be horse-trading when the big guys get together be it in peace or war times. But when it matters most, Biya is an unreliable global partner.
Biya is on his last dance, the last lap around the block, and doesn’t want to rock the boat. As the war in Ukraine rages, the west ensures it commands our full attention as it should leaving little attention to other similarly frighteningly barbaric wars. Biya’s was fought in Southern Cameroons for more than 5-years, described by the Norwegian Refugee Council, (NRC), and by Human Rights Watch, (HRW) as the world’s most neglected and least funded crisis and as another Rwanda-style genocide in the making is not playing on a screen near you.
The civilized world cannot allow leaders like Biya to get away with impunity crimes and war crimes any more than they should be excused for their one-sided treatment of victims of war. Europe, the UK, and the US selective interventions confirm a worrying us vs. them, a first world-class system that is unsustainable. It also shows that human rights abuses are weaponized and used against those we don’t like for political reasons and not to safeguard our common humanity. By rallying around Ukraine but not for victims of wars in Southern Cameroons, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other war-torn areas, the peace Europe and US seek to secure is illusionary. How high can the fences be?
Where all crimes of atrocities must be stopped and those in need of assistance attended to, be it in Ukraine or elsewhere, the global north has lost the moral grounds on the question of human rights, humanitarian law, and abating human suffering. In the eyes of many, their big boys’ club is also fast losing relevancy in a deeply fractured tier world order of their making.
Emma Osong, D.M., is founder of Women for Permanent Peace and Justice (WPPJ). An accomplished engineer in aerospace systems, her book “Unraveled: A Personal Journey into Conflict, War, and Diplomacy” is an exceptional work in storytelling and word engineering. The author weaves an emotional yet inspiring story of personal triumph with that of the recolonized people of the former Southern Cameroons facing genocidal violence, fighting for and determined to overcome. Emma shows anew why survival and human transformation remain at the heart of all challenges and violent conflict. The book amplifies Emma’s advocacy at international conferences and in media appearances for young women in developing countries to explore career paths in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, justice and STE’A’M (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). An informative and crucial voice not only in STE’A’M topics, but Emma also makes frequent appearances on the Voice of America, Equinox TV, ABC, and several podcasts on the need for social justice advocacy to safeguard our common humanity. She is committed to creating a world where women, men, and children all have the right to live in dignity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect NewsWatch’s editorial stance.