If nothing touches the palm-leaves they do not rustle.
They have been very silent as civil servants go without pay! They have been called upon to clamp down on civilians during protests for better living conditions! They have been the one segment of the Cameroon public service that contributes very little to the economy but always gets the best chunk of the budget. They are the Cameroon standing military!!!
For a country that has not had a civil war and has had a relatively peaceful coexistence with its neighbours (with the exception of the Bakassi Peninsular skirmish with Nigeria and the recent challenges by Boko Haram), the constant recruitment and steady pay within the Cameroon military has made it one of the most sought-after jobs in the country.
Paul Biya and his cohorts will certainly not sleep tonight as some members of this pampered military have been angered. It started with over 200 soldiers marching through the streets of Yaounde on Wednesday, demanding eight months of back pay for their service with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic.
While this is the first time the soldiers, who were a part of the 1,260 Cameroonian battalion with the U.N. mission (MINUSCA) are coming public with their demands, it is a worrying situation as the Cameroonian dictatorship in its characteristic manner has deployed heavily armed troops to block off streets and inhibit their progress.
It is not unusual for the Cameroon government to use brute force to quell peaceful protests. As early as 2008 anti-government protests in Yaounde and Douala over high fuel and food prices and a bid by Paul Biya to extend his 25-year rule, exploded into violence when Biya’s troops fired tear gas at protesters in both cities, sometimes using helicopters to drop gas canisters from the air. While Biya may have succeeded then to bully the unarmed protesters in 2008 and extend his hold on power, the situation this time is quite different.
First because the current situation is one with a straightforward solution in that money for the demanded salaries is supposed to have been provided by the United Nations and the African Union under an agreement. Which explains why Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary speaking on behalf of his Master Paul Biya has assured the troops that they would be paid on Thursday arrears amounting to 6 billion CFA francs (US$10.2 million).
And secondly because any other strategy might rock an already shaky boat. Biya has already witnessed many dictators overthrown in recent years, (the latest of which was Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, who was forced to step down and flee after 27 years) hence, is more than aware that he is sitting on a ticking time-bomb which will explode with the slightest provocation.
While many a Cameroonian will pray and hope that the situation is resolved amicably, it is a clear sign of the cracks that are widening on the hold Biya has had on the country. Biya’s inability to use his elite Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (B.I.R.) to stop Boko Haram insurgents in the North of Cameroon has already raised serious questions as to the usefulness of the force; a situation which further exacerbates the tensions existing between the elite force and the regular military.
While we watch this space, we hope that the same contingent that helped to bring peace to the Central African Republic will not be the ones to start the mayhem that will engulf Cameroon.