Dear Mr. President!
For the past few days, Cameroon has been trending on social media. Unfortunately, it is not because we achieved something wonderful. Rather it is because your request for US assistance in fighting Boko Haram was granted. Hence, Cameroon was trending alongside a word like Boko Haram. Imagine that!
I do not know the nitty-gritty of what transpired between you and President Obama, but I do know that on Wednesday he notified the US Congress that he intends to deploy 300 troops to Cameroon to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. I also saw a letter released by the White House, stating that APPROXIMATELY 90 personnel had already been deployed, and would be armed for self-defense. Now two things worried me about this letter – first, Obama is talking of troops and yet he cannot say exactly how many have already been deployed. Only 90 and it is a matter for approximation??? I hope some of them will not be forgotten behind. Oh! and that brings me to the second worrying thing – there is no time frame for this mission because the troops will be there – “until their support is no longer needed”! If we are looking at other cases the US has been involved in as a guide, then we should be thinking of at least 10 years??? Remember they are not yet out of Afghanistan!
Also, I know it is none of my business but when an American president starts talking about self-defense, I really get worried. I know you are oblivious of anything that goes on around you (given that you have not done anything to change the deplorable situation of Cameroon for over 33 years) but I am sure you must have seen on the news that the US is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of people who shoot each other for no reason whatsoever! In fact, in 2015 alone, according to the Gun violence archives, the total number of gun-related incidents in the US was 41,433 and the number of deaths from guns was 10,448.
So permit me to ask some questions:
BUT WHY THE USA?
The statistics I just presented above are for the deaths caused by Americans on their fellow citizens and nothing has been done about it. Do you really think that if Americans do not care when fellow Americans are needlessly killed, they will care what happens to someone in Northern Cameroon? Just imagine that! You have forgotten about Northern Cameroon since you took over power, yet you want Obama who has not visited Cameroon before, to send troops to help you fight to terrorists?
Also, if I were to employ someone for a job, I will look at their CV. There is something employers talk about called ‘track record’! The US has a track record of starting wars, making existing conflicts grow worse, and looking at their CV, I don’t see any time they successfully stopped terrorists – check it out – from Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Uganda (Obama sent 100 troops in 2011 to catch Joseph Kony but they are yet to find him; and as a matter of fact, by 2014, Obama was sending in more troops)! What makes you think that Cameroon will be any different?
And by the way, Boko Haram started in Nigeria, why did Obama not agree to help Nigeria fight them? We all know that the best way to solve a problem is to go to the source! How do you think fighting Boko Haram only in Cameroon and its environs will stop them completely?
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING ALL THIS WHILE?
Now enough about what the US can or cannot do, let us focus on you! What have you been doing for 33 years that you cannot even protect the territorial integrity of your country? As I was growing up, the image I had of you was that of a man who had a lion by his face depicting courage. In fact I remember you presented yourself during the 1992 presidential elections as l’homme Lion, (Lion Man) imbued with the power, courage and ability to protect Cameroon. What happened to that courage? I vividly remember that I was just a young child, when you were able to declare a state of emergency over the North West Province and deployed troops to throw teargas at Cameroonians.
L’homme courage! What happened to the Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (BIR) that you have been building over the years? I thought you said they were an elite force capable of fighting terrorism within the Northern regions? Now if such an elite force that you have spent billions of CFA Francs training and equipping cannot fight Boko Haram, what is the guarantee that 300 US troops will do anything to make a difference?
NOW LET’S GET SERIOUS!
In 2011, I conducted a research in Ngaoundéré and my focus was on Regional Inequality and the role of religion in Cameroon politics. It was my working hypothesis then that if nothing was done to change the state of development of the Northern Regions of Cameroon, the religious violence (including Boko Haram insurgencies) that was already plaguing Northern Nigeria will spill over to Cameroon. So you see, I already knew that something needed to be done as early as 2011 to stop Boko Haram but you did not know. And yet, you are the Commander in chief of the Armed Forces and have the responsibility to protect the nation!
I know you must be wondering how I knew. I will try to be as brief as possible. I will take you back to Huntington (1993) who makes the strong argument that the “Clash of Civilizations” was going to be the result of the growing threat of violence arising from renewed conflicts between cultures and countries, especially those that base their traditions on religious faith and dogma. Categorising the civilisations. Huntington (1993, p.26) suggested that the world is returning to a civilisation-dominated world where future conflicts would come from clashes between “civilisations”.
The question that could be worth asking is why conflict arises? Aristotle had already opined that: “The lesser engage in factional conflict in order to be equal; those who are equal, in order to be greater” (Politics: 1302a29). And that “as for the things over which they engage in factional conflict, these are profit and honour and their opposites….They are stirred up further by arrogance, by fear, by pre-eminence, by contempt, by disproportionate growth, by electioneering, by underestimation, by (neglect of) small things, and by dissimilarity” (Politics: 1302a33). This Aristotelian passage could be a huge pointer to the causes of conflict in Northern Cameroon given that there already are great dissimilarities in development within different regions of the country and there is disproportionate growth of Cameroon compared to other countries. This argument gains more credence because Huntington, in presenting the nature of Islam and Christianity lists five factors that have exacerbated conflict between the two religions in the late twentieth century:
- The Muslim population growth has generated large numbers of unemployed and dissatisfied youth that become recruits to Islamic causes.
- The recent resurgence of Islam has given Muslims a reaffirmation of the relevance of Islam compared to other religions
- The West’s attempt to universalise values and institutions, and maintain military superiority has generated intense resentment within Muslim communities; this is a fact not limited to religion or culture but common to human nature.
- Without the common threat of communism, the West and Islam now perceive each other as enemies.
- Increased communication and interaction between Islam and the West has exaggerated the perceived differences between the two societies (1996, p.211).
Now as you can see Mr. President, the Boko Haram problem is has its roots more in the lack of development and employment opportunities than by an innate desire for violence or even by religion on its own. There are many other factors to consider when thinking of insurgencies like Boko Haram!
THE WAY FORWARD
I know you must already be wondering if I will suggest a way forward! Of course I am going to do just that. The first thing to do now is for you to call you buddy Obama and tell him that you are withdrawing your request for troops, because US military intervention cannot solve the terrorist crisis in Cameroon. Ask him that if he has taken over 4 years with hundreds of troops and cannot catch one man – Joseph Kony – what is the guarantee that he can deliver on Boko Haram.
Secondly, since you and I both know that you lack both the political will and ability to change the situation in Cameroon, you should step down quietly and hand over power to someone with a vision who can engineer change.
Finally, I will suggest that after your resignation, if the new president is kind enough to let you go free, take a holiday, go somewhere quiet and read some of the blog posts I have written before about your terrible lack of vision and horrible governance. At least by the time you finish, you will realise that I had no ill will towards you as a person.
OH! And one last thing, Obama will be completing his second term in office soon so you can actually ask him for an invitation to visit him. As two former presidents, you might have something in common to talk about – but please let it not be about troops to Cameroon!
I wish you the best as you think of these suggestions!
Long Live the Republic of Cameroon
Aristotle, (1998) The Politics; Translated by C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing,
Huntington, S. (1993). “The clash of civilizations” Foreign Affairs, 72(3):22-49.
Huntington, S. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster