A primer on conflict in Cameroon

This is from Natalie Letsa in Foreign Affairs (highly recommended):

So far, at least 400 civilians and 160 state security officers have been killed in the conflict between the government and an armed separatist movement that, just two short years ago, started as a peaceful strike of lawyers and teachers.

…the Anglophone regions’ relative distance from both Biya’s networks of patronage and influence and the Francophone state media puts them in a unique position to see the autocratic nature of the regime and rebel against it. Although 75.4 percent of Francophone Cameroonian respondents said they trust Biya “somewhat” or “a lot,” in the Afrobarometer poll, only 45.5 percent of Anglophones felt the same way. Part of the reason for this is easier access to criticism of the Biya government.

…Cameroon’s Anglophone regions are also more economically autonomous from Yaoundé. They have a robust cross-border trade with Nigeria, successful plantations in the Southwest, and fertile farming land. They are not overly-reliant on the export of primary resources, such as oil or timber, which funnels through state-owned corporations. And they are not as poor as, for example, the northern regions, which face chronic food insecurity. The Anglophones thus have not only the will, but also the resources to rebel.

Read the whole thing here.

In addition to Letsa’s piece, Janet Lewis’ research on the dynamics of rebellion onset sheds some light on the underlying dynamics of the armed rebellion in anglophone Cameroon:

Because insurgent group formation typically occurs in secrecy and in poorly monitored areas, the empirical record on conflicts’ start is spare and systematically omits rebels who fail before committing substantial violence. This article argues that this presents a fundamental challenge for the study of conflict onset and demonstrates the theoretical and empirical problems it causes in studying a controversial relationship: how ethnicity influences armed conflicts’ start. Unusual evidence on all armed groups that formed in Uganda since 1986 indicates that ethnic mobilization was unimportant to the initial formation of rebel groups—but mattered after nascent groups had already formed. Contrasting evidence from Uganda with a prominent argument that ethnic marginalization induces rebellion shows why lack of evidence about how insurgencies begin can lead to broader inferential pitfalls.

 

On the deep flaws of the pre-Trump “liberal international order”

Paul Staniland has a great piece over at Lawfare on the need to see post-war Pax Americana for what it has been:

Pushing back against Trump’s foreign policy is an important goal. But moving forward requires a more serious analysis than claiming that the “liberal international order” was the centerpiece of past U.S. foreign-policy successes, and thus should be again. Both claims are flawed. We need to understand the limits of the liberal international order, where it previously failed to deliver benefits, and why it offers little guidance for many contemporary questions.

…. analysts have persuasively argued that these accounts create an “imagined” picture of post-World War II history. Patrick Porter outlines in detail how coercive, violent, and hypocritical U.S. foreign policy has often been. To the extent an international liberal order ever actually existed beyond a small cluster of countries, writes Nick Danforth, it was recent and short-lived. Thomas Meaney and Stephen Wertheim further argue that “critics exaggerate Mr. Trump’s abnormality,” situating him within a long history of the pursuit of American self-interest. Graham Allison—no bomb-throwing radical—has recently written that the order was a “myth” and that credit for the lack of great power war should instead go to nuclear deterrence. Coercion and disregard for both allies and political liberalism have been entirely compatible with the “liberal” order.

internationalcommunityStaniland makes great points throughout the piece, especially when he looks at the so-called liberal international order from the perspective of people in the Middle East and Asia. The same would be true if he were to look at it from Africa. The Continent’s Mobutus, Bongos, and Biyas have always been loyal water-carriers for the “liberal international order”, which existed primarily to advance the interests of the “international community” as seen in the image above. For this reason, keen observers from countries not considered to be part of the “international community” have repeatedly argued that the current U.S. administration merely presents a congruence of American rhetoric and action on the global stage. For better or worse, the mystique is dead. Western Ambassadors can no longer claim the moral high ground to give lectures on democracy, human rights, and good governance while also facilitating corrupt contracts for natural resources and security assistance to dictators.

Read the whole thing here.

The absurdity of Cameroon’s Paul Biya

This is from the organized crime and corruption reporting project (OCCRP):

An investigation supported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) gathered information about the president’s travels from 35 years of editions of the daily government paper, the Cameroon Tribune. They show that, over that time, Biya has spent at least four-and-a-half years [abroad] on his “brief private visits.” This total excludes official trips, which add up to an additional year. In some years, like 2006 and 2009, Biya has spent a third of the year out of the country.

And here is a breakdown of Biya’s destinations over the last three and a half decades. It is almost as if Biya is a colonial governor of Cameroon, a Fanonian caricature.

Paul-Biya-Chart-A2

How does Biya pay for all this travel (estimated to be at least $185m in total)?

….. According to the International Monetary Fund, more than $300 million of the revenue of Cameroon’s national oil company in 2017 was not accounted for. The president has oversight over the company, whose oil sales, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, have historically been used as a slush fund.

Needless to say, the fascination with Geneva leaves little time for Biya to actually govern.

When Biya lands in Yaoundé, he also meets his government — at the airport. Formal ministerial councils are organized infrequently, every year or two at the most. But while Biya has used public funds to sustain a bureaucracy of 65 ministers and state secretaries, he mostly governs by decree or through a handful of laws sped through a rubber-stamp parliament.

Biya signs a flurry of acts between each of his trips. For example, in 2017, he signed a dozen laws — the entire legal output for that year – in a couple of days. It took him just three days to sign the entire year’s decrees.

Strong leadership can make a big difference in states with weak bureaucracies. But unfortunately for Cameroon, for 35 years it has been saddled with both an absentee landlord of a president and a barely coherent public service.

An enduring puzzle is why Cameroonian elites haven’t moved to come up with a more economically efficient means of keeping Biya in power and luxury. For instance, they could make him King, and have him sign decrees whenever he likes, but also have a Prime Minister that is responsible to a parliament and accountable to the people. Not that this would magically improve the quality of governance, but at a minimum, would likely introduce coherence within the public service (unless, of course, all of Cameroon’s elites simply want to appropriate public resources and spend their time in Geneva).

A response to this might be that elites in Cameroon are actually fine, constantly scheming and fighting for favor with Biya and access to governance rents.

But this still leaves open the question of why they wouldn’t want a more predictable means of accessing governance rents — that is not subject to the whims of Biya (who shuffles and jails ministers with wanton abandon). In any case, an elite-level collusion outcome — like the one described above — would create opportunities for the expansion of the pie beyond just oil and other natural resource sectors.

All to say that we should probably be spending more time exploring the seeming lack of elite-level political innovation across Africa (and Political Development more generally).

Presidential Salaries in Africa

Paul Biya of Cameroon earns $610,000 per annum, 229 times the earnings of the average Cameroonian.* Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.31.57 PM

Think about it for a second: Paul Biya earns $210,000 more than Barack Obama.

Notice that these figures do not include all manner of allowances.

Source: Daily Nation

*Note that the interns at the Daily Nation mixed up Mauritania and Mauritius. The CNN bug is contagious.

Why are African Presidents so Popular?

Gallup recently (April 25) released a new report showing approval ratings of African leaders. Many of them are inexplicably popular (a case of respondent preference falsification?). The polls were conducted in 2011.

Top of the list are the likes of Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi) and Francois Bozize (CAF). Even the unapologetic, unreconstructed autocrats  Paul Biya (Cameroon) and Blaise Compraore (Burkina Faso) poll above 70%.

The whole report is here.

The least popular African leader is Eduardo dos Santos of Angola who polled at a dismal 16%. Angola is Sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest oil producer and China’s largest trade partner on the continent – China imports upwards of 43% of Angola’s oil. The likely denouement of the dos Santos succession is still unclear but one cannot rule out the possibility of turmoil when Angola gets to cross that bridge, especially in light of the fact that Angola’s appear to blame both dos Santos and the country’s leadership.

this is how museveni treats the opposition in uganda

Uganda is experiencing hike in food and fuel prices – partly because of the rise in global oil prices but also because of “election money.” The Ugandan opposition has been organizing “walk to work” protests against the government’s inability to tackle inflation. In this video, the main opposition leader in Uganda gets to experience the full force of Museveni’s thugs security forces.

Museveni’s rule in Uganda will only get stronger because of the recent discovery of oil in the country. So much for someone who 25 years ago when he first assumed power was seen to represent a new crop of African leaders who were poised to usher in the era of African prosperity. Increasingly in Museveni I see a bungling but eloquent Paul Biya with a touch of faux egalitarianism.

the political economy of violence

The Economist reports:

YESTERDAY it was Afghanistan and Congo. Today it is Côte d’Ivoire and Libya. Violence, it seems, is always with us, like poverty. And that might seem all there is to be said: violence is bad, it is worse in poor countries and it makes them poorer.

But this year’s World Development Report, the flagship publication of the World Bank, suggests there is a lot more to say. Violence, the authors argue, is not just one cause of poverty among many: it is becoming the primary cause. Countries that are prey to violence are often trapped in it. Those that are not are escaping poverty. This has profound implications both for poor countries trying to pull themselves together and for rich ones trying to help.

Many think that development is mainly hampered by what is known as a “poverty trap”. Farmers do not buy fertiliser even though they know it will produce a better harvest. If there is no road, they reason, their bumper crop will just rot in the field. The way out of such a trap is to build a road. And if poor countries cannot build it themselves, rich donors should step in.

Yet the World Development Report suggests that the main constraint on development these days may not be a poverty trap but a violence trap. Peaceful countries are managing to escape poverty—which is becoming concentrated in countries riven by civil war, ethnic conflict and organised crime. Violence and bad government prevent them from escaping the trap.

Interesting piece. It is particularly important to note that violence affects everyone’s investment decisions, whether rich or poor.

The thing about poor places is that everyone is poor, elite or not.

No matter that Theodore Obiang’s son is buying the second most expensive boat in the world. If he has to hop on a plane to LA to have fun – instead of say, creating Africa’s Dubai in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea – he and his father remain tin pot dictators. The same applies for Idris Deby of Chad, Biya of Cameroon and many others. These dictators may have property abroad but the fact that they cannot accumulate property at home because of structural insecurity of their property rights (a coup is always a crazy junior officer away) continues to confine their countries to penury.

What do you do when even the dictator does not have stable property rights? How can you develop when no one is secure enough to invest in factories?

really president biya, really?

Paul Biya, a man who has been president of Cameroon since the 6th of November 1982, keeps giving hints that he plans to amend the constitution of Cameroon to remove a clause limiting the president’s term in office. Although the next elections are not due till 2011, Biya has been dropping hints that he wants the law changed in order to guarantee himself another SEVEN YEAR term in 2011.

Cameroon currently faces violent protests over a recent increase in fuel prices – forget that Cameroon is a petroleum producer, albeit a modest one. Although the prices were lowered after the first wave of protests, the protesters have now extended their demand to include a reduction in the price of not just fuel but food and other items as well. The opposition has promised to keep up with the mass protests if Biya goes ahead with the constitutional amendment.

The 75 year old has had over 25 years to make the lives of Cameroonians better but failed miserably. Over 40% of his country people still live below the poverty line. Official unemployment figures show that about 30% of the labor force is unemployed. Real figures are much higher than this (knowing how incompetent African statistics bureaus are). One wonders what more this old man has to offer to his country after he gives himself another seven years in office in 2011.

Whatever happened to basic decency? Why is it that our leaders feel that they can do whatever they want and get away with it? Do these people have any shame?

If anyone close to Biya reads this please tell him that third term amendments are kind of last-century. Obasanjo ought to have been the last shameful attempt at this. Africa will not claim the 21st century and indeed not even the fourth millennium if we keep up with this third term amendment nonsense. So get real President Biya. Competition breeds excellence, so let competition thrive.