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  • Cameroon

  • It's got gold, timber, oil

  • And strategic ports

  • China wants it.

  • And it will do what it takes to get it.

  • Welcome back to China Uncensored.

  • I'm Chris Chappell.

  • Africa.

  • It has resources.

  • China wants them.

  • And nowhere is that more apparent than in Cameroon.

  • Cameroon one of the breadbaskets of Africa.

  • It's also loaded with diamonds, gold, and oil.

  • Plus, it's strategically located,

  • with several ocean ports the Chinese military

  • would love to have access to.

  • This is Cameroon's “presidentis Paul Biya.

  • He's been president for 36 years.

  • Which can only mean one thing:

  • The people love him so much,

  • they keep re-electing him in free and fair elections!

  • And he's only too happy to give

  • the Chinese Communist Party

  • the access to Cameroon it craves.

  • To find out more about China's

  • colonial plans in Cameroon and Africa at large,

  • I sat down with Felix Agbor Nkongho,

  • at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

  • He's the founder and director of the Centre for Human Rights

  • and Democracy in Africa.

  • Thank-you for joining us today Felix.

  • Well thanks for having me.

  • Yeah.

  • So for those people who aren't really familiar with Cameroon,

  • can you tell us a little bit about the political situation there?

  • Cameroon is situated between West and Central Africa,

  • so it's in the middle of these two regions.

  • It's the bread basket of the area.

  • We have a civilian president who's been in power for 36 years.

  • Since the independence of Cameroon we've had two presidents.

  • Cameroon is francophone and anglophone.

  • The francophones are 75% of the population,

  • and the anglophones are 25, English and French.

  • And that sort of ties back

  • to which parts of Cameroon had been colonized

  • by the French and the Germans.

  • Yes it goes back to the British and the French colonizing.

  • That's why you have francophones and anglophones in Cameroon.

  • So when you say "president for 36 years",

  • I'm assuming that's not a fair,

  • democratically elected president.

  • On paper it's a democracy, he has a constitution,

  • he has an executive legislator, and a judiciary,

  • but in reality it's a dictatorship.

  • The elections have never been free and fair,

  • the opposition is always muscled out, the press is never free.

  • The entire process, the electoral commission from [inaudible]

  • to [inaudible] is created by the president in power,

  • and he appoints each and every one who is a member of that committee.

  • You cannot really really bite the finger that feeds you,

  • somebody cannot appoint you and you work against his interests.

  • So I imagine it's not an easy place to be a human rights lawyer.

  • Oh it's really difficult, because the thing about Cameroon

  • is that from the outside it seems to be very peaceful.

  • When you look at the region -

  • Chad, Central African Republic, [inaudible] -

  • all of them have have turbulence,

  • all of them have [inaudible] dictators.

  • Mr Biya seems to be a democrat,

  • so from the outside it's very [inaudible],

  • but when you get into the country you start seeing what is happening.

  • The violations of rights of human rights defenders,

  • the anglophone minorities, the people in the north.

  • So the press is muscled out.

  • So when you get inside the country,

  • that's when you can understand the dictatorship

  • that we have in Cameroon.

  • So I know President Biya has been pushing for closer ties to China.

  • How has that affected the human rights situation in the country?

  • Well our relationship with China dates back.

  • They call it Palais des Congrès, the congress hall in Cameroon

  • was built by the Chinese.

  • A long time ago, more than 20 years ago.

  • It just got burnt a couple of years ago

  • and they promised to fund it.

  • He has been pushing a lot to the East, China and Russia,

  • because these are countries that don't care about human rights record.

  • The West, especially the U.S. and the E.U.

  • they've been [inaudible] on Biya to try to open up,

  • to respect more fundamental freedoms,

  • especially with what is happening in anglophone Cameroon.

  • So he's now looking to the East.

  • China is pumping a lot of money,

  • China is involved,

  • and I think China will be an impediment if we're to have

  • a security counsel resolution on Cameroon.

  • So President Biya would be more interested in taking money from China

  • rather than countries that would have human rights obligations.

  • Yeah that's what he's been doing of late.

  • It's true that he plays his cards

  • in a way that he's still friends with the West,

  • but he's leaning more now to China.

  • Because the accountability issue is not there.

  • So he prefers to take money from China,

  • because China will not care about the killings of the people,

  • China will not care about burning of villages in Cameroon.

  • I know Cameroon is part of China's Belt and Road Initiative,

  • what does China hope to get out of Cameroon?

  • Well China needs the resources from Cameroon.

  • Cameroon has diamonds, Cameroon has oil,

  • Cameroon has timber, gold too.

  • So China is interested in the resources of Cameroon.

  • There's nothing like a free lunch.

  • I know people who criticize the relationship that we had with the West,

  • colonialism and the rest,

  • but China is another colonial power in disguise.

  • China is giving loans, there's a lot of corruption in the contracts,

  • nobody is accountable, there's no transparency,

  • and we are indebted to them a lot.

  • I know at times they will cancel some of the debt,

  • but they are getting enormous resources from us,

  • and Chinese are migrating to Cameroon.

  • They are doing some of the business

  • that local people are supposed to be doing,

  • they are fishing,

  • and there's gradually tension between the Chinese and the Cameroonians.

  • So, Chinese leader Xi Jinping calls it "win-win cooperation",

  • but doesn't sound like this is actually a win for the people of Cameroon.

  • No, from my own perspective it's not a win-win situation.

  • It's not winning for the people of Cameroon.

  • It might be winning for the government and for China.

  • The average Cameroonian is not benefiting a lot.

  • The government cannot account to some of these monies that are given,

  • and it's like mortgaging the destiny of future generations.

  • So it's win-win yes,

  • win for the Chinese government

  • and win for the Cameroonian government,

  • but it's a win-loss for the Cameroonian people.

  • And I know Cameroon is in a very strategic location in the region,

  • and China has shown an interest in a billion dollar port.

  • What's behind that?

  • Well, as you said Cameroon is strategically located.

  • Central Africa region, West Africa, we're bordered to Nigeria,

  • Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, and the Central African Republic.

  • So strategically we are very important.

  • And we have the outlet, we have the ports,

  • we have one in Douala, we have one in Kribi,

  • and I just hear there will be one in Limbe.

  • So the Chinese are interested in Cameroon,

  • they are very interested.

  • A lot of powers are interested in Cameroon,

  • but of late the Chinese are developing a lot of interest.

  • Because also agriculturally Cameroon is very rich,

  • the soil is extremely, extremely rich.

  • So if we are not careful the coming years,

  • Cameroon will be a playground for power politics.

  • Cameroon will be a playground

  • for Chinese interests and Chinese politics.

  • So we talked a bit about it that Cameroon is in a lot of debt to China.

  • How has that affected Cameroon?

  • Well for now, the government is just trying to survive.

  • So they keep on piling debt upon debt.

  • They think that it will postpone their problems

  • because the more they have pressure from the West,

  • the more they're trying to open up the economy,

  • they are now looking towards China,

  • they will pile the debts.

  • Some of the infrastructures that have built,

  • they cannot stand the test of time.

  • And you look at the workers,

  • China brings almost everybody from China to work.

  • So what is the local content,

  • how does that benefit the average Cameroonian?

  • I mean from the laborers, they are brought from China.

  • And even when Cameroonians work there,

  • they don't pay them very well.

  • And the fact that most of them don't communicate in English.

  • The Kumba Mamfe Ekok road that was built

  • by the Chinese leading to Nigeria,

  • I mean I was going to my village,

  • my village is off the road.

  • The instructions on the signs were in Chinese.

  • So a village that would not even understand what they were saying,

  • I did not find any of the instructions in English.

  • So this is something that a government that works for the people,

  • that has the interests of the people at heart

  • would have to take some of these things in consideration.

  • But unfortunately, they don't really care.

  • So the infrastructure they're building is not actually good quality,

  • the loans aren't sustainable,

  • this really doesn't seem like it's benefiting the people [crosstalk]

  • It's not benefiting us, and there's some things

  • that they're doing that will backfire.

  • I remember [inaudible] once that "when you come to Africa

  • and you buy the farms, you buy the lands, and you plant,

  • and the people cannot have food, someday they will rise up".

  • And that is what will happen in Africa,

  • that is what will happen in Cameroon.

  • When they Chinese come with their monies,

  • and they buy huge parcels of land,

  • and plant crops that are exported to China,

  • and the people in Cameroon cannot have food,

  • they will rise up.

  • They will protest.

  • Just imagine that if they had bought land

  • in the English speaking part of the country,

  • and now there's a crisis.

  • How will they have access to those lands?

  • How will they have access to those lands?

  • Because the people also will be like these lands did not benefit us.

  • They probably dealt with the government,

  • they dealt with the chiefs,

  • without the average person benefiting anything.

  • And the quality of their product,

  • it's not really good.

  • Well as you mentioned, China is basically functioning

  • as a new type of colonial power in Cameroon.

  • Is there a sense among the people there,

  • do they understand this,

  • do they know what's happening?

  • They are gradually, gradually coming to terms with it.

  • Initially it was their hatred for the French,

  • they preferred any other person than the French,

  • because of its colonial history.

  • But I think that some people are gradually,

  • gradually seeing that China doesn't speak,

  • they are slowly and gradually and surely taking over control

  • of businesses in the country.

  • People have started rising up, people have started criticizing it,

  • people are complaining in the media.

  • And it will only get worse as things get bad for the country.

  • So Cameroon is billions of dollars in debt to China.

  • But recently though China forgave 78 million dollars of debt.

  • Why was that?

  • Well as I said, there's nothing like a free lunch.

  • They know what they are benefiting from the system.

  • They are trying also to keep Mr Biya in power at all costs.

  • So they will help Mr Biya to stay in power.

  • They provide military software also.

  • Because of the anglophone crisis,

  • they provided some support for humanitarian,

  • to help those who are affected by the crisis.

  • So whatever they are doing

  • is to ensure that their friend stays in power,

  • because they understand that if things were to change,

  • if we have a free and fair election,

  • if we have a real, genuine, democratic government,

  • those contract would be renegotiated.

  • Those terms that they agreed on,

  • Cameroonians would like no, it has to go through parliament,

  • the people have to see it, it has to be more transparent,

  • it has to be a win-win contract from the perspective of the people

  • and not the leadership.