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The Cameroonian Model For Africa (and Beyond)

March 6, 2017

“On a massacré des gens au Cameroun, on a massacré des gens à Madagascar, en Indochine car ils prétendaient défendre cette même liberté que nous mettions sur le fronton de nos mairies et de nos écoles”

– Yannick Jadot – French Green Party Candidate for the presidency –

(Translation: We massacred people in Cameroon, Madagascar, Indochina. Why? Because they embraced the same ideals of liberty and democracy that we, in France, place on the walls of our city halls and schools)

Countries usually considered as Francophone Africa. These countries had a population of 363 million in 2013. Their population is projected to reach between 785 million and 814 million in 2050. French is the fastest growing language on the continent (in terms of official or foreign language). Francophone but are Members or Observers of the OIF

Countries usually considered as Francophone Africa. These countries had a population of 363 million in 2013. Their population is projected to reach between 785 million and 814 million in 2050. French is the fastest growing language on the continent (in terms of official or foreign language). Francophone but are Members or Observers of the OIF

The “we” to which Jadot is referring is the French government. He is referring to the all out wars France fought in its then, soon-to-be independent colonies in the 1950s and 1960s. The wars were part and parcel of policies developed by De Gaulle and his Africa man, Jacques Foccart, to grant formal independence to its African colonies while maintaining economic, political and strategic control. A good trick, no? The broader policy is referred to simply as neo-colonialism. The masters of neo-colonialism by far has been the United States. This is the essence of U.S. policy throughout the Third World. In an effort to retain control of raw materials and markets for its manufactured products, France, under De Gaulle, developed its own brand of neo-colonialism, long referred to as Francafrique

France failed to implement its neo-colonial policies in two former colonies, Indochina and Algeria. It is perhaps in some measure because of having lost those wars militarily, and with those defeats, precipitous decline in economic and strategic influence, that it redoubled its efforts to cling to power in the rest of its (mostly) African colonies in order to secure their minerals, energy sources and raw materials.

Until recently, the wars against nationalist elements in Cameroon and Madagascar have been hidden from view, poorly known. Both resulted in the full-scale annihilation of hundreds of thousands of lives, involving, as in Algeria, massive use of torture, the extermination of whole villages and regions. With rare exceptions, these episodes have only surfaced due to the research of Cameroonian and Madagascan scholars with a will to learn their own history, a history hidden in French archives and among the French torturers and assassins who participated in what were nothings short of orgies of organized violence.

“The Cameroonian Model”

The term, “the Cameroonian model” is used by Deltombe, Domergue and Tatsitsa in their excellent analysis La Guerre Du Cameroun: L’Invention de la Francafrique (discussed in a recent blog entry). In involves two inter-related processes: crushing the indigenous independence movement using extreme military force (counter-insurgency strategies, targeted assassinations, etc) on the one hand and limiting access of the international media to the combat zones.

On the other hand it entails setting up a government, nominally independent, but in fact beholden to Paris for its economic, strategic and security relations. The government itself has Cameroonian faces (Ahidjo, Biya) but French (and Israeli) “advisers” make most of the key decisions. The country’s military and economic institutions are dominated by these advisers.

Economically, the goal is simple: to control the country’s economic activity, limiting it to the export of unprocessed raw materials and basic food stuff to serve France’s needs and to prevent the country from embarking on any independent economic course of development that might benefit Cameroon’s own citizens. It is nothing short of an economic stranglehold that remains as tight today as before formal Cameroonian independence in 1960. Some 9-10,000 French advisers and “cooperants” (cooperants – French version, more or less, of the U.S. Peace Corps) in the country continue to dominate essentially all the key sectors as they did prior to independence. According to Deltombe, Domergue and Tatsitsa (p.219) it is estimated that French nationals control 55% of Cameroon’s modern economic sector and literally all of the finance and banking industry. Major French corporations dominate Cameroonian economic affairs – ELF (the French oil company), Bouygues, Bollore, La Fruitiere, Castel among them.

Getting locals to cooperate with this system of exploitation is not so difficult, especially as they share in the theft of the country’s resources. Bribes, foreign bank accounts, compromising the Cameroonian leadership in other ways, special privileges for travel and medical and dental services in Europe all play a role in creating what in technical terms is referred as a comprador bourgeoisie. As the Cameroon (and other former French colonies in Africa) are robbed of their wealth through hook or crook, most of the profits are redirected to different Francafrique networks that include a small percentage of Cameroonian locals.

douala-port

Cameroonian port of Douala 

The overall economic situation in the country is quite polarized, despite rosy analyses of Cameroon’s economic status, like a recent African Development Bank report, which speaks of “Cameroon’s growth in 2015 has been estimated at a solid 5.7%, led mainly by the secondary sector, which grew by 8.4%. The tertiary sector grew by 5% and the primary sector by 4.9%. Oil production, which makes the country a net oil exporter, rose by an exceptional 28.3% as new fields began production. The construction sector also grew, by 7.3%.” Cameroon is an essential economic crossroads for landlocked neighbors, Central African Republic and Chad. It export crude oil, timber, cocoa and palm oil.

Such statistics, even when the are accurate, hide a social reality that is explosive, and in fact, in the western and northwestern regions of the country is already exploding at present. The economic growth, and along with it, the profits therewith, are virtually in the extraction industries, be that agricultural or mineral, those sectors of the economy where France maintains its stranglehold. Economic and social polarization remain sharp, social services for the overwhelming majority very poor, minimal. Furthermore, according to Cailin Birth, senior economic analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, “…Cameroon is seeing a slowing of economic growth…”the [Yaounde] government is clearly worried that it may spiral out of control.”

Cameroon remains a country with an overwhelmingly poor population, nothing to crow about. In fact, although protests continue in the country’s so-called English-speaking regions to the northwest, it is quite possible that they will spill over into the rest of the country. It is hard to avoid a certain comparison with Tunisia in 2010, where the economic indicators of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund spoke in glowing terms of general stability and economic growth, while under the surface the population was coming to the uncontrollable boiling point (uncontrollable by the Ben Ali government). With the  sterile, corrupt and repressive government of Paul Biya, often referred to as ELF’s man in Cameroon, it is possible that in the near future Cameroon will follow a path similar to Tunisia and Biya’s fate will be similar to Ben Ali’s.

Wealth created from the country’s cornucopia of natural resources that could fuel development is thus siphoned off, leaving the country prostrate and poor. Thus, according to United Nations statistics, now some 57 years after independence, the country continues to experience high levels of unemployment, poor infrastructure (schools, medical facilities, roads), a repressive government known for decades of mass arrests and torture.

Cameroon remains a country with an overwhelmingly poor population, nothing to crow about. In fact, although protests continue in the country’s so-called English-speaking regions to the northwest, it is quite possible that they will spill over into the rest of the country. It is hard to avoid a certain comparison with Tunisia in 2010, where the economic indicators of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund spoke in glowing terms of general stability and economic growth, while under the surface the population was coming to the uncontrollable boiling point (uncontrollable by the Ben Ali government). With the  sterile, corrupt and repressive government of Paul Biya, often referred to as ELF’s man in Cameroon, it is possible that in the near future Cameroon will follow a path similar to Tunisia and Biya’s fate will be similar to Ben Ali’s.

Exporting the Cameroonian Model 

There is a whole rather complex sordid history of what is referred to as “counter insurgency” – the essence of which is to target and attack the general population in order to isolate and ultimately destroy a guerrilla movement from its base in the community by targeting the general population as a whole. As mentioned above, the application of this methodology by the French resulted in horrific human casualties in Vietnam, Algeria, Madagascar and Cameroon. In fact, it was the failure of the French effort to defeat the nationalist, anti-colonial movement in Indochina, led by the Vietnamese Communist, Ho Chi Minh, which produced the strategy.

French military strategists studying Mao Tse Tung’s writings began to understand that winning the hearts and minds of the population was essential to successful anti-colonial strategies. Studying how the rebels had won in Indochina – and decisively at that – they tried essentially to apply the methods of the insurgents to counter-insurgency in Algeria. The Algerian part of the story is complex, actually militarily speaking, the French were able to isolate and defeat urban guerrilla warfare in the big cities as exemplified in the case study of that operation in the film Battle of Algiers However they had tortured and killed so many, destroyed so much of the country that while they might have won militarily, they lost the war where it counts, politically. The world was horrified by the methods thus used by France. Charles De Gaulle, after trying to avoid a complete break was forced to grant Algeria near total independence. Paris retained some control, influence over the Algerian energy industry but by the end of the decade of the 1960s, that too was lost.

In Cameroon, the French were determined not to lose control of the country’s economic and political levers, which were key to its maintaining control of large swathes of west and central Africa. The same counter insurgency military methods as were applied in Algeria were applied in Cameroon, exactly the same. Re-locations camps, mass arrests, torture, disappearances, executions were the order of the day. What was different was the French ability to control the narrative of events, ie, to give their spin and to prevent independent investigations by journalists or international human rights organizations as to what was transpiring. Paris characterized the opposition as communists, outlaws, terrorists. The rebel organizations were unable to successfully counter this imagery resulting in a loss of international support and growing international isolation. Algeria won its independence; one can argue rather persuasively that Cameroon, which wound up with government subservient to Paris politically and economically did not. From the very beginning to when he was no longer useful in the early 1980s, Ahmed Ahidjo, a near illiterate northerner with virtually no social base in the country – and therefore completely dependent upon France to stay in power – was little more than Paris’s West African faithful pawn. Paul Biya who has been in power since 1982 follows in Ahidjo’s sorry footsteps.

Deltombe, Domergue and Tatsitsa point out that France’s success with undermining and taming the Cameroonian national anti-colonial movement was repeated elsewhere in Africa. The Gabon of Leon Mba and Omar Bongo, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in the Ivory Coast follow a similar model. Those who refused to acceded to Paris’s program, to the Cameroon model, like Sekou Toure in Guinea, Sylvanus Olympio in Togo were soon eliminated, or in the case of Olympio, assassinated with the hand of French intelligence somewhere in the background. One way or another virtually all former French colonies, Chad, Niger, Mali, Congo-Brazzaville, Senegal, Mauritania followed suit.

But that is far from the end of it because starting in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s France’s counter-insurgency model, the Cameroonian model was applied, again, to one degree or another, worldwide. So it was with U.S. policy in Vietnam between the early 1960s and 1975 when American troops were unceremoniously kicked out of the country, suffering, like the French before them a decisive military defeat. U.S. counter-insurgency in Vietnam was based on the French model applied in Cameroon and that system of death and horror was taught to U.S. special forces by French advisers. The notorious “Phoenix Program” where Vietnamese were targeted, not because they were members of the armed guerrilla movement, but because they fit a certain profile – this comes straight out of “The Cameroonian Model.” It didn’t stop the U.S. from losing that war, only making the price paid for freedom for the Vietnamese that much steeper.

Like so many other places, the Cameroonian model didn’t work in Vietnam. The blow of the defeat is still felt in Washington now 42 years on. The United States mourns its losses, killed and wounded that numbered a bit less than 60,000 (not counting those who committed suicide since). But rarely are the figures of Vietnamese victims of American bombings and war mentioned, a modest figure being between 3-4 million; I have recently heard of casualty figures for Vietnamese more than double these figures, and this from reliable sources.

Far from the end, extending the Cameroon model to the U.S. war in Vietnam was only the beginning. Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s the Cambodian model was extended, again via French forces who had tested it in Indochina, Algeria and most successfully in Cameroon, to Argentina, Chile and other Latin American dictatorships, where like in Vietnam, the application of the model only increased human suffering to an extraordinary degree, while ultimately failing to achieve anything else. The British applied it in Kenya and Malaysia.

When the Argentinian generals took power in a junta and then launched a massive wave of repression against that country’s public, it was French advisers who were key in teaching the Argentinian military to distrust the entire population of the country and to target them as enemies. The thousands of Cameroonians drugged and then dropped into the eastern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean were joined by tens of thousands of Argentinians dropped from helicopters into the western Atlantic as “disappeared ones.”

It was French advisers applying the “Cameroonian model” who, among others,  taught Chilean intelligence how to most efficiently torture working class radicals and students and who helped Pinochet and his band of thugs how to seize power. It is essentially the Cameroonian model that was taught to Latin American military and intelligence officers in the School of the Americas. When applied in Guatemala against largely rural Mayan people it resulted in the near extermination of that group with several hundred thousand killed.

Just as this counter-insurgency model has failed in so many places, living a trail of untold suffering and death, so it will ultimately fail in Cameroon…and this in the not so distant future.

____________

Links:

Cameroon: Northwestern Cameroon Explodes in Peaceful Protest, Government Repression: Part One of a Series.

Cameroon: Northestern Cameroon Explodes in Peaceful Protest, Government Repression: Part Two of a Series

Cameroon – France’s “Guatemala’ (first of a series)…

Cameroon – France’s “‘Guatemala'(second of a series): Putting Together Francafrique

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