Business: The Economics of Brexit: How African Democracy, Human Rights Concerns Would Pay the Price

The news is out, it is on every news bloc that covers giant business deals like this one secured by the British government in the troubled Southern Cameroons, through the dictatorial government of Cameroon’s four-decade-long President, Paul Biya. Through the rogue government, the UK-based New Age (African Global Energy) has secured formal approval to apply for a new exploitation agreement for the Etinde bloc in the Bakassi Peninsular.

Cameroon is a country at war. Genocide has been unfolding in the country since 2017, specifically in the former UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons that was run by Britain as a mandated territory right up to 1961. A civil war is raging on in the country and the mainly Francophone government in Yaounde has claimed that the cause is violent English-speaking separatists who want to create their own nation. 

Many Southern Cameroonians and human rights groups have claimed with palpable evidence that, in reality, the government is behind much of the violence. Witnesses have documented soldiers shooting civilians indiscriminately, schools being attacked, and homes torched, with humans burnt to ashes.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, the conflict has caused the displacement of 700,000 people and led to the death of over 3,000 others (UN figures, though local and international rights organizations put the figure over 12,000) and hundreds of thousands of others are living in foreign countries as refugees.

Ranil Jayawardena, British Minister for International Trade (C) Basingstoke Gazette

While all these killings happen, the British Government has been signing and celebrating numerous post-Brexit trade deals with Cameroon. According to a statement issued by the UK Department for International Trade, the deals allow for businesses to trade “without any additional barriers or tariffs”. At the same time, the British Minister for International Trade, Ranil Jayawardena is praising the deals saying they reinforce Britain’s commitment “to supporting developing countries” – as well as Cameroon’s “economic development”.

These trade deals with Cameroon despite the carnage being visited on the Southern Cameroons population, the gross human rights violations documented here and there, the crimes against humanity chronicled by international rights organizations and reported even by the BBC, the country’s notorious election rigging record and its checkered report card on democracy, demonstrate more than enough just how low Her Majesty’s Government is henceforth ready to go to survive in a competitive global trade environment.

The attitude of the British Government since the outbreak of the genocidal war in 2017 shows that its support for what many have come to know as the core values of the Commonwealth of Nations, an international organization placed under the authority of the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and to which Cameroon is a member, henceforth belong to the museums of history.

Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations (C) The Commonwealth

Four countries were in the past sanctioned and suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations for violating the said principles. Zimbabwe, Fiji, Pakistan, and Nigeria were all suspended twice between 1995 and 2009 for breaching the Harare Declaration and the non-respect of the core values of what until most recently was known as the gentlemen’s club. According to most observers, Cameroon has done more than violate these values and has so far earned accolades and not a single statement holding it to account from the Commonwealth.

A close look at what the Commonwealth refers to as core values would shock anyone that Cameroon of all countries in the world should still belong. These values are democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers, rule of law, good governance and much more.

To go by reports from various renowned international bodies, Cameroon is not a country where the separation of powers or the rule of law prevail, talk less of freedom of expression, respect for human rights, democracy or tolerance that are considered a luxury. The Committee to Protect Journalists rates Cameroon as not free under the freedom perception index and this has been so consistently for at least three years. Civilians in the country are constantly tried in military courts while political opponents are either jailed or massacred, with extrajudicial killings taking precedence over the respect of established rules.

The option by Her Majesty’s Government to turn a blind eye to these exactions and seek to earn money over the blood of millions of people looking up to it for freedom has not gone without condemnation from within the United Kingdom itself. During a recent debate in the British Parliament to amend a bill that would allow the government to continue signing trade deals with nations accused of genocide, the Government won by a narrow margin of 319 votes to 308. Despite expectations that a further amendment may later be approved by the House of Commons, allowing judges to advise the Government about whether a nation has committed genocide, prior to ministers making decisions, the current legislations is bad news for rights organizations and promoters of the rule of law.

Hon Emily Thornberry, British MP of the Labour Party (C) The Herald

The move marks a definitive shift in policy as the economic pressures wrought by Brexit would make it unlikely that the Government continues to be guided by human rights and a belief in moral leadership. This is exactly what Hon. Emily Thornberry condemned and argued about, but her voice was not loud enough to cause a pause.

Hon. Thornberry said she wondered what senators in the United States would think if they knew that “on that very same day” they voted a resolution to hold the Cameroon government accountable, the United Kingdom had celebrated a new trade agreement with Cameroon.

“A trade deal agreed by ministers, apparently with no consideration and clearly no concern for the persistent gross violations of international human rights that are taking place in Cameroon,” she cried out, adding that: “A trade deal which none of us in this House or ministers on the bench opposite have even been allowed to read let alone debate or approve.”

She recalled that: “The (United States) Senate resolution condemned with great force the atrocities committed by the Anglophone separatist militias and it speaks with equal power about the actions of the Cameroon Government, including torture and sexual abuse, massacres and burnings of villages, use of live ammunition against protesters, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention, forced disappearances and deaths in custody, attacks on journalists and the regular killing of civilians including women, children and the elderly.”

Dictator Paul Biya hands golden statue to Baronness Patricia Scotland, a move interpreted by observers as buying the prevailing silence of the Commonwealth on the genocide in Southern Cameroons (C) Pan African Vision

Recently, the British government has been seen negotiating trade and military deals with Morocco and it is believed Western Sahara’s believe in self-determination and sovereignty would pay the price. The same is being said of UK overtures in Oman, in Somalia and several other countries with doubtful democratic and human rights credentials. Pundits consider that the Commonwealth of Nations and its ‘core values’ no longer have a place in the considerations of post-Brexit Britain.