Cameroon’s missed potential for foreign policy in Africa

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In April, Cameroon renewed a military mandate Cooperation agreement with Russia as Moscow stepped up its offensive in Ukraine. The timing certainly supports Russia’s assertion that its international isolation is relative. It also raises questions about Cameroon’s foreign policy at a time when the votes of African countries in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly are underestimated. meticulous examination.

The military agreement reflects a tendency in Cameroon’s foreign and trade policy to keep major powers at equal distance. While the Central African country is one of the biggest recipients of French development cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa, its biggest creditor by far is China. Cameroon also maintains close foreign and commercial ties with the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.

However, this international balancing act loses its appeal when it comes to Africa and the African Union (AU). In May, Cameroon chaired the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) after being re-elected to the council for a three-year term. The relative indifference to this rotating presidency by decision-makers, opinion leaders and Cameroonian society contrasts with the significant diplomatic efforts made to ensure the country’s re-election.

The rotating PSC Presidency typically helps a government advance regional and thematic priorities and demonstrate diplomatic capacity to address continental issues. For Cameroon, it is difficult to identify clear objectives within the AU, other than preventing Anglophones crisis to achieve the agenda of the PSC. The council’s discussion of the crisis could see a peace support operation deployed in the country, which Cameroon would consider intrusive.

Yaoundé is also poised to ensure continued AU support to the African Standby Force logistics base located in Douala and the Regional Joint Multinational Task Force against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.

Despite the many contemporary transnational problems in the face of Africa – a growing terrorist threat, the activation of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the resurgence of coups – Cameroon’s policy towards the AU and Africa remains unclear. It is also characterized by limited engagement at the level of Heads of State, where AU decisions are ultimately taken.

President Paul Biya is known to have missed AU summits. Despite this, Cameroon succeeded in having its nationals elected as commissioners in the AU Konaré/Ping Commissions (2003-11) and the first Faki Commission (2017-21). But these political appointments do little to make up for the few Cameroonians in the senior leadership of the AU Commission or the lack of shared guidelines for the country’s action within the AU.

Cameroon can sometimes mobilize political capital to secure positions within the AU – such as the current head of the Reform Implementation Unit. However, the country does not exploit its strategic and unique location at the crossroads between the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, the Sahel and the equatorial forest, and West and Central Africa.

Cameroon’s indecisive foreign and trade policy can also be seen in Central Africa. Due to the size of its economy, its demography and its transport infrastructure, the country could play an anchoring role in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Cemac), which includes six countries using the CFA franc.

But the government rarely uses this position of strength to bolster Cameroon’s regional interests. Despite being the gateway to the sea for Chad and the Central African Republic, Cameroon lacks the vision and strategy to exploit the strong positions of its private companies in these countries.

In the wider Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas), Cameroon’s power is challenged by oil-rich Angola and the war-torn but oil-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). ores. Rwanda’s increasingly active security and Trade diplomacy in the region will be interesting to watch as power relations are redefined.

While CEMAC includes countries only engaged in Central Africa, members of Eccas also have regional allegiances in Southern and Eastern Africa. Examples of the latter include DRC, Angola, Burundi and Rwanda. The intended merging the two regional organizations would likely shift the center of gravity east and south, diluting Cameroon’s influence in the bloc.

Cameroon’s foreign policy is notoriously murky as official documents outlining its interests and strategic objectives are rarely made public. Even Cameroonian diplomats struggle to give a unified vision of the country’s actions in Africa and internationally. There is no single convened forum for diplomats and their hierarchy, and the last conference of ambassadors was held in 1985.

The focus on the president and his personal preferences has prevented Cameroonian diplomacy from being principled. This has also been the main impediment to the foreign ministry conducting foreign policy rather than the presidency. But as instability grows in Central Africa, clear guidelines for Cameroon’s regional and continental engagement will become more crucial than ever.

Cameroon’s foreign policy should start by designing a neighborhood policy. As a leading trading partner in Central Africa, Cameroon has a vested interest in the stability of the region. It is therefore surprising that other less affected states are increasingly settling crises on its doorstep.

A clear vision based on Cameroon’s medium and long-term interests in CEMAC, Eccas and the AU could guide diplomats and other foreign policy actors. Assuming more responsibilities in the resolution of violent conflicts in Central Africa would strengthen Cameroon’s stature in the region and strengthen the skills of its civilian and military cadres.

The government has worked to prevent the Anglophone conflict from being considered by the AU and the UN. He could learn from Rwanda and Chad, whose regional military diplomacy has successfully shielded them from international criticism in recent years.

To reposition Central Africa and Africa in Cameroon’s foreign policy, the country must also rectify the widespread bias that only views diplomatic posts in northern capitals as prestigious. Neglecting the low-hanging fruit of African diplomacy will damage the country’s image. DM

Paul-Simon Handy, Regional Director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) for East Africa and Representative to the AU, and Felicité Djilo, Independent Analyst.

First published by The ISS today.

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