After last week in Burkina Faso, it is Cameroon this week that has witnessed demonstrations and strikes against inflation and the high cost of living; and the bestial repression of these movements of protest.
Since its independence in 1960, this old colony is a country of strategic importance for French imperialism, “one of the pillars of the Franc zone” along with Ivory Coast. France is always the leading foreign investor there, with several hundred companies in all branches of industry, employing several tens of thousands of people; major French groups are present in food processing, construction, the banking industry, oil etc. The privatizations imposed by international financial organizations have largely benefited the tricolour companies.
The “aid” of France in Cameroon is important; it comprises various facets designed to facilitate the smooth running of capitalist companies, including a military component, with the signature of military agreements (partly secret, as usual!) at the time of independence in 1960 and in 1974. It is under the terms of these military agreements that France foiled an attempted coup d'etat in April 1984; the Biya government appealed to France more recently, in 2005, when it felt threatened by the military. An important part of French military cooperation is the training given to the forces of the Cameroonian gendarmerie for the “maintenance of law and order”. The Cameroonian gendarmes showed that they were good pupils through the bloody repression of demonstrations on several occasions: repression of student strikes (2 dead at the end of 2006), peaceful demonstrators (2 dead this autumn at the time of the repression of a peaceful demonstration against the lack of electricity in Abong Mbang), and of demonstrations of motorbike-taxis protesting against extortion by the police, etc.
The increasing impoverishment of the workers and the broad masses of the population has made the situation in the country explosive, while in the meantime price increases accelerate. The generalized discontent with the present government moreover crystallized against the decision of Paul Biya to change the constitution in order to stand again. At the time of the latest elections this summer, hardly more half of registered voters (who represent only a fraction of the electorate: 5 million out of a population of close to triple that) had considered it useful to take part in the masquerade following which the authorities had announced the unavoidable victory of the party already in power. International observers had severely criticized this farce which was ratified unconditionally by the new French government, concerned above all for the “stability” of its networks of imperialist domination. When he arrived on an official visit last October to Paris, Biya could declare, in connection with the policy of France in Africa, that it was characterized by a “fundamental continuity”: a continuity of imperialist plundering and support for local capitalists against their proletarians and the disinherited masses which are left abandoned.
On Saturday, February 23, the prohibition of a meeting of the opposition in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, was followed by bloody repression and confrontations. A private TV channel that had the misfortune to broadcast a report on this subject was immediately banned by the authorities. At the beginning of week the transportation unions (taxis, motorbike-taxis, primarily) called for the strike to protest against the rise in the price of fuel. Very quickly and spontaneously, apart from any instruction from the trade unions or political parties, the strike overflowed from the owner/operators of taxis to be followed by a large part of the poor population.
With several thousand people against the high cost of living, the demonstrators and strikers establish barricades with their slogans "We are hungry!”, “Lower the price of staple foods”, “No to high cost of living and the reducing to beggary of Cameroonians!”, as well as antigovernment slogans: “Biya must leave!” “Popaul you will be hung along with your constitution”, etc. The forces of capitalist disorder responded by shooting at the demonstrators. The port of Douala, which is the economic heart not only of Cameroon, but also of all the countries of the sub-region, was paralysed.
During the riots, shopping centres were attacked and plundered, various public buildings attacked (the Taxation Center and the sub-prefecture of Douala V were burnt), enterprises belonging to the Biya family, symbols of French presence, etc.
On Wednesday, the demonstrations and riots then extended to the capital Yaoundé where police fired live bullets on the demonstrators who were protesting peacefully against repression while a helicopter undoubtedly piloted by a military co-operator flew over the crowd; as a measure of intimidation the gendarmes attacked the university residence; in Bafoussam, the third city of Cameroon, it was announced that a demonstrator had been killed by the police, and demonstrations also took place in other localities.
Faced with this situation which had developed completely beyond their control; the transportation unions called on this same day, at the end of flash discussions with the government, for a cessation of the strike (without regard for the victims of repression or for those imprisoned): “we want to give the government time to achieve its economic program by next June” explained the representative of the CGST...
However, on Thursday morning the more-or-less general strike continued. It should be said that the government regally agreed to lower the price of gasoline, motor oil, and kerosene by... 1%! The government mobilized the army to patrol in the capital, while in a declaration the president stated that "force would remain with the law" and that the strike "had been instrumentalized for political purposes" by politicians opposed to the "normal operation of democratic institutions"; the normal operation of democratic institutions means for the bourgeoisie that the workers must agree to be exploited, to be condemned to misery without revolting, by accepting the gerrymander of the electoral farce.
To date the number of victims in Douala and Yaoundé has probably reached several dozen and the number of those arrested at several hundred.
“We have a privileged caste that lives to the detriment of the majority which suffers” declared a demonstrator. This caste of privileged people, this is a social class: the bourgeois class; that vampire class, which as everywhere grows rich from the sweat and blood of the workers. The solution is not the departure of Biya and his replacement by one of the parties of the bourgeois opposition (all completely absent from the struggles in progress), but the class struggle against this class and the system of which it is the incarnation: Cameroonian capitalism supported by international imperialism, and French imperialism in the first place.
In their vital struggle against misery, oppression and capitalist exploitation, and in the face of the bloody repression of a regime propped up by the French State, the Cameroonian proletarians and masses have a pressing need for the solidarity of the proletarians from here; class solidarity with the proletarians of the countries under the domination of French imperialism which must culminate in the resumption of the revolutionary class struggle against capitalism.
Solidarity with the proletarians and the masses of Cameroon in struggle!
No support for the murderous regime of Biya!
No to all “military cooperation” with him!
Imperialism out of Africa!
Long live the international proletarian struggle!
International Communist Party, 28/02/2008
Correspondence: Ed. Programme, 3 rue Basse Combalot 69007 Lyon, France.