Cameroon has played an active role in the Commonwealth since joining in 1995, while the organisation provides it with assistance in areas ranging from the economy to democratic reform. This report is by Tom Collins.
In 1995 Cameroon joined the Commonwealth, and since then it has worked to intensify and deepen relations with the organisation and its member countries.
Cameroon has participated in all Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings since 1995. It receives assistance from the Commonwealth in areas ranging from the economy and institutional capacity building to social issues such as promoting gender equality.
For example, the Commonwealth supported the setting up in 2006 of Elections Cameroon (Elecam), the country’s first independent election management body, to which it continues to provide assistance. The Commonwealth has sent teams to assess the integrity of elections and has supported Elecam in reviewing Cameroon’s electoral laws in line with international best practice.
The Commonwealth Africa Anti Corruption Centre was set up in 2013. It supports agencies in 18 Common-wealth countries including Cameroon.
Cameroon is also an active participant in the Commonwealth Scholar-ship Commission (CSC), which awards over 800 scholarships and fellowships for postgraduate study and professional development.
In 2016 Cameroon’s Achaleke Christian Leke won the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year Award for his work as national coordinator of Local Youth Corner Cameroon, an organisation that promotes peace and counters violent extremism. “The Commonwealth award will go a long way to amplify and create more awareness of our current peace building work with young people, street children, and youth in correction centres and prisons in Cameroon,” said Leke at the time.
The organisation has also been spearheading an e-commerce strategy aimed at boosting Cameroon’s economy. Commonwealth Secretariat staff met industry leaders in the capital Yaoundé last year to help forge a national e-commerce strategy and a review the legal and regulatory framework for e-commerce in the country.
Towards greater collaboration
Looking towards the future, Cameroon and the Commonwealth look set for increased cooperation and collaboration. In 2016 Cameroon exported $138m worth of goods to the UK. In the post-Brexit landscape London will be looking to court its Commonwealth partners, including Cameroon, to reaffirm and strengthen trade ties. Trade between the 53 countries is expected to surpass $1trillion by 2020, according to the organisation.
The Commonwealth secretary general, Patricia Scotland, has pointed to the Commonwealth as a key target for British interest: “There is a 19% trade advantage within the Commonwealth. We must see how the global trade land-scape can be changed in favour of that advantage. No country should be left behind.”
Due to its colonial history, the country is split into two linguistic regions, with members of the Anglophone minority protesting that they are marginalised in a centralised Francophone state.
On her visit to Cameroon in late 2017 Patricia Scotland met local people in the Anglophone region and discussed ways forward with the prime minister, Philémon Yang.
Commonwealth Secretary General Calls For Unity And Peace
Patricia Scotland, the secretary general of the Commonwealth, called for unity and peace during a meeting with the president of Cameroon during her five-day visit to the country in December 2017.
Speaking to President Paul Biya, Scotland said that the government of Cameroon must continue its efforts to engage in peaceful dialogue and include all cultures and communities. She went on to make specific reference to the recent challenges in the Southwest and Northwest regions.
During the course of the hour-long meeting, the president praised the Commonwealth’s support in helping Cameroon build and strengthen its democratic structures, making specific reference to the oversight of elections by Commonwealth Observer Group missions.
Following the meeting the president and first lady hosted a lunch for the Secretary-General. Addressing a packed room of ministers, ambassadors, high commissioners and presidential staff, Secretary-General Scotland said, “Cameroon
is renowned for its tradition
of peaceful and harmonious interactions. So it is with great sadness that we see it in challenging times.”
She added, “However, as the Commonwealth family, we
will do everything we can to preserve the unity and peaceful existence of any member of the family. As we all know, friction and division will not enhance the ability to deliver the peace that each and every one of Cameroon’s citizens wants. I therefore encourage Cameroonians from all walks of life to embrace peace, unity and resolve any differences through peaceful dialogue.”
She also met with eight opposition parties
and more than 30 civil
society organisations to discuss the future of Cameroon.
After the meetings, she commented: “Everyone that took part in the discussions did so in the spirit of cooperation and inclusivity, as we worked towards the meaningful dialogue that will enable Cameroon to move forward as the peaceful, unified nation that it has always been.”
Visit to Buea
During the final day of her visit, she travelled to Buea, the capital of the Southwest region of the country and the historic centre of its Anglophone regions, where she met with key stakeholders, including young people, elders, religious leaders and elected officials.
Shortly before leaving
the town, she said, “It was incredibly important for me to visit this part of Cameroon, to hear first-hand how those affected plan to overcome the current challenges and work towards peacefully unifying the country.