afrol News, 22 February - Opposition groups, trade unions and Diaspora groups are preparing "Egypt-like" protests in Cameroon tomorrow, 23 February, to call for President Paul Biya to step down. The US Embassy warns of possible trouble.
"After Egypt; Cameroon next stop," has been a message spreading throughout the internet during the last week, with some calling for "a popular pacific revolution," some for a general strike and others for "Paul Biya to be sent to prison."
The 23 February protest movement - with the date marking the third anniversary of demonstrations protesting high food prices - for now seems poorly organised and coordinated, with major opposition parties and civil society groups still not openly calling for mass protests.
But the mounting calls for protests are nevertheless taken seriously, probably because it is widely known that the Biya regime lacks popular support after almost 30 years in power. Cameroon, many observers agree, is rife for protests.
The usually well informed US Embassy in Yaoundé in any case sees the threat of protests - that could get violent - as a real one. In a note for US travellers in Cameroon, the Embassy calls for caution on Wednesday 23 February.
"A number of media outlets and internet postings have called for protests and demonstrations over the next few days throughout Cameroon, especially in urban centres," the Embassy message notes. "As always, US citizens should to avoid all demonstrations, as even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly," it adds.
Also the Cameroonian government is taking the announced protest marches seriously. Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary today spoke to the press in Yaoundé, according to a transcript by the Cameroonian broadcaster 'RTV', saying protesters were "not creative" by saying "Biya must go."
"You can doubt your government," Minister Bokary said, but people could not doubt the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the African Development Bank, which all had concluded that Cameroon was stable and developing well.
Then, the Minister strongly attacked those calmly sitting at home, calling on "Cameroonian families to throw their children into the streets." The organisers of the protests wanted "to destroy this nation."
Then came the poorly disguised threats. "They w
Cameroon's President Paul Biya with ruling RDPC party followers
ant us to send our children to the streets to get injured; perhaps to get massacred," Minister Bokary told the Cameroonian press, without mentioning who would stand behind a possible massacre.
Meanwhile, Mboua Massock has developed into a spokesperson of the planned protests; also according to Minister Bokary. Mr Massock leads a small opposition party and is seen as an eccentric activist. He is calling for a peaceful, "large resistance march" on 23 February, although urging Cameroonians to recall the violent repression of the 23 February 2008 protests.
Activist Ndzana Seme, on a website run by exiled Cameroonians, is warning protesters against the army and militias by the Beti people, the most loyal to President Biya. But "Yaoundé will fall into the hands of the people and then Paul Biya will fall," the activist tries to encourage Cameroonian protesters, with reference to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
Cameroon's more established opposition and civil society organisations however are shyer. Even independent Cameroonian media do not report on the calls for mass protest. Long-time opposition leader John Fru Ndi has made no statement on the planned protests; neither have trade unions nor human rights groups.
For now, the opposition rather concentrates on preparing for the upcoming elections later this year, although it has never been given a fair chance to win elections in the past.
But international analysts have pointed to the risk of far-reaching unrest in Cameroon for years. Only last year, the renowned think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG) warned about the high probability of unrest before the 2011 election due to poor governance.
"The threat really comes from the frustration of the population, both for economic reasons and also for political reasons," the ICG's Richard Moncrieff said in June 2010. "The very poor governance, the widespread corruption, the politicisation of the justice system, the politicisation of the electoral system is in fact a danger for the country and could eventually lead to conflict," he added.
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