Macron heads to Cameroon for 3-nation Africa tour amid mixed reception

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French President Emmanuel Macron is in Cameroon to start his 3-nation Africa tour, where he is expected to discuss the African food crisis sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the need for Cameroon to increase its agricultural production and the upsurge in insecurity in the country.

Macron is due to spend three days in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, before heading to Benin and Guinea Bissau.

The Cameroon government has given Yaounde a facelift for Macron’s visit, with bulldozers razing makeshift market stalls and shacks on the streets where Macron’s convoy will pass.

“They have destroyed my only source of livelihood,” said Solange Kemje, 28, among the several hundred stall owners affected.

Others welcome the visit of France’s leader, hoping that Macron will extend help in the face of rising insecurity from jihadi violence that has spilled over from neighbouring Nigeria.

The central African state is also battling a separatist conflict that has killed at least 3,300 people and displaced more than 750,000 in five years, according to the UN. Rebels are fighting for Cameroon’s English-speaking minority to have an independent country called Ambazonia.

Some hope that hope Macron will influence President Paul Biya to end the use of force as a solution to the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, according to Capo Daniel, deputy defence chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of the separatist groups.

“One of our factions in our liberation movement called for a lockdown to protest Emmanuel Macron’s visit,” said Capo. “But other movements will be watching this event with the hope that Emmanuel Macron will push Paul Biya to choose the path of peaceful resolution of the war [of separatist violence] as an alternative to the current posture of the state of Cameroon to use war to resolve the problem with Ambazonia.”

Cameroon says France supports its military to fight separatists and the jihadi violence from Nigeria’s Boko Haram rebels but has given no details on how many weapons have been received from France.

Others hope that Macron will encourage Cameroon’s 89-year-old President Paul Biya, who has been in power for close to 40 years, to retire.

“The discussion should go around a peaceful transition of power in Cameroon and also the issues of human rights and democracy in Cameroon,” said Prince Ekosso, leader of the United Socialist Democratic Party.

Biya is accused of rigging elections in order to stay in power until he dies. But he maintains he always won democratic elections fairly.

Cameroon signed a defence treaty with Russia and agreed to let China carry out mining, both of which reduced the influence of France in the country, Prince Ekosso said.

For its part, Cameroon’s Consumers League says it wants Cameroon, Benin and Guinea Bissau to ask Macron to reconsider EU trade sanctions on Russia. The consumer advocacy group blames the EU sanctions for fuel and wheat shortages and rising food prices across Africa.