By Hans Ngala
US Vice President, Kamala Harris has begun a three-leg journey across Africa to counter Chinese influence on the continent. Harris touched down on Sunday at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport in Accra where she addressed a crowd that had turned up to welcome her.
“What an honour it is to be here in Ghana and on the continent of Africa” she said. “Today begins a week-long journey, first here in Ghana, then on to Tanzania and then Zambia” she stated.
“…I’m very excited about the future of Africa. I’m very excited about the impact of the future of Africa on the rest of the world…” Harris said.
She also added that she was hoping to increase the US’ economic investments on the continent – a subtle reference to counter China’s growing influence across the continent.
Harris’ trip comes at a time when the US has significantly lost influence across Africa and at a time when the continent has for the most part taken a neutral stand in the war in Ukraine, a position the US finds akin to support for Russia and has been trying to push some countries on the continent to be more overt in their condemnation of Russia. South Africa for example has been scolded by the US for openly conducting naval drills with the Russian navy and while there have been calls from some quarters for South Africa to arrest Putin when he visits South Africa later this year to attend a BRICS summit, South Africa has been very reluctant in outright condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, preferring to look to a time when the former USSR (mainly today’s Russia), supported the anti-Apartheid struggle overtly, when the US and Western allies for the most part were on the fence.
This overt support for Russia would explain why Kamala Harris isn’t making a stop in South Africa, one of the most important countries on the continent, which she would normally visit otherwise.
Harris is also not stopping in Cameroon, a fact which also speaks to how the US sees Cameroon in its foreign policy wherein Cameroon is not necessarily too important to US foreign interests. In sharp contrast however, is France whose interests are so sharply vested in Cameroon that French President Emmanuel Macron began his Africa tour in Cameroon in July 2022 before later visiting Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
However, here are three things that would likely have been top of the agenda had Kamala Harris visited Cameroon:
Discuss the Anglophone Crisis
Since the Anglophone Crisis started in its current phase in 2016, the US has been very vocal and pushing for government to heed the voices of the dissenting Anglophones. As early as 2017, just a year into the conflict, House speaker Karen Bass chaired a committee to discuss the Anglophone Crisis and later on, a group of US senators signed a petition calling for stronger measures in resolving the conflict.
When an American Baptist missionary was killed In Bamenda, NW of Cameroon, the US again pushed for dialogue.
So this would likely still be the tune if Mrs. Harris were to make a stop to meet with Cameroon’s President Paul Biya.
Terrorism up North
Since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US in 2001, the US has developed a strong anti-terrorism policy, fighting against terrorism not only at home but also abroad, taking a sort of “If-we-can-stop-it-there, then-we-are-safe-here” approach, resulting in the invasion of several countries in the Middle East in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
This would also likely be top on the agenda for the US government if Harris were to visit Cameroon. The US has been collaborating extensively with the Cameroonian army, supplying weapons and training to combat Boko Haram militants who have been launching attacks in northern Cameroon since 2013.
While in February 2019, the US announced that some of the aid was being “reduced” after “credible” reports of human rights abuses whereby Cameroonian authorities were diverting weapons meant for combatting Boko Haram to the Anglophone Regions, the US government did not completely halt all aid or collaboration with the Cameroonian army, a clear indication of their commitment to the fight against terror.
Discuss Biya’s succession
While Cameroon’s Paul Biya has been in office since 1982, the US has over the years played it safe, preferring not to directly confront him over his long stay in power. However, that changed in 2018 when the-then US Ambassador to Cameroon Peter Henry Barlerin said that Biya “should be thinking about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered in the history books,” adding that George Washington and Nelson Mandela were excellent role models he could emulate.
At the time, Biya had been in power for 36 years and was 85 years old. In February this year, Mr. Biya turned 90 and it is certain that Kamala Harris who is 58 years old (and was 18 at the time Mr. Biya took office) – would have asked Biya to think about stepping down. However, during Macron’s visit to Cameroon several months ago, a French reporter put the same question about Mr. Biya’s long stay in power, to which he simply replied “Power is not for those who want, but for those who can”.
This article was written and published by Cameroon News Agency
Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the US, recently paid a historic trip to three African countries: Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal in her pursuit of strengthening US-Africa relations. Cameroon, however, was not included in her itinerary. Had she visited Cameroon, it would have brought immense advantages to both countries.
As the World’s 11th largest Francophone country, Cameroon is a great mediator for the US to take a deep step into the Francophone African world. The US Embassy in Cameroon actively encourages trading and investment, but the US’s influence in French-speaking Africa is still far behind its presence in the Anglophone countries, which could be remedied by strong visits like Harris’s. By visiting Cameroon, she would be able to interact with large numbers of people, conduct congresses and issues joint statements (which she did while in Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal), which would help her strengthen the bilateral ties between Cameroon and the US.
Despite being an important part of Africa, Cameroon sometimes experiences doubt and misunderstanding in terms of democratic values, due to its rather complicated sociopolitical situation. It is true that there is conflict in the English-speaking regions, and the freedom of the press is limited in some areas. However, many progressive attempts are also seen in Cameroon, such as the 2019 creation of special administrative regions with relatively autonomous governments, or oil and gas partnership signed recently between the US and Cameroon. Therefore, had Harris visited the country, she would have seen the positive side of the nation, compared to other countries in the region, and her presence would show the support and attention of the US to the nation.
Additionally, she would carry out different programs and activities related to education, economy and health. Her visit could have given a great opportunity to create more public-private partnership in the economy. Economic connections between the US and Cameroon are currently limited, and such partnership could further expand trade and foreign investment, benefitting the people of both countries. Health and education initiatives could also have been implemented, such as the provision of materials or technical advice and training that would enormously help the people of Cameroon to pursue their health and education goals with the help of the US.
Having Vice President Kamala Harris’s presence in Cameroon would have been a great honor for the nation, both for political and economic reasons. It would have shown that the US is giving extra attention to the circumstances of the country by considering its particularities, and, as a result, it could have opened the doors of mutual understanding and enriched connections between the two entities.