Contributed by Nkafu Gabriel
Last week, the United States President Donald Trump wrote to congress, informing the house of his intent to suspend Cameroon as a beneficiary sub-Saharan African country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
According to the US President, this suspension has been provoked by gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, said to have been committed by the security forces of Cameroon. The statement from Donald Trump to Congress states clearly that “Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the government of Cameroon, Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding persistent human rights violations being committed by Cameroonian security forces. These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.”
Donald Trump adds that in addition to his termination of the designation of Cameroon as a beneficiary sub-Saharan African country under the AGOA as of January 1. 2020, he will continue to assess whether the Government of Cameroon engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, in accordance with the AGOA eligibility requirements.
This is what has been making waves across the country for days now but many have been asking to know what this AGOA is all about and what implication its suspension will have on Cameroon. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was signed into law by US former President Bill Clinton in 2000 with the objective of expanding US trade and investment with sub-Saharan Africa, to stimulate economic growth, to encourage economic integration, and to facilitate sub-Saharan Africa’s integration into the global economy.
The AGOA Act establishes the annual US sub-Saharan African Economic Cooperation Forum known as the AGOA Forum. This forum promotes a high level dialogue on trade and investment related issues. Amongst other privileges, AGOA allows virtually all marketable goods produced in AGOA eligible countries to enter the US market duty free. This expands the benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences program. If Cameroon eventually gets suspended in January 2020, Cameroon will be stripped off all these benefits.
Reacting to the decision, the Cameroon government through its Minister of Communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi said it is unfair to accuse defense and security forces of acts of human rights violation given the atrocities committed by separatist fighters in the North West and South West regions. Rene Emmanuel Sadi further described the decision as attacks against Cameroon which reflect a desire to weaken its institutions and undermine the self-confidence of the defense and security forces in their mission to restore order and preserve the territorial integrity of Cameroon.
The Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji has also said if there is someone to be blamed for rights violations, it should be the secessionist and not the army considering that, according to him, the army has been providing humanitarian, medical and educational assistance to victims of the crisis.
Former US Ambassador to Africa, Herman Cohen has hinted that more sanctions from the US could be underway if a negotiated settlement to the insurgency in the Anglophone regions is not reached.