President Paul Biya, who at 85 is Africa’s oldest head of state, declared mid-July that he would run for yet another term during the October 2018 elections after being in power for 35 years already. This news comes at a time of worsening violent conflicts in the Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions. In the near term, the escalating secession crisis is likely to become an even  bigger security threat to the country than Boko Haram in the North.

Impact on country risk

This conflict has been building up for decades and has its roots in the colonial era and the formation of an independent unitary state. About one fifth of the population lives in the two Anglophone regions bordering Nigeria which contain important oil reserves and the bulk of its cocoa and coffee productions. The recent conflict started at the end of 2016 with demonstrations by English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers protesting against marginalisation and discrimination by the French-speaking majority. These protests were met with a violent crackdown by security forces that further nourished demands for an independent state. While brutal repression by security forces continued, separatist militants are also being accused of committing atrocities against security forces and against civilians suspected of supporting the government. As a result of this spiralling violence, an estimated 160,000 people have been displaced since December 2017 and more than 20,000 have fled into Nigeria. Due to the limited accessibility of the region, the number of fatalities remains unclear.

President Biya is unlikely to consider negotiating with secessionist groups over bigger autonomy. Instead, additional troops and weaponry are likely to be deployed to secure major towns in the run-up to the presidential elections in October, planned to be disrupted by secessionist militants. Still, Biya is very likely to win the elections as both the Constitutional Council and the electoral commission are dominated by his allies while opposition parties are internally fractured and unable to agree on a single candidate to lead a coalition. As the entire regime is built around Biya’s personal power, he is expected to plan a managed succession by the polls of 2025. However, his age, together with rising instability across the Cameroonian territory and growing domestic and international criticism over his rule and approach to the Anglophone crisis, might disturb this strategy. In the short term, the IMF could decide to delay disbursements of funds under the financial support programme on which Cameroon is reliant to cover near-term financing needs. Due to unfavourable commodity price movements, Cameroon has been experiencing more budgetary pressure expected to deteriorate due to growing security spending, lower economic activity and pre-election patronage hindering fiscal consolidation. In conclusion, Cameroon’s short-term and medium- to long-term political risk outlook is negative. Credendo’s political violence risk classification for Cameroon is in category 5/7 today but could be downgraded if the situation was to further deteriorate.

Analyst: Louise Van Cauwenbergh – l.vancauwenbergh@credendo.com