Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Cameroon It's got gold, timber, oil And strategic ports China wants it. And it will do what it takes to get it. Welcome back to China Uncensored. I'm Chris Chappell. Africa. It has resources. China wants them. And nowhere is that more apparent than in Cameroon. Cameroon one of the breadbaskets of Africa. It's also loaded with diamonds, gold, and oil. Plus, it's strategically located, with several ocean ports the Chinese military would love to have access to. This is Cameroon's “president” is Paul Biya. He's been president for 36 years. Which can only mean one thing: The people love him so much, they keep re-electing him in free and fair elections! And he's only too happy to give the Chinese Communist Party the access to Cameroon it craves. To find out more about China's colonial plans in Cameroon and Africa at large, I sat down with Felix Agbor Nkongho, at the Oslo Freedom Forum. He's the founder and director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa. Thank-you for joining us today Felix. Well thanks for having me. Yeah. So for those people who aren't really familiar with Cameroon, can you tell us a little bit about the political situation there? Cameroon is situated between West and Central Africa, so it's in the middle of these two regions. It's the bread basket of the area. We have a civilian president who's been in power for 36 years. Since the independence of Cameroon we've had two presidents. Cameroon is francophone and anglophone. The francophones are 75% of the population, and the anglophones are 25, English and French. And that sort of ties back to which parts of Cameroon had been colonized by the French and the Germans. Yes it goes back to the British and the French colonizing. That's why you have francophones and anglophones in Cameroon. So when you say "president for 36 years", I'm assuming that's not a fair, democratically elected president. On paper it's a democracy, he has a constitution, he has an executive legislator, and a judiciary, but in reality it's a dictatorship. The elections have never been free and fair, the opposition is always muscled out, the press is never free. The entire process, the electoral commission from [inaudible] to [inaudible] is created by the president in power, and he appoints each and every one who is a member of that committee. You cannot really really bite the finger that feeds you, somebody cannot appoint you and you work against his interests. So I imagine it's not an easy place to be a human rights lawyer. Oh it's really difficult, because the thing about Cameroon is that from the outside it seems to be very peaceful. When you look at the region - Chad, Central African Republic, [inaudible] - all of them have have turbulence, all of them have [inaudible] dictators. Mr Biya seems to be a democrat, so from the outside it's very [inaudible], but when you get into the country you start seeing what is happening. The violations of rights of human rights defenders, the anglophone minorities, the people in the north. So the press is muscled out. So when you get inside the country, that's when you can understand the dictatorship that we have in Cameroon. So I know President Biya has been pushing for closer ties to China. How has that affected the human rights situation in the country? Well our relationship with China dates back. They call it Palais des Congrès, the congress hall in Cameroon was built by the Chinese. A long time ago, more than 20 years ago. It just got burnt a couple of years ago and they promised to fund it. He has been pushing a lot to the East, China and Russia, because these are countries that don't care about human rights record. The West, especially the U.S. and the E.U. they've been [inaudible] on Biya to try to open up, to respect more fundamental freedoms, especially with what is happening in anglophone Cameroon. So he's now looking to the East. China is pumping a lot of money, China is involved, and I think China will be an impediment if we're to have a security counsel resolution on Cameroon. So President Biya would be more interested in taking money from China rather than countries that would have human rights obligations. Yeah that's what he's been doing of late. It's true that he plays his cards in a way that he's still friends with the West, but he's leaning more now to China. Because the accountability issue is not there. So he prefers to take money from China, because China will not care about the killings of the people, China will not care about burning of villages in Cameroon. I know Cameroon is part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, what does China hope to get out of Cameroon? Well China needs the resources from Cameroon. Cameroon has diamonds, Cameroon has oil, Cameroon has timber, gold too. So China is interested in the resources of Cameroon. There's nothing like a free lunch. I know people who criticize the relationship that we had with the West, colonialism and the rest, but China is another colonial power in disguise. China is giving loans, there's a lot of corruption in the contracts, nobody is accountable, there's no transparency, and we are indebted to them a lot. I know at times they will cancel some of the debt, but they are getting enormous resources from us, and Chinese are migrating to Cameroon. They are doing some of the business that local people are supposed to be doing, they are fishing, and there's gradually tension between the Chinese and the Cameroonians. So, Chinese leader Xi Jinping calls it "win-win cooperation", but doesn't sound like this is actually a win for the people of Cameroon. No, from my own perspective it's not a win-win situation. It's not winning for the people of Cameroon. It might be winning for the government and for China. The average Cameroonian is not benefiting a lot. The government cannot account to some of these monies that are given, and it's like mortgaging the destiny of future generations. So it's win-win yes, win for the Chinese government and win for the Cameroonian government, but it's a win-loss for the Cameroonian people. And I know Cameroon is in a very strategic location in the region, and China has shown an interest in a billion dollar port. What's behind that? Well, as you said Cameroon is strategically located. Central Africa region, West Africa, we're bordered to Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, and the Central African Republic. So strategically we are very important. And we have the outlet, we have the ports, we have one in Douala, we have one in Kribi, and I just hear there will be one in Limbe. So the Chinese are interested in Cameroon, they are very interested. A lot of powers are interested in Cameroon, but of late the Chinese are developing a lot of interest. Because also agriculturally Cameroon is very rich, the soil is extremely, extremely rich. So if we are not careful the coming years, Cameroon will be a playground for power politics. Cameroon will be a playground for Chinese interests and Chinese politics. So we talked a bit about it that Cameroon is in a lot of debt to China. How has that affected Cameroon? Well for now, the government is just trying to survive. So they keep on piling debt upon debt. They think that it will postpone their problems because the more they have pressure from the West, the more they're trying to open up the economy, they are now looking towards China, they will pile the debts. Some of the infrastructures that have built, they cannot stand the test of time. And you look at the workers, China brings almost everybody from China to work. So what is the local content, how does that benefit the average Cameroonian? I mean from the laborers, they are brought from China. And even when Cameroonians work there, they don't pay them very well. And the fact that most of them don't communicate in English. The Kumba Mamfe Ekok road that was built by the Chinese leading to Nigeria, I mean I was going to my village, my village is off the road. The instructions on the signs were in Chinese. So a village that would not even understand what they were saying, I did not find any of the instructions in English. So this is something that a government that works for the people, that has the interests of the people at heart would have to take some of these things in consideration. But unfortunately, they don't really care. So the infrastructure they're building is not actually good quality, the loans aren't sustainable, this really doesn't seem like it's benefiting the people [crosstalk] It's not benefiting us, and there's some things that they're doing that will backfire. I remember [inaudible] once that "when you come to Africa and you buy the farms, you buy the lands, and you plant, and the people cannot have food, someday they will rise up". And that is what will happen in Africa, that is what will happen in Cameroon. When they Chinese come with their monies, and they buy huge parcels of land, and plant crops that are exported to China, and the people in Cameroon cannot have food, they will rise up. They will protest. Just imagine that if they had bought land in the English speaking part of the country, and now there's a crisis. How will they have access to those lands? How will they have access to those lands? Because the people also will be like these lands did not benefit us. They probably dealt with the government, they dealt with the chiefs, without the average person benefiting anything. And the quality of their product, it's not really good. Well as you mentioned, China is basically functioning as a new type of colonial power in Cameroon. Is there a sense among the people there, do they understand this, do they know what's happening? They are gradually, gradually coming to terms with it. Initially it was their hatred for the French, they preferred any other person than the French, because of its colonial history. But I think that some people are gradually, gradually seeing that China doesn't speak, they are slowly and gradually and surely taking over control of businesses in the country. People have started rising up, people have started criticizing it, people are complaining in the media. And it will only get worse as things get bad for the country. So Cameroon is billions of dollars in debt to China. But recently though China forgave 78 million dollars of debt. Why was that? Well as I said, there's nothing like a free lunch. They know what they are benefiting from the system. They are trying also to keep Mr Biya in power at all costs. So they will help Mr Biya to stay in power. They provide military software also. Because of the anglophone crisis, they provided some support for humanitarian, to help those who are affected by the crisis. So whatever they are doing is to ensure that their friend stays in power, because they understand that if things were to change, if we have a free and fair election, if we have a real, genuine, democratic government, those contract would be renegotiated. Those terms that they agreed on, Cameroonians would like no, it has to go through parliament, the people have to see it, it has to be more transparent, it has to be a win-win contract from the perspective of the people and not the leadership. The road signs might not have to be in Chinese.