By Julius A. Agbor, PhD
The Biya government recently passed a bill through the lower chamber of parliament instituting the death penalty on anyone guilty of terrorism. Article 2(1) of the law defines terrorism as any act or threat with consequence being death, bodily or material harm to humans and the environment alike. Falling within the scope of terrorism are all acts undertaken with the aim of intimidating the population, instigating fear, or coercing the victim, the government or national and international organizations to take certain actions or renounce from taking a particular position. The law also characterizes as terrorism, any attempt to disrupt the normal functioning of public services as well as any attempt to incite general uprising among the population.
There are three crucial problems with this law. The first is that it terrorizes the Cameroonian people in that the scope of what is considered terrorism clearly encroaches into the domain of individual liberties and expression. If Cameroon is a democracy, then its citizens have the right to use every peaceful means of expression, including popular uprising, to coerce its government to go in a particular direction. This law forbids that by pronouncing the death penalty on anyone caught instigating Cameroonians to rise up against the government. While most Cameroonians agree on the need to stamp out terror and its perpetrators from the national perimeters, we need to agree on how to go about that. Mr. Biya with his rubber stamp legislature should not have abrogated to themselves, the right to choose the methods of dealing with this worldwide phenomenon. My sense is that Mr. Biya, as cynical as he is, is taking advantage of the present dispensation to legally outlaw protests and potential acts of insurrection.
The second issue is that, Mr. Biya failed to engage the broader Cameroonian fabric (civil society, religious groups and the academia) in discussions on a crucial topicas this and a referendum would have been warranted given the gravity of the sanctions suggested (which are now law). That again suggests that Mr. Biya is not acting in the best interest of Cameroonians but is rather seeking to eternalize his grip on power. The third issue is that Mr. Biya’s government lacks the credibility to implement this law. This is a government with a reputation for infringing civil liberties, cannibalizing opposition leaders and rigging elections. Can such a government be trusted with the will to decipher between a political opponent and a terrorist? Clearly not!
Mr. Biya and his agents must know that even if Cameroonians do not massively revolt against this law, history will judge this government,either in presence or abstentia. Further, Mr. Biya must know that by making peaceful change in Cameroon impossible, he is making violent revolution inevitable.