By Delmas Tsafack, Ph.D. & Francis Tazoacha ( Download pdf version)
The Military Agreement of April 2022 Between Cameroon and Russia: What is the Impact on Relations Between Cameroon and its Western Partners?
On April 12, 2022, Cameroon and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement for five years. This agreement is signed in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Western countries are against Russia and her “allies.” The signing of such an agreement appeared to be an affront to Cameroon’s Western partners supporting Ukraine. The signing of the agreement was also part of the Russian strategy in sub-Saharan Africa as Moscow seems to be positioning herself as a major player in counter-terrorism in Africa, thus multiplying agreements with African countries.
Between 2017 and 2021, Moscow signed military cooperation agreements with all the G5 Sahel countries. The signing of the agreement between Cameroon and Russia has been the subject of many debates about the timing. The most recent agreement with Cameroon has raised concern in many Western countries and France in particular. What could be the consequences of the signing of this agreement on relations and military cooperation between Cameroon and its Western partners?
In a prospective approach, this article proposes hypotheses on the consequences of the signing of the military agreement between Cameroon and Russia. The agreement is a renewal between the two countries (I), but this renewal risks arousing hostile reactions from Cameroon’s Western partners (II), currently at enmity with Russia.
I. An Agreement That is Part of the Continuation of Military Ties Between the Two Countries
The signing of the military agreement between Cameroon and Russia in the middle of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just a coincidence with the event in question. The Cameroonian authorities argued that the agreement was not a provocation but a renewal of their military and technical cooperation agreement signed in 2015. It was planned to be renewed in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused a postponement.
The signing of this agreement could be based on the security situation that the country has been experiencing for several years and the disengagement of the main Western partners. In 2020, the United States, one of Cameroon’s main defense partners, decided to reduce its military aid to Cameroon because, according to them, the human rights situation in the country had deteriorated. The aid of about $17 million intended for the purchase of military equipment that the United States was to send to Cameroon was also frozen.
Faced with this disengagement, other partners, including Russia, were possible options for Cameroon. To fight the terrorist sect Boko Haram, Russia provided Cameroon with advanced military equipment. In 2015, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Cameroon was received by the Cameroonian president. Russia had promised Cameroon sophisticated weapons, heavy artillery, missiles, air protection systems, and armored vehicles to guarantee her security.
II. Anticipating the Reaction of Cameroon’s Western Partners
When the military agreement between Cameroon and Russia was published, Cameroon’s Western partners did not react publicly to protest. Events such as the United States granting an 18-month “temporary protection” status to Cameroonians fleeing the multiple crises in Cameroon and most of the Anglophone regions can be interpreted as an immediate reaction by Washington. This was published only three days (April 15, 2022) after the agreement was signed. It is known that this act of the U.S. Federal Government had long been demanded by lobbyists of the Anglophone cause but had not received a favorable opinion until the approval of this temporary protection.
There is a growing fear in the West that the Russian private security group Wagner will invade African countries and reduce the Western influence in those countries. According to Article 2 of the military agreement, areas of cooperation include “interaction in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy activities.” This provision allows Cameroon to invite the Russian military to assist in the fight against Boko Haram and Anglophone separatists, who are sometimes considered by the Cameroonian government as terrorist groups.
To counter Russia’s return to Africa, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a bill to “direct the Secretary of State to develop and submit to Congress a strategy and implementation plan outlining U.S. efforts to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its proxies in Africa.” In this proposal, the U.S. lawmakers believe that the United States should determine how to hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in this malign influence and activities. This is a sign that African states that sign defense agreements with Russia will now be under intense scrutiny by the United States, especially when these agreements infringe on their interests.
Another plausible hypothesis of Western reaction may be the torpedoing of the process of bringing the defense agreements into force. Since no Western reaction is made public, these countries can put pressure on the Cameroonian government not to ratify the agreement and thus hinder its entry into force. Article 15 of the agreement expressly states that “this Agreement (…) shall enter into force 30 days after receipt through diplomatic channels of the last written notification concerning the completion by the Parties of the required internal procedures.” This provision shows that the agreement will only enter into force after the parliaments of both countries have voted on it and the Heads of State have ratified it and sent it through diplomatic channels.
The Cameroonian parliamentary session that directly followed the signing of the agreement was that of June 2022. During this session, the government did not submit the agreement to the parliament for vote and then to promulgation by the President of the Republic. The failure to present this agreement to parliament in June can be interpreted as Cameroon’s reluctance to face pressure from Western partners. After the explanation by Cameroon’s president at the press conference with the French president, the agreement can easily be sent to the parliament for a vote in the next sessions.
Ratification of the military agreement between Cameroon and Russia could lead to a change in the position of Cameroon’s Western partners on the crises the country is experiencing. If the interests of Cameroon’s Western partners are threatened by this agreement, the problem of Anglophone separatism could be brought to the table of the United Nations Security Council by these countries.
Ratification of the agreement by Cameroon could lead Western countries, in this case, France and the United States, to reduce their support in the fight against terrorism in Cameroon. By signing this agreement in Moscow amid the war in Ukraine, Cameroon can attract the enmity of Western partners insofar as all countries tacitly or explicitly support Russia in its “special military operation” in Ukraine and present themselves as enemies. The signing of this agreement may lead Westerners to interpret Cameroon’s absence from the UN General Assembly vote on Ukraine and its abstention from the Human Rights Council as support for Russia’s military special operation.