It is not unusual for Equatorial Guinea to seal its border with Cameroon. But a plan to build a solid border wall has Cameroonians fuming and questions swirling over whether curbing illegal migration is the real motive.
When word of the border wall reached the Cameroonian capital Yaounde at the end of July, army chief Rene Claude Meka promptly set out to tour the 180-kilometer (111-mile) stretch.
On the Equatoguinean side, locals had been informed that the border wall was intended to keep out West Africans wanting to enter the country without authorization.
Meka talked on state radio of an “encroachment” and “expansionist ambitions” that would not be tolerated, and anger began building among Cameroon’s citizens. Reports of officials in Equatorial Guinea laying demarcation beacons near the town of Kye-Ossi made matters worse.
Wall ‘would disrupt trade’
When the government of Cameroon summoned Equatorial Guinea’s ambassador Anastasio Asumu Mum Munoz to explain, he confirmed the plan. Munoz, however, dismissed Meka’s allegation of enroachment and reports of demarcation as misleading.
DW correspondent Moki Kindzeka says people in Cameroon are “very very angry” over the plan. Many regard Equatorial Guinea as a key business destination and young Cameroonians in particular travel there to seek jobs. Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea reports double-digit annual economic growth.
“I feel very bad because goods will not come again to Cameroon and farmers won’t sell again in Equatorial Guinea. What are they expected to do with their goods?” Kome Pascal, a cross-border merchant, told DW.
Pascal sells foods and building materials in Gabon, where he buys wine for resale in Cameroon. Cameroon is a gateway for traders across central and western parts of Africa. It has measures in place to screen those wanting to exit its borders. In August 2019 alone, authorities have so far arrested more than 100 Togolese, Burkinabe, Ghanaian and Nigerian nationals who were bound for Equatorial Guinea and Gabon without the necessary documents.
Behind the wall
The political instability in Cameroon in recent years has fueled the movement of people across borders to places such as Equatorial Guinea.
One Cameroonian woman who spoke to DW predicted that a border wall would slow economic growth in the two countries. “But Cameroon will suffer most because it will be difficult for business people to import goods.”
Equatorial Guinea has often accused Cameroon of letting its citizens and West Africans cross into its territory illegally.
The two nations are members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC). A border wall would undermine Equatorial Guinea’s role in the six-member bloc which agreed to scrap visas in 2017.
Political analysts suggest there may be more to the border wall plan than meets the eye.
“There was a problem in Equatorial Guinea because there was a coup, then the government had to protect itself and said it was suspending the visa-free agreement,” said Christian Mbock, a lecturer at the National University of Equatorial Guinea. “It is a complex situation.”
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in power for 40 years, with his son Teodorin Obiang as deputy. Obiang is ranked as one of the wealthiest heads of state and is often compared to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Security has been a major priority for Obiang since a widely publicized international coup bid in 2004. The foiled attempt to unseat him involved a web of mercenaries and financiers from Britain, the US and Spain to South Africa, Zimbabwe and other places. Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British prime minister was among those implicated.
In December 2017, dozens of foreign nationals were arrested on weapons charges at the border in Equatorial Guinea. The government said they were plotting to destabilize the country.
Their nationalities were given as Chadian, Central African and Sudanese. They were carrying rocket launchers, rifles and a stockpile of ammunition.
In the wake of the incident, Equatorial Guinea sealed its border with Cameroon for six months.