On 8 November, musicians from the Musicians’ Union of Cameroon protested in the capital Yaoundé against the Port of Douala’s refusal to pay copyright royalties to artists.
More than 500 artists are reported to have been beaten with police batons and fists. 63 ended up in jail. Roméo Dika (Vice-President of the International Federation of Musicians) has now being accused of masterminding an insurrection in the country, a crime that could mean life imprisonment and even the death penalty.
This sort of political psychosis is unfortunately common place in President Paul Biya’s Cameroon.
Having enjoyed the fruits of power since 1982, President Biya was re-elected for his sixth term in October 2011 with 78% of the vote. Such a figure might suggest a widely popular President, but Biya has been clever in his manipulation of ethnic identity in the country. The country’s 131st place in the United Nations Human Development Index is testament to his nepotism and mismanagement of the economy.
Biya has created a hostile environment for opposition forces and trade unionism. The legal-bureaucratic framework which has kept Biya in power for six terms, means that a union cannot include workers from both the private and public sector.
The tortuous legal process of attaining a certificate to perform legal trade union activities puts many workers off becoming trade union organisers. Any union seen to be too independent will not be able to attain the required certificates.
The right to strike is also heavily restricted, as arbitration is obligatory for all industrial disputes and workers who ignore this can be easily dismissed.
The arrest of five members of a teachers’ union in 2010 demonstrates the legal straitjacket — they were charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration, and other members were harassed for their involvement.
The accused and their lawyers are often not told when the hearings are taking place; this tactic as well as adjournments of court disorganises and eats into the budgets of the already over-stretched unions.
Whilst Biya has managed to manipulate various groups within Cameroon and opposition remains fragmented, Cameroon’s economy continues to decline and unemployment is growing.
The time is ripe for Cameroon’s opposition groups to unite to struggle for Biya’s overthrow and the seizing of workers’ rights in Cameroon.
Musicians across Africa, particularly hip-hop collectives such as Y’en A Marre in Senegal, are becoming consistent elements of political revolution on the continent.
Cameroonian musicians must take their place in this tradition.
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