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Nov 8, 2019

At first glance, it would seem that the Trump administration’s decision to revoke Cameroon’s free-trade privileges would be counterproductive at this time when the U.S. is battling hard against the Chinese for influence in Africa. After all, Washington sanctioning Youndé on human rights plays right into the hands of the Chinese who say this is exactly the kind of thing they would never do.

But it’s not that simple.

President Trump notified Congress last week that he will terminate Cameroon’s preferential trade access to the U.S. market as of January 1 due to “persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

The White House decision prompted a bit of head-scratching as to why an administration that has actively avoided making human rights a priority in its foreign policy would now, suddenly, turn around and take an action like this on human rights grounds. In Cameroon, they think they know why and it has nothing to do with protecting human rights and everything to do with China.

In an interview with CNN, Cameroon’s Minister Delegate at the Ministry of External Relations Felix Mbayu bluntly accused the United States of being disingenuous about its concern for human rights. “The simple truth is that the U.S. is unhappy with a certain stance we take with China,” he said.

University of Calgary political science instructor Chris W. J. Roberts is an expert on Cameroonian foreign policy and the author of a new article in Foreign Policy magazine about the decision to strip Yaoundé of its trading privileges with the United States. He joins Eric & Cobus this week to discuss these latest U.S. sanctions and what role, if any, China played in this latest policy shift.

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