Uncategorized

From Russia With Gas

Syria
Russian troops on patrol in Syria 

Cameroon has resisted foreign interference of any form in the Anglophone Crisis, but Russia is prowling in the wings. Here’s why: 

The famous £1.5 billion British New Age gas deal, announced to great fanfare by the then-International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, has slowly been rumbling along in the background. The deal concerned the development of the offshore Etinde gas field, located off the coast of the Southwest region of Cameroon. London-based New Age (African Global Energy) Ltd. has an interesting history, being backed by Och-Ziff, a US hedge fund that has previously paid over $400 million to settle bribery suits following an investigation from the US government- after bribing officials in various African countries to the tune of some $100 million. While there is no evidence to suggest that the same occurred with the Etinde gas deal, it does potentially hint at a pattern of behaviour.

What is forgotten, however, is that whilst New Age has a 37.5% stake, and Bowleven has a 25% stake, Russian firm Lukoil also has a 37.5% stake in the Etinde field.

In the past few years, Russia has extended significant efforts towards increasing its presence and influence in Africa, particularly in Central Africa. Positing itself as an alternative to the West, and particularly to the former colonial powers , Putin’s Russia has almost imperceptibly moved in to a position of power. Far away from the goal-tied investments of the west and their vocal concern for human rights, and differing from the financial might of China, Russia has found success with the export of military muscle and natural resource development. Whilst exporting arms and training military units is part and parcel of trade and diplomacy, Russia has also developed a habit of leaving ‘little green men’ across the region- often mercenaries working for the Russian PMC ‘Wagner Group’, which itself has ties to the Russian regime. Assumedly part of Russia’s hybrid warfare approach, as used to great success in Ukraine, the Wagner Group have been involved in Sudan, the Central African Republic, Madagascar, Libya and Mozambique. Russia’s approach is effectively tailor-made to support the strongmen of Africa.

CAR POster
A Poster Praising Russian/CAR Military Cooperation. (Sebastian Shukla/CNN)

Why is this relevant to the Anglophone Crisis?

Firstly, the Wagner Group’s involvement has been associated with the presence of Russian natural resource companies, including Lukoil. In the CAR, Wagner Group troops were used to guard lucrative mines, and similar has been reported elsewhere.

Secondly, the Russian Ambassador Anatoliy Bashkine met with the Cameroonian government in early March. The Russian ambassador came out strongly against humanitarian intervention in the Anglophone regions, which is significant in and of itself- but it was the fine detail that is the most interesting. It was announced that Russian Lukoil was negotiating the reconstruction of the SONARA refinery in Limbe, which was devastated by fire in mid-2019. Russia will thus likely have people on the ground in the Anglophone regions in the coming months, as they look to bring the SONARA refinery back online.

Thirdly, New Age (African Global Energy) recently signed a Letter of Intent with Victoria Oil & Gas for the supply of gas from the Etinde field. Again, it is the fine print that is interesting here, as Victoria state that:to access Etinde gas, GDC will need to install a 60 km high-pressure gas pipeline from Limbe to Bekoko where it would connect with the existing low-pressure pipeline network which operates throughout Douala‘, before hinting at gas infrastructure towards the towns of Tiko, Muntengene, Buea and others. Whilst there is a major BIR base at Limbe, protecting such linear infrastructure (and its development) is going to pose a serious security challenge for the Cameroonian government. Even Limbe has seen its share of violence during the crisis so far, and a high-profile gas pipeline is an obvious strategic target for non-state armed groups. Events that would likely increase instability – such as the death of the serving president of Cameroon – would raise the risk of this operation even higher. Already involved at SONARA, and with a significant stake in this development too, it is not hard to imagine which country will be ready to protect its investments and support the government.

Etinde
Early Etinde plans via New Age (African Global Energy) Ltd.

Finally, Russia has been involved in disinformation campaigns in African states, using social media to support the ruling party. Whilst the most detailed instances of these campaigns involved Libya, Mozambique and elsewhere, it is notable that Cameroon was also targeted by a Russian campaign. I have reached out to the author of the study to understand the Cameroon-specific elements of this further.

To conclude, it is evident that Russia has made a major geopolitical shift towards Africa, and Cameroon appears to be the next target in line. Recent developments elsewhere on the continent have shown how Russian investments in unstable areas often come with military muscle attached, relying on the concept of plausible deniability.  Supporting strongmen with military solutions enables Russia to form closer ties with the host nation, whilst reducing the risk to its lucrative investments. In theory, Russia’s approach could increase the profitability of risky conflict zone investments by minimizing disruptions. Thus for Russia, a strongman is their perfect ally, and is one where the West seldom wishes to tread. In Cameroon, it is easy to see exactly why Russia is pushing for closer ties with the Biya regime, and the previously outlined evidence illustrates how this relationship continues to develop.

Ultimately, Lukoil’s Etinde field investment and the repair of the SONARA plant are located in the contested Southwest region, and on the balance of evidence, that is why I would not be surprised if some Russian ‘little green men’ appear around Limbe in the months and years ahead.

 

 

Uncategorized

Cameroon Receives New Croatian Rifles

Images of the military of Cameroon on both exercises and operations reveal that they have recently taken delivery of an unknown quantity of Croatian HS Produkt VHS-2 assault rifles. The VHS-2 is an advanced bullpup design which has previously been evaluated by the US and French militaries, and is the standard issue weapon of the Croatian army. The rifles are also used by the armies of Togo and Iraq. It is believed that the VHS-2 has been spotted in the hands of troops in the Anglophone regions and also in the Far North.

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It remains to be seen which weapon the VHS-2 will replace, but it continues the military’s love affair with Eastern European weapon systems, with Serbian firm Zastava previously supplying a range of weapons including the M21. From investigations, it appears that the VHS-2 entered service at the very end of 2019 or the start of 2020. The VHS-2 is one of the most modern assault rifle designs on the market.

VHS2

Uncategorized

Concerning Trends: Conflict Spreading & IEDs

I want to draw attention to a series of concerning trends that are being overlooked. These trends worry me, especially when considering the long-term negative trajectory of the Anglophone Crisis.

Conflict Spreading Outside the Anglophone Regions

On Sunday, a rare attack occurred outside the Anglophone Regions. According to reports,  a police station and Gendarmerie post in Galim, West Region. The attack killed at least 8, including two policemen and two gendarmes. Firstly, this is another example of the growing reach, ability,  and confidence of separatist groups. To be able to launch an attack some 4 miles into a neighboring region is not the work of an amateur group of ‘ragtag’ rebels. Furthermore, reports describe both targets being hit simultaneously, which shows how this was a well-coordinated, pre-planned attack. I’ve also read accounts that suggest they were deliberately targeting those areas to retrieve weapons and supplies, and video evidence suggests that they were successful in that aim, retrieving multiple AK-variants, FALs and a Beretta PM12 submachine gun. They also took a quantity of body armour and tactical equipment. I have heard suggestions of the existence of some kind Ambazonian ‘Special Forces’ before, and whilst I still think this is largely propaganda, there is clearly a trusted separatist unit capable of performing more sophisticated raids.

Secondly (and more importantly), by its nature the Anglophone Crisis has been limited to only the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. There have been two previous incursions into the neighboring regions, but those were not as sophisticated as Sunday’s attack. Is this a new stage of the conflict, where cross-border raids become more common? Where (and what) is within reach of such raids? If it does become a new dynamic, how would the populations of the adjacent regions respond?

This could be a really significant shift in the crisis, but only time will tell. It certainly feels different to the previous cross-border incidents. This is something to watch.

The Growing Usage of IEDs

Also on Sunday, the Women’s Day Parade in Bamenda was hit by a brutal bomb attack, carried out by separatist forces. 1 soldier was killed with up to 8 other people wounded. Graphic imagery released of the soldiers in medical facilities reveal terrible, life-changing injuries. Separatists have been developing their IED capability over time, with a few videos showing past training and test attempts. At least one government Toyota was hit by a small mine at one point during an ambush, and more recently (and famously), an armoured convoy was hit by a larger IED earlier in 2020. So this is not a ‘new’ thing, but it is the most successful attack thus far.

IEDs are a powerful, deadly tool, and are a cornerstone of modern insurgency. They act as a force multiplier, and they caused the international coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq to lose hundreds of troops. They accounted for up to 63% of coalition deaths in Iraq by 2007. The stories of British soldiers being killed by IEDs in inadequate ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers will remain etched in the minds of the British defence community for a long time to come. That is the problem with IEDs- they are weapons of terror, and can have a severe political cost. They are indiscriminate weapons, and so will leave anybody in the vicinity- civilian or soldier- dead or with terrible, life-changing injuries. And they can go wrong. That IED planted for an army convoy will still go off if a civilian bus drives over it. That political cost can be both local and international too, as their usage can quickly temper any sympathy from abroad. Boko Haram use IEDs, suicide bombers and the like. Is there a danger of separatist groups becoming not dissimilar to a group they claim to be so different from?

There is also something to be written on the Fulani/Mbororo element, but that will have to wait for another time. 

Uncategorized

PSS Kwen Kidnapping: The Truth Prevails

Despite the release of the 80 or so students at PSS Kwen, very little information has been forthcoming about the circumstances of the incident and their release. This project has always been about the truth and nothing but the truth, and this morning I am pleased to be able to share crucial new evidence that sheds significant light on the incident.

Importantly, the video is confirmed as stemming from this kidnapping incident. Some students are wearing PSS Kwen shirts, whilst others can be matched up to images of the students during their release. Examples of this are shown in the slideshow below the video.

Presented without comment- a video that gets at the heart of both this incident and the Anglophone Crisis as a whole.

Billy Burton

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Uncategorized

The Death of Charles Wesco

Today we learned of the tragic death of Charles Trumann Wesco, an American missionary, near Bamenda, in Northwest Cameroon. Mr. Wesco arrived in the country two weeks ago, working as a missionary with his wife and eight children. The Wesco family initially began their relationship with Cameroon in 2015 during a survey visit, and had arrived only two weeks ago for their latest stint in the country. On a shopping trip to Bamenda, Charles Wesco was struck by a bullet whilst travelling in a Toyota 4×4 with his friend and members of his family, later dying in a local hospital. Initial reports immediately placed the blame on Cameroonian security forces, although this will inevitably be subject to significant debate in the coming days.

Firstly, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the Wesco family, their fellow missionaries and friends in Cameroon, and their wider church family in the United States. There are no words that can alleviate their shock, horror and loss at this time. I take solace in the fact that Mr. Wesco’s journey as a missionary was guided by a profoundly deep calling to serve his lord in Cameroon, and that he was thus where he thought he was needed- and belonged. A family with deeply religious connections, I have no doubt that the Wesco family will find themselves enveloped in the love and healing of their community. For now, though, I wish them nothing but the best in recovering from this traumatic event. This was not your war, not your conflict, and yet it has changed your lives. May you find peace.

The blame game for this incident has already begun. Local sources reported immediately that he had been killed by Cameroonian security forces, however the Cameroonian government have taken the line that he was killed by ‘terrorists’ (separatist fighters) in the region. It is not my place to speculate on what really happened.

What I will say is this:

The Anglophone Crisis has spiralled out of control. Cameroon’s security forces no longer have a firm grip over the region, being challenged across Northwest and Southwest Cameroon by a variety of separatist groups. Their campaign of brutality, littered with clear evidence of significant human rights abuses, has not only alienated the local population but also fuelled the conflict itself. Far from ‘crushing’ the Ambazonian movement, it has invigorated it- given it life, given it blood, created martyrs. Cameroon’s Special Forces, the Israeli-trained and equipped BIR, led a campaign marked by similar abuses against Boko Haram, but now these tactics, similar to a combination of ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘Scorched Earth’ has seen hundreds of villages burnt, hundreds of civilians killed, and sources of food destroyed. Evidence has shown summary executions, torture, and people burned to death. The myriad abuses of Cameroon’s forces are severe enough that they will one day form part of an evidence dossier at an international court.

Whilst Cameroon’s tactics were to crush the Ambazonian movement, instead it has enlarged it, with armed groups increasing both in size and number. Where they once may have found a sympathetic local population, they now find ghost towns and cities where people have fled the violence, either to elsewhere in Cameroon or in neighbouring Nigeria. The Ambazonian armed groups have also become increasingly well-equipped over time, replacing their obsolete ‘Dane Guns’ with weapons captured from Cameroonian troops, with some evidence of arms reaching them from further afield. They do not have the firepower to go toe to toe with Biya’s troops by any means, but they are certainly in a stronger position than they were.

In every village, there is a story of brutality, a tale of death and destruction. If President Biya is not careful, behind every blade of grass he will find a rebel.

At the same time, abuses have also been perpetrated by separatist groups, and these too must be addressed. Whilst in scale they are outweighed by the actions of Cameroonian forces, it is important to recognise that separatist groups have committed acts that would be considered abuses. The enforced closure of schools across the two regions is denying a generation of children an education, and the summary justice dished out to suspected sympathisers must not go unnoticed.

The Anglophone Crisis was once the Anglophone Problem, but now it is an Anglophone War. This represents an absolute failure of Cameroon’s government to address Anglophone concerns in the past, but also that of the international community to put sufficient pressure on Biya’s regime to prevent abuses, or even to attempt to prevent the slide into conflict. The Ambazonian diaspora and NGOs have been calling for international attention and monitoring of the situation, however these calls ultimately went unheeded.

Instead, the Anglophone Crisis has spiralled out of control into a serious conflict that further destabilises the fragile Great Lakes region. The lack of international leadership is nothing short of a disgrace, and had up until this point been measured by South Cameroonian blood- but now a price has been paid in American blood too.

Enough is enough. The time for international dialogue is past- the time for international action is now. It is imperative that the cycle of violence is broken, that aid is allowed to flow to the communities that desperately need it, and that the grievances of the Anglophone population are properly addressed.

In the past I have called for an international, impartial monitoring mission (as supported in theory by the UK) to establish the facts on the ground. I believe that the window of opportunity for this operation has now passed. The situation has deteriorated too much- Peacekeepers and Peacebuilders are now required. The notion of a UN-sponsored independence referendum has been mooted on a few occasions, and this would be a logical step if Cameroon’s government is unwilling to compromise on any form of renewed federalism. Biya’s controversial election has also created discord in the Francophone population, with Maurice Kamto still proclaiming victory- Cameroon is as weak as perhaps it has ever been, and the Anglophone Crisis threatens the integrity of Cameroon itself, as well as the wider region.

There will be masses of media attention over the next few days, as the tragic loss of Charles Wesco will reverberate around every corner of the United States of America, and further afield.

As utterly awful as Wesco’s death is, it is a dreadful indictment of the international community that it took the death of one American to put the Anglophone Crisis on the international agenda- and not the deaths of hundreds of Africans.

Yet again.

Rest in Peace, Charles Wesco. May your legacy be that of righteous peace.

Uncategorized

On the Brink- Escalation Imminent in the Southern Cameroons.

With consistent violent incidents and clashes between separatist fighters and LRC government forces in recent weeks, the Anglophone crisis shows little evidence of calming down. No meaningful diplomatic solution has been attempted by either side, and targeted killings continue to draw the attention of the international media. It is evident that Biya’s military forces are now under the gaze of the world, with the UN and other organizations making statements on the crisis. International action has not followed, however, and so it is imperative that the ACMP, activists on the ground and the wider Ambazonian diaspora continue to ensure that the situation in Cameroon is not ignored.

Today, the Anglophone Crisis Monitoring Project calls for international mediation between the belligerents in order to avoid a major escalation that is possible to follow in the coming months. ACMP has become aware of unconfirmed plans for escalation by an individual separatist organization or organizations that follow the model of successful insurgencies across the world, involving the attacking and destruction of economically important resource sites in the region. Notably, separatists have already attacked multiple sites of political significance- police facilities etc., however economically vital sites such as major infrastructural routes (train lines), pipelines and other facilities would all be vulnerable under such an initiative. This approach is a logical evolution in the strategy of separatist fighters that do not have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with LRC government forces.

Images of Ambazonian separatists continue to show them using hunting rifles and shotguns, together with occasional Kalashnikov rifles or the Serbian derivatives used by Cameroon’s military, including the Zastava M21. Serbian weapons in separatist’s hands are few and have likely been captured from dead Cameroonian soldiers or government facilities. These weapons remain few and far between, however, and traditional hunting rifles are by far the most common weapon type in the hands of separatists. These weapons are militarily obsolete, and despite the best efforts of some separatists, they are not appropriate for a head-on engagement with Cameroonian forces due to the vast disparity in firepower and equipment.

There is an obvious desire within separatist units for more effective and more advanced weaponry, and ACMP has long considered the reality of this prospect to be highly likely for two reasons. Firstly, there are a number of armed groups operating in the region including Boko Haram, from whom it would be possible to buy weapons fairly easily. Secondly, Cameroon shares a long, porous border with both Chad and the Central African Republic, between which it would be relatively easy to move arms shipments. ACMP has been waiting for evidence and confirmation of intelligence that suggested that an arms shipment had been received, which would indicate an imminent escalation of hostilities.

ACMP can today reveal that we believe this to be the case, with a cache of what are believed to be Chinese Type 56 rifles and other derivatives being received by elements that are sympathetic to the Ambazonian cause, complete with ammunition and magazines. Whether they are currently in the region of the Southern Cameroons is currently unknown. These weapons are very common in conflicts across the world, being Chinese-made versions of the Kalashnikov, but they represent a step-change in capability and firepower for separatist ‘restoration forces’. The issue of LRC armoured vehicles remains, however, occasional images of RPGs have also been noted in the use of restoration forces.

ACMP has been warning and lobbying British and European politicians for a considerable amount of time with the regards to the potential for this conflict to accelerate into a much more serious situation approaching a full-on civil war. Despite our efforts, little to no action has been taken on the international stage to begin resolving this crisis. The Cameroonian military continues to commit unlawful targeted killings and other recorded major incidents. Restoration forces continue to attack facilities and individuals with ties to the Cameroonian government.

This is the most dangerous moment in the Anglophone Crisis to date. In response to continued Cameroonian abuses in the region, separatist elements have acquired vastly more effective weapons, and we stand on the precipice of a very serious war developing in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. ACMP again repeats its call for an immediate international observer mission excluding France and other involved parties, together with a diplomatic approach aimed at mediating between the two sides.

The warnings of the ACMP have been left unheeded- and so now we are headed into a new stage of the Anglophone Crisis.

 

 

CyberWarfare, Uncategorized

Cyber Warfare tools in the hands of Biya, activists, journalists targeted?

This is a developing story which we will update if new information becomes available

Unconfirmed reports tell us that the Cameroon regime led by President Paul Biya is using Cyber security tools like FinFisher’s FinSpy to target civilians who are having a critical position against the Francophone regime and / or support the secession of the Anglophone provinces.

As much as there is no proof yet to such allegations, it is publicly known neighbouring countries Gabon and Nigeria did in the past acquire such tools and currently have them available. [1].There is no technical reason as to why Gabon for instance could not share the toolkit with its neighbouring country

FF
Citizen Lab in 2015 did an extensive search on servers where FinFisher could be linked to, and came back with these verified results.

The functionality of the FinSpy suite includes the collection of address book information, calendar and phone call records; collection of files, screen captures, and photos, monitoring geolocation, surreptitious eavesdropping through enabling the victim’s microphone or placing hidden calls; as well as collecting communications and media, files from messenger apps like Line, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, Skype, Facebook, Messenger, Kakao, and WeChat[2]

Gamma International / Lench IT, the company behind FinFisher says in a product brochure on FinSpy, published in 2014 the following: [3]

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world since many years and valuable intelligence has been acquired about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system or mobile phone it can beremotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.

Usage Example 1: Intelligence Agency

FinSpy was installed on several computer systems inside Internet Café’s in critical areas in order to monitor them for suspicious activity, especially Skype communication to foreign individuals. Using the Webcam, pictures of the Targets were done while they were using the system.

Usage Example 2: Organized Crime

FinSpy was covertly deployed on the mobile phones of several members of an Organized Crime Group. Using the GPS trackingdata and silent calls, essential information could be gathered from every meeting that was done by this group.
As many of us could argue such tools can be useful in the hands of legitimate and democratic governments to assure the safety of their citizens and protect them against organised crime or terrorism, this argument becomes harder to defend if these tools enter the hands of dictators who most surely will primarily use them against political opponents without any democratic or legal oversight.
Even more worryingly is a statement in this same brochure claiming that as of 2014, a new feature is capable of stealing the private PGP key of breached individuals rendering anonymous communication of activists and Journalists impossible.
Of course this would greatly play in the cards of the users of such spyware because international media depend on reliable sources on the ground for their reporting.
With respect to this, an apparent statement from Peter Essoka on July 12th, who is in charge of Camerouns Conseil National de la Communication (CNC) the overseeing body of all media outlets and Journalists active in Cameroon, according to certain news sites, being cited as stating:
Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 12.17.31
This is a rather open threat to Journalists reporting on atrocities committed by the military of Cameroon.
Another toolset made available to customers is FinSpy Mobile, with interesting features as well according to their brochure:
FinSpy Mobile has been giving successful results to Government Agencies who gather information remotely from Target Mobile Phones.
When FinSpy Mobile is installed on a mobile phone it can be remotely controlled and monitored no matter where in the world the Target is located.

Usage Example 1: Intelligence Agency

FinSpy Mobile was deployed on BlackBerry mobile phones of several Targets to monitor all communications, including SMS/MMS, Email and BlackBerry Messenger.

Usage Example 2: Organized Crime

FinSpy Mobile was covertly deployed on the mobile phones of several members of an Organized Crime Group(OCG). Using the GPS tracking data and silent calls, essential information could be gathered from every meeting that was heldby this group.
With such a toolset, which we know is available to two neighbouring countries namely Gabon and Nigeria, it would be very easy for any individual of an oppressive regime to target any (suspected) opposition member or, in case of unregistered SIM, simply knowing the (rough) location of a person or group of persons. This could explain the setting ablaze of houses and areas as recently seen.

Another pointer towards the Cameroon government at least being very aware of the possibilities of tracking user behaviour is the fact that they are already  since at least 2013 in possession of BlueCoat devices on their public network, as discovered byCitizenLab[4]

While these BlueCoat appliances themselves are designed to do Deep Packet Inspection if traffic over the net, to quickly see who is using which application and mainly used to enforce company policy rules on web-access, the use by oppressive governments to cut certain areas off Internet and check who uses which application for what without democratic oversight is a different issue.
It would be a very positive move if the international community would put pressure on Gamma International / Lench IT to stop providing these tools and / or support to dubious regimes which could use it to oppress its own people.

[1] https://citizenlab.ca/2015/10/mapping-finfishers-continuing-proliferation/

[2] https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2018/05/FinFisher-changes-tactics-to-hook-critics-AN.pdf

[3]https://wikileaks.org/spyfiles4/database.html#product_1[3]https://wikileaks.org/spyfiles4/database.html#product_1

[4]https://citizenlab.ca/storage/bluecoat/CitLab-PlanetBlueCoatRedux-FINAL.pdf