Fighting Covid-19: Cameroonians Clamour for Closure of Borders

“Close the borders, Mr Minister…what if we isolate our country from the rest of the world…it is not as if Cameroon will lose anything if the borders are closed…shut the borders and lockdown the entire country!” These are some of the reactions in response to the confirmation of a fifth case of Covid-19 in Cameroon.

Cameroonians are clamouring for the closure of its borders since the cases recorded thus far, have been imported into the country.


What Closing the Borders Entails

Cameroon is a Central African country, situated in the armpit of Africa, thus a country with a long coastline, spanning three of its ten regions.

She is therefore bordered by land, sea and air.

Closing the borders demands restricting movement by air, land and sea across the borders…. A complex situation it seems, especially in relation to the land borders since interactions at this level are more of intercultural with families living across the borders.

What the Law Says

A Specialist in International Relations and Development Cooperation, Robert Afuh Tayimlong, throws light on what the law says in relation to closing borders.

“By virtue of its sovereignty, a state has the right in international law to close its borders at any given point in time. Under normal circumstances, what that means is, another state party cannot tell the state what to do within the confines of its territory. However this principle can be absolute or relative, depending on the power and capacity of the state to deal with or succumb to international pressure. The age-old legal principle of state sovereignty is enshrined in Article 2(1) of the United Nations Charter,” he explains.

The international relations expert further says, “The primary responsibility of the protection of citizens rests on the state. This is enshrined in the 2005 United Nations World Summit Outcome in the principle of “Responsibility to Protect”. While the principle relates to the primary responsibility of the state to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, it also does not exclude the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens from epidemics and pandemics. Going by this principle, therefore, if a state establishes that foreign aliens coming into its territory are carriers of the Coronavirus and therefore pose a threat to the health and wellbeing of its citizens, it is its responsibility to take all available and possible measures to protect its citizens. This may include closure of international borders within a time frame deemed necessary for the containment of the pandemic. A state may as well assess that there is no immediate need for border closure if its healthcare system has the capacity to respond to any epidemic.”

Robert Afuh then warns that failure to close borders may be accompanied by internal political backlash if it happens that the virus takes a toll on the health and wellbeing of a great number of citizens and a high death rate.

It is also worth mentioning that, international political pressure may come when the closure of borders between otherwise friendly and allied nations is viewed as an act which contravenes the promise of globalisation and international cooperation, including the free movement of persons, goods and services. In this case however, the closure of borders is health related.

Way Forward

At press time, the Government of Cameroon is yet to take any action in relation to the country’s borders.

In the meantime, many await the report from the CAF Medical Commission that visited Cameroon from 14th to 15th March 2020 in relation to Cameroon hosting the 2020 CHAN.

Eleanor Ayuketah Ngochi

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