Why is there a Chinese police car patrolling the streets of Douala, Cameroon ?
Residents of Douala, Cameroon took several photos of a police car with Mandarin writing on it in January. Locals said that they have seen the vehicle, driven by Cameroonian police officers, in a neighbourhood with a large number of Chinese businesses on several occasions since late 2022. Our team decided to investigate, to find out where this vehicle came from.
On January 12, a photo of a vehicle was published on the "Nzui Manto Yi sep sep" Facebook page along with the caption (in French): "[Cameroonian President] Paul Biya’s regime has sold Cameroon to China. [...] Chinese police patrol Akwa, the Chinese business district [in Douala, Cameroon]."
In this photo, you can see the word “police” written in French and Mandarin on the back door of the vehicle. There’s a logo on the front door that seems to include both the Cameroonian and Chinese flags as well as the letters "CCPCCCC". There’s also writing in Mandarin that translates roughly as the "Centre for cooperation between the Chinese community and the police of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cameroon.”
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to several Douala residents, who told us that they had seen this vehicle several times since late 2022 in the Akwa neighbourhood, home to a number of Chinese businesses. Locals further told us that they always saw Cameroonian police inside.
On January 30, one Douala resident sent our team four photos showing what looks to be the same vehicle that is featured in the original post. You can see the same logo on the back door as well as the word “police” written in French. The only difference between these images and the first is that you can no longer see the word “police” written in Mandarin.
However, it is likely the same vehicle in both the post from January 12 and these recent pictures because the back door is damaged in exactly the same spot.
‘Two Cameroonians in police uniforms were in the vehicle'
Franck (not his real name) took the four photos sent to our team. He wanted to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals by the Cameroonian authorities.
I took these photos around 8am on January 30. There were two Cameroonians dressed in police uniforms in the vehicle. They stopped the car and one of them, who I recognised, went into a shop to buy a case for his phone. Then, they left again. This all happened in Douala, on Galliéni Street, near the Ancien Troisième market. In the area, there are a lot of cellphone shops.
Since December, I’ve seen this vehicle in the area on several occasions, each time with Cameroonian police on board, never Chinese. As for the officers who I saw on January 30, I have seen them in a “classic” Cameroonian police vehicle as well.
I’m not happy to see a vehicle with Chinese writing on it circulating in Cameroon. I don’t think that a Cameroonian police vehicle could circulate in China.
I thought that this vehicle was here to dissuade those who attack the Chinese. In January, one of them was assaulted and, the next day, I saw this car circulating in the Ancien Troisième market, scanning the area and looking at security cameras.
Is this vehicle being used to protect the Chinese population in Douala?
Our team spoke to a number of people who, like Franck, believe that the vehicle is there to protect people of Chinese origin living in Douala.
“Maybe China is giving money to the Cameroonian police to assure their security. For me, it isn’t a problem, especially because that could also help ensure the security of Cameroonians,” said Julio, a resident who has seen the car circulating himself.
The insecurity felt by Chinese people living in Cameroon is well-documented.
“The Chinese government is more and more concerned with the security of its nationals in Cameroon, especially shopkeepers. During a visit by the Chinese president in 2007, Chinese nationals asked for an audience with him to complain about the frequent aggressions that they had experienced,” reads this report (translated from French) by the French Institute for International Relations published in June 2022.
Cameroonian police tight-lipped about the topic
Our team reached out to Joyce Mandeng, who is the communications officer for the Cameroonian police. She didn’t want to comment but said that the police hadn’t gotten a single complaint about the topic and that the vehicle in the images didn’t look like Cameroonian police cars [Editor’s note: which are generally dark blue].
The communications officer at the regional security delegation of the Littoral region – where Douala is located – did not respond to our questions either.
The journalists from the Cameroonian media outlet Data Cameroon were able to get some information from the Akwa police station where one officer told them, “It’s just one car. It patrols the Douche [Editor’s note: an area in Akwa] day and night. This vehicle escorts Chinese shopkeepers when they need to make transfers at banks.”
The officer said that China provided the vehicle to the Cameroonian authorities to help protect the safety of its nationals and that the officers in the car are from Central police station n°1. However, no one from that station responded to Data Cameroon’s inquiries.
The Chinese Embassy in Cameroon says they are 'not aware of this case'
Our team contacted the Chinese Embassy in Cameroon, who told us that they were “not aware of this case", adding: "China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, strictly observed international law and respected the judicial sovereignty of all countries. The Chinese police have not carried out any actions or set up any facilities in Cameroon."
‘It looks like China is trying to develop something similar to what they do in South Africa'
Jing-Jie Chen is a researcher at the international NGO "Safeguard Defenders", which published a report in 2022 about the police stations that China has set up in other countries illegally, in an attempt to control its nationals abroad.
For the time being, Safeguard Defenders hasn’t published anything about Africa but Chen has done some of his own digging into the matter:
In South Africa, because of the long-term insecurity, there are actually several [co-operation centres between local police and the Chinese community], in places where Chinese people live, for example in KwaZulu-Natal. There are at least nine in South Africa as of 2017, and they have been expanding.
The curious thing over here is that it’s managed by the Chinese Chambers of Commerce or the business unions from China, with the support of the embassy and the consulates. And the local police chiefs in local districts seem to be also happy with their existence: this is something particular, different from the reports that we published.
When I was doing my research about Cameroon, it seems to be something a bit new, and I don’t really know how it functions. But since there are many centres like this in South Africa, they can be easy to replicate in other places in Africa.
The "CCPCCCC" on the vehicle in Douala could stand for "China-Cameroon Police Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cameroon".
We reached out to Weng Mingfa, the president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cameroon. The name of this organisation appears on the logo of the mysterious car sighted in Douala. However, he didn’t respond to our questions.