An article Friday about Cameroonian President Paul Biya should have said his country was under one-party rule at the time of an attempted coup in 1984. Biya's government recently authorized creation of a multi-party system. (Published 5/5/91)
Students from Cameroon said they will protest Sunday when the University of Maryland's Eastern Shore campus awards an honorary degree to the president of their West African country.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree, is accused by the students of violating the human rights of his political opponents.
"We will picket at the commencement . . . because of the corruption, the embezzlement . . . the jailing of people without reason," said Ernest Ehabe, an organizer of the Cameroonian Students Association in the United States.
Officials at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a small, traditionally black institution in rural Somerset County, shrugged at the protest threat, saying they will go ahead with the award.
University President William P. Hytche said school administrators had "cleared the idea" of awarding Biya a degree with both U.S. and Cameroonian diplomats.
"We went through all the hoops," he said in a telephone interview.
The decision to confer an honorary degree on Biya stemmed from a five-year $7.8 million agricultural research agreement between the Maryland school and Cameroon to increase production of yams and others root crops, Hytche said. The research program is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Cameroon.
The Cameroonian students' planned protest marks the second time in a week that a Maryland public college has encountered controversy over an honorary degree intended for an African head of state.
Coppin State College in Baltimore scrapped plans to present a degree to Maj. Gen. Justin Lekhanya, military ruler of the southern African kingdom of Lesotho, after news stories disclosed his alleged ties to the white-ruled South African government and his fatal shooting of a Lesotho student.
Coppin officials said they had been unaware of the allegations. Lekhanya was deposed Tuesday in a bloodless coup.
University officials also said they were unaware of claims by Amnesty International that there was widespread abuse of political prisoners in Cameroon after a coup attempt against Biya in 1984.
A high-ranking State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said the Biya government imposed harsh controls on Cameroon after the coup attempt, suspending most political parties and torturing and killing some political prisoners.
But the U.S. official said Biya, pushed by the United States, has recently released all remaining prisoners, reinstituted 17 political parties and called for parliamentary elections this year.
Meanwhile, Ehabe said he hopes to organize 1,000 Cameroonian students for Sunday's protest. A senior majoring in political science at Bowie State University, he said most Cameroonians in this country are concentrated in the Washington, New York and Boston areas.
A State Department official said 4,000 to 6,000 Cameroonian students are in the United States. Their California-sized country has about 11 million people.
Ehabe said Cameroonians, a diverse population of 200 tribes formerly under French, British and German colonial control, are skeptical of Biya's promises. "He came in under the pretext of reform," he said, "but things are different now."
Biya, who is in this country to promote business and tourism, is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Monday.
Clayton Yeutter, chairman of the Republican National Committee and former secretary of agriculture, is also scheduled to receive an honorary degree at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, a land grant institution specializing in agricultural sciences.