September 21, 2023

Henri Etoundi Essomba: From pursuit of priesthood to being Cameroon’s Ambassador to the US

Henri Etoundi Essomba, Cameroon Embassy in Washington D.C. USA, Commons
Henri Etoundi Essomba, Cameroon Embassy in Washington D.C. USA, Commons

Henri Etoundi Essomba has held the position of Cameroon’s ambassador to the United States since he was appointed by President Paul Biya and assumed power in June of 2016.

He has been involved in diplomacy for decades. However, the majority of this experience was in Israel. He was Cameroon’s ambassador to Israel for 17 years before being appointed as Ambassador to the United States. There, he was also the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. While Henri Etoundi Essomba was Cameroon’s Ambassador to Israel, the two nations maintained generally pleasant and cordial relations.

Prior to his career in diplomacy, Essomba pursued priesthood. He grew up believing that was the life he was called to and even went to seminary for a while. When God’s calling did not work out, he went to school for economics and joined Cameroon’s foreign ministry shortly thereafter.

Essomba has come under criticism in recent years. Some vocal Cameroonians in the United States asserted in 2021 that the Cameroon Embassy in Washington DC has been uncooperative, negligent and even potentially corrupt. Critics claim that under Essomba’s leadership, the embassy is often inept and unreachable. The doors are always shut and it often looks like a ghost town, a town that has completely been abandoned.

In recent years and decades, the government of Cameroon has trended deeper into authoritarianism as President Paul Biya and his administration continue to crack down on dissent and political activism.

In 2020, Amnesty International called on Ambassador Essomba to cooperate with allowing political activist Serge Branco Nana access to medical care, his family, and lawyers. He is a member of the opposition party Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon and was arrested on charges of inciting a riot. Amnesty International raised concerns over the inhumane conditions in which the unhealthy political prisoner was being detained.

Human rights organizations have consistently criticized the practices of Cameroon’s government, led by Paul Biya. There have been numerous human rights violations and abuses reported throughout Cameroon, where the government rules with an iron fist. Allegations of corruption and abuse of power permeate all sectors of government.

Since taking office, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has consistently reiterated his plan to establish the United States as a democratic force for good around the world. However, questions have been raised about how much he has done to combat the rise of authoritarianism in Africa.

If Cameroon is to avoid a dangerous downward trend toward authoritarianism, relations with the United States could play a major role. There is an apparent need for accountability as well as a prioritization of democratic values and human rights from the international community

Last March, at least 18 U.S. senators urged President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Cameroon to provide “lifesaving protection to Cameroonians in the United States.”

“The insecurity in nine of ten of the country’s regions and nationwide government repression of political dissent and use of torture and incommunicado detention make safe return for Cameroonian nationals in the United States impossible,” the Senators wrote in their March 23 letter to Biden.

“In light of the armed conflict and other extraordinary and temporary conditions engulfing the nation, American principles and international law compel the United States to protect the safety of Cameroonian nationals present in this county by ensuring that they are not forced to return to Cameroon. Only a limited number of individuals will be eligible for TPS: an estimated 40,000 Cameroonians, over 7,000 of whom are children, are currently in the United States,” the Senators wrote.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments