03 July 2013
Cameroon Politics & Security
Will Senate secretary-general be Biya's invisible successor?
On 18 June the new Senate leader, Marcel Niat Njifenji, surprised
many observers by naming Michel Meva'a m'Eboutou as the new
Senate secretary-general. This raises many questions about who
President Paul Biya’s true successor will be in case he dies in
office or quits the helm of the country.
Because tribalism, used in the name of “regional balance” is the key
ingredient in Cameroonian politics this analysis is based on tribal
links. Biya's rule has always hinged on regional balance and critics
accuse him of using this tactic as a strategy to place his own men in
key positions of power or financial wealth. The role played so far by
m'Eboutou is therefore key to understanding why he needs a major,
albeit sublime portfolio, to sustain Mr Biya in power.
The 74 year old M'Eboutou comes from Biya's own Beti tribe which is
based in three regions or provinces - Centre, South and East – and
is known to be a government kingpin since Biya (80) assumed power
The controversy arises in the ambiguity surrounding m'Eboutou’s
appointment by Njifenji as the Senate’s second most important post.
Njifenji is also no featherweight in Biya's political and administrative
circles but he comes from the economically important Bamileke tribe
who inhabit the savannah plateau in the West Region.
As we reported in recent issues of Cameroon Politics & Security,
the first-ever senatorial ballot was held in mid-April. But it took two
months until mid-June before the Senate bureau was created and it's
president elected by a crushing majority of President Biya’s ruling
Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM). According to a
2008 constitutional amendment the senate president has the
constitutional right to succeed any current president of the republic in
Cameroon Politics & Security
case the latter becomes incapacitated or leaves the scene
The country had never had a bicameral system of parliament
despite the National Assembly, now the Lower House, having
passed a law in December 1996 establishing a legal framework to
establish the senate or Upper House.
This has made the Senate president’s role vitally important and one
that has been fiercely competed for by the CPDM kingpins as well
as those in opposition. As we have noted the delay in choosing
Biya’s eventual successor was meticulously researched and
scouted for before Niat Njifenji was chosen. By comparison picking
his secretary-general was very quick.
Why? This answer could be found in the chemistry and time that
enabled m'Eboutou to become secretary-general. Without going too
deeply into the matter a closer look at both the senate president
and his secretary-general are important in order to know who wields
the real power behind the scenes.
First of all no text and decision will enter or leave the Upper House
without first being sifted through the hands of the secretary general
and then the Senate president who is essentially there to oversee
and append the activities.
Niat Njifenji comes from the economically very powerful, but also
feared, Bamileke tribe which has never featured in the good books
of Cameroon's only two post-colonial leaders – first, Ahmadou
Ahidjo and then Paul Biya. The former was a Fulani Muslim from the
northern town of Garoua, while his successor Paul Biya is a catholic
Christian from the south. Their religious backgrounds portray them
differently but they are perceived to be two sides of the same coin
because they have followed the administrative patterns of their
colonial master -- France. Both Ahidjo and Biya continued a well-
established French-style administration of "Divide and Rule".
By ensuring that Njifenji was elected as senate president Biya gave
the impression that he was unifying the country and thereby
squashing the use of tribalism as a weapon against those outside of
his own ethnic group.
Observers are now convinced that Njifenji is just a geostrategic
window dressing as senate president. This is buttressed by the fact
that Njifenji himself appointed Meva'a m'Eboutou a few hours after his
own first public encounter with Biya at the state house, or "Unity
Palace" on 12 June. Although Meva'a m'Eboutou was appointed by
Niat Njifenji the former instead turned around to express his gratitude
to President Biya. The attitude, though quite routine in Cameroon did
not leave spectators indifferent.
Everyone is now asking why m'Eboutou should have thanked the
head of state for an appointment made by the Senate president?.
Njifenji had also thanked Biya for his own appointment although the
bureau of the Upper House took two months to "elect" him president
of the senate. Biya's invincible hand is therefore perceived behind the
management and functioning of all the country's arms of power -
Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.
Cameroon Politics & Security
Meva'a m'Eboutou’s role during Biya's 30-year rule?
A veteran civil administrator who, like Biya comes from the South
Region, m'Eboutou has been in the corridors of power since Biya
replaced Ahidjo more than 30 years ago. Chronologically he first
served as secretary-general at the National Assembly in recent
years, before taking up the job of Minister of Defence and later
becoming Minister of Finance and Budget. He is therefore seen as
a leading personality in Biya’s system whose power must be
carefully preserved as one of the foundation stones to keep the
flame of Beti tribal power alive.
Meva'a m'Eboutou is certainly one of those crushing stones that
President Biya uses to wipe out his perilous opponents. This came
to the light on 26 April 2012 when he testified in the Yaounde court
case against the former Minister of Interior Marafa Hamidou Yaya
which catapulted him to a 25 year prison sentence.
As we have often reported Marafa - the flamboyant Fulani Muslim
from the same northern Cameroon town of Garoua a Ahidjo -
would have been one of Biya’s most credible potential successors
were he to have stood in the 2011 presidential ballot. Instead he
was jailed on allegations of being part of a racket that allegedly
embezzled around US$31 million earmarked for the 2004 purchase
of a new presidential jet from Boeing.
At his 26 April 2012 interrogation Marafa said that he was ordered
by President Biya to ask the then Finance Minister m'Eboutou to
disburse the money for the plane. But Mr m'Eboutou denied it and
claimed that there was no documented proof and that it was Marafa
who arrogated himself with the president's powers to request
payment of the money.
Observers have repeatedly asked why Mr M'Eboutou declined to
answer several other questions in court and yet was set free. They
interpret Marafa’s jailing as having been cooked up to eliminate a
potential danger facing Biya who seems determined to rule even after
the current term of office ends in October 2018.
Several other former top government officials were thrown into jail in
the case of the presidential jet. They include: former Secretary-
General at the presidency Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara (15 years);
his deputy and former premier Ephraim Inoni (still on trial); former
Cameroon Ambassador to the USA Gérôme Mendouga (15 years);
and Bamileke business magnate Yves-Michel Fotso (15 years).
According to critics, the jailing of these former top personalities who
had served in the Biya government could only have been successful
through the collaboration of president allies like Meva'a m'Eboutou.
Thus having him on the closest side of power could not only be seen
as a strategy to give the Beti tribe continuity with Biya but also as
compensation for a well-executed job.
Biya schedules Mayoral and Legislative elections for September
President Biya confused Cameroonians again on Tuesday 2 July but
also cleared the doubts on when the legislative and municipal
elections will be held. A decree he sent to the state radio announced
Cameroon Politics & Security
that the long-awaited twin polls will be held on Monday 30
September 2013. "Voting will start at 8:00 am and end at 18:00 pm
[local time],” the statement said.
Biya, as we have reported in various editions of Cameroon Politics
& Security, holds the key to the country's electoral calendar. So,
the announcement came as a surprise after earlier speculation and
reports that the ballots would be held by October or even next year.
This is after Biya had decreed another extension of the mayors'
mandate on 26 June 2013, extending it by a further three months,
as from 1 August 2013. Observers have therefore been pondering
why the president would prolong the mayors’ mandate and yet, only
a week later, schedule elections for the posts
Announcing via radio that the twin elections will be held on 30
September was therefore not only seen as a way to confuse the
opposition as usual, but also to ostensibly keep his mastery on any
eventual political upheaval that could jeopardise his grip on power.
When Cameroonians were going to the polls for the twin Municipal
and Legislative elections in 2007 they knew at that time that the
next ballot would be in 2012.
The elections were, however, postponed following the extension of
the period in office of both the Councillors and members of the
National Assembly. As for the members of parliament, their term in
office has been extended three times. First it was for six months -
beginning from 21 August 2012, then came the second
postponement starting on 22 February 2013, and then the third with
effect from 23 May 2013.
The reasons given for these repeated extensions of the terms of
office for the mayors and legislators have always been the same --
the compilation or recompilation of biometric electoral lists by the
Elections Cameroon (Elecam) which is charged with organising all
the country’s elections. Elecam has had to introduce biometric
registration of voters in the country for the first time in an effort to
attract more potential voters. Because of the past indiscriminate
registration of voters by the government or other electoral bodies,
voter apathy had increased while turnout for both registration and
voting has been very thin. Cameroon has never registered up to five
million voters in the past. But Elecam is targeted to register at least
7.5 million of the expected 9-10 million eligible voters in the country of
20 million inhabitants.
President Biya issued a decree on 26 June further extending the
mayors’ mandate by three more months, beginning from 1 August.
This meant that mayors still had to stay in office until October 2013
when pundits were speculating that both elections would be held.
The very authoritative France-based weekly "Jeune Afrique" broke
the news last week forecasting that Cameroon would hold the twin
elections in October. The newspaper was citing government sources.
The repeated postponement of the ballot suggests that the
government is in a financial crisis and cannot hold the elections so
shortly after it just held its first-ever senatorial poll in April this year.
Cameroon Politics & Security
Government insiders and those of Elecam hinted to Cameroon
Politics & Security that about CFA100 billion (US$197 million)
would be needed to organise the twin ballots.
Yet the old question still looms. Why did Biya not organise the
legislative and mayoral ballots before holding the senatorial
elections? Observers believe that because of his age, longevity in
power, and pressure from mostly potential Western investors and
allies like France and the United States, the President had to
quickly pick his successor by organising the senatorial poll before
coming back to the other two elections. However, since it is only the
president who has the magic wand to decide when any election is
to be held, spectators already held that he could anticipate the
elections even before October or push them further to next year.
Now, with the announcement of the elections to be held in
September, Elecam, which against all expectations resumed voter
registration in June, will be obliged to halt the registration process
as stipulated by the electoral code. The law also obliges political
parties to field their candidates two weeks after the electorate is
summoned for the polls.
This may be a hard task for the opposition whose candidates may
find it difficult to come up with the CFA3 million (US$1975) each
contender is to pay as levy to become eligible.
At Elecam there are worries about voter participation if the elections
are scheduled in the weeks ahead. Elecam’s board chairman,
Samuel Fonkam Azu'u, reported last week that only 15% of voters'
cards have been withdrawn by the eligible voters. He called on
political parties to mobilise their activists to collect cards.
The reluctance being witnessed in picking up the electoral
identification papers is reminiscent of the indifference that has
characterised past electoral processes. This nonchalance, many
observers say, should have been exacerbated by the outcome of the
recent senate election which gave clues that President Biya had
remotely controlled the process to give his party a comfortable
majority as had been the case in past presidential, legislative and
Just to recall Biya won the last October 2011 presidential election
with a landslide victory. His ruling Cameroon People's Democratic
Movement (CPDM) commands a crushing two-thirds majority in the
Senate and the National Assembly, and still dominates in 300 of the
country's 360 municipal councils.
Fight against cybercrime intensified in order to boost e-trade
Cameroon seems repeatedly worried about cybercrime in the search
to modernise its technology for business, political and social use to
maintain international standards. In a country which is plagued by
endemic corruption and nepotism, fiscal fraud apparently lurks over
the live wire of every activity. Without proper control of its cyberspace
to curtail the influence of cyber criminals, business and other
Cameroon Politics & Security
important data could fall into unscrupulous hands and cause the
government or businessmen to lose huge sums of money.
This explains why the National Agency for Communication and
Information Technology (ANTIC) organised a two-week seminar
which began on 2 July to update its personnel to prevent threats
and curb cybercrimes. Participants will delve into four topics,
ranging from: Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing;
Web Application Security; Incident Handling and Cyber Forensic; as
well as Malware Handling.
ANTIC’s director general, Dr Ebot Ebot, boasted that, at the end of
the seminar, the stakeholders will be a step ahead of cyber
criminals. But he expressed the need for greater collaboration from
government and the security services to effectively manage the
impending threat, which he said, "has no boundaries".
On a related development, the government's Steering Committee to
Modernise External Trade met on 21 June under the auspices of its
president Louis Paul Motaze. The latter, who doubles as the
secretary-general at the Prime Minister's office, called for greater
commitment to the project, which aims to digitise Cameroon’s
foreign business portfolio by computerising or scanning documents
using modern electronic methods.
The project is strictly seeking to establish a suitable judicial
platform, integrate the various systems used by partners,
computerise the services of the government administrative units
and train the actors to manage the system. "The end result is to
reduce cost in foreign business transactions and improve
Cameroon's place on the world "Doing Business" ranking," said
Motaze during the deliberations.
Meanwhile, the director of customs, Linette Libom Li Likeng, who is
coordinator of the committee's technical secretariat, noted that
Cameroon still has numerous challenges dragging down its efforts to
modernise its foreign business. Li Likeng cited the absence of
prepared space to receive and process goods destined for the
Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad, the two landlocked
countries of the sub-region depending on Cameroon for the transit of
their goods, as well as goods heading to northern Congo-Brazzaville.
The problem of prolonged delays of goods clearing, which is blamed
on the bureaucratic chain of stops, and organised racketeering during
goods clearance, was another obstacle.
Parliament wants aviation sector to meet international standards
Cameroon’s parliament began examining a government draft bill on
Tuesday 2 July, which seeks to revise the country’s aviation sector in
order to meet international standards and attract foreign investors.
The bill, which will be defended by Transport Minister Robert Nkili, is
expected to be adopted by the CPDM’s two-thirds ruling majority
The document was prepared after an audit of the country’s civil
aviation sector’s security systems was carried out in 2006 by the
International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). It revealed lapses in
numerous aspects of the functioning civil aviation sector and
specifically in areas like the law governing the activity in Cameroon.
Cameroon Politics & Security
The audit’s findings revealed that the civil aviation sector is
governed by two laws and recommended that they be merged into
one to make it compatible with the country’s commitment with
international regulations. If adopted the bill which will pass through
the senate for approval will eventually become law when signed by
President Biya. It will oblige Cameroon to comply with the
management of airports under concessions, the provision of
meteorological services to air transport, the empowerment of air
security and safety of inspectors, and the alignment of national
regulations with civil aviation’s standards.
Divided into 195 sections the bill also provides for the establishment
of a civil aviation fund to be used, among other things, in the
financing of civil aviation activities. The CPDM’s Samuel Bokwe
MP said “This bill, when promulgated into law, will provide
Cameroon with a coherent framework that will assure the
international aeronautical community of Cameroon’s capacity to
supervise and ensure civil aviation safety”. But observers always
say that texts are one thing and implementing them may hardly or
never really comes.
However, given the urgency expressed by Mr Biya to strengthen
economic ties with its new business ally, Turkey, redressing the
aviation sector is imperative, especially when one considers
Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union (EU), which is partially
dependent on aviation safety and security. Meanwhile a second bill
is to be examined by parliament, which seeks to authorise Biya’s
ratification of the air transport agreement recently reached between
Cameroon and Turkey.
South-West Regional Politics
Tensions escalate as crisis at Buea University intensify
The tensions rocking the University of Buea, one of the country’s only
two English-speaking state run universities, have intensified in recent
months leading to a spate of violence, which has led to destruction of
school and private facilities within the vicinity.
The crisis has affected the university and Buea town, which is located
320km southwest of Yaounde for nearly two years. Observers fear it
could hamper or postpone the proposed forthcoming presidential visit
to Buea although a planned date for the visit has not been officially
President Biya is expected to preside over an anniversary of the
country’s reunification. As we reported in past Cameroon Politics &
Security, the country was placed under United Nations mandate led
by France and Britain before the French and British territories
became independent in 1960 and 1961, respectively. They
immediately became united in 1961 through a controversial
The South-West Region is the country’s future backbone for crude oil
production. Coupled with the university crisis and impending piracy in
the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, observers have repeatedly counselled
for caution, and especially in a region where there have been
repeated public demonstrations by English-speaking activists of the
Cameroon Politics & Security
separatist South Cameroons National Council (SCNC). The
regional tensions have escalated as a result of the detention of
former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni who comes from the region
and is a traditional ruler. Inoni is currently facing trial in Yaounde for
alleged embezzlement of state funds.
The most recent violence in the Buea University erupted in mid-May
and lead to the arrest of 16 students of whom two were released on
26 June. The crisis at the university pits the school administration
against the students’ union which is pressing for reforms. But the
school’s authority does not agree with the demands and the saga is
far from ending.
Diplomacy & Security
13 ECCAS & ECOWAS presidents agree to fight regional piracy
Host President Paul Biya and 12 other leaders from the twenty-five
member states of the two West and Central African economic
blocks - ECCAS and ECOWAS - agreed at a two-day summit held
in Yaounde between 24-25 June to prevent and fight piracy within
the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.
Whether or not they directly share the waters of the Gulf of Guinea,
they all depend on it for the movement of goods and people.
As we discussed in Cameroon Politics & Security - 21.06.2013
the wealth of the Gulf of Guinea is immense and ranges from crude
oil reserves estimated around 24 billion tons, to fish and other aquatic
resources. Because the area is vast, and the tactics employed by the
pirates are both complex and deadly, it needs collective efforts to
fight the impending danger of fortune seekers, who are said to have
migrated from Latin America to the West African coast according to
the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
In Yaounde the leaders from the Economic Community for Central
States (ECCAS) and their peers from the Economic Community for
West African States (ECOWAS), who were joined by regional
organisations and experts from around the globe, were unanimous
that the threat was serious. So, they took a common step and
strategy to tackle the scourge.
As the first practical step, they agreed to work speedily, collectively
and coherently to crush a common enemy – piracy. To ensure their
diligence and focus, they agreed to create an anti-piracy centre in
Yaounde. For this key unit to work fully and efficiently a code of
conduct had to be framed for every stakeholder to follow a common
operational process to curb, if not eliminate, the blight.
If, however, the Yaounde summit was much needed it did not mean
efforts were not put at individual levels or by neighbours within the
two economic blocks. Nigeria and Benin were already working on it,
while Angola, another major oil producer had already erected a
formidable shield against piracy. But recent findings show that pirates
operate in clusters. They use sophisticated equipment and migrate
from one spot to another as a hibernating strategy to resource
themselves and launch more assaults.