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Impunity in Cameroon: When ministers “have not stolen enough to be arrested”

A recent Wikileaks cable on Cameroon has revealed to the bewilderment of Cameroonians that in the course of a discussion with former US ambassador to Cameroon HE Janet Garvey, President Paul Biya literally admitted that inertia and impunity in Cameroon have destroyed the country under his watch for the past 29 years. This is supported when he is quoted in the cable as saying some ministers, and notably Inoni Ephraim “have not stolen enough” to be arrested. The questions are how much, must a minister steal to be arrested. Despite the ongoing selective arrest of suspected embezzlers, corruption continues as before.  

Furthermore, President Biya  in his subconscious  and even conscious thought still  strongly believes ELECAM ( the  government body charge with organising elections in Cameroon)  can  hold free and fair elections. How can that body do so when he has appointed his party polit -bureau members to manage the outfit? How can that be possible when the body is not even authorised to announce electoral trends, talk less of announcing the results?

 What equally astonishes Cameroonians is that instead of taking actions on the field for the good of the nation, President Biya is contented with discussing such issues with an ambassador. What and who do these ambassadors really represent in Cameroon? They do not deserve any report whatsoever from Cameroon.

The cable also carries more information on President Biya‘s views on China, Nigeria and Central African sub region among other issues. These are issues which normally should be addressed in a weekly press briefing followed by concrete actions in the field. It should not be an issue of discussing with people who are giving the highest protection to very corrupt rulers, dictators as well as equally protecting stolen funds.





E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/05



SUBJECT: Cameroonian President Biya Gives Ambassador

Political/Economic Overview


CLASSIFIED BY: Janet E. Garvey, Ambassador, State; REASON: 1.4(C),

(D), (E)


1. (C) Summary: On February 4, Ambassador met with

President Paul Biya for a two-hour tour d´horizon of domestic and

international issues. Biya was concerned about the threat of

Islamic extremism. He praised growing Central African regional

cooperation and improved relations with Nigeria. He was positive

about the recent Copenhagen summit although frustrated with

China´s role. The President appreciated strong US-Cameroonian commercial

 ties, especially Boeing´s interest in CAMAIRCO. He predicted more

anti-corruption arrests, affirming that he would not let corrupt

officials out of prison until they had shown remorse. He agreed

that a lot of money had been stolen by corrupt officials and that

budget transparency needed to be improved. The Electoral

Commission (ELECAM) "keeps me awake at night," he said, arguing

that the main problem with ELECAM was creating a "mechanism" for

it to function well and independently within a system which is so

dominated by the central government. He is working on a new

electoral code, which he plans to submit to parliament in March,

and he hopes Senate elections will be held in the second quarter of

2010. Biya was warm and chatty, obviously pleased to be meeting,

venturing into numerous tangents. He gave nothing away about

possible early elections or his running for president while

cryptically (maybe wistfully) mentioning retirement . End


 Islamic Extremism

 2. (S) Biya began the meeting by thanking the Ambassador

for U.S. intelligence cooperation with Cameroon. He was beginning

to worry about Islamic extremists infiltrating Cameroon from

Nigeria and making inroads through Cameroonian mosques.

 Regional Developments

 3. (C) Biya saw a new spirit of cooperation in Central

Africa. He was pleased with the January heads of state meeting of

the Monetary and Economic Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) in

Bangui, which brought significant reforms to the institution and

the Central African Bank, BEAC (septel). He gave much of the

credit for renewed regional cooperation to Gabonese President Ali

Bongo. Chadian President Idris Deby feels more secure and is

engaging more in the region, including asking Biya for advice, the

President said, while engagement by the Central African Republic

was limited because of its instability. Biya opined that CEMAC

was too small but that merging with the Economic Community of

Central African States, CEEAC (which has been discussed for years)

is probably not likely in the short-term. He had directed the

Minister of External Affairs to explore greater synergies between

CEMAC and CEEAC. Biya praised ongoing BEAC reforms, stressing that

"a lot of money was stolen." The President saw the need to

facilitate transportation, border crossing procedures, and airline

connections within the region, although he frowned on a regional

airline being based in Douala because it might compete with the

future CAMAIRCO, Cameroon´s nascent airline. Biya gave the

impression that he recognized Cameroon´s strength and stability in

the region but was not looking for a bigger diplomatic role in

Central Africa.


Relations with Nigeria/Bakassi

 4. (C) Biya was grateful for the 2006 Greentree Accord

which led to the final settlement of the Bakassi Peninsula dispute

with Nigeria. To build on this, Cameroon needed to construct more

roads to Nigeria and strengthen its capacity to supply electricity

to its neighbor. Biya asked Ambassador about the current Nigerian

political situation, praising President Yar´adua as a "good

partner" who had always treated Cameroon "properly." Biya was

saddened by Yar´adua´s illness.


5. (C) Cameroon and Nigeria were working together to

address what he thought were valid allegations that some Nigerians

had been mistreated in Bakassi. The GRC was trying to "do it

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right" in Bakassi, balancing development and security. The GRC´s

elite military group, the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), had

been successful at reducing petty crime (although Biya saw the

need to augment BIR efforts to combat highway bandits called

"coupeurs de routes" in northern Cameroon). The President

lamented a recent fire in Bakassi, hoped to find oil in the

Peninsula, and stressed the need to improve the security



 6. (S) The outcome of the Copenhagen summit was "positive,"

especially its inclusion of forest resources, Biya said. Cameroon

would associate with the Accord, he noted. He was particularly

frustrated with China - "what´s wrong with them?" he queried,

criticizing them for "throwing their weight around" in Copenhagen.

He didn´t understand China´s treatment of the Dalai Lama and

Taiwan, pointing to the need to "bring China along."


Economic/Commercial Issues

 7. (SBU) Ambassador pointed to the growing U.S.-Cameroon

commercial relationship. She noted that the bauxite mining

consortium Cameroon Alumina Ltd. (CAL), which includes American

company Hydromine, had fulfilled the conditions of its exploration

license and hoped to be granted a mining permit. She also noted

that American cobalt mining company Geovic had just resolved a

long-standing dispute with its GRC partner which should facilitate

completion of the project in 2010, although there were some

lingering issues. She also highlighted our desire to see Cameroon

take better advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act

(AGOA). Biya supported AGOA and agreed "there is a lot to do." He

was frustrated with the human relations management of American

electricity company AES, although he thought Cameroon´s water

problems were more severe than electricity shortages. He was

delighted with Boeing´s interest in Cameroon. He recognized it

would take time to build an airline but said that discussions with

Lufthansa to manage the new airline were almost completed and he

had just selected two directors for CAMAIRCO, one from the

Netherlands and one from Austria.

 8. (C) Biya did not discuss the overall economy in any

depth but noted the "need to get the economy going." He was

unhappy with the Minister of Agriculture for not doing more to

boost the sector. He hoped the Kribi gas-fired power plant project

would stay on track.


Corruption/Budget Transparency

 9. (C) Ambassador praised Cameroon´s continued focus on

fighting corruption, including renewed arrests of alleged corrupt

officials, but also expressed concerns that legal procedures be

fully pursued. She detailed USG support for anti-corruption

efforts. Biya said he wouldn´t release those arrested for

corruption "until they admit they did something wrong." He was

pleased with USG cooperation in combating corruption and stressed

that corrupt officials "stole a lot of money." He confirmed that

more corruption-related arrests were coming under his

anti-corruption initiative Operation "Epervier" (Sparrowhawk),

although (contrary to rumor) he thought this would not likely

include former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni because the evidence

against him was thin and he didn´t steal much money. Epervier had

sent a useful anti-corruption signal which has had some effect, he

thought; however, he wanted to rethink the approach of arresting

officials and focus more on getting the stolen money back. He had

more information about corruption committed by former Secretary

General in the Presidency Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara.


10. (SBU) The USG is particularly concerned about Cameroon´s

slow progress toward improving budget execution and transparency,

the Ambassador noted, explaining that a failure to improve budget

transparency could trigger a cut-off of bilateral assistance under

U.S. law. She also hoped that Cameroon would be successful when

it comes up for validation in March under the Extractive

Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Biya agreed that

Cameroon needed to do better in budget transparency and

utilization, singling out the National Investment Company (SNI) as

having a particularly nontransparent budget. He would talk to

the Prime Minister and Finance Minister about this issue and EITI.



11. (C) Ambassador stressed the need for free, fair,

transparent and well-administered elections and asked how he could

help us overcome the perception that ELECAM lacks credibility.

How to make Electoral Commission (ELECAM) work well, "keeps me

awake at night," Biya responded, stressing that he wants it to

function with true independence. He claimed he didn´t personally

know the members of the ELECAM Council (who have been widely

criticized for being partisan senior ruling party officials). His

main problem with ELECAM was in creating a "mechanism" for it to

function well and independently within a system which is so

dominated by the central government. It was important to have a

large voter turnout in order to ensure stability in the country, he

said. He was frustrated with opposition parties and the Ministry

of Territorial Administration and Decentralization for being

"enemies of ELECAM."


12. (C) Biya noted that later in the day he would review the

new electoral code, which he hoped would harmonize all electoral

laws and could be ready to submit to parliament during the upcoming

March session of the National Assembly. He hoped to hold Senate

elections in the second quarter of 2010, which would be "a test"

for ELECAM before presidential elections "next year." He hoped to

put some military generals in the Senate (possibly also the Navy

Chief, who Biya said "we have to do something about, " presumably

because of the Admiral´s reputation for corruption and

incompetence). Biya also said he plans to create a

Constitutional Council soon. (Note: Biya has never created the

Senate or the Constitutional Council called for in the 1996

constitution. In his New Year´s address, Biya said he would create

the Senate in 2010. End note.)


13. (SBU) The President admired Ghanaian President Mills and

South African President Zuma, who have both reportedly accepted an

invitation to a conference on 50 years of African independence to

be held in Cameroon later this year. The conference would discuss

the progress and challenges of African rule, although "there hasn´t

been much progress," Biya quipped, adding that Africa needed

stronger institutions. When Ambassador inserted that these

institutions should be democratic, Biya just smiled.



 14. (C) Biya was the most relaxed and talkative of all his

meetings with Ambassador. He was gracious, generally well

informed, mentally sharp, and seemingly in good health, although he

tired toward the end of the two hours. He seemed eager to keep

the conversation going, venturing into concerns about Afghanistan,

Iran (which he feared threatened Israel), and Haiti (he praised the

U.S. response). Ambassador commended Cameroon´s $1 million offer

of assistance to Haiti; Biya said the Cameroonian public was

praising this decision. He put a heavy value on discipline,

highlighting its strength among northern Cameroonians and its

weakness in the Indomitable Lions (the national soccer team, which

lost in the Africa Cup) and among some of his colleagues (such as

Minister of Economy and Planning Luis Paul Motaze, who Biya thought

lacked discretion). At the same time, however, he revealed a

mischievous side and projected a degree of helplessness when

confronted with key problems in his government (such as managing

the budget, jumpstarting agriculture, and making ELECAM more



15. (S) He did not seem well informed about the poor state of

the navy, which Ambassador mentioned in discussions about the BIR.

He gave no hint as to whether he will run in the next presidential

election or whether he might change the composition of the ELECAM

Council. His concerns about Islamic extremism echoed similar

concerns we have been recently picking up in the north and among

our moderate Muslim contacts, who worry about dangerous influences

both from Nigeria and Iran. Biya´s odd insistence that corrupt

officials should repent reflected his religious background (he

started his career in the seminary) and his emphasis on personal

loyalty. His professed frustration with China contrasts with the

rising profile of Chinese investments in Cameroon; it probably

reflects some real ambivalence about China and Cameroon´s desire to

balance Chinese, U.S. and French interests. Biya seemed very

concerned about climate change, noting at one point that he was

moving to a more energy efficient house.


16. (C) Biya´s affection for the U.S. appears genuine (he talked

fondly of his one visit to the U.S.) Some in the media are

already interpreting the length of this meeting (which some

journalists report as unprecedented) as a sign of the importance of

the U.S.-Cameroon relationship. Biya´s wide ranging comments and

questions encompassed American car manufacturers, Tiger Woods, the

Massachusetts Senate election, the U.S. economy and health reform

debate, former President George W. Bush (who he liked because he is

a farmer and reads the bible), and President Obama (who he

admires). He hoped Cameroon could benefit from Millennium

Challenge Corporation funding, noting that Senegalese President

Wade had told him how much he likes the MCC, but acknowledging

concerns about the GRC´s current capacity to implement an MCC

compact. Biya appreciated USG exchange programs and offerings of

training. He mentioned retirement and said he would love to visit

the U.S. again, especially Detroit (presumably because of a love of

automobiles.) Ambassador stressed that America was a friend of



17. (C) Biya had earlier cornered Ambassador during a New Year

event to say "we have much to talk about". He obviously did.

His eagerness to engage us, his positive interest in the U.S., his

questions to Ambassador about a wide range of global issues, the

unusual length of this meeting and breadth of conversation suggest

the President may be receptive to further discussions with senior

USG officials in such areas as corruption, elections, democratic

transition, and Cameroon´s global role.


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