Cameroon: Paul Biya and Co

July 6th, 2009

The history of the Republic of Cameroon, an oil-rich Central African country, embodies the typical post-decolonization cycle. Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon came to power in 1982 with the tacit support of the international community. In 2008, he managed to modify Cameroon’s constitution and is now quasi president for life. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Paul Biya’s regime is one of the most corrupt in the world. It even received the title of “world’s most corrupt country” in 1998 and 1999.

Cameroon has long been on the radar of most development aid organizations and donor countries. In January 2006, in order to keep the financial support of the international community, President Paul Biya created the National Commission to fight Corruption (CONAC) headed by Paul Tessa, one of his former ministers. So far the CONAC’s sole accomplishment as been the launch in 2008 of a great “Sparrowhawk” anti-bribery operation. Since the start of this operation, a list of sixty presumably corrupt personalities (including ministers, generals and businessman) has been established among which 15 individuals have since been judged and heavily condemned; a way for Paul Biya to kill two birds with one stone: organize a good public relations campaign and imprison potential political challengers. Operation “Sparrow hawk” received the support of the international community including the FBI.

Since January 1996, article 56 of the revised Cameroon constitution calls on the “President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and members of Government to declare their assets at the beginning and the end of their mandate.” In 2006 a law established a precise list of persons concerned by article 56 but it has never been promulgated.

In its last report on “Ill-Gotten Assets”, the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD) estimates Biya’s wealth to approximate 100 million dollars. The list of Paul Biya’s foreign assets is huge: several castles in France and Germany and the Isis villa on the Cote d’Azur. Instead of supporting Cameroon’s obvious corruption practices, it is time for the international community to take a stronger stance by freezing Paul Biya and his family’s dubious foreign assets.

The financial support to Paul Biya’s regime should also be placed under close scrutiny. In May 2009, extensive consultations, jointly organized by the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the government of Cameroon, took place in Yaoundé and Douala, with the intent of planning the interventions of the two financial institutions over the next few years in Cameroon. This is a unique opportunity to develop a new relationship with Biya’s Cameroon based on mutual respect and accountability.

Since the publication of the CCFD report last week, several Cameroon journalists who contributed to the report have been the targets of an intimidation campaign. It is not in our power to determine Cameroon’s political destiny; but as financial aid providers, we have the right to ask for our funds to be carefully spent and for the protection of the courageous people in Cameroon defending such a cause.

Written by David Chalude

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