The Wikileaks Document on Cameroun: Understanding the Mindset of those that Rule the Cameroons

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R 121639Z MAR 09
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 YAOUNDE 000256

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV KCOR CM
SUBJECT: CAMEROON’S JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS NORTH WILL
SUPPORT BIYA, BUT NOT ANOTHER BETI OR BAMI

REF: A. YAOUNDE 225
¶B. YAOUNDE 237
¶C. YAOUNDE 246

Classified By: Political Officer Tad Brown for reasons 1.4 b and d.

¶1. (C) Summary. The struggle for Cameroon’s future,
including President Paul Biya’s succession, should be viewed
through ethnic and regional lenses, according to Amadou Ali,
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice. In a recent,
wide-ranging and frank discussion with the Ambassador, Ali
said the foundation of Cameroon’s stability is the detente
between Biya’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group, which predominates in
Cameroon’s South Region, and the populations of Cameroon’s
three Northern Regions, known as the Septentrion, which are
ethnically and culturally distinct from the rest of the
country. The Septentrion will support Biya for as long as he
wants to be president, Ali predicted, but would not accept a
successor who was either another Beti/Bulu, or a member of
the economically powerful Bamileke ethnic group. Ali’s
analysis and his willingness to speak so frankly about such a
sensitive topic reinforced our conviction that Cameroon’s
political elite is increasingly focused on jockeying for the
post-Biya era. End summary.

¶2. (C) Ambassador, accompanied by Poloff, called on Vice
Prime Minister and Minister for Justice Amadou Ali on
February 27 to discuss the recently-released Human Rights
Report (ref b). Ali displayed his typical gregariousness,
but was even more frank and expansive than usual as he
discussed Cameroon’s internal political struggles for more
than one hour.

Anti-Corruption: New
Strategy, More Arrests
———————-

¶3. (C) Ali said his campaign to pursue corrupt government
officials continued, but that it was an increasingly low-key
effort to pressure officials to return stolen funds. Ali
implied that he and Biya had decided to shift strategies in
the anticorruption fight. Instead of the spectacular arrests
that characterized the initial years of the investigations
(dubbed “Operation Epervier” or “Sparrowhawk” by the
Cameroonian press), which Ali characterized as dangerously
destabilizing, Ali said the focus was now on asset recovery,
including through negotiations with corrupt officials,
pressuring them to return funds or face public prosecution.

¶4. (C) Ali promised more arrests in the coming days and
said he had ordered the construction of a new wing in the
Yaounde prison to house an influx of prominent former
government officials. Unlike in previous meetings, Ali did
not complain that the U.S. and other countries were not
helping the GRC. Instead, Ali said that the GRC has been
focusing on recovering assets present in Cameroon. Ali
welcomed the Ambassador’s recommendation that the GRC seek to
participate in the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR)
Initiative and admitted that the GRC’s earlier efforts to
outsource asset recovery to hired guns had proven costly in
terms of time and money, with no results.

All Politics is Regional
————————

¶5. (C) Ali held forth at length about Cameroon’s political
struggles, dismissing the formal opposition and focusing
instead on Cameroon’s ethnic and regional groupings. Ali
derided John Fru Ndi, the leader of the leading opposition
party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), saying that Fru Ndi
was corrupt (and had pocketed hundreds of thousands of
dollars that Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo had given
the SDF) and power-hungry. Instead, Ali argued, the real
opposition to the GRC has always come from the
“grasslanders,” the ethnic Bamilekes in the West Region and
the Anglophone communities in the Northwest and Southwest
Regions. Ali said Cameroon’s other ethnic groups bore a
pathological distrust of Bamilekes (who are sometimes
construed as co-conspirators with Anglophones, the so-called
Anglo-Bamis) because they were aggressive in extending their
commercial dominance of Cameroon. According to Ali, the
Bamilekes had taken over Douala and were conspiring to extend
their communities throughout Cameron, including by sending
their women to give birth in far flung regions. Ali argued
it was no coincidence that the rioting in February 2008 was
most severe in areas with large Bamileke populations.

Balancing Power:
Bamis, Betis and Northerners
—————————-

YAOUNDE 00000256 002 OF 002

¶6. (C) Ali said Cameroon’s three Northern regions, which
are ethnically and culturally distinct from the rest of
Cameroon, would continue to support Biya for as long as he
wants to remain president, but that the next president of
Cameroon would not come from Biya’s own Beti/Bulu ethnic
grouping, an assertion Ali said he made publicly in a 2003
speech. Asked what the Septentrion would do if Biya
nominated a fellow Beti to succeed him, Ali asserted that
Biya, knowing it would be unacceptable to the rest of
Cameroon, would never make such a decision. Even if Biya’s
own tribesmen sought to assert themselves, Ali said the Betis
were too few to take on the Northerners, much less the rest
of Cameroon. Ali said Bamilekes had approach leading
Northern elites to seek an alliance between their respective
regions, but that Northerners (and other ethnic groups) were
so suspicious of Bamileke intentions and afraid of their
economic power, that they would never conspire to support
Bamileke political power.

Praise for the BIR,
But Also Anxiousness
——————–

¶7. (C) Ali praised the Rapid Intervention Battalions (BIR)
that have been tasked with securing the recently-acquired
Bakassi Peninsula and Cameroon’s maritime domain, but
expressed concern that the regular military was growing
increasingly bitter in light of the BIR’s success. Ali was
unsparing in his criticism of Minister of Defense Remy Ze
Meka, saying he expected Biya to have fired him long ago, but
certainly in the coming cabinet shuffle. Ali said that when
he was Minister of Defense (from 1997-2001), Avi Sivan, the
Israeli national who oversees the BIR, reported directly to
him. (Note. Colonel (Retired) Abraham (“Avi”) Sivan is a
dual citizen of Israel and Cameroon (with valid passports
from both). Sivan is acting in a private capacity after
having retired as the last serving Defense Attach from
Israel. End note.) When Ze Meka succeeded Ali at the head
of Defense, Sivan obtained and provided to Biya evidence that
Ze Meka was embezzling BIR funds, leading Biya to put the BIR
under his direct supervision. Ali said the generals were
irredeemably corrupt, but doubted that Biya would take steps
to remove them. Nevertheless, Ali analyzed Cameroon as a
low-risk country for a coup, saying the armed forces were
sufficiently fractured and controlled by the Presidency (to
the point where no troops can move without Biya’s written
assent) to render an uprising implausible.

Comment: Transition:
The Only Game in Town
———————

¶8. (C) Ali’s outspokenness about Cameroon’s internal
political factions reinforces our growing impression that
Biya’s succession is, at the same time, the only taboo
subject in public discussion and the only important subject
in private discussion. Ali’s claims that Cameroonians fear
Bamileke political power (or Anglo-Bami power, as it is
sometimes cast) too deeply to ever support a Bamileke should
be taken with a grain of salt. Although Fru Ndi is no longer
perceived as a serious political contender (ref a), most
observers believe Fru Ndi–an Anglophone–won the popular
vote in 1992. But most of Cameroon’s ethnic elites likely
view politics through the same regional/ethnic lens as Ali,
and steadily rising socio-economic frustration among the
general population offers a dangerous opportunity to those
who would exploit ethnic rivalries to serve their own
political agendas.

¶9. (C) Ali’s claim that the GRC has shifted its
anti-corruption focus to track stolen assets within Cameroon
jibes with what the head of Cameroon’s financial intelligence
unit told us separately (ref c). While Ali and Biya’s focus
on asset recovery is certainly congruent with Cameroonian
public opinion, we are concerned that Ali’s willingness to
prioritize asset recovery ahead of judicial remedies might
lead to kleptocrats negotiating their way out of
accountability for their crimes.
GARVEY
Wikileaks has released all of the over 250 thousand cables in its possession, including hundreds on Cameroon.

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