Flashback: Election Fraud in Cameroon Washington Times

Biya’s Democracy, or an Exercise in Fraud? 

Some criticize the ’04 Cameroon vote. Several on a regime-funded U.S. team call it free and fair. 

By Ken Silverstein 

February 14, 2005 

President Paul Biya of Cameroon

 

WASHINGTON — When the strongman who has ruled the West African country of Cameroon for more than 20 years swept to another election victory last fall, a number of observers quickly questioned the process. 

International monitors led by a former Canadian prime minister said they had no confidence in the voter registration lists. Roman Catholic Cardinal Christian Tumi of Cameroon said the election, like all others in his country, was “surrounded by fraud.” 

But former members of the U.S. Congress on the scene were more upbeat about President Paul Biya’s 71% landslide. “In general, the process was free,” Ronnie Shows, one of six observers from the Washington-based U.S. Assn. of Former Members of Congress, told reporters in Cameroon. “This is what democracy is about.” 

The American mission was different in another way: It had been organized by an association member who also was a lobbyist for Biya’s government. The lobbyist served as the mission’s chief staffer and billed Cameroon for his work. 

Biya’s government also picked up the $80,000 tab for the Americans’ visit. And a month after the group left, one of the six observers signed his own lobbying contract with Cameroon, promising to show that the country was making great strides in human rights and democracy, according to federal lobby disclosure records. 

Association Executive Director Peter Weichlein defended the mission, saying it met all ethical standards and that a written report a week after the election included serious criticisms of the process. Five of the observers said in interviews that they had no problem with the lobbyist, former Rep. Greg Laughlin, playing such a key role in the mission. 

But three experienced election monitoring groups contacted by The Times said their standards would bar a variety of the association’s procedures in Cameroon. 

David Carroll, director of democracy programs at the Carter Center, which has monitored dozens of foreign elections, said his group did not accept funding from the government of a country where it was observing an election. 

“That’s a clear conflict of interest,” he said. “So is the involvement of anyone on the delegation who has a clear financial or political interest at stake.” 

A spokesman at Cameroon’s embassy in Washington said he was surprised that former members of Congress had allowed his government to pay for their trip. “It’s not normal practice,” said Richard Nyamboli. “I would think they would want to be autonomous.” 

The association of former lawmakers was chartered by Congress in 1970 to educate the public on “the crucial importance of representative democracy” at home and abroad. Its budget last year was about $750,000, mainly from dues paid by nearly 600 members, grants and an annual fundraiser. Of the association’s 24 board members, at least 18 work or have worked as lobbyists, four of them for foreign countries. 

In addition to its educational programs, the association’s activities include advising parliaments in Eastern European countries such as Poland and Ukraine. 

Last year it delved into election monitoring, sending a mission to Ukraine that was funded by the Washington-based U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, an organization co-founded by the wife of newly elected President Viktor Yushchenko. 

Four delegations sent July through October reported that the election process favored then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, Yushchenko’s presidential opponent. Yanukovich claimed victory in a November runoff election, but after protests in Kiev, the capital, the runoff was repeated, and Yushchenko won. 

(A different group of retired members of Congress also monitored the Ukrainian election and reported that the first round in October was essentially free and fair. That group, which was not affiliated with the association, was organized and funded by three businessmen close to Yanukovich.) 

In July, the Washington law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs inked a $400,000 deal to help improve ties between the U.S. and Cameroon, including on “issues relating” to the October election, federal disclosure forms show. Three Patton Boggs lobbyists, including Laughlin, traveled to Cameroon in August. Laughlin said in an interview that government officials told him they wanted Americans to monitor the vote so they could see how much progress Cameroon had made in building a democracy. 

Laughlin contacted Weichlein about sending an observer mission. Weichlein told The Times that the Biya government agreed to cover expenses and that the delegation members donated their time. Association officials also met with Laughlin to discuss their concerns about a possible conflict of interest, Weichlein said. 

“We sat down with him and said the mission had to be independent,” Weichlein said. “He said that was fine, the government felt it had made great strides and wanted the international community to be aware of that.” 

Cameroon was formed by a 1961 merger between two former territories controlled by France and Britain, but the country didn’t legalize opposition parties until three decades later. Biya, who took power in 1982, won multiparty presidential elections in 1992 and 1997. Those votes were “marred by severe irregularities,” according to a U.S. State Department report issued this year. 

And a separate State Department report, an annual human rights survey, says that the country’s security forces “committed numerous unlawful killings and were responsible for torture, beatings and other abuses,” and that the government “continued to arrest and detain arbitrarily various opposition politicians, local human rights monitors and other citizens.” 

In the current annual survey on corruption by Berlin-based Transparency International, Cameroon is tied for 129th place out of 146 countries. 

Yet for a number of years, the U.S. has maintained friendly ties with Cameroon and other energy-rich West African countries, which have become a growing source of oil imports. The U.S. bought more than $225 million in goods from Cameroon last year, mostly oil, and is one of the country’s major trading partners. 

Cameroon has held one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council since 2002, and it backed Washington’s attempt to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Biya made his first visit to the White House on March 20, 2003, the day of the U.S.-led invasion against Saddam Hussein. 

The official observer team of the former lawmakers association arrived in Cameroon on Oct. 8, three days before the vote. In addition to Shows (D-Miss.), it consisted of former Reps. Michael Forbes (D-N.Y.), Webb Franklin (R-Miss.), Andrew Maguire (D-N.J.), Richard Schulze (R-Pa.) and Joe Wyatt Jr. (D-Texas). 

Laughlin, a Texas Democrat who lost his 1996 reelection bid after switching to the Republican Party, and fellow association staffer Rebecca Zylberman arrived two days earlier. 

Laughlin arranged the group’s hotels and transportation and set up interviews with government officials and a briefing at the U.S. Embassy. 

“We relied on Greg 100% to put the trip together,” Weichlein said. 

The observers split into three groups and visited the country’s two biggest cities, Douala and Yaounde, as well as a few towns. They also met with representatives of opposition parties, interviewed election officials and visited polling stations. Laughlin did not go with the delegates to observe the actual vote. 

On Oct. 12, as votes were being counted, association members spoke to the media. Even though Laughlin was not an official member of the delegation, he was identified in Cameroonian and foreign news accounts as its leader. He praised the transparency of the vote, with media accounts quoting him as saying, “The elections were conducted fairly.” 

A postelection statement issued by U.S. Ambassador R. Niels Marquardt said the balloting marked “a positive step forward for this country’s evolving democracy.” 

Cameroon’s pro-government media outlets gave the U.S. delegation prominent coverage. 

“Voting Conduct Impresses American Observers,” the headline in the state-owned Cameroon Tribune said. According to the article, the Americans had “exalted” Cameroon’s democratic process. It quoted an unidentified team member as saying, “Cameroon is well on its way in the democratic process.” 

The British Broadcasting Corp. and the Agence France-Presse news agency reported that government denials of election fraud had been backed up by former members of Congress. 

The association issued a report a week after the vote that was more critical than the comments the delegation members had made in Cameroon. It includes complaints from opposition parties and reports a “significant number of irregularities,” including the media’s pro-government slant. It says that “many potential voters” had been unable to register because of their “assumed political sympathies.” 

The report also says that the irregularities were not enough for the association to “disapprove of the balloting process itself.” It calls for the strengthening of the new National Elections Observatory, and says its involvement in the vote marked “an important degree of progress against the background of past elections that were not well-supervised nor widely accepted as open, free and fair.” 

The report, which disclosed the Cameroon government’s funding of the monitoring mission but did not mention Laughlin’s role, acknowledged that government staffers had accompanied two of the three groups of delegates on election day. Although the officials did not limit the observers’ activities, they “did have a large role in outlining the agenda for the day,” it said. 

For one team, the government staffers helped determine which polling stations would be visited. That team, in which Franklin said he was paired with Schulze, reported “no instances of complaints from individuals regarding the denial of voting rights.” 

Weichlein and Laughlin both said that Laughlin had no input into the report. 

“When you get funding from one side, the other side is always going to accuse you of bias, but our report was not a whitewash,” Weichlein said. 

Schulze said he considered the final report too critical of Cameroon. “It now has freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and a good measure of toleration,” he said in an e-mail to The Times. “There was no violence and no coercion.” 

A group of observers from Commonwealth countries, led by former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, began arriving in Cameroon about six weeks before the election. They deployed 24 monitors on the day of the vote and visited 263 polling stations across all of Cameroon’s provinces. 

In contrast to the association members’ remarks to the media, the Commonwealth group released a statement when it left Cameroon that said that “in a number of key areas, the electoral process lacked the necessary credibility.” 

It issued a 50-page report that also covered Cameroon’s poor human rights record and the government’s history of political violence against the opposition, topics not addressed in the 11-page American report. 

In its report, the Commonwealth group said that the registration process might have “missed a considerable portion of the voting-age population of Cameroon” and that the group had no confidence in the list of those who did register. Its teams encountered complaints from people who said they had registered but whose names did not appear on the lists. Some teams reported that the complaints were “numerous and vociferous.” 

“We ran into swarms of people who had been declared ineligible to vote,” Clark said. 

The report added that the National Elections Observatory lacked credibility and suffered from a “lack of financial resources, staff and enforcement powers.” 

Carroll said the Carter Center did not accept government help with logistics, agenda or escort. 

“A prerequisite for us to accept an invitation is to have unimpeded access,” he said. “The whole idea is to be independent and your movements unknown. If officials know where you are going, they have more ability to manipulate the process.” 

Clark, a member of the Assn. of Former Parliamentarians of Canada, said he had discussed the American mission with his board so “we can take steps to ensure that we don’t slip into the same type of practices” on election missions. 

In November, just more than a month after the election, delegation member Schulze — a member of the association’s board and a lobbyist at Valis Associates — signed up a new client: the Biya government. In exchange for an initial retainer of $149,972, he and two other company lobbyists are to help “maximize the impact of Cameroon’s political and economic reforms on agencies and departments of the U.S. government,” according to disclosure forms. 

Schulze said that after returning to the United States, he contacted some of the people he had met in Cameroon. It “was these discussions, along with our firm’s background and experience, which led to our being placed on retainer,” he said. 

That same month, former Rep. Maguire wrote a sharply critical opinion piece in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger calling the Cameroon election an example of how “dictators masquerade as democrats.” In a subsequent interview with The Times, he defended the association’s observer mission but said that he thought it was impossible to have a free election in Cameroon. 

Two other delegation members, Wyatt and Franklin, swiftly reacted to Maguire’s column. Franklin said they had worked with lobbyists Laughlin and Schulze to craft a letter to the editor that declared the election “free, fair and transparent.” 

Weichlein said the association hoped to expand its election observer program in the years ahead. 

“We have a unique pool of experienced legislators,” he said. “If asked, we can lend our knowledge and be extremely helpful to emerging democracies.” 

Times Staff Writer

The Inevitable New State.By Ntemfac Aloysius Nkong Ofege

The Inevitable New State

British Southern Cameroonian writer, Victor Epie Ngome Epie Ngome in What God Has Put Asunder (1992). points out the unworkability of the very idea of a union between British Southern Cameroons and LRC.[1] Using an extended marriage metaphor, Epie Ngome argues that that this was like bringing oil and water together and then hoping for a mixture of sorts.

Susungi (1991) observed that while some telescopic Francophones perceive the unification episode as the reunion of two prodigal sons who had been unjustly separated at birth, the bringing together of Francophones and British Southern Cameroonians was more like a loveless marriage arranged by the United Nations between two people who hardly knew each other.[2] This chapter goes beyond the non-existent factors put in place by the UN, as the primary architect of this trialing, to guarantee its feasibility and workability. We intend to explore the historical, contextual, sociological, political, institutional and constitutional factors that have, over the years, militated for the catastrophic collapse of this experiment. We would argue that since the genesis of the New Social Order by Barrister Gorji Dinka et al in 1985[3] a wild river of British Southern Cameroonian nationalism has been generated.

Steps taken by the regime (violence, divide and rule, corruption, intimidation, etc) are akin to carrying water in a basket or Holding back the tide. It is just a matter of time before British Southern Cameroonian nationalism translates into its logical conclusion i.e. the invention of a new state along the West African coast. Consequently, and, until the official hoisting of the Blue and White Banner upon this territory we would agree with Nantang Jua that, “the most decisive factor in the construction of an British Southern Cameroonian identity, however, has turned out to be the post-colonial nation-state project that led British Southern Cameroonians to imagine Cameroun as a prison rather than as a nation.”[4]


[1] Ngome, V. E. 1992   What God Has Put Asunder (Yaoundé: Pitcher Books Ltd.).

1993   “Anglophobia”, Focus on Africa, 4 (3): 27-29.

[2] Susungi N. N., 1991, The Crisis of Unity and Democracy in Cameroon (no publisher mentioned).

[3] Notes. Genesis of the New Social Order

[4] Nantang Jua et Piet Konings,  Occupation of Public Space Anglophone Nationalism in Cameroon, Cahiers d’études africaines, 175, 2004
http://etudesafricaines.revues.org/document4756.html

The Merits of the Federal Republic of Bimbia

Extracted from: Den of Lions Volume II

By Ntemfac Aloysius Nkong Nchwete Ofege.

The Name Issue

Fon Gorji Dinka once said. “Southern Cameroonians have failed to name themselves so every Tom, Dick, Harry and (Janet) can given them a name. It was on the dire need to banish the borrowed name “Cameroon” from this contentious territory that the Fon dug into the history books and came up with the name AMBAZONIA  – the zone beyond Ambas Bay which was itself taken from the word “Amba” a response of the Bota Islanders to the Portuguese sailors when they asked them: What is the name of those flaming mountains? The mountains in question were the Chariot of the Gods. Unfortunately while Ambas Bay exists in the records AMBAZONIA was never codified in International Law. Bimbia is present in early International Law. King William of Bimbia executed the first International Treaties between Southern Cameroons and the International Community

Bimbia was there ages before Southern Cameroons.

Extracts from the Works of Hon PP Nkwenti

Former MP Ndop

DSA History/Geography

University of Yaounde

BIMBIA

HISTORICAL

A: INTRODUCTION:

It is a general consensus among ethnographical researchers, and anthropological historians, particularly the works of Edwin Adener on the coastal Bantus of Cameroon, the “Deutsches Kolonial Lexikon” of the Germans, and “Inventaire Ethnique” by Madame Dugast, that the Kpe-Mboko group of the coastal Bantus of Cameroon constitutes what became known as Bimbia.

The coastal Mboko from Sanje to Mukundange appears to have migrated from the main body of the tribe on the northwestern slope of the Cameroon mountain. In the case of Kpe, she claims the same origins as the Dualas. The Kpe-Mboko group is today confined to the present southern sector of Anglophone Cameroon.

The group consists of Kpe, Isuwu, Wovea, the coastal Mboko in Meme, Kupe – Maninguba and Ndian Divisions of the former Southern Cameroons.

The Kpe occupies about 104 villages, which lie to the east of a line dividing the Cameroon Mountain along its axis. The Kpe extend further inland and are neighbours of the inland Mboko while in the creeks at Ewonji and on the Mungo River at Mondoni, they are neighbours of the Mungo. The Balong bound them to the N.E. The Balong are also along the Mungo River; and on the north between Balong and Mboko; the Kundus and the Rombis bound them.

The Mbokos are made up of the 28 villages lying on the lower side of the Cameroon Mountain from the Kpe. The coastal Mboko from Sanje to Mukundange are confined in small enclaves surrounded on the landward side by the plantation land. The coastal Mboko do not live as high up the mountain as the Kpe.

The Isuwu occupies 3 villages: Wonyabile (Bonabile) Wonyangomba (Bonangoba), and Likolo (Dikolo) on the extreme Southern coast of the Bimbia promontory. The Wovea people occupy the largest Island of the small group in Ambas Bay (Bota Island) and Bota Land. The village of Mondoni on the coast of Bimbia promontory is also related to them.

B. WHAT ACTUALLY WAS BIMBIA?

Bimbia, or BOBIA as was called in the 18th and 19th centuries, is the primitive appellation that was given by early settlers to the coastal area that was generally occupied by the Kpe, Isuwu or Isubu (according to some authors), Wovea, and the coastal and inland Mboko people.

These people were a major littoral Bantu band that settled before the 15th Century A.D on a coastal stretch of land that extended from the swamps of Rio del Rey and Ndian in the far west, through the marshy-land of Bamusso, all in Ndian Division, then south eastwards through Cape Nachtingal and Ambas bay to the Wuri Estuary in Douala. They extended northwards from the 4th to about the 5th degree of latitude around the Rumpi and Muaningouba highlands, latitude 41/2° N and longitude 9°E cut across ancient Bimbia.

Chief Bile, or King William of Bimbia as he was generally called, was the paramount chief of all people of Bimbia. The Isuwu people first appeared on the pages of history only at the time of King William of Bimbia who had come from Bonaberi but who moved Westwards to what became known as Bimbia where his mother’s brother (uncle) lived. During King William’s time, the Isuwu of Bimbia, because of  their more littoral settlement, played a leading role in trade along the coast, second only to that of Duala. In a battle with the Wovea people (Bota Island and Botaland), William solicited the help of the Acting British Consul to the Bight of Benin and Biafra. The Acting Consul supported him to defeat this people and made them recognize him (King William) as King of the stretch of mainland and the islands north of Bimbia.

As early as February 17th 1884,the first treaty officially listed as entered into by an Anglophone coastal Bantu Chief was that signed by King William of Bimbia aided by his compatriots; Prince George, Dick Merchant, and John Bimbia. In this commercial agreement with the British traders, King William accepted that:

“….. the subjects of the Queen of England may  always trade freely with the people of Bimbia in every article they may wish to buy or sell…and the chiefs of Bimbia pledge themselves to show no favour…to other countries which they do not show to those of England.”

The British also signed agreements with the coastal chiefs abolishing human sacrifices. That is why on March 31, 1848, an agreement was signed with the King and chiefs of Bimbia. The agreement read:

“I, King William and all the chiefs of Bimbia, do solemnly promise to do away with the abominable inhuman and unchristian-like custom of sacrificing human lives on account of death of any of the chiefs, or on account of any of their superstitious practices.”

As a step towards modern administration, a treaty was signed also in 1856 by the King, chiefs, and traders establishing a “Court of Equity” in which traders and chiefs were to sit in Bimbia.

Due to unsatisfactory condition in the Island of Fernando Po Alfred Saker decided to move with his followers from there to the mainland opposite which was Bimbia. On June 9, 1858, he reached the mainland and named it “Victoria” in honour of Queen Victoria, the then reigning British Monarch. On August 23, 1858, he signed a treaty with King William of Bimbia who claimed to have unlimited power over the land being arranged for his purchase.

The treaty read:

“….I, William, Chief and the known King of Isubu, and sole and lawful owner of a district contiguous to ISUBU and known as “War Bay” and “Ambas Bay” and Islands belonging thereto, declare, and by this act to make known, that I this day makeover and give  unto Alfred Saker…all my rights and title to the sovereignty and possession of the district therein specified…a coastline beginning at War Bay…

Continuing and embracing FO’O Bay and thence onward to the highlands of Bobia. Second, the interior line of this district shall be from the stream in War bay onward N.E….to join another line N.E. from the highlands beyond Bobia (Bimbia). Third, this district together with all that appertains thereto…I do this day make over and give unto Alfred Saker…and assigns FOREVER for the consideration herewith annexed. And I do hereby acknowledge to have received this day a note of hand and demand for payment of the consideration…”

It would be remembered that the first permanent British settlement as such was in fact a mission station started by Alfred Saker in Douala. Alfred Saker subsequently moved with his flock to the mainland as he purchased land from the King of Bimbia. The land obtained by Alfred Saker at the foot of the Cameroon mountain (FAKO Mt) was about 16km long and 8km wide along Ambas Bay, at the cost of 2.000 pounds sterling worth of goods.

Before the 1860s, trade along the coastal region of the Cameroons was monopolized by the British, mainly because of a series of treaties, which they had signed with the Duala Kings, King William of Bimbia and the chiefs of Bimbia. The Dualas and the Bimbians acted mostly as middlemen.

Before the abolition of the Slave trade, the most profitable trade at the Cameroons and Bimbian coast was none other than the notorious trade on human beings. In Bimbia, the Slave trade enabled King William to enjoy a monopoly over the supply of slave labour to the West African Company. The Duala and the Bimbian middlemen also supplied ivory, palm oil and kernels after the abolition of the Slave trade.

Besides the English, the Germans were also involved in trade with the Bimbians in Bimbia, where John Holt, the British Company, had a trading post. The subsequent decline in British trading activities in Bimbia led John Holt to close the Bimbian Factory in 1873 and sent his agents over to the Cameroons. This is why what was produced in Bimbia then in a small scale was taken either to the Cameroons River or to neighbouring Calabar. German treaty signing in the Cameroons and Bimbia in July 1884 involved sale contracts, negotiated treaties, and treaties of peace. In sale contracts, the local sovereigns transferred their sovereignty to the Germans. Of the 95 treaties that were signed from 1883 to 1907, 08 (including one with Bimbia) were outright sale contracts.

The contract with Bimbia was signed on July 11, 1884 between Eduard Woermann, Schmidt and Shultz, representing the Woermann Firm on one hand, and King William of Bimbia on the other. That is why the hoisting of the German flag at the Cameroons River on July 14, 1884 to mark the final act of claim and annexation of the territory also included Bimbia.

King William accepted that:

“….. the subjects of the Queen of England may  always trade freely with the people of Bimbia in every article they may wish to buy or sell…and the chiefs of Bimbia pledge themselves to show no favour…to other countries which they do not show to those of England.”