Fru Ndi’s New Mentor. By Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi

Following his famous shaking of the hand of Paul Biya in Bamenda, Fru Ndi went out boasting that those who had left his party were rushing back into the party, probably because he had become the wiser after meeting with Paul Biya! His multiplication of the handshakes in Unity Palace, and probably soon in Ebolowa, seems therefore to be meant to multiply the returning effect! In a way, Paul Biya has suddenly become the mentor of Fru Ndi!

Since the main bone of contention between the SDF and the CPDM, or between Fru Ndi and Paul Biya has been the fraudulent manner in which elections are organized in Cameroon, Fru Ndi started off by giving the impression that since he handed his demands on ELECAM directly to Paul Biya in Bamenda, things would change since he probably has not been getting the resolutions and messages they have been sending to him through intermediaries. During his 31 December 2010 message to the nation, Paul Biya talked about the need for citizens to enter their names in electoral registers, the citizen’s right to vote, his trust in ELECAM, and the necessary support of the administration and political parties to ELECAM. He concluded by saying that he has “reason to believe that ELECAM will be able to put finishing touches to its mechanisms on the ground in the coming months;” and that “we will have the opportunity to revisit all these issues.” Then everybody jumped onto the commentary box, telling us that he meant that he would revisit ELECAM; such truncated commentaries were all meant to goad Fru Ndi! And he has continued to trudge on like the proverbial man that follows a ram around, hoping that the scrotum would fall off at any moment!

Fru Ndi seems to have engaged in his contacts with Paul Biya like a political virgin. If not, then he is fully aware of the political engagements other political leaders have had with Paul Biya, which ended only in their exhaustion and dumping; and the political engagements he took with the entire nation,  which he has failed to respect. He probably has forgotten about the “council of state” which he was supposed to move from house arrest to Chair in 1992, but which ended in nothing but internal conflicts in his party, and the eventual expulsion of the Secretary General, Siga Asanga. He most probably remembers well the Tripartite, the constitutional engagements that came out of it, and Paul Biya’s single-handed, and self-serving changes he has effected on the constitution. He also most probably still remembers his regular visits to the Prime Minister’s office to put his views on NEO and ELECAM, and what use the views served. He probably is carrying all these along with him in his mind as he follows his mentor around the country, probably hoping that he would be treated differently this time around.

Many people make sacrifice in the religious realm, with the hope of heavenly reward. For a long time now, many Cameroonians expected Fru Ndi, from his position of strength within the opposition, to make some sacrifice by ceding the position of presidential candidate to some other person,  in the expectation of the victory of the opposition, and his ultimate victory following a transition period during which “a level playing field” would be created. He refused to budge. Now he has accepted to make an even higher sacrifice: giving the impression that he has reneged on his lifelong struggle for change; that he has capitulated for personal interest, not for the general good.

Looking at the present state of the SDF, the compromise seems to be in resigned acknowledgement of defeat. Like the UPC pre-independence struggle against colonialism that ended in defeat and the institution of neo-colonialism in Cameroon, so too has the SDF struggle against neocolonialism ended in defeat!

While the silent majority racks their brains to think of what to do next, one can only speculate on what the defeated SDF is likely to do next.  Although nobody asked Fru Ndi not to go to parliament, he has always mourned over the fact that “the people he sent to parliament” go around with diplomatic passports and armed guards provided by the state, while he has none of these. Now that the constitution of the SDF prohibits the National Chairman of the party from being a government minister, he is likely not to be too warm to make other diplomatic passport carriers guarded by state security while he remains in his helpless state. He will most probably beg his new mentor to create the “leader of the opposition” outfit, which is no threat to his Chairmanship position, and affords him a diplomatic passport, armed guards, and financial gains too. Or maybe beg him to hurry up with elections to the Senate, where he might find a foothold, even if it is ELECAM to oversee them!

And the 2011 presidential election: to go or not to go? Judging by Fu Ndi’s propensity for proclaiming himself No.2 of the Republic because of his no. 2 position in presidential elections, he is likely to block the way to his succession as no.2 by any of the many candidates that are declaring their intentions to run. Or he may try some populist posturing to indicate that he has not yet completely sold out. He may decide to boycott the poll on the excuse that no good can be done by ELECAM in its present state, since Paul Biya is showing no signs of wanting to change it. Remember he had been telling everybody before he found his new mentor that “there will be no elections in Cameroon under the present dispensations of ELECAM.” Following the boycott, and the generalized low turnout that is expected, the politics of the nation would still be too timid to provide Paul Biya the grand exit following or during his last presidential term. This may set the stage for another round of the SDF/CPDM talks we witnessed following the 1997 boycott, and the final entry of the SDF in a “coalition” government, or a government of unanimity, provided Fru Ndi already has his own niche carved out for him, like being in the Senate, or the “official” leader of the opposition!

In politics, every action has its rationale. Some may be convincing, others may not. Fru Ndi could have chosen to remain in his previous position, and allowed Paul Biya to continue to stew in the juice of his political mess until the end of his reign. He did not: he chose to embrace him. From his posturing about his party coming alive following the embrace, it is possible that he knew he had descended so low that such an embrace could only provide him some energy for a rebound. But I think that Fru Ndi needs much more than the energy provided by the embrace to cause a rebound that has any significant effect on the disposition of the political chess board as it is presently laid out. Except, perhaps, he sees the future more clearly than I do.

 

Tazoacha Asonganyi

Yaounde

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Committee to Protect Journalist Demands Untainted Investigation into the Ngota Ngota Affair

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS

330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 | Phone: (212) 465-1004 | Fax: (212) 465-9568 | Web: http://www.cpj.org

CPJ seeks untainted Cameroon investigation of Ngota death

May 6, 2010

H.E. Paul Biya

President of the Republic of Cameroon

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Via facsimile: (237) 22 20 33 06

Dear President Biya,

The Rio del Rey. the Boat for which Ngota Ngota died

We are alarmed by investigations that appear to be flawed and marred with political interference into the April 22 death in prison of journalist Germain Cyrille Ngota. We hold Cameroon’s government responsible for Ngota’s death and the well-being of three other journalists in the custody of the administration. We call on you to address these concerns, along with allegations of torture of journalists by a security agency accountable to your office.

Mr. President, we were heartened by an April 26 statement issued from your office stating that “with a concern of objectivity and impartiality, the President of the Republic has wanted to assign this case to a body independent of the Executive and its parties, namely the judicial power, in view of the establishment of the truth.”

However, the same statement asserted that Ngota’s case was “not a matter of restriction of freedom of the press but of submission of every citizen to the rule of law.” In fact, agents of the Cameroon intelligence agency DGRE first arrested Ngota—while he was receiving home medical care for high blood pressure—with three other journalists investigating a document that implicated presidential adviser Laurent Esso in corruption. The administration has not addressed allegations that DGRE agents used psychological and physical torture to force the journalists to reveal sources for the document. 

The president’s statement further asserted that Ngota died only of poor health and not because of poor medical care at Nkondengui prison. However, in an interview with weekly La Météo, Ngota’s mother, Georgette Edima Ngoulou, said her son had complained of being trampled while sleeping on the floor of his cell and of exposure to rainwater. She said the prison warden “categorically rejected” a written plea for his medical evacuation, which his mother said had been endorsed by the prison doctor.

We are troubled that on April 28, the minister publicly disclosed that Ngota had been tested positive for HIV and died from infections arising from this condition—a claim refuted by Ngota’s widow. Local anti-AIDS activists and Cameroon’s national medical association have condemned the public disclosure of Ngota’s HIV status, raising concerns of violation of privacy and medical confidentiality rights enshrined in Cameroonian laws and the U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS. The minister’s statement was based on an autopsy he said would be held “in the presence of independent personalities” and Ngota’s family, according to Agence France-Presse. However, Ngota’s younger brother, Bruno Ntede, and Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola, a local journalist who was invited by the minister to represent the independent press at the autopsy, said they were not present, according to press reports.

Mr. President, you tasked Cameroon’s judiciary with independently investigating this matter. Yet, we are troubled that the integrity of the probe may have already been compromised by a series of assertions from the administration that are at odds with claims made by family and friends of Ngota. In the interest of transparency and safeguarding the integrity of any judicial investigations, we call on your leadership to address these concerns, including allegations that DGRE intelligence agents used physical and psychological torture to force four journalists to reveal sources of the document at the basis of their arrests. We finally ask that you release all journalists held in Cameroonian prisons.

Thank for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director

URL > http://cpj.org/2010/05/cpj-seeks-untainted-cameroon-investigation-of-ngot.php

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org.

Bibi Ngota: Sinking Ship, the Plot Thickens.

It has now filtered that Ngota Ngota and company did not get the first information about kickbacks in the purchase of a ‘Hotel-ship’ and huge sums – from a leaked conversation. The press got the the tip from the very authoritative Africa Confidential way back in 2009.

Article lu dans Le Confidentiel Africain — N° 105 — 1er octobre 2009

Scandale à la SNH

La puissante Société nationale des hydrocarbures (SNH) présentée comme la « caisse noire des recettes pétrolières » du régime du « renouveau » est en passe de faire exploser l’un des plus grands scandales financiers qu’ait jamais connu le Cameroun dans les tous prochains jours. Il s’agit de l’« affaire Rio Del Rey », le nom de baptême du bateau hôtel acheté à 17 milliards de F.CFA par la SNH que dirige un des rarissimes hommes de confiance du président Paul Biya, le très discret Adolphe Moudiki. Ce Sawa, ancien directeur adjoint du Cabinet civil, ancien ministre et actuellement administrateur directeur général de ladite société dont la gestion relève de l’exclusivité de la présidence.

En 2008, la SNH spécialisée dans le partenariat de recherche des puits pétroliers off-shore et on-shore, ainsi que des quotas de production et de transport du brut tchadien à travers le pipeline Doba-Kribi avait couronné une année faste en chiffre d’affaire par le versement de la somme record de 651,217 milliards de F.CFA au Trésor public. La bonne santé de la SNH en 2008 s’expliquait, selon nos sources, par trois découvertes et la signature de trois nouveaux contrats de partage de production avec le consortium Glencore/Afex et avec les sociétés Addax et EurOil, respectivement sur les blocs Matanda, Iroko et Etindé. Toutes choses qui avaient permis des versements des primes de rendement à son sélectif personnel, ainsi que les encouragements spéciaux de son PCA statutaire, le secrétaire général de la présidence, Laurent Esso, tant le ministre des Mines n’en assure qu’une transparente tutelle administrative. En 2008, la SNH avait confirmé la commande d’acquisition d’une barge hôtel d’une capacité de 132 lits : « Cette barge, dénommée Rio Del Rey, et qui a coûté 17 milliards de F.CFA environ représente le premier investissement de cet ordre jamais réalisé par la SNH, sur fonds propres », s’en était d’ailleurs félicité l’ADG auprès du président Biya à qui Adolphe Moudiki rend prioritairement et exclusivement compte du vrai tableau de bord des recettes pétrolières…

Le problème aujourd’hui repose essentiellement sur les mécanismes de cette transaction opaque ainsi que les caractéristiques futuristes de la barge Rio Del Rey (RDR) équipée d’un héliport et dont la SNH était peu disert sur le pays et l’usine de fabrication de ce « bateau hôtel flambant neuf ». On sait que le RDR a été fabriqué par « Aksoy Gelibolu Shipyard » en Turquie, dans le même chantier naval ayant monté la barge « Elisa ». Le RDR fabriqué et mis à l’eau le 28 septembre 2008 dans le port de Gelibolu (situé dans le détroit de Dardanelles à 250 bornes d’Istanbul) aurait dû être livré à la SNH au mois d’octobre 2008, via la firme suisse « ABC Maritime » que dirige Robert Rohrbach. Seulement la barge RDR n’est jamais arrivée au Cameroun, nonobstant le dernier versement du solde des 17 milliards le 26 novembre 2008. Les traces du RDR remontent plutôt au mois d’avril 2009 où la barge fut utilisée par Total Genève et une expédition aux larges de Dakar au Sénégal le 12 mai 2009. Depuis lors, le Cameroun attend sa barge achetée à pas moins de 17 milliards de F.CFA. Pis, la transaction pour l’acquisition du RDR aurait connu des intermédiaires occultes. Nos sources s’interrogent – entre autres – sur l’attribution d’une somme de 480 millions de F.CFA représentant 3 % des commissions sur les 17 milliards de F.CFA versés à Dooh Collins, directeur général de « Petroleum Advising Services » (PAS). Cet argent fait jaser les personnes proches dudit dossier. La presse camerounaise est en passe de se saisir de cette affaire…

The Scary Sums that led to the death of Ngota Ngota

YAOUNDE – 05 MAI 2010
© La Nouvelle
 4 Réactions
 
L’integralite de la lettre du DP de “Le Devoir” au DG de la SNH dans le cadre de l’affaire du bateau-hotel…
 
En date du 9 octobre 2009, le directeur de publication du journal Le Devoir, actuellement incarcéré à Kondengui adresse une correspondance à l’administrateur directeur général de la SNH, Adolphe Moudiki. Voici l’intégralité de cette lettre qui porte en objet “vérification de l’information“. Même comme on peut observer qu’il va dans tous les sens, le journaliste qu’il est, n’a-t-il pas voulu procéder à la critique des sources en adressant cette correspondance à l’Adg de la Snh ? Lisez plutôt.Monsieur,Je viens par la présente, vous tenir informé de ce qui suit: je suis journaliste depuis 25 ans, puis directeur de publication, j’ai le souci de donner à mes lecteurs, la bonne information, recoupée et vérifiée.

A cet effet, vous connaissant mieux pour vous avoir côtoyé depuis 1986, j’ai trouvé en vous, et sans flagornerie aucune, un homme très honnête. Cerise sur le gâteau, je viens de boucler une enquête; à l’issue de celle-ci, je vais vous faire part de mes préoccupations, bien avant la publication de ma prochaine édition. Et il y a quelques mois, si j’ai publié des informations concernant la Snh, sans recoupement et sans procéder à la critique des sources; c’est juste parce que j’ai été menacé par votre épouse Nathalie et votre chargée de la communication, Cécile Epondo Fouda. Et dans un morceau bien choisi de chez nous, on dit: le temps passé ne revient plus…

Monsieur l’Adg, voici mes préoccupations:

1.-/ Annoncé à grand tapage médiatique, la grosse affaire de la SNH à savoir l’achat du yard pétrolier baptisé (Rio Del Rey) sent du roussi. Pouvez-vous aujourd’hui dire aux Camerounais toute la vérité et rien que la vérité telle qu’à une époque révolue, vous avez eu à demander aux accusés d’en faire en levant la main droite ?

2.-/ Courant décembre 2008, vous avez selon des sources généralement bien informées, envoyé votre charmante épouse Nathalie Moudiki en Hollande pour l’inauguration et l’appréciation dudit navire qui, excusez du peu, aura coûté plus de 17 milliards de francs CFA. Question monsieur l’Adg: pourquoi elle et non quelqu’un d’autre ? Est-elle spécialiste en la matière ?

3.-/ La bonne affaire, (votre Rio Del Rey) selon les mêmes sources, n’a passé que 7 jours au Cameroun; alors l’opération Epervier qui sévit sur l’Albatros ne vous a pas encore suffisamment instruit, dans la mesure où celle-ci, négociée par le truchement de la société écran dénommée Gmbh, n’est rien d’autre qu’un gros détournement ?

4.-/ Par correspondance (confidentielle) de monsieur Laurent Esso ci-devant Pca de la Snh et Sg de la présidence du 20 juin 2008 sous le N°007/Prc/Sg/D-06 ayant pour objet je cite “dossier Rio Del Rey”; avez-vous au terme d’un entretien téléphonique d’environ 45 minutes, diligenté l’opération de paiement de la somme de 1 342 000 000 FCFA, en prenant soin d’écarter monsieur Mendimi qui est le directeur financier, préférant travailler (les besoins de la cause) avec un certain Menyu Paul Debauger et d’autres cadres de la maison dont une dame ? Alors monsieur l’Adg, combien d’opérations du genre avez-vous fait pour préparer votre retraite qui frappe déjà à la porte ?

5.-/ Dans cette affaire, vous êtes au nombre de cinq: à savoir Laurent Esso, Dooh Collins, Antoine Bikoro Alo’o et Dayas Mounoume. Ce bonus qui en guise de commission a été entièrement payé bien que cela se soit fait en deux tranches selon les ordres de virement. Honnêtement, Dooh Collins reconnaît avoir perçu 470 millions. Quant à vous, pouvez-vous nous dire ce que vous avez eu réellement ?

6.-/ Les mauvaises langues, si jamais elles le sont, disent que vous avez écarté des circuits, votre ancien complice de détournement des 1,342 milliards pendant les quelques jours de maladie qu’elle a passés à l’hôpital de la CNPS, au profit de Essama Ndi Naomie et autres Menyu Paul, monsieur l’Adg: jusqu’à quand allez-vous continuer à jouer ce jeu dangereux ?

7.-/ Les mêmes mauvaises langues déclarent que vous êtes déjà entrain de tout faire pour éliminer la jeune dame, parce que croyez-vous, c’est elle qui a vendu la mèche. Qu’en est-il exactement ?

Très haute consideration

 
 http://www1. voanews.com/ english/news/ africa/Cameroon- Investigation- into-Journalists -Death-is- Challenged- 92778184. html

Cameroon Media in the Loop. By Fon Achobang

In flames?World Press Freedom day celebrations are dedicated to reflections on what the role of the media should be in society. On the eve of the 2010 manifestations, the Cameroon media was bereaved as one of its members, Bibi Ngota, was allegedly tortured and abandoned to die in pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison. Cameroon media was also shocked beyond rationale when the Minister of Communication, government regulator of the sector, Issa Tchiroma Bakary went out of his way to make a public statement that Bibi Ngota was HIV positive and died from opportunistic infections. Against this background, Cameroon media is in mourning and reflection on the challenges that face the sector.

Citizens cannot make sound decisions on issues put before them without the free flow of information and public opinion. This information and opinion helps them to make informed decisions during elections and on which projects to support. 2011 is a critical year in Cameroon and the media cannot allow itself to fail. They must create the atmosphere for debate and free flow of information to educate and sensitize voters.

Cameroonian voters should be given a limitless supply of information sources; newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books, mailed communications and pamphlets. Hundreds of newspapers are reported as registered in Cameroon, and according to government that is an alibi for press freedom. How does the Cameroonian press provide coverage of all important local, regional, national and international developments?

The Prime Minister of Cameroon, Yang Philemon just completed an economic and image charming trip in the United States of America. The Cameroonian people are left to consume only the coverage of Cameroon Radio Television and Cameroon Tribune, both government public media. A vast majority of the bourgeoning press was left out of the trip. Of course, government media concerns are limited and will fail to report the all important trip from all perspectives. By the end of the trip few Cameroonians will be informed of the necessity of such a trip and the its fallouts.

As a committed sector to impartial and unbiased reporting of facts, the mass media, as an ideal should enable voters to make intelligent decisions. As such the media should analyze the meaning of developments, and in clearly identified columns and broadcasts, express editorial opinions supporting or opposing the decisions of public officials. In the current dispensation, the Cameroon private media has been seen as weakening government action in acting for the public good. This is because the private media has been the one reporting the various allegations on Biya’s Ill-gotten Wealth and the suits against the Head of State in the diaspora.

As to the choice between the media and the government, let us remember what Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence in America said. In 1787 he declared:

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Over 200 years ago, that is what one of the founders of the American modern nation thought of the media. As a source of informed opinion, it should occupy the priority position. The Cameroon media should offer debates on public issues and interviews with persons who support or oppose specific actions. The Cameroon government has indicated, perhaps it has become its hallmark, that it is opposed to any opinion opposing its actions. In the 1980s when the economic crises started biting the country, lots of journalists of the English expression tried to debate issues in the country. They were whisked off the news programme, Cameroon Report and taken straight to the Kondengui Central Prison. The name of the programme had since been changed to Cameroon Calling but each time the spirit of Cameroon report reared its ugly head, the anchor was taken off. As such the Cameroon media lost some of its best practitioners in the English language.

Today, the Cameroon media is confronted with all sorts of problems caused by amateurs and people who barely have the tools for reporting. The 1990 communication regulations try to define what a journalist was. According to this profile, a journalist was somebody who went through a school of journalism; somebody with a postsecondary education and should have spent at least a year practicing in a media house; and thirdly if the practitioner does not have a postsecondary certificate, he should have spent at least four years in a media house. These criteria notwithstanding, there is no watchdog to screen those currently on the field.

Some government institutions and authorities have, therefore, taken advantage of this lack of regulation to impose their personal stamp on what they imagine to be against them in the media. It is in this light that the very powerful Minister of State, Secretary General at the Presidency, Laurent Esso used his position to bypass all judicial procedures to get Bibi Ngota detained. Recently, I was dragged to the Kumba High Court to answer charges proffered against me by the powerful Judge of the court. He felt defamed when I publicized one of the swindling sagas he is involved in. if I had been found within his jurisdiction, he would have detained me. My belonging to a different jurisdiction did not prevent him from crossing his judicial boundary to accost me with a summons, which I of course used as evidence of his abuse of power to petition the President of the Republic, Chair of the Higher Judicial Council.

Reporters are expected to know their rights and responsibilities and operate within the ambit of such rights. If I didn’t know my legal rights, and knew how to analyze the data collected from the Meme High Court, that legal jurisdiction would have messed me up like Bibi Ngota. Today, it is the judge running away from his shadow and resorting to arson to erase damaging evidence against him.

The treatment of information by those who gather such information leaves much to be desired. An uncle of the Cameroon media, Sam Nuvala Fonkem observed that there were lots of assumptions in the columns of our newspapers and broadcasts. His advice was never to assume, but to elucidate and clarify a news story as if the reader knows nothing at all about it. Here publishers and news editors fail to do justice to reports as they transform themselves into butchers, cutting chunks of valuable information indiscriminately. This might be an overstatement because the cutting of valuable information is premeditated.

Some publishers have personalities to protect. Every time such personalities are highlighted negatively, the story is either killed or edited in such a way that the news is killed. Sometime in 2009, a seminar on corruption held in Buea. The participant from the American embassy declared that he was ashamed to call the Honourable Rose Abunaw such because she was a disgrace. This was because she was behind the many visa scams for which Dr Fonkam Azu Simon was accused on the private media.  Even though there was enough evidence to pin down Rose Abunaw as the culprit, this newspaper publisher decided that the story be censored.  What about the publishers/editors who will call the culprits reported in an article to come and buy off the story?

Selling of stories to culprits might even be more profitable than selling papers on the streets. No Cameroonian paper sells 3,000 copies per edition. Cameroonians prefer to save their money for beer and other mundane concerns than buy a paper which does not articulate their anxieties and propose solutions. Government too has censored the papers by making them unaffordable to the common man. At FCFA 400 for 16 pages, most folks find it a waste of scarce resources buying a paper. Publishers, therefore, resort to unpalatable strategies to make money; smear campaigns, selling stories and blackmail.

Some news organs have simply transformed themselves into griots or praise singersfor some powerful elite. You cannot blame them as most are unable to put food on their tables nor keep their issues in school. You need to see how some news gatherers fight over food at conferences to which their news organs were never invited. such events provide them the unique opportunity to have a balance meal. They will heap food on their plates till you cannot see their faces from across the table. With many months of unpaid wages, it is enough to turn them in any direction with as little as FCFA 5,000.

Government can reverse this negative trend by throwing its weight behind the media and supporting them in every material way possible. This though runs the risk of transforming some publishers into band boys of the government dimabola chorus. In this election season, more seminars should be organized to drill reporters on reporting and the media laws. Government should be lobbied to support media house financially. This may help check some of the abuses noticed with private media corporations. The public services should also avail media houses of information. 

 
Fon Christopher Achobang
Department of Linguistics
Faculty of Arts
University of Buea
P.O. Box 63 Buea

(Senior Translator),
English-French- English
Expertise; International Business Translation; Literary Translation, Medical Translation; Editing; Proofreading.

(Senior Reporter)
P.O. Box 1095 Limbe
The Cameroons

Tel, 237 99365954

Death of Cameroonian Journalist: Local Unit of Commonwealth Journalists Reacts

Death of Germain “Bibi” Ngota.  CACOJ Statement

  The Cameroon Association of Commonwealth Journalists (CACOJ) hereby condemns in very strong terms the diversion and manipulation that Communications Minister Issa Bakery Tchiroma has been carrying out following the death in detention of Journalist Germain “Bibi” Ngota.

Despite the creation of a commission of inquiry to examine the cause of his death, Minister Issa Tchiroma disregarded all medical ethics and released suspicious results of an autopsy carried out on the body of the late journalist.

This CACOJ considers, is a total disregard of the rules of decency and the well established respect of the death that is a hallmark in African culture. By releasing Bibi Ngota’s suspicious medical records, Minister Issa Tchiroma showed how insensitive he and the government he represents are and what lengths he will go to defend a regime that will hang onto power at any cost.

A family has just lost a husband, father, son, uncle and brother in the most atrocious circumstances and instead of giving them some solace, Minister Tchiroma goes ahead to rub salt into injury by releasing his medical results without consulting his family. CACOJ considers this a violation of the rights of Bibi Ngota’s basic human rights and that of his family.

CACOJ is now calling on Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma to use the same medium he earlier used to apologize to the family of the late journalist. The minister should also apologize to the press family in Cameroon for being so insensitive and provocative. The Minister should be reminded he does not need to be this impolite to prove Bibi Ngota died from natural causes in detention. The simple truth is he died in preventive detention without getting a fair trial and there is evidence he was tortured in detention. A high profile member of the government Laurent Esso, Secretary General at the presidency of the Republic ordered  their arrests and the commission of inquiry should also examine if the allegations against him were true.

CACOJ hereby calls on the Minister to desist from further provocative and manipulative statements concerning the death of Bibi Ngota and to wait like all like minded Cameroonians for the Commission of inquiry to release its findings.

CACOJ also calls on the government to release the two other journalist who were arrested in connection with the case

CACOJ supports the call for a demonstration by journalists and all like minded Cameroonians in front of the Prime Ministers office

CACOJ finally appeals that the government takes its responsibility and pays compensation to the family of the bereaved journalist

Our hearts and prayers are with the bereaved family at this difficult time. We extend our heartfelt condolences to them

3rd May 2010

Francis Ngwa Niba

For and on behalf of CACOJ.

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