Monday, 18 June 2012

Cameroon: Prison letters from ousted minister, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, provoke regime disquiet

Since President Paul Biya's accession to the presidency in 1984 he has founded his regime – at least in part – on the projection of an image of stability and continuity, belying the backroom deals and intense competition for power within Cameroon's fragmented political elite. In this sense the recent and on-going revelations of the former secretary general to the presidency, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, represent one of the most significant threats to have emerged to Biya's presidency in the past 28-years. This is because they threaten to expose the corruption and maladministration on which Cameroon's much-vaunted stability rests while also highlighting the fragility of the regional and ethnic alliances which Biya has orchestrated.

Since his April arrest and detention on corruption charges, Marafa has issued a series of four open letters to Biya which have exposed and denounced the instances of gross corruption that he has witnessed during his 20 years as one of Biya's most valuable 'compagnons de route'. Marafa's arrest is not the first time that Biya has brought down the weight of law against his closest associates and the 1997 case of one of Marafa's predecessors, Titus Edzoa, is instructive. Nor is it the first time that Biya has moved against a potential rival; like Edzoa in his time, Marafa was once widely tipped as a potential successor. This is, however, the first time that one of Biya's victims has chosen not to take the medicine without complaint and has chosen instead to break the vow of 'omertá' observed until now by even disgraced ministers.

In his latest missive, published widely in independent media at the beginning on 5 June, Marafa alleged that in 1995 some 32 billion CFA Francs (US$48.8 million) allocated for the compensation of
families of 71 people killed in an air crash was misappropriated by senior public officials and most notably the current Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary. Marafa further revealed that the five survivors of the Cameroon Airlines (Camair) crash at Douala airport have still to be compensated.

This is, of course, a tremendously emotive issue, reference to which is explicitly designed to illustrate the Biya regime's lack of care towards the Cameroonian people. This is a common rallying cry for opposition to the aloof and, often literally, distant Biya. It is also interesting, however, that following Marafa's December 2011 dismissal as minister for territorial administration, (i.e. interior minister), it was Tchiroma who was frequently cited as the new 'strongman' in Cameroon's 'Grand Nord', effectively displacing Marafa who is also a Muslim ethnic Fulani from Garoua.

Given the importance to Biya – who is a Christian southerner – of a strong alliance with the largely Muslim north, Marafa's attack on Tchiroma looks designed to undermine the regime's North-South alliance, which has been in place since the near-victory of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) – a largely Anglophone party from western Cameroon – in 1992.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Cameroon Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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