After more than 18 hours of flight to China, Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, is once more ill at ease. The 86-year-old Biya, who is also known as the “monarch” due to his arrogance and dictatorial tendencies, is having some health issues which might disrupt his China agenda.
His usual shortness of breath and a pounding heart have reared their ugly heads in China even though Mr. Biya was recently in Switzerland to see his medical doctors.
Mr. Biya, who travels around the world with a pharmacy and hospital manned by some medical experts, was recently in Switzerland for a very quick fix after his heart and prostrate started acting up on him. Years of pressure and the spiraling of the Southern Cameroons crisis are taking a huge toll on the monarch’s fragile health.
It should be recalled that Mr. Biya had to discharge himself from a Swiss hospital sometime last week just to head home and change his wardrobe before leaving for China for a Sino-Africa Summit which will be an opportunity for the cash-strapped Biya to display his begging bowl to the Chinese.
The long trips are now catching up with him and it is obvious that his China agenda, which includes negotiating for loans with major Chinese banks and pleading with Chinese investors to come and invest in Cameroon, is under threat.
According to the Cameroon Concord News Group’s Asia correspondent, there is fear within the monarch’s entourage, as concerns about his health mount. At 86, it is obvious that Mr. Biya cannot continue to undertake long trips. These trips are taxing to his health, but he is compelled by circumstances of his making to head abroad to seek some cash infusion from his allies, as his country’s economy totters on the brink of collapse.
Years of mismanagement and misappropriation of state funds have dumped the country’s economy in the doldrums and given the economy’s current situation, it will take years of professional and expert financial engineering to pull the economy back from the brink.
The level of unemployment among the country’s youths is appalling. With the economy still on a tailspin, it is clear that the country is heading for more challenging times. Many investors are heading out of the country, and even those who had plans to come to invest in the sub-region’s largest economy, are holding off on those plans, as the military violence in the two English-speaking regions threatens to migrate to the French-speaking part of the country.
Speaking in French, a member of the monarch’s entourage advised the Cameroon Concord News Group’s Asia correspondent that Mr. Biya has real health problems, but due to the financial squeeze the country is going through, Mr. Biya who is expecting huge sums of money from the Chinese, had to be there in person.
“The president thinks that his presence in China might cause Chinese to grant Cameroon more loans. Cameroon is going through real financial problems. The economy is suffering due to disruptions by the insurgents in the two English-speaking regions of the country. Investors are concerned about coming to Cameroon and the president holds that having a meeting with Chinese investors might help allay their fears,” the senior government official who elected anonymity said.
“We are facing tough times and if urgent measures are not taken, many development projects will be suspended. I am scared that this might affect our ability to organize the Africa Cup of Nations that is scheduled to take place next year in Cameroon,” he added.
“The insurgency in the two English-speaking regions of the country is a real concern to the president. With many armed groups emerging every day, it is clear that rolling back this insurgency might take a long time and lots of money,” he said.
“Currently, the military is facing serious issues. They need modern equipment to effectively deal with this situation that is a huge nightmare to the government. The government wants to negotiate, but it is confused. It does not know where to start, as the groups are many and the demands of the insurgents are like shifting sands. It is indeed unfortunate,” the frustrated official quipped.
“We could have avoided this situation, but a few hardliners in the government pushed the president to take a tough stance on this issue and this appears to be counterproductive. The country could be in for a long, difficult war. We should have used other means to address this problem. With the passing of each day, things only get worse,” he said.
“The news about what is happening in those two regions is not music to my ears. Children and women are killed on a daily basis and it is alleged that our military is involved in gross human rights abuses. This military violence is coming back to haunt the regime which is now seen in the West as a violator of human rights. The future is not promising for our country,” he regretted.
“Look at the pretty mess we now have on our hands. Some of our allies are abandoning us mid-stream. Americans have withdrawn their military assistance to Cameroon and this is hurting our country’s military. We cannot continue to fight many wars at the same time. We have to seek an honorable exit where possible and I know it is easier to negotiate with Anglophones than with Boko Haram in the north. We have to talk to people who can listen. All we need is for Anglophones to present to us their leaders so that we can end the violence that is decimating our population and military,” he stressed.
After having been mired in a tough military, economic and social battle over the last two years, the Yaoundé government is facing serious economic and financial crisis and this is keeping the country’s officials awake all night.
The crisis pitting Southern Cameroonian separatists against the Yaoundé government has seriously eroded the government’s financial base. The fighting is expensive and it has taken a huge bite out of the government’s fragile finances.
The soldiers who are battling a tough insurgency in the country’s English-speaking regions are grumbling and many need a pay increase. This is affecting their morale and things are only getting worse as the soldiers take many casualties.
A few months ago, the government had to increase the per diem of the soldiers fighting in the jungles of Southern Cameroons and this is weighing on the government’s budget.
The operation of heavy military equipment in these unpredictable jungles of Southern Cameroons is costing the government an arm and a leg. This has been compounded by the economic sabotage that Southern Cameroonian fighters have engaged in.
Over the last six months, some of the country’s major state corporations which are great money spinners have had to deal with the angst of Southern Cameroonian fighters who are determined to bring the country’s economy to its knees.
Corporations such as PAMOL and CDC all require a shot in the arm, but the cash-strapped government of Yaoundé is incapable of providing the much-needed infusion. Priming the pump of these corporations will require huge amounts of money. PAMOL has completely shot down due to increased disruption by Southern Cameroonian fighters.
Some 3,000 PAMOL workers have been rendered jobless and the corporation’s equipment is gradually rotting in various locations in the country. Some of the palm oil production corporation’s facilities have been burned down and threats from Southern Cameroonian fighters actually made some of the workers to throw in the towel even before the corporation announced its bankruptcy.
For the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), its operation capacity has been diminished over the last seven months. Ghost town operations and violence against its workers have made it hard for the country’s second largest employer to operate at full capacity.
The separatists’ economic sabotage is actually producing the desired effect as the government has seen some of its revenue streams diminishing. With many workers laid off from these two large corporations, the government has also witnessed a huge tax base erosion. The loss of more than 3,000 workers from these two corporations implies that income taxes paid to the government have diminished.
But the collapsing of these two corporations is not the worst news the Yaoundé government will be hearing. Southern Cameroonian separatists have their eyes set on the country’s lone refinery, SONARA, which is located in the southwest port city of Limbe.
They strongly believe that if they can successfully bring down SONARA, then they will be able to force the government to the negotiating table where some of the divorce issues can be discussed and addressed.
The government has therefore made it a policy to deploy troops around the refinery and this is costing it a pretty penny. This has been compounded by declining oil production and falling oil prices. Cameroon’s oil fields have been delivering some of the finest oil in the world and this has brought in billions of dollars into the government’s coffers.
Unfortunately, the Yaoundé government that is wont to mismanaging and misappropriating the country’s wealth cannot really show to the people of Cameroon what it has done with the country’s oil wealth it has received over the last 40 years.
The country’s financial woes have been compounded by the flaking support of its allies. The regime’s backers are no longer forthcoming financially. Its European allies such as France are falling back on their financial pledges and this is pushing the government into a financial abyss.
Last week, the government got more bad news from rating agencies which classified it as an investment risk due the ongoing military violence in the two English-speaking regions of the country.
This implies that many investors will hold off on any investment plans they may have for the country. Similarly, any loans extended to the country will be coming with a huge price tag as the country is no longer credit-worthy. Left in the noose of a financial squeeze and a destructive military situation, the Yaoundé government is bound to look for alternative financial partners and investment resources.
The West has lost faith in a system that is highly dominated by old and destructive people. The country’s economy needs a new breath of life and this cannot be provided by a bunch of leaders whose time has passed. The majority of Cameroon’s leaders are actually suffering from senile decay and they lack the innovative ability to turn the country’s ailing economy around. China is, therefore, the regime’s last hope. The Chinese economy is losing steam because of its trade war with the USA.
The Chinese hold that weaving new partnerships around the world can bring the much-needed oxygen to their economy that is feeling the pinch of American tariffs.
Cameroon’s economy is on life support just like the health of the country’s leaders. Cameroon needs a change in leadership. Today’s global economy requires new and innovative ideas, and it is clear that those new and innovative ideas can only come from younger leaders who have a better understanding of today’s economy which is permanently changing and constantly requiring expert economic engineering.
Mr. Biya and his cohort cannot provide the fresh blood the country’s economy needs. Obtaining more loans from the world, only sours the lives of generations of unborn Cameroonians. Cameroonians must sit up if they have to put an end to the mess that has ruined their lives.
China will surely say things that will be music to Mr. Biya’s ears, but the money will surely not be flowing in his direction anytime soon. China’s economy is stalling and it needs a huge infusion too. It will surely disappoint notorious beggars such as Mr. Biya who have carved out a negative reputation for themselves as irresponsible and dictatorial governments that lack the requisite ability to run a modern economy.
Mr. Biya who left with a large contingent holds that securing a huge sum of money from the Chinese will boost his chances of getting reelected. He holds that his begging bowl might yield some good results that might enable him to display something to his fellow citizens who have lost faith in him.
He, however, knows that he has a tough battle ahead of him. Not only is he out of money, he has to deal with some young and smart competitors. Among those running for this year’s presidential election are some good candidates who are capable of causing an upset in Yaoundé.
The Social Democratic Front (SDF) has fielded a young, knowledgeable and experienced candidate who is causing ruling party stalwarts to lose sleep. Joshua Osih, the SDF candidate, has the potential to bring about the change Cameroonians have been longing for. Mr. Biya’s poor economic performance might come back to bite him this year.
Corruption that has been his government’s hallmark has caused a lot of pain to many of his fellow citizens and they might want to use the upcoming election to punish a man who is noted for rigging elections and squandering the country’s financial resources.
Besides, the election will not take place across the entire country and, Mr. Biya being a symbol of failure for many Cameroonians; it is obvious that change is coming to Cameroon. Mr. Biya has mismanaged the country’s economy and his arrogance is tearing the country apart. A situation many French-speaking Cameroonians abhor.
Change may be on its way to Cameroon. Cameroonians just need to make common cause to put an end to their misery. The ball is in their court. Mr. Biya is a spent force. He will not be able to stop the wind of change blowing towards Cameroon if Cameroonians join forces.
By Kingsley Betek