For over thirty years, Cameroon has been ruled by the Betis, an ethnic group that is mainly found in the centre and south regions of the country and which only accounts for less than 10% of the country’s population. The country’s president, Paul Biya, who many suspect is dead, hails from the south region. Over the last three decades, Mr. Biya has used people from the Beti clan to consolidate his grip on power, something that has attracted a lot of flak from other ethnic groups in the country.
Out of thirty army generals in the country, eighteen are Beti while Anglophones who constitute more than 20% of the country’s population account for just two of the army generals. Out of thirty-four state-owned corporations, Betis head 21 of those corporations while one Anglophone is heading one of the state-own corporations.
Many ministries in Yaoundé are actually being run by Betis even when the minister is not from the Beti ethnic group. Each time a non-Beti is appointed as a minister; there is always a Beti to occupy the post of secretary-General with strict instructions to monitor the minister and his activities. This has given the people of the Centre and South regions a false sense that the country actually belongs to them and that even after Biya, they must continue to rule the country. Our source in Yaoundé pointed out that this is creating a lot of frustration in many ministries and people from other ethnic groups are scared to speak up as they could be dismissed from the civil service.
According to our source in Yaoundé, a Beti himself who disagrees with the way the country has been mismanaged over the last thirty years, the Betis feel that they must continue to govern the country for a long time. He added that since the seat of government is in Yaoundé, the Betis strongly think that they can always manipulate things so as to stay in power.
Their strong desire to head the country even after Biya’s departure has already been manifested a few times through some of their actions. In 1992 when the Social Democratic Front chairman, John Fru Ndi, won the presidential election, the Beti Mafia did all it could to grant the victory to Mr. Biya who has continued to run the country as his personal plantation. He has been using the institutions to his advantage and his method of choice has been the appointment of only those who are loyal to him, regardless of their ages.
Conscious of the fact that Mr. Biya might not be recovering from his illness, the Beti Mafia has resorted to faking Mr. Biya’s signature just to implement its hidden agenda. Over the last three weeks, there have been speculations about the whereabouts of Mr. Biya, who many hold is either bedridden or dead.
Yesterday’s establishment of the constitutional council and the appointment of its members have triggered a wave of speculation and controversy. The presidential decrees establishing the constitutional council provided for in the 1996 constitution and the appointment of members of the said council are in line with the grand scheme that the Beti Mafia has in mind.
It is therefore not an accident that Mr. Clement Atangana, a legal expert of Beti extraction, who has been on retirement for more than ten years, has been appointed to head the constitutional council. The 77-year-old Atangana was a member of the constitutional court that looked into many election-related disputes in Cameroon since 1992 and he always rejected any appeals made by Cameroon’s opposition parties during his time at the constitutional court.
Mr. Atangana will be the only person who can declare that there is a vacancy at the presidency given his position as the head of the constitutional council; something he will not be doing anytime soon, as the Beti Mafia has him under its thumb.
The Mafia is preparing to keep the news about Mr. Biya’s deteriorating health under wraps until after the March 25 senatorial elections when the current senate president, Marcel Nyat Njifenji, will be out of the picture since his term will no longer be renewed and there are no plans for him to be reappointed by those who are in control of the country’s affairs. The Beti Mafia is hoping that the elections will enable it to have one of its own as the next senate president and someone who will very likely succeed the dying Biya.
Under the country’s current constitution, the constitutional successor is the president of the senate, Marcel Nyat Njifenji, himself 83 years old and a collapsing figure who has been involved in the corruption and mismanagement that have become the country’s hallmark.
Many Cameroonians hold that if the country has to change significantly, figures like the senate president and national assembly speaker have to disappear from the political scene.
The other very old faces that were appointed alongside Mr. Atangana as members of the same council are also members of the ruling party. Ms. Florence Arrey, 69, the only woman on the Council, has been a senior supreme court judge for years and has for decades been the mistress of Mr. Laurent Esso, the country’s justice minister who is a Biya pawn.
Mr. Esso and Ms. Florence Arrey have three children and Mr. Esso has been protecting Ms. Arrey who is supposed to be on retirement, but is still receiving her civil salary; something which makes many Cameroonians to hold that the country is being ruled by mercenaries and that the ruling CPDM is a crime syndicate.
Ms. Arrey also received her Cameroon civil service salary even when she was working at the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, for years and has never been questioned by the government for engaging in such fraudulent activities. It should be noted that Members of the council are all members of the ruling CPDM and people who are personally loyal to the country’s president and his collaborators.
The appointment of these old and retired Cameroonians underscores the fact that Mr. Biya is not yet ready to give Cameroonian youths a place in today’s Cameroon. Besides marginalizing youths, Mr. Biya is still pursuing his policy of Anglophone marginalization by appointing only Francophones to head major government institutions. It should be underscored, at this point, that all heads of important institutions in Cameroon are Francophones despite the ongoing Anglophone crisis which has been triggered by the government’s marginalization of the country’s English-speaking minority.
But for Southern Cameroonians who are sick and tired of the gimmicks of the Yaounde government, Mr. Biya’s succession is the least of their concerns. Southern Cameroonians are still fighting for their secession and they are hell-bent on quitting a marriage that has brought them more pain than gain. There has been serious fighting in many towns in the Southwest region of the country, with many young men being killed in cold blood by army soldiers. Our sources say some of the young men killed had nothing to do with the rebellion that is unfolding in the English-speaking regions of the country.
It should be recalled that some towns such as Kwakwa in the Southwest region have been erased from the country’s map as army soldiers have burnt all the houses and sent everybody into exile. Currently, Mbonge in the same region is being attacked by army soldiers who are killing and maiming any young men they find in the town.
Despite the killings in Southern Cameroons, the government has decided to be indifferent to the plight of the civilian population and has opted for violent military action as the best way out of the conflict, though results on the ground indicate that dialogue will be a much better option than military action.
The Southern Cameroons crisis has been going on now for more than 15 months and the government do not seem to be disturbed that a section of the country is in crisis. Despite appeals by the international community for a peaceful and negotiated agreement, Mr. Biya has remained adamant.
A source at the presidency has indicated that Mr. Biya only listens to himself, adding that all his collaborators are scared of him and cannot even advise him on the right steps to take. Many of his collaborators, our source stressed, have all compromised themselves one way or the other and are dead scared that any doubts in Mr. Biya’s mind about their loyalty might lead them to the Yaoundé central prison where some of Mr. Biya’s former collaborators are languishing.
It is believed that more than three hundred soldiers have been killed during the military campaign and some five hundred civilians have been killed by army soldiers, most of whom are Betis sent to erase Anglophone towns and villages from the country’s map.
By Kingsley Betek in Yaoundé with intelligence files from Pierre Onana