The former US Ambassador to Cameroon, Niels Marquardt has once again called on the Biden administration to force Cameroon to release former Minister of State, Marafa Hamidou Yaya.
The former Secretary-General at the Presidency is serving a 20-year jail term over accusations of “intellectual complicity” to the embezzlement of 29 million US dollars.
But writing in Foreign Service Journal, Ambassador Marquardt who served in Cameroon from 2004 – 2007 has put down Marafa’s incarceration to a political witch hunt.
“While Mr. Marafa was accused of corruption, his only real crime was having told me, in confidence in 2006, that he “might be interested” in seeking Cameroon’s presidency one day, if ever the incumbent president, Paul Biya, were to leave office,” Mr. Marquardt recalls.
That revelation of Marafa’s higher political ambitions was duly captured and adequately reported by the US Embassy’s political section,” speculating on succession scenarios in a post-Biya era.”
But the brief was made public by Wikileaks. That alone, according to Marquardt, sealed Marafa’s fate.
“Once that cable to Washington was released by WikiLeaks in 2010, Mr. Marafa’s revelation immediately became front-page news in Cameroon. This led directly to his arrest, and then to a classic “show trial” the following year,” the former Ambassador writes.
He says the question of succession in Cameroon is a sensitive one, especially given that Biya, now in power for 40 years, has built his power relations on a tribal basis, so that Marafa’s higher political ambition “deeply rattled the country’s delicate tribal and political balance.”
“Evidently, Biya’s coterie of mostly southern, Christian supporters from the Beti tribe felt sufficiently threatened by the prospect of Mr. Marafa becoming president that they decided to sideline him permanently and manipulated the country’s judicial system to do just that.”
Mr. Marafa is a northern Muslim, like the country’s only other president since independence, Ahmadou Ahidjo.
“After 40 years of political advantage under Biya, little brothers privileged southerners more than the thought of a northerner regaining power,” Marquardt writes.
The former Ambassador then called on the Biden Administration to pressure the Cameroon government to release the “political prisoner,” if for nothing else, at least to permit him and get critically needed health care.
“Because Mr. Marafa’s health has deteriorated significantly during his decade-plus in prison, the case for his release is ever more urgent. Now in old age, he survived Covid-19 (unvaccinated) while in detention last year. He has gone almost completely blind, suffers from a serious heart condition, and desperately needs medical treatment unavailable in Cameroon.” the Ambassador writes.
“He is incarcerated in a military prison, in a damp cell, where no daylight can filter through. After his arrest, the woman who had been his faithful secretary for some twenty years was brutally murdered in her home. As for his wife, she died without having been able to visit him even once,” he adds.
Mr. Marquardt isn’t the only US diplomat to push for Marafa’s release.
“Seven former US ambassadors to Cameroon (Frances Cook, Harriet Isom, Charles Twining, John Yates, George Staples, Janet Garvey, and Robert Jackson), who know and respect Mr. Marafa, have written to successive US administrations to ask them to help us obtain his release. To no avail,” he says.