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Circle of Scandals: How 2023 Revealed Cameroun as a State of Chaos, Land of No-Shame

By January 10, 2024No Comments
Nonagenarian Paul Biya still hangs onto power despite his physical weakness and total absence (C) DW

Cameroon-a Central African country with roughly 27 million people was the center of attraction in 2023 for all the wrong reasons. The country was rocked by a string of scandals that include political turmoil, human rights abuses, corruption, and sports fraud.  These scandals have tarnished the image of the country and its long-serving president, Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982.

Rampant Atrocities in Restive Southern Cameroons

The ongoing armed conflict in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons (referred to by Yaounde as the North-West and South-West regions), where a pro-independence movement has been fighting for independence since 2016, is one of the most serious scandals in Cameroon. Both sides of the conflict have widely violated human rights, resulting in hundreds of thousands of displaced people and thousands of deaths.

Southern Cameroons Children of war: how a senseless war is claiming lives and spreading misery (c) UNHCR

A shocking report by Amnesty International published in July detailed widespread crimes carried out by armed non-state militias, and the defense and security forces of the Republic of Cameroon. The report detailed cases of killings, rapes, torture, house burnings, and targeting of civilians. The report also brought attention to the threats and arbitrary detention of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders—people who speak out against these violations.

Over four hundred village settlements razed to ashes as Cameroun military enforced a scotched earth policy

The report demanded that the Cameroon government take action to put an end to the violence, investigate the crimes and infractions in detail, prosecute and punish those guilty in fair trials. Additionally, it asked the world community to put more pressure on the belligerents and support a peaceful resolution.

Corruption And Mismanagement of Public Funds

Michael Obert, the troubleshooter fishing in troubled waters (c) The Free Social Encyclopedia

Another major scandal in Cameroon is the widespread corruption and mismanagement of public funds, especially in relation to the hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the continent’s biggest football tournament, in early 2022. Cameroon was initially supposed to host the event in 2019 but was stripped of the right due to delays and insecurity. The country was later reinstated as the host but had to face numerous challenges and controversies in preparing for the event.

Olembe Stadium in Yaounde now abandoned to ruins (c) Wikipedia

In January 2019, a German investigative journalist, Michael Obert, published a report that exposed the conflicts and corruption that drained Cameroon’s economy and hampered the AFCON project. The report revealed that an estimated 1.8 billion euros of Cameroonian public money had been swallowed in contracts shrouded in controversy, involving inflated prices, kickbacks, nepotism, and embezzlement. The report also showed how the AFCON project had negative impacts on the environment, the local communities, and the human rights situation in the country.

Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, Minister of Sports and Physical Education, enmeshed in multifarious scandals (c) Goalzz

The report sparked outrage and protests among the Cameroonian public, who demanded accountability and transparency from the government. However, the government dismissed the report as biased and unfounded, and accused the journalist of being part of a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country.

Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic is also accused of being involved in the series of scandals around the construction oif the Olembe stadium and the management of the Covid-19 mitigation resources (c) Koaci

Political Turmoil and Repression

Cameroon also faced political turmoil and repression in 2023, as the opposition and civil society challenged the legitimacy and performance of the Biya regime. The main opposition leader, Maurice Kamto, who claims to have won the 2018 presidential election, led a series of rallies and demonstrations across the country, calling for political reforms and social justice.

Maurice Kamto, leader of the Cameroonian opposition party Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) is greeted as he arrive on stage in Yaounde, on September 30, 2018 to address a campaign rally for the Presidential Elections. – Cameroon imposed a 48-hour curfew on its English-speaking regions a day ahead of the one-year anniversary of a symbolic “independence” declaration by anglophone separatists, officials said on September 30, 2018. The anniversary comes ahead of October 7, 2018 polls that anglophone secessionists have threatened to disrupt. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

In May, Kamto held a rally in Yaounde, the capital, where he wept for the country of scandals. He accused the Biya regime of plunging Cameroon into general misery, insecurity, and violence. He also criticized the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the AFCON project. He urged the people to stand up for their rights and dignity, and to demand change.

Cameroon security forces descend on demonstrators in Douala

However, Kamto and his supporters have faced constant harassment and intimidation from the authorities, who have banned and dispersed many of his rallies and demonstrations and arrested his allies. Kamto himself has been arrested several times, and charged with various offences, such as insurrection, rebellion, and terrorism. He has also been subjected to death threats and assassination attempts, allegedly orchestrated by the government.

Sports Fraud and Match-Fixing

Cameroon’s sports sector, especially football, has also been hit by scandals and fraud in 2023. One of such scandals involved the alleged involvement of Samuel Eto’o, the president of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT), in match-fixing. According to leaked recordings, Eto’o promised to promote Victoria United, a club from the second division, by influencing referees and manipulating matches. Victoria United eventually won the promotion in April, after the previous runner-up was disqualified by FECAFOOT. Eto’o denied the accusations and claimed that he was only talking to a friend who invested in football. However, the police opened an investigation into the case and interviewed several witnesses. The scandal damaged Eto’o’s reputation and credibility and raised questions about the integrity and transparency of Cameroon’s football.

Samuel Eto’o Fils caught in the web of a horrible match-fixing scandal (c) Sky Sports

In July, the South West Football League was again embroiled in a series of accusations of match-fixing and favoritism. The accusations involved some of the prominent teams and officials in the league, such as the Njalla Quan Sports Academy (NQSA), a renowned football institution in the region.

The scandal erupted after a controversial match between NQSA and Dynamic FC, which ended in a 1-1 draw. The result was contested by Dynamic FC, who claimed that the referee had been bribed by NQSA to favour them. The accusation was supported by a leaked audio recording, in which the referee allegedly admitted to receiving money from NQSA. The scandal led to the suspension of the referee and the closure of NQSA by the FECAFOOT. The scandal also exposed the deeper problems and conflicts within the South West Football League, such as poor management, lack of transparency, and political interference.

The killing of Martinez Zogo

Martinez Zogo when he lived and plied the trade he loved most

The brutal killing of Martinez Zogo, a prominent Cameroonian investigative journalist, who had been working on a report exposing corruption, was one of the biggest scandals in Cameroon in 2023.

Martinez Zogo, 50, was the director of the radio station Amplitude FM and the host of a popular daily program, Embouteillage (traffic jam), in which he regularly exposed corruption cases and denounced the abuse of power by public officials. He was known for his courage and professionalism and had received several awards and recognition for his work.

Amougou Belinga, entrepreneur and media mogul has been in pre-trial detention for his role in the murder of Zogo

On January 17, 2023, Zogo was abducted by unidentified assailants outside a police station in the suburbs of Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital. His heavily mutilated corpse was found on January 22, in Soa, a neighborhood near the city. According to media reports and human rights groups, Zogo’s body showed signs of severe torture, such as a broken foot, cut fingers, electric shocks, and forced ingestion of feces.

Zogo’s murder sparked outrage and condemnation from his colleagues, civil society, and the international community. Many suspected that he was killed because of his work, as he accused high-profile personalities of embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering.

Maxime Eko Eko was Cameroon’s Intelligence Chief prior to his incarceration

The Cameroonian authorities announced that they had opened an investigation into Zogo’s killing and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. However, many doubted the sincerity and impartiality of the government, which had been accused of harassing and intimidating Zogo and other journalists in the past.

Diplomatic Row over the Tchad-Cameroon Pipeline

The Tchad-Cameroon Pipeline is a 1,070-kilometer-long pipeline that transports crude oil from the Doba oil fields in southern Chad to the Kribi Port terminal in Cameroon, where it is exported to the international market. The pipeline is the result of a joint venture between the governments of Chad and Cameroon, the World Bank, and a consortium of oil companies led by ExxonMobil. The project was hailed as a model of development and cooperation, as it was supposed to generate revenues and benefits for both countries and their populations, while respecting the social and environmental standards.

Franck Emmanuel Biya has been severally quoted as being one of the figures behind the diplomatic row (c) Africa Intelligence

However, the pipeline project has been plagued by controversies and problems since its inception. The main issues include the mismanagement and diversion of oil revenues, the violation of human rights and environmental norms, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the unequal distribution of costs and benefits between the two countries. These issues have fueled resentment and tension between Chad and Cameroon, as well as within each country.

In 2023, the situation escalated into a diplomatic crisis, when Chad announced its intention to renegotiate the terms of the pipeline agreement with Cameroon, claiming that it was unfair and unfavorable to Chad. Chad argued that it was paying too much in transit fees and royalties to Cameroon, and that it was not receiving enough compensation for the environmental and social impacts of the pipeline. Chad also accused Cameroon of failing to maintain and secure the pipeline, which had suffered several attacks and sabotage by armed groups and local communities.

Cameroon rejected Chad’s demands, saying that they were based on false and misleading information, and that they violated the existing contract and international law. Cameroon also defended its record in managing and protecting the pipeline and accused Chad of being ungrateful and irresponsible. Cameroon warned Chad that any attempt to disrupt or terminate the pipeline operation would have serious consequences for the stability and security of the region. The row led Chad to recall her Ambassador to Yaoundé.

Mahamat Idriss Deby (Middle in White Saro) did not hesitate to up the ante diplomatically (c) Wikimedia Commons

The dispute between Chad and Cameroon has raised concerns and alarm
among the other stakeholders of the pipeline project, such as the World Bank and the oil companies. They have called for dialogue and mediation between the two countries and urged them to respect their commitments and obligations. They have also expressed their willingness to support and facilitate a peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution of the crisis.

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