Thursday, September 24, 2009

CONAC and The Comedy Of Errors

A columnist or a writer is like a town crier. We are reminders and we have the advantage of looking back in time. When Mr. Biya appointed his twelve anti-corruption apostles, I wrote I made it clear that we should not expect much from them. One of them collapsed on the day they were slated to be installed and I said it sounded like an ill-omen.

By Ngalle Monono

Time has proven that the Anti-Corruption Commission with French acronym, CONAC, is just another incompetent non-performing organ set up by this government as a means of satisfying foreign donors that we mean business about fighting corruption. It operates only in Yaoundé the capital and does not have a national spread.

The commission not being an independent body with the powers of sanction or prosecution was bound to be another toothless bulldog, barking but clearly unable to bite. The content and composition of the commission was nothing to write home about. Its Achilles Heel is the fact that it can only recommend to the powers that be that such and such should be investigated for having committed a corrupt act. It is not an independent Ombudsman neither is it clothed with a legal personality to actually effect change and bring any corrupt officers directly to book.

Added to these built-in inadequacies, the commission itself is made up of a motley collection of gentlemen without any track record on investigation, interrogation or crime detection. The fight against corruption is not for simpletons and ignoramuses. This is supposed to be a fight against sly and slimy creeps who are bent on hemorrhaging this country and bleeding it to death. They are usually smart and their dealings intricate and their methods labyrinthine. The modus operandi of the corrupt are varied and complicated.

That is all the more reason why the anti-corruption squad should have been made up of Cameroonians of above average intelligence and not the run-off-the-mill gentlemen who now pretend to fight corruption.
The shortcomings of the anti-corruption crew came into sharp focus recently in what has now been termed the maize scandal in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The old man, Paul Tessa, and his eleven veterans descended on six regions and nineteen divisions to investigate what they claimed was a massive fraud in which FCFA 700 million worth of maize subsidies had been embezzled. They came out with a scathing report in which the Vice Prime Minister, Jean Nkuete, and 48 other Cameroonians were recommended for prosecution. This is where the whole exercise became a comedy of errors. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in order to facilitate the distribution of the maize subsidies, created what goes under the French acronym of CPSA or Commission Partenaire de Selection des Appuis or in English The Divisional Selection Commission.

This commission receives some money in the course of this exercise which money is meant for the civil society and extension workers.
CONAC imagined that these commissions were Common Initiative Groups which had embezzled maize money.
How come it that it did not strike our gallant anti-corruption warriors as odd that in all the six regions concerned all the Common Initiative Groups concerned had a common name; CPSA?. The truth is that most of those 48 Cameroonians fingered to be corrupt are Divisional Delegates in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development who did the grunt work by paying the operators on the ground.

In this case, CONAC was merely chasing the shadow and by- passing the real and substantial embezzlers. It is true that CONAC have made some recommendations which may be useful in future but they actually blew this maize affair by a wide margin. Is it this blunder that informed them to appeal to the press to be nationalistic in their pronouncements? Can you imagine how much it would cost the government to pay for twelve men running up and down the country for an exercise in futility?

Our CONAC is a far cry from our friends the Nigerians' Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which was run by a crack, fearless and highly competent policeman, Mallam Ribadu, who had crooks quaking in their boots and recently had the recommendation of Hillary Clinton.
We shall continue to falter until we learn to put square pegs in square holes.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The containment of bestiality in the man is apprehension of the consequences of wrongful conduct. That is what provoked and promoted the development of the reasoning faculty ending up with peaceful community life. The reverse would have been anarchy with “the survival of the fittest” as the unique crude law governing interactions.

By Hon. Ayah Paul Abine

Man has come a long way to discard such ferocious uncertainties of life. Over the ages, positive refinements have added up to consensual social contracts culminating in democracy.

Convinced that it is erroneous to take refuge behind such grotesque propaganda as “advanced democracy” to cut off additives preservative of that fountain of peace, I argued recently in all good faith that granting immunity that places a citizen above the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, could liberate the bestiality in the human being. That particular person could well be reasonable enough to impose self-restraint. But the case may not be true of his successor or even his entourage, especially where the person does not exercise strict oversight. That appears to be the situation with the Cameroonian society of today.

We never can overemphasize that justice is the ultimate guarantor of peace. That palpably explains why the Bible insists that justice will be the final act in the winnowing of mankind on Doomsday. One should not, therefore, hesitate to regret in absolute terms that Cameroonians, claiming to have the confidence of the President of the Republic, are trampling the law underfoot to the extent of showing arrogant contempt even for the decisions of the highest court of the land that the Supreme Court is.

The case in point is the Minister of Culture - Ama Tutu Muna. Her disregard for the Supreme Court’s judgment declaring illegal the “company” she wants to impose on Cameroonian musicians in replacement of the existing legal body is a mark of absolute lawlessness. And the silence of the President of the Republic over her arrogant contempt of court only does bolster her foolhardiness. One must wonder aloud what respect that Minister has even for her late father. If she takes cognizance that her late father was for years the head of the body that enacts laws in Cameroon, and yet she treats with contempt her late father’s works, then of course she is showing contempt even for her father. Nothing can be more dishonourable!

One may not be totally surprised, though. The modern trend on the African Continent is that those in power have placed themselves above the law. In the result, even where legal process has been followed and persons below them have worn elections, the pragmatic outcome has been power-sharing, whereby the winners have accepted positions on the lower rungs of the ladder of power, holding overturned hats for the collection of crumbs from the high tables. Even as “an island of peace”, our country has not been spared by the storm of contempt for the law this time around. Who argues to the contrary?

Is it not in line with the growing trend that Papillon has pleaded the case for the amalgamation of the minister’s “company” which the Supreme Court has declared illegal and the legally existing body? And is his stance not consistent with the Green Tree Agreement? If a judgment of a United Nations’ court can be set aside in favour of an agreement between the parties, and yet that has attracted overwhelming international approbation, how much less the judgment of a local court! And have the power-that-be in Cameroon not told the citizenry time without number that the truth and the good example come from above? Why waste time then arguing the case for the outlandish principle that court judgments are binding on all, and are therefore automatically enforceable?

So forward ever, Madam Minister! After all, Supreme Court c’est quoi?.. But wait a moment! Here is some food for thought for you: will all your children, if any you have, be as powerful as you are so as to dispense with the courts and the law, and yet live in peace? You may wish to accept that that is the guiding principle for parents who love their children, and posterity at large, Madam!

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Of Expensive Holidays And Uncommon Men

The confusion generated by revelations about the holiday transactions of Paul Biya in France and the manner of response of regime insiders only highlighted the sins of hubris, and undermined the decency the sovereign people deserve from their leaders.

By Tazoacha Asonganyi

While he lived, Charles de Gaulle, whom many of our leaders admire and imitate, wrote and lectured about the public persona of a leader. He highlighted the public reality of life as a statesman and the private reality of life as a husband, father and grandfather. Unfortunately for his heirs, modern democratic politics cannot separate the private from the public life of leaders.
The people always want to know all about their leaders in order to gain inspiration from them and place them appropriately in history. The media would be doing a disservice to the people if they raised a curtain between the private lives and the public roles their leaders are called upon to play.

The confusion generated by revelations about the holiday transactions of Paul Biya in France and the manner of response of regime insiders only highlighted the sins of hubris, and undermined the decency the sovereign people deserve from their leaders.

Political communication is always about influencing citizen perceptions, persuading public opinion and desires in a manner conducive to the mission of a regime, and the satisfaction of the desires of the citizens. In a country like ours, the overwhelming desire of the citizen is involvement in the act of nation-building. Promotion of patriotism - love for country - is crucial in mobililising the people to action in the business of nation-building.

Such promotion of patriotism is always greatly helped by signals that are sent and received from the top about corruption, selflessness, use of public funds, management of equality of opportunity, of equity and much more; by the right examples that are set from the top. Fine speeches, pledges and admonitions of all kinds are of no use if these signals from the top are perceived as negative signals.

Nyerere's Case As Narrated By Achebe
Chinua Achebe tells of the patriotic pride Tanzanians felt when news went around Tanzania that their president, Julius Nyerere, after paying his children's school fees at the start of a new school year, proceeded to beg his bankers to give him a few months' grace on the repayment of the mortgage on his personal house.

This can be compared to the type of signal sent by a gigantic house being built near the American Embassy in Yaounde; or the news about the wastage of taxpayers' money in expensive hotels in France! Between Nyerere's Tanzania and Paul Biya's Cameroon that both end up "begging" for development funds, which would enjoy "national prestige"? Who of Nyerere's Tanzanian and Paul Biya's Cameroonian, receiving these contrasting signals from the top is bolstered by patriotic pride to work hard for nation-building?

Inspirational signals are usually greatly influenced by the communication ability of the top; indeed, effective communication is the secret of inspirational leadership. Leaders are supposed to regularly face the people themselves, rather than leave the management of news of their activities to self-seeking subordinates.

It is not for nothing that since Barack Obama got into the White House, he regularly uses town-hall meetings, prime-time press conferences, weekly addresses, media interviews, and online messages and opinions to clarify his policies and keep in touch with the people.
Before Paul Biya's surrogates rush to compare his holiday bills to those of Obama and Sarkozy, they should remember that they belong to completely different leagues, and think about the alienating effects of Paul Biya's deaf-and-dumb-cum-discreet approach to governance that his "biographers" like Boniface Nkobenah and François Mathei present as a source of his "strength"!

When a gossip Website nearly changed the course of history by blowing the top off a Clinton-Lewinsky relationship before investigative journalists finished their work, it became absolutely clear that the communication genie had since got out of the bottle! And it was the power of communication that forced public opinion to tilt in favour of Clinton by imprinting in the minds of Senators that it was a relationship between the president and a consenting adult; the Senators were forced to let go the accused!

This is just an illustration of the fact that communication is no longer about blaming people for what they say; it is about persuading public opinion by the quality of information served to the people: giving convincing information to the people. Paul Biya may be an "uncommon" man; he may be "royalty", hardworking, or have the right to take a rest: but convincing numbers and figures about his holiday in France must be given before we are told that they are "big" because he is an "uncommon" man.

Short of this, our "uncommon" communicators should do the people some good by shutting their traps and keeping their fingers off their keyboards!

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cameroon: Running After the Media Revolution

It used to be known as the press, then the news media, and now just the media. They all mean the same thing these days! The radio, television, newspapers or the web, are all inanimate things, but they can teach, illuminate and inspire to the extent to which the humans behind them are determined to use them to those ends.

By Tazoacha Asonganyi

Creative programmes like “ça va se savoir”, the Jerry Springer Show, Judge Judy, or Le Tribunal of Sky One Radio are all media programmes in what has become a vast-entertainment-arena-cum-media world. Some of the programmes are animated by those who have never taken a single course in journalism – on the internet, a journalist does not even need to be human; but this is no excuse to get at a programme for frivolous reasons...
New Oaths, New Pacts
With the communication revolution that has humbled even the most ardent dictators and control freaks, it is incredible how easily our new communication boss uses frivolous arguments from people who claim to want freedom from the press, to stifle freedom of the press! The man seems to be all over the place with outdated methods and approaches, urging the media to do only what he wants them to do!
When one considers the many pacts he signed, the many oaths he took and the many declarations he made in honour of freedom of the press while he was in the wilderness, and how easily he has become a turncoat and started signing new pacts, taking new oaths and making new declarations from his new station at “home”, it is difficult to believe anything he says and does!
The vehemence with which he spoke while in the wilderness is the same vehemence with which he speaks his new language so pleasing to his new soul mates!
The communication revolution is the possibility of creating new images through digital-era doctoring, live-from-everywhere satellite television, live-from-everywhere mobile telephone messages transmitted through satellite, the Web, internet and much more. The revolution can contribute to the fight against crime, but if not well managed, it could end in the futility of bad options and worse options. The bad options would be the refusal to do the right thing well, like mismanaging digital national identity cards for selfish ends of winning elections; the worse options, the wish to “control” the malleable mobile phone sector.
Indeed, with the set-up of our mobile phone market, and the extension of the Cameroon network to other countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and others, fighting crime by tracing the origin of calls can be as futile as fighting a translational disease only in one place or one country!
Govt Creating Insecurity for its Enemies?
However many colours the truth may bear, the function of journalists excludes keeping secrets; indeed, a journalist has no right to interpose a blockade between information legitimately acquired and the public they serve. For this, they usually get into trouble with power, and distinguish themselves by the courage and integrity with which they stand up to power. It would be remembered that journalists were on the “enemies” list of Nixon, unearthed during the Watergate hearings; the aim of the Nixon administration was to use government “machinery to screw our political enemies”. Since it is clear that like Nixon, the Cameroon government considers opponents, adversaries and rivals as “enemies”, the question that has not yet got an answer is whether there are appropriate measures – legislation, rules and regulations – to ensure that government does not misuse phone registers to create insecurity for its “enemies”.
Interestingly, the technology that governs mobile phone identification is the same technology that would govern identification of voters. If the government has become so caring about the security of citizens, one expects it to be equally caring about their sovereignty. This belated interest in the power of new technologies for information and communication should lead to a reawakening about the urgent need for a voters’ central database in Cameroon.
The Clock and Dagger Game
Web journalism and mobile phones have extraordinary power to conduct credible opinion polls about any type of issue, including the popularity of individual persons. The cloak-and-dagger game the CPDM is playing within its ranks with motions of support and proclamations of Paul Biya’s candidature for 2011 gives the sorry impression that they think Cameroonians do not believe that he is indeed the President of the CPDM. The macabre exercise seems to have turned into a conduit for those appointed into government to show their gratitude to the man; and for those out of government to announce their desperate presence to the man. In the process, the country’s time is wasted and the image of the country is tarnished more than they usually attribute to the opposition and those in the Diaspora.
People like our new communication boss who suddenly find themselves on the other side of the divide, usually get cynical and indulge in rhetoric based on their misunderstanding of the nature of politics and of man. Overnight, they transform themselves to high priests of their “domains”. This is why our new boss has suddenly forgotten that society – in which journalists are found – can never coincide with its political representation – the government. Journalism is the province of selfless servants of the truth. Government’s attempt to define patriotism as the singing of the praise of the government is foolhardy; so too is the attempt to seek the synthesis of the plural media landscape, that democracy makes impossible.
For journalism to thrive and play its role as the Fourth Estate, government must always remain a news subject, not a news partner! Otherwise, we may be manipulated into confusing freedom of talking with freedom of speech!

Sphere: Related Content