Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Greece’s Bankruptcy and Mugabe’s Bravado

In the past weeks news has been of the collapse and bankruptcy of the Greek economy and its rescue by the European Union and the World Bank. At the same time, a year back, Zimbabwe was undergoing its worst inflation nearing 3000 percent. Zimbabwe, in spite the pressure from European and North American political and financial institutions did not declare bankruptcy. So what causes one country to declare bankruptcy at the faintest challenge while the other survives a long array of traps and pitfalls?

The history of banking and money changing shows clearly that money is a human creation, in the control of man and no supernatural forces beyond man can force down a currency or force it up. As early as the days of Christ, we learnt of his first confrontation in church with people changing money in His Father’s House. He overturned their tables. Banking, as it is today, dates back to the goldsmiths of England who received, receipted and kept gold in their safe vaults.

Receipts issued to kings and nobles for their gold are the first form of banknotes that existed. A goldsmith received 10 pounds worth of gold and issued a receipt to the depositor that he owed such an amount of gold indicated on the paper. Sometimes, the depositor did not come back for the gold in more than 10 years. Goldsmiths concluded that they could multiply receipts for gold and loan them out to merchants and businessmen in need of gold backing. Gold was the backing for all financial sureties. Goldsmiths went ahead to make interest on the gold deposited and on the receipts issued without backing.

When goldsmiths became prosperous, they proposed to the King of England to start the Bank of England. The king had to give his blessings for the institution to have a national dimension. The operator had to gather 1,400,000 pounds for the bank to go operational. But by the time the Bank of England was floated amidst noise of having a capital of 5 million pounds, the operator had not succeeded in assembling 500,000 pounds.

Lots of business persons came to this early Bank of England for loans to do their business. They were issued receipts of over 5 million pounds on which huge interest was made. In fact, there was no gold to back this amount. As skillful manipulators, bankers of the Bank of England like all banks today, were capable of fabricating positive balance sheets and showing the public and clients that their institution was afloat and fairing well. The central bank, which was the role played by the Bank of England, could mint and issue money freely and also withdraw such money when it deemed necessary. To pull a fast trick on its debtors, banks flooded the market with much paper money (receipts) with no gold backing. The result was inflation. During inflation, borrowers had to borrow more to complete projects. Unfortunately, bankers always made the race to complete engagements difficult by creating inflation. In this state of inflation, like the 1988 credit crunch, the population found out that they could no longer meet up with their engagements. The banks then came in and forfeited the properties, estates and belongings of borrowers, exactly the same way Americans lost their homes to mortgages through foreclosures.

You could be quick to call bankers scams, Shylocks or Jews. You are perfectly right. No bank opens for charity. All banks are highly interest oriented. All central banks have the power to issue money and withdraw it from circulation, when need be. President Ahidjo is reputed to have played those central bank tricks in the 1970s. He is said to have issued counterfeit notes when there was a liquidity crises (i.e. when people choose to bury money than to put it in the banks) and withdrew it at the level of the banks when there was too much money in circulation.

Greece may not have the leverage to issue and recall money because as a member of the European Union, it is expected to use the Euro issued by the union. What is difficult to understand is how Greece can declare bankruptcy while it is still producing the goods and services it has always produced. England seems to have been vindicated, after all, for refusing to dissolve the pound sterling in favour of the Euro. The same goes for Zimbabwe which has its own central bank issuing the Zimbabwean dollar. With the Zim-dollar, Zimbabwe could defy the rest of the world even when 1,000,000 dollar bills could not even buy a bag of sadza (corn flour transformed into a meal).

While fighting for monetary union, nations should be wary of selling their birth rights in exchange of regional solidarity. Money is just a receipt which gives the bearer the authority to purchase or get services worth the amount indicated. There is a common joke that whenever bamboo chairs will be considered as backing for money, bamboos will become scarce. Every country gives the value it wants to its currency and economy. Notwithstanding the embargo over Cuba, it is not bankrupt. The same goes for Haiti which has been punished by France and America for over two centuries, for daring to beat a white empire and gaining independence and teaching a bad example to other black slaves. Haiti is poor but not bankrupt. It is a wonder that the oldest democracy, the land of some of the best philosophers has chosen to forget the lessons that poor Robert Mugabe has mastered. Strong leadership yields strong currencies and economies.

Instead of declaring bankruptcy, a people should choose to throw of the yoke of oppression on their backs. When a government loses credibility, to the point of putting a countries economy and currency into question, it is but normal that such a leadership is rejected. Even when some African countries declared themselves Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, HIPC, they never declared bankruptcy. A currency is only worth what its minters want. Bravo Mugabe for pulling through an economic riddle.

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Cameroon:President Addresses Nation on 50th Anniversary Celebration

Says "an era is coming to an end. I feel that the goal we should set ourselves is to make Cameroon an EMERGING COUNTRY within a period of about twenty years. As you can see, this is a veritable ten-year development plan that was lacking in recent years. It mainly aims at revamping our economy and thus stimulating employment and rolling back poverty. I would like you, irrespective of your place in society, to consider the implementation of this strategy as a genuine national cause and to join forces to ensure its success".

My dear compatriots,

On 31 December last year, I announced to you that this year we would be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our independence, as a prelude to that of our reunification, and that the commemorations would culminate in the National Day.

To open the said events, I am addressing the nation this evening to highlight the significance and scope of our country’s accession to sovereignty.

On 1 January 1960, we became INDEPENDENT. This meant that we were taking our destiny into our own hands, that we were becoming responsible for running our affairs by ourselves and that we would be accountable for our actions before History.

What was the situation of our people then? Most of us recognized ourselves more as members of our communities of origin than as citizens of the same nation. And this was no surprise given our almost colonial past. With the demise of colonial empires following the Second World War, young nationalists had however been nurturing the unlikely dream of freedom. Clearly, their struggle, and in some cases their sacrifices, contributed significantly to the accession of our people to self-determination. That is why, I repeat, we should forever remain grateful to them.

How about our country? With arbitrary and poorly demarcated boundaries, it was composed of a mosaic of administrative units and had no major communication facilities; apart from export crops, it had a closed economy and lacked adequate school and health infrastructure. It was more of a hotchpotch of territories with different languages, customs, religions, tribal systems, etc. In addition, there were the idiosyncrasies inherited from three dissimilar colonial systems.

Were we a nation? Not yet, since we had to wait for reunification with our brothers of West Cameroon to bring about the “desire to live together”, that characterizes a nation.

Were we a state? Yes, according to the law, since we were no longer under trusteeship and were recognized by the international community. In reality however, the task ahead was still immense.

Upon our accession to sovereignty, forging nationhood and building a state constituted the dual challenge that faced us.

The first task was not the easiest, as it is not based on voluntarism. It must emanate from the collective consciousness of citizens and can only come about through the slow maturation of a common history. Consider the old European nations; they all took centuries to form, most often after daunting challenges. For our part, the process has been faster and, even if it must be reinforced constantly, it is undeniable that the CAMEROONIAN NATION is now a reality and its unity our most precious asset.

Building a state has been no easy task either. At the outset, we lacked qualified officers and had to make do with the staff available. Enthusiasm and devotedness often made up for the lack of experience and competence. Very quickly however, the opening of ENAM, which itself recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, helped furnish our administration with the human resources required to properly run the State and own development mechanisms. One may say that besides political institutions, Cameroon now has a skilled State administration that meets its needs.

For a people like ours, the concept of independence and thus freedom cannot be dissociated from that of democracy. Although the idea here is not to recount the historical events that preceded or followed our independence, one may say that the conditions prevailing at that time may account for (not to say justify) the authoritarian forms of government. It was however foreseeable that things had to change.

You would remember that as far back as 1982, I stated that progressive liberalization was necessary. After experimenting with multiple candidacies in the one-party system, we restored multi-party politics. Then, in the early Nineties, several laws guaranteeing the civic freedoms of association and the press were passed. Over the years, various elections have been held at different levels under conditions which we have been trying to improve in order to ensure free and fair polls.

Today, I believe I can safely say that with a President of the Republic elected by direct universal suffrage, a National Assembly comprising representatives of the majority and the opposition, a rainbow government answerable to the Assembly and an independent Judiciary, we have established a regime that meets the basic requirements of democracy. This will be supplemented by the institution of the Senate and the effective implementation of decentralization which will enable citizens to participate directly in the running of public affairs, without however jeopardizing national unity. We have also endeavoured to guarantee respect for human rights, both in the instruments in force and in the day-to-day operation of State bodies.

Unfortunately, as we know, political freedom is not sufficient to ensure freedom in general. What indeed does freedom mean to someone who is unable to eat his fill? That is why we have always believed that it cannot be dissociated from economic and social progress. This aspect of our society blueprint has been the most difficult to achieve.

Since the spread of globalization, national economies are even more dependent on global economic changes over which governments have no control. Our task has thus been compounded over the past decades by a series of crises: deterioration of the terms of trade, slowdown of growth in Europe and Asia, erratic oil and commodity price fluctuations, etc. All these phenomena have adversely impacted our economies.

We have however been able to cope with them by submitting to the stiff discipline of structural adjustment programmes. The sacrifices made by our people have, after a real recession, enabled us to witness return to growth. Unfortunately, the recent crisis has once again thwarted our efforts by reducing our exports and slowing down our investments, resulting in rising unemployment.

The idea here is not to find excuses. Who can gainsay the fact that today almost all countries- including the most powerful – are facing major economic challenges? Pending an uncertain recovery, each of them is trying to find a way out. That, of course, is what we ourselves are trying to do.

We have not however given up trying to roll back poverty. While in the domains of education and health, progress has definitely been made, it must be acknowledged that the plight of the most vulnerable segments of our population, especially in the rural areas, has not improved considerably. Access to water, electricity and health care remains uncertain for many. On the other hand, we can say that the school and university landscape of our country has nothing in common with the situation following independence.

Furthermore, the accelerated urbanization that has taken place in recent decades as a result of high rural-urban migration is posing many new problems: housing, road systems, transport and security. With almost half of its population living in towns, Cameroon is far different from what it was fifty years back.

We have experienced another change which has happened so progressively that it has almost gone unnoticed. With the progress in school attendance and literacy as well as mass media broadcasting, our people have become open to the world. We read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television. Our attitudes, lifestyles and ways of thinking have changed. Few of us realize how much we have changed. As we become “westernized”, if I may say so, our differences tend to fade away.

Africa is not the only continent undergoing this transformation. Even countries which had a pronounced identity have been unable to resist fully. Let us accept the positive aspects of this evolution, that is, what helps us to progress and to get closer to other peoples. However, that should not prevent us from retaining what is inherent in our true nature: solidarity, fraternity and other African virtues. We should also endeavour to preserve what is part of our distinctive genius: our culture, our national languages as well as those that have become ours. By preserving our heritage, we preserve our identity.
While we were building our country, it was incumbent on us to ensure the protection of its territorial integrity. To secure the vast territory we inherited, it was necessary to have a sufficiently large number of well-trained defence forces. We successfully performed this task and now boast an army that meets our requirements. It is essentially a deterrent force and intervenes only as a last resort.

In fact, our ideal of peace inclines us to prioritize consultation or negotiation. For this reason, we have, over the last few years, endeavoured to maintain the best possible relations with our neighbours. I think we have succeeded in that regard. The only acute problem we faced concerned the Bakassi affair. Fortunately, it was resolved in line with international law, thanks to the spirit of conciliation and the willingness for a rapprochement between the parties concerned.
After gaining international sovereignty, we had the duty to deploy a diplomatic network that meets our expectations. This was done progressively. Today, we have diplomatic missions in many capitals and in major international organizations.

For their part, they have established dozens of foreign diplomatic missions in Yaounde. Thus, we can pull our own weight on the international scene by participating in general diplomatic activity and defending our interests. I am convinced that Cameroon has quite a respectable place in world affairs.

My dear compatriots,

There are few people still alive today who experienced the heady days of independence. Most of them have passed on and with them some of their unfulfilled dreams. However, they experienced the essential thing: no longer being humiliated, holding their heads high, doing as they please and having the right to make mistakes. For most of you, this era belongs to the distant past and is in the nature of things. I am not surprised, but you should understand that I wanted to rapidly take stock of the situation that prevailed in order to measure the ground covered.

Is this a positive or negative track record? Could we have performed better? Maybe. Not so well? Certainly. Without repeating what has been said about our Nation and our State, I want to recall that our political institutions have remained stable, that social tensions have been brought under control, that we are at peace with our neighbours and that human rights and freedoms continue to be respected.

The real snag is poverty which remains an eyesore in our society. While acknowledging our shortcomings, I stated why the successive crises that were beyond our control obliged us for years to make the best of what we had and to fall short of our objectives. As the effects of the crisis are easing off, the first signs of recovery are showing and there seems to be a resumption of investments, I think we should envision the future differently.

In fact, I believe that an era is coming to an end. To be explicit, I feel that the goal we should set ourselves is to make Cameroon an EMERGING COUNTRY within a period of about twenty years. I mentioned this possibility some time ago without imagining that the recent economic and financial crisis would banish such prospect.

In the meantime, we adopted a long-term development vision which provides that by 2035 Cameroon could become (I quote) “an emerging and democratic country united in its diversity”. This implies that we will succeed in reducing poverty to a socially acceptable level, that we will become a middle-income country and that we will attain the status of a newly industrialized country. I am not closing my eyes to the fact that it is a huge challenge. However, I believe that our country has the necessary resources and that our people are capable of taking up that challenge.

A “Growth and Employment Strategy Paper” has been prepared and will serve as a framework for government action for the period 2010-2020. This document outlines the objectives of the first phase of our long-term vision and defines the strategy for attaining them. It identifies structural shortcomings that should be corrected and reviews the major infrastructures to be built as well as the productive sectors to be modernized. Lastly, it lists the projects to be implemented in the domains of health, education and vocational training.

As you can see, this is a veritable ten-year development plan that was lacking in recent years. It mainly aims at revamping our economy and thus stimulating employment and rolling back poverty. I would like you, irrespective of your place in society, to consider the implementation of this strategy as a genuine national cause and to join forces to ensure its success.

As I said a moment ago, we are going to enter a new era. To sum up, I would like to say that during the last fifty years, we built the structure of our independence. Tomorrow, we will give it the economic and social content it deserves.

Our people, who have shown proof of great courage and patience, should reap the rewards of the sacrifices they have made through an equitable redistribution of the fruits of growth.

Long live independence!

Long live Cameroon!

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Cameroon: Journalists beaten on World Press Freedom

While other countries celebrated World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2010 with relative calm, it was not the same in Cameroon. Security forces ruthlessly suppressed a sit-in strike in front of the Prime Minister’s office organised by the Cameroon Union of Journalists who were protesting against the death of one of theirs, under very unclear circumstances.

The world watched how journalists were beaten like snakes! Unfortunately the same protests took place amid attempts at banning it in Douala, Bamenda and in Kumba in the Littoral, North West and South West Regions respectively.

In Yaoundé, two placards caught the attention of many. ‘We are all Bibi Ngota’ and ‘Vigilance Mr President.’ The rest of the placards condemned several attempts at muzzling the press, with the memorandum later presented, calling on the government to define the status of pressmen in Cameroon.

What is intriguing in the first placard is the circumstances that led to the death of the publisher of Cameroon Express, Cyrille Germain Bibi Ngota, at the Kondengui Maximum Prison on 22 April 2010.

Bibi Ngota

There are, however, three unanswered questions surrounding the death of this pressman with a clear indication that Cameroon is fast becoming unsafe for the practice of journalism!

First, it has never been made public why the three imprisoned journalists (Serge Sabouang and Harrys Mintya Meka) spent days at the Special Unit in charge of counter espionage better known in French as Direction Générale de la Recherche Extérieure , DGRE, where allegedly they were tortured following their testimonies.

Return To Pre-1990s?
The DGRE in all semblance replaces the former investigative services in the days of late Ahidjo, notably SEDOC, DIRDOC, CND and CENER. Placed under a certain Jean Forchive, these services were acting following ordinance No°62/Of/18 of 12 March 1962 and had as mission the tracking down of people who were suspected of subversion and hostile activities towards the regime at the time.

This ordinance had been suppressed by the law No° 90/046 of 19 December 1990. A political scientist Enoh Meyomesse, had once noted: up to 1990 Cameroonians were living in fear of the unknown, given that security men from these services were present almost everywhere and used a good number of citizens as their informants.

To Meyomesse they were found even in embassies out of the country and even amongst some sporting delegations. Their role in the delegations was to ensure the athletes do not have any contact with Cameroonians on exile at the time.

It is said that when Cameroon Airlines was created a good number of its hostesses were operatives from Cener who keenly followed up the conversation of passengers. Church houses were not spared as even ‘subversive declarations’ from preachers were tantamount to treason and therefore punishable.

There was the strong belief that with the advent of multipartism all that trauma was not supposed to exist anymore. Officially the DGRE is a counter espionage service and was not supposed to have any links with the activities of civilians to talk less of journalists. It is evident that that force is still there and ready to clamp on any dissenting voice! It would be wise for Yaoundé authorities to tell Cameroonians why the indicted publishers who were simply suspects were take to the DGRE.

Of HIV and Privacy
Secondly, everyone is asking whether the communication Minister had the right to say Bibi Ngota was seropositive and died of opportunistic infections.

Issa Tchiroma who talks a little to much claimed that he was being transparent, although it is common knowledge that every patient has a right to privacy in his medical results. The wife of Bibi Ngotta has denounced him; a local NGO fighting against HIV/AIDS has asked him to step down while the medical council, through its president, Guy Sanjong, has expressed shock with the Minister’s declarations.

The question now is whether another medical report had being cooked while Bibi Ngota was in the mortuary? Also, questions are also been raised as to why the communication boss created confusion over the autopsy of the deceased journalist if the government had nothing to hide.

It would be recalled that Cyriaque Ebola Bole, the journalist was to represent the press throughout the funeral was phoned by the Minister on April 27 to rush to the Yaoundé teaching hospital and witness the autopsy. By the time he reached there according to him, he was told the exercise was over. In his absence and that of the deceased’s family members. It remains unclear why the autopsy results have not been published.

Role of SNH
The most disturbing issue in the ‘Bibi affair’ is that those who were expected to make pronouncements have since his death maintained sealed lips. The national and international community expected to have clarifications on the content of the document that has been described by those directly or indirectly concerned as fraudulent. It remains unclear whether the ship was bought by the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH. And if it were, what was its cost?
The Cameroonian public which is encouraging the fight against corruption would want to know who the intermediaries were and what the actual amount they received as commissions was. Also it would be important to clear public opinion on who gave instructions for the payments to be made and whether it reflected the texts governing the company.

A CPDM big wig, Charles Ateba Eyene, has said from his investigations, a ship was actually bought but under doubtful conditions, like the Albatross. And like every other Cameroonian, he is interested in knowing where the ship was bought and whether the Director of the National Shipyard Engineering Company, Chantier Naval Antoine Bikoro, and the Director of the Douala Autonomous Ports, Dayas Mounoume, and the financial expert Dooh Collins are involved. In an Article published by Dikalo Ateba Eyene calls on the Secretary General at the Presidency, Laurent Esso to clear the air on the intricacies of the matter that has taken away the life of an illustrious son of the South Region.

Vigilance Mr President!
If there is one thing President Biya can boast of, it is his quest for the implantation of free speech with the introduction of the liberty laws of the 1990s. But it would seem his close collaborators are thwarting that effort. With the death of Bibi Ngota and the torturing of others by security forces the image of Cameroon has badly been tarnished. The press which is accompanying the President in his efforts, feels very uncomfortable with the ongoing since pressmen have the impression anyone can be given the kind of treatment the three journalists received.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Perpetrators Of Crimes Against Journalists Must Be Prosecuted — Ban Ki-moon

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But around the world, there are Governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it.

They impose high taxes on newsprint, making newspapers so expensive that people can’t afford to buy them. Independent radio and television stations are forced off the air if they criticise Government policy. The censors are also active in cyberspace, restricting the use of the Internet and new media.

Some journalists risk intimidation, detention and even their lives, simply for exercising their right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, through any media, and regardless of frontiers.

Last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) condemned the killing of 77 journalists. These were not high-profile war correspondents, killed in the heat of battle. Most of them worked for small, local publications in peacetime. They were killed for attempting to expose wrongdoing or corruption.

I condemn these murders and insist that the perpetrators are brought to justice. All Governments have a duty to protect those who work in the media. This protection must include investigating and prosecuting those who commit crimes against journalists.

Impunity gives the green light to criminals and murderers, and empowers those who have something to hide. Over the long term, it has a corrosive and corrupting effect on society as a whole.

This year’s theme is freedom of information: the right to know. I welcome the global trend towards new laws which recognize the universal right to publicly held information.

Unfortunately, these new laws do not always translate into action. Requests for official information are often refused, or delayed, sometimes for years. At times, poor information management is to blame. But all too often, this happens because of a culture of secrecy and a lack of accountability.

We must work to change attitudes and to raise awareness. People have a right to information that affects their lives, and States have a duty to provide this information. Such transparency is essential to good government.

The United Nations stands with persecuted journalists and media professionals everywhere. Today, as every day, I call on Governments, civil society and people around the world to recognize the important work of the media, and to stand up for freedom of information.

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