Yaoundé: Star Building in Panic Mode 0

As the news that the hawks in the Yaoundé government are seeking a replacement for the current Prime Minister, Chief Dr. Dion Ngute, gains momentum, the mode at the Star Building in Yaoundé has changed significantly. The once vibrant staff at the Star Building now walk like zombies because they are unaware of what will befall them once Dion Ngute is given the marching order.

Dr. Ngute’s collaborators are very concerned about their own future, especially as it is dawning on them that their boss is not in the good books of the President, Paul Biya. The Prime Minister himself has, over the last few days, refused to read newspapers given to him, for fear that the news may not be music to his ears. 

His collaborators who have stumbled on some of the news articles about his departure printed them and hastily took them to him, hoping that he might like to get more details about the dark clouds hanging over his political future, but Prime Minister Dion Ngute, a jovial and energetic man, simply said he did not want to read the newspapers which were already prophesying his exit from the prestigious Star Building. 

When Dr. Ngute came to office as Prime Minister, he was an avid news-reader. He was in love with the stories about his coming to power but today what used to be as luscious as locust has suddenly become as bitter as coloquintida.  The newspapers, which extolled his virtues to the skies, have become harbingers of bad news and the Ndian Division native is in no mood to read his own political obituary. 

A source close to Dr. Ngute reported that he was a very frustrated Prime Minister. “For all the time he has been in office as Prime Minister, he has not implemented any project. He has always been complaining about the lack of a budget which can enable him to accomplish his mission. He is very angry with the hawks in the regime who have done all they can to make his job very hard,” the source said.

Mr. Dion Ngute’s scorecard as a Prime Minister is dismal. He was brought to the Star Building to disconnect the Southwest region from the insurgency that has claimed many lives in the two English-speaking regions of the country, but under his watchful eyes, the low insurgency morphed into a full-blown civil war, causing the government to lose credibility abroad and revenues at home as the economy struggles.

For more than three years, Dion Ngute has not engaged the country’s Diaspora in general and the country’s English-speaking community abroad in particular.

The country’s Anglophone Diaspora has played a key role in the insurgency that has left the government with a bloodshot eye and the Yaoundé government holds that appointing someone who can speak with the insurgents while selling the government’s position will be the ideal solution.

Dion has failed and the secret talks at the Presidency have concluded that it will be proper to cut him out if Cameroon must regain its lost peace.  He has simply outlived his usefulness.

He has not lived up to the government’s glorious expectations. He has never been to his native Ndian Division in more than five years where there have been gruesome killings. He has never taken that risk. He has simply not understood that in politics, risk is the down payment on success. In his warped thinking, his life is more important than national peace and unity.  

For some observers of the Star Building, the Prime Minister seems to be in an interminable honeymoon since he got married to a woman who can be his daughter and many observers hold that he is just dogging the footsteps of his sick and tired boss whose wife is almost 40 years his junior. Since he got married, he has been wearing a smile not because Cameroon is getting better but because his young wife has erased some of his years and wrinkles which once occupied a prominent spot on his forehead. Dion is a happy man while the country is sinking.

A happy face has become Dion’s perfume, and this is hurting those at the Unity Palace and many analysts think that the President, Paul Biya, holds Dion in very low esteem. The last pictures of Dion bidding farewell to the sick 89-year-old president at the Nsimalen Airport speak volumes for the disdain Mr. Biya has for his Prime Minister. 

Meanwhile, the search for his replacement is well underway. Politicians close to President Biya hold that the Prime Minister should be replaced with another South-westerner to demonstrate that the President has nothing against South-westerners who are moderate in their ways and can easily be brought back to the fold.

Internally, there seems to be a shortage of influential South-westerners who can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Francophone politicians close to the President’s wife, Chantal Biya, hold that a new face from the Diaspora may make a huge difference.

They want someone who can confidently talk with the separatists and still promote the government’s agenda. The focus is now on South-westerners working in international organisations and things appear to be well on track.

A source close to the Unity Palace has it that a Cameroon Embassy staff in Cote d’Ivoire has spoken with an African Development Bank Group staff on this issue, though no agreement has been reached but it is being rumored that the South-westerner in Abidjan is insisting on working honestly for the country.

The source added that the person contacted is highly respected by both federalists and separatists, and he holds that federalism could help douse the fire which has been burning in Cameroon for over five years, an idea which does not go down well with many regime hawks. The source also said that another candidate working for the World Bank had been contacted but he does not have the leverage and cloud over with separatists who are determined to have their own country.   

The need to find an external candidate is also being promoted by the French who are already scared that they might lose Cameroon if the insurgency in the two English-speaking regions is not rolled back.

Last week, the French Ambassador to Cameroon, Christophe Guilhou, paid a courtesy call on Mr. Biya. He used the occasion to underscore his country’s position regarding succession planning in Cameroon. The French know that Mr. Biya’s health is failing and that if he were to leave the scene unceremoniously, the country could be caught in a downward political spiral.

All the ingredients are in place for real political chaos to play out, especially as the president’s constitutional successor is also being tormented by a colony of diseases which have reduced his body to conference center. The clouds are gathering over Cameroon and the French are aware of this.

They currently have multiple crises on their hands. Mali, Guinea, the CAR, and Burkina Faso are already slipping out of their grip, and they do not want Cameroon to be thrown into the mix. Cameroon could be a tough challenge, especially as the two English-speaking regions are already in a concerning turmoil which has exposed the government’s inability to deal with political and military crises.

Dion Ngute may not be happy, but his performance as the Prime Minister of Cameroon leaves much to be desired. He cannot point to any concrete achievements and his permanent party mood is really a provocation of regime hawks. While he continues to have a blast with his young wife, his collaborators are losing sleep and weight, and until this issue is settled, there will be no happiness at the Star Building.

By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai