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Cablegate: Cameroonian President Biya Gives Ambassador

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RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHTRO
DE RUEHYD #0083/01 0361139
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 051138Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0011
INFO AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 YAOUNDE 000083
SIPDIS
AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE PASS TO AMEMBASSY MALABO
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/05
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON KCOR EFIN CM PTER SENV PHUM BEXP PINR
SUBJECT: Cameroonian President Biya Gives Ambassador
Political/Economic Overview
CLASSIFIED BY: Janet E. Garvey, Ambassador, State; REASON: 1.4(C),
(D), (E)

1. (C) Summary: On February 4, Ambassador met with
President Paul Biya for a two-hour tour d´horizon of domestic and
international issues. Biya was concerned about the threat of
Islamic extremism. He praised growing Central African regional
cooperation and improved relations with Nigeria. He was positive
about the recent Copenhagen summit although frustrated with China´s role. The President appreciated strong US-Cameroonian commercial ties, especially Boeing´s interest in CAMAIRCO. He predicted more
anti-corruption arrests, affirming that he would not let corrupt
officials out of prison until they had shown remorse. He agreed
that a lot of money had been stolen by corrupt officials and that
budget transparency needed to be improved. The Electoral
Commission (ELECAM) "keeps me awake at night," he said, arguing
that the main problem with ELECAM was creating a "mechanism" for
it to function well and independently within a system which is so
dominated by the central government. He is working on a new
electoral code, which he plans to submit to parliament in March,
and he hopes Senate elections will be held in the second quarter of
2010. Biya was warm and chatty, obviously pleased to be meeting,
venturing into numerous tangents. He gave nothing away about
possible early elections or his running for president while
cryptically (maybe wistfully) mentioning retirement . End
summary.

Islamic Extremism

2. (S) Biya began the meeting by thanking the Ambassador
for U.S. intelligence cooperation with Cameroon. He was beginning
to worry about Islamic extremists infiltrating Cameroon from
Nigeria and making inroads through Cameroonian mosques.

Regional Developments

3. (C) Biya saw a new spirit of cooperation in Central
Africa. He was pleased with the January heads of state meeting of
the Monetary and Economic Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) in
Bangui, which brought significant reforms to the institution and
the Central African Bank, BEAC (septel). He gave much of the
credit for renewed regional cooperation to Gabonese President Ali
Bongo. Chadian President Idris Deby feels more secure and is
engaging more in the region, including asking Biya for advice, the
President said, while engagement by the Central African Republic
was limited because of its instability. Biya opined that CEMAC
was too small but that merging with the Economic Community of
Central African States, CEEAC (which has been discussed for years)
is probably not likely in the short-term. He had directed the
Minister of External Affairs to explore greater synergies between
CEMAC and CEEAC. Biya praised ongoing BEAC reforms, stressing that
"a lot of money was stolen." The President saw the need to
facilitate transportation, border crossing procedures, and airline
connections within the region, although he frowned on a regional
airline being based in Douala because it might compete with the
future CAMAIRCO, Cameroon´s nascent airline. Biya gave the
impression that he recognized Cameroon´s strength and stability in
the region but was not looking for a bigger diplomatic role in
Central Africa.

Relations with Nigeria/Bakassi

4. (C) Biya was grateful for the 2006 Greentree Accord
which led to the final settlement of the Bakassi Peninsula dispute
with Nigeria. To build on this, Cameroon needed to construct more
roads to Nigeria and strengthen its capacity to supply electricity
to its neighbor. Biya asked Ambassador about the current Nigerian
political situation, praising President Yar´adua as a "good
partner" who had always treated Cameroon "properly." Biya was
saddened by Yar´adua´s illness.

5. (C) Cameroon and Nigeria were working together to
address what he thought were valid allegations that some Nigerians
had been mistreated in Bakassi. The GRC was trying to "do it
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right" in Bakassi, balancing development and security. The GRC´s
elite military group, the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), had
been successful at reducing petty crime (although Biya saw the
need to augment BIR efforts to combat highway bandits called
"coupeurs de routes" in northern Cameroon). The President
lamented a recent fire in Bakassi, hoped to find oil in the
Peninsula, and stressed the need to improve the security
environment.

Copenhagen/China

6. (S) The outcome of the Copenhagen summit was "positive,"
especially its inclusion of forest resources, Biya said. Cameroon
would associate with the Accord, he noted. He was particularly
frustrated with China - "what´s wrong with them?" he queried,
criticizing them for "throwing their weight around" in Copenhagen.
He didn´t understand China´s treatment of the Dalai Lama and
Taiwan, pointing to the need to "bring China along."

Economic/Commercial Issues

7. (SBU) Ambassador pointed to the growing U.S.-Cameroon
commercial relationship. She noted that the bauxite mining
consortium Cameroon Alumina Ltd. (CAL), which includes American
company Hydromine, had fulfilled the conditions of its exploration
license and hoped to be granted a mining permit. She also noted
that American cobalt mining company Geovic had just resolved a
long-standing dispute with its GRC partner which should facilitate
completion of the project in 2010, although there were some
lingering issues. She also highlighted our desire to see Cameroon
take better advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act
(AGOA). Biya supported AGOA and agreed "there is a lot to do." He
was frustrated with the human relations management of American
electricity company AES, although he thought Cameroon´s water
problems were more severe than electricity shortages. He was
delighted with Boeing´s interest in Cameroon. He recognized it
would take time to build an airline but said that discussions with
Lufthansa to manage the new airline were almost completed and he
had just selected two directors for CAMAIRCO, one from the
Netherlands and one from Austria.

8. (C) Biya did not discuss the overall economy in any
depth but noted the "need to get the economy going." He was
unhappy with the Minister of Agriculture for not doing more to
boost the sector. He hoped the Kribi gas-fired power plant project
would stay on track.

Corruption/Budget Transparency

9. (C) Ambassador praised Cameroon´s continued focus on
fighting corruption, including renewed arrests of alleged corrupt
officials, but also expressed concerns that legal procedures be
fully pursued. She detailed USG support for anti-corruption
efforts. Biya said he wouldn´t release those arrested for
corruption "until they admit they did something wrong." He was
pleased with USG cooperation in combating corruption and stressed
that corrupt officials "stole a lot of money." He confirmed that
more corruption-related arrests were coming under his
anti-corruption initiative Operation "Epervier" (Sparrowhawk),
although (contrary to rumor) he thought this would not likely
include former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni because the evidence
against him was thin and he didn´t steal much money. Epervier had
sent a useful anti-corruption signal which has had some effect, he
thought; however, he wanted to rethink the approach of arresting
officials and focus more on getting the stolen money back. He had
more information about corruption committed by former Secretary
General in the Presidency Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara.

10. (SBU) The USG is particularly concerned about Cameroon´s
slow progress toward improving budget execution and transparency,
the Ambassador noted, explaining that a failure to improve budget
transparency could trigger a cut-off of bilateral assistance under
U.S. law. She also hoped that Cameroon would be successful when
it comes up for validation in March under the Extractive
Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Biya agreed that
Cameroon needed to do better in budget transparency and
utilization, singling out the National Investment Company (SNI) as
having a particularly nontransparent budget. He would talk to
the Prime Minister and Finance Minister about this issue and EITI.
Elections

11. (C) Ambassador stressed the need for free, fair,
transparent and well-administered elections and asked how he could
help us overcome the perception that ELECAM lacks credibility.
How to make Electoral Commission (ELECAM) work well, "keeps me
awake at night," Biya responded, stressing that he wants it to
function with true independence. He claimed he didn´t personally
know the members of the ELECAM Council (who have been widely
criticized for being partisan senior ruling party officials). His
main problem with ELECAM was in creating a "mechanism" for it to
function well and independently within a system which is so
dominated by the central government. It was important to have a
large voter turnout in order to ensure stability in the country, he
said. He was frustrated with opposition parties and the Ministry
of Territorial Administration and Decentralization for being
"enemies of ELECAM."

12. (C) Biya noted that later in the day he would review the
new electoral code, which he hoped would harmonize all electoral
laws and could be ready to submit to parliament during the upcoming
March session of the National Assembly. He hoped to hold Senate
elections in the second quarter of 2010, which would be "a test"
for ELECAM before presidential elections "next year." He hoped to
put some military generals in the Senate (possibly also the Navy
Chief, who Biya said "we have to do something about, " presumably
because of the Admiral´s reputation for corruption and
incompetence). Biya also said he plans to create a
Constitutional Council soon. (Note: Biya has never created the
Senate or the Constitutional Council called for in the 1996
constitution. In his New Year´s address, Biya said he would create
the Senate in 2010. End note.)

13. (SBU) The President admired Ghanaian President Mills and
South African President Zuma, who have both reportedly accepted an
invitation to a conference on 50 years of African independence to
be held in Cameroon later this year. The conference would discuss
the progress and challenges of African rule, although "there hasn´t
been much progress," Biya quipped, adding that Africa needed
stronger institutions. When Ambassador inserted that these
institutions should be democratic, Biya just smiled.

Comment

14. (C) Biya was the most relaxed and talkative of all his
meetings with Ambassador. He was gracious, generally well
informed, mentally sharp, and seemingly in good health, although he
tired toward the end of the two hours. He seemed eager to keep
the conversation going, venturing into concerns about Afghanistan,
Iran (which he feared threatened Israel), and Haiti (he praised the
U.S. response). Ambassador commended Cameroon´s $1 million offer
of assistance to Haiti; Biya said the Cameroonian public was
praising this decision. He put a heavy value on discipline,
highlighting its strength among northern Cameroonians and its
weakness in the Indomitable Lions (the national soccer team, which
lost in the Africa Cup) and among some of his colleagues (such as
Minister of Economy and Planning Luis Paul Motaze, who Biya thought
lacked discretion). At the same time, however, he revealed a
mischievous side and projected a degree of helplessness when
confronted with key problems in his government (such as managing
the budget, jumpstarting agriculture, and making ELECAM more
independent).

15. (S) He did not seem well informed about the poor state of
the navy, which Ambassador mentioned in discussions about the BIR.
He gave no hint as to whether he will run in the next presidential
election or whether he might change the composition of the ELECAM
Council. His concerns about Islamic extremism echoed similar
concerns we have been recently picking up in the north and among
our moderate Muslim contacts, who worry about dangerous influences
both from Nigeria and Iran. Biya´s odd insistence that corrupt
officials should repent reflected his religious background (he
started his career in the seminary) and his emphasis on personal
loyalty. His professed frustration with China contrasts with the
rising profile of Chinese investments in Cameroon; it probably
reflects some real ambivalence about China and Cameroon´s desire to
balance Chinese, U.S. and French interests. Biya seemed very
concerned about climate change, noting at one point that he was
moving to a more energy efficient house.

16. (C) Biya´s affection for the U.S. appears genuine (he talked
fondly of his one visit to the U.S.) Some in the media are
already interpreting the length of this meeting (which some
journalists report as unprecedented) as a sign of the importance of
the U.S.-Cameroon relationship. Biya´s wide ranging comments and
questions encompassed American car manufacturers, Tiger Woods, the
Massachusetts Senate election, the U.S. economy and health reform
debate, former President George W. Bush (who he liked because he is
a farmer and reads the bible), and President Obama (who he
admires). He hoped Cameroon could benefit from Millennium
Challenge Corporation funding, noting that Senegalese President
Wade had told him how much he likes the MCC, but acknowledging
concerns about the GRC´s current capacity to implement an MCC
compact. Biya appreciated USG exchange programs and offerings of
training. He mentioned retirement and said he would love to visit
the U.S. again, especially Detroit (presumably because of a love of
automobiles.) Ambassador stressed that America was a friend of
Cameroon.

17. (C) Biya had earlier cornered Ambassador during a New Year
event to say "we have much to talk about". He obviously did.
His eagerness to engage us, his positive interest in the U.S., his
questions to Ambassador about a wide range of global issues, the
unusual length of this meeting and breadth of conversation suggest
the President may be receptive to further discussions with senior
USG officials in such areas as corruption, elections, democratic
transition, and Cameroon´s global role.
GARVEY

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