2009 August 25, 16:39 (Tuesday)

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CM – Cameroon | ECON – Economic Affairs–Economic Conditions, Trends and Potential | EFIN – Economic Affairs–Financial and Monetary Affairs | KCOR – Corruption and Anti-Corruption | MCAP – Political Affairs–Military Capabilities | PGOV – Political Affairs–Government; Internal Governmental Affairs | PHUM – Political Affairs–Human Rights | PINR – Political Affairs–Intelligence | PREL – Political Affairs–External Political Relations


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Cameroon Yaoundé


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African Union | Central Intelligence Agency | Defense Intelligence Agency | Secretary of State | United States Africa Command

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B. 08YAOUNDE 1169

C. 08YAOUNDE1257





Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Scott Ticknor for reasons 1.4 (d) and (e)

1. (C) Summary: Several recent surveys, including the just

published Foreign Policy Magazine 2008 Failed States Index,

suggest that Cameroon is a failing state. These assessments

are supported by recent events which have strengthened

authoritarianism, heightened political uncertainty, and

increased economic worries. President Paul Biya’s legendary

political skill created a loyal security apparatus, a weak

opposition, and a reasonably resilient economy, enabling him

to stay in power for almost 27 years. As a result,

Cameroon’s decades of relative stability may endure for some

time longer; however, Biya has done little to shore up his

legitimacy or build institutions which would guard against

future instability. Cameroon is drifting toward troubled

water. As Central Africa’s breadbasket and largest economy,

with a major port and an oil pipeline from Chad, instability

here could undermine the whole region. End summary.

The Stabilizers


2. (C) Cameroonian officials underscore their biggest

achievement as providing 49 years of stability, especially

impressive in the context of the country’s diversity,

including its 250 ethnic groups and Anglophone/Francophone

split. Officials believe the country is fragile and, to

ensure continued stability, they argue the importance of

moving slowly on reforms. We see several key stabilizers

that will be critical to continued stability:

— Biya’s Skill: President Paul Biya has been masterful at

balancing interest groups and staying in power for almost 27

years. He has survived a coup attempt (1984), a period of

economic crisis (mid 1980s-early 2000s, leading to a 75%

salary cut for civil servants and a painful devaluation),

contested election results (1992), and nationwide riots (1992

and 2008). Even his most ardent critics admire his political

skill, including his ability to maintain an aging elite

support network through patronage and a permissive attitude

toward corruption. Biya also still effectively cultivates an

air of mystery which keeps those around him on their toes.

He seems likely to attempt to maneuver a smooth succession,

probably via a chosen heir.

— A Loyal Security Apparatus: Biya has balanced the armed

forces – the military, the Presidential Guard, and the BIR –

all of which report directly to him as the Minister of

Defense. He has kept the military well enough equipped and

paid to ward off disgruntlement but not prepared or united

enough to threaten his power. Biya has balanced his military

ethnically but has placed fellow ethnic Betis in the most

sensitive positions. He has allowed some in the security

forces to make illicit money and retained superannuated

generals to ensure the loyalty of the senior ranks. While

some in the military resent the strengthening of the

Presidential Guard and elite Rapid Intervention Battalion

(BIR), the recent appointment of a new Minister Delegate in

Charge of Defense has helped reduce tensions between the

services. Biya effectively uses the police and intelligence

services to monitor closely and control potential opponents.

This, combined with the memory of almost twenty years of

violence surrounding Cameroon’s independence (1954-1973) and

the repression following the 1992 democracy movement, has

made Cameroonians cautious about taking to the streets or

voicing discontent.

— Economic Resilience: despite rising economic problems,

Cameroon is a lower middle income country (with an annual per

capital GDP of $1,117 in 2007, according to BEAC, the Bank of

Central African States). Cameroon has the largest and most

diversified economy in Central Africa. Poverty and social

services have worsened in the past decade but most

Cameroonians are not starving. Cameroon remains a net

supplier of food for the region and is buoyed by income from

the Douala port and Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which have

regional significance. Oil revenues (possibly including new

sources from Bakassi) could also boost the economy over time.

–A Weak Opposition: The political opposition is divided and

suffering from a crisis of leadership. Opposition parties

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have progressively lost seats in parliament and local

governments. The main opposition Social Democratic Front

(SDF) suffers from political infighting, centered around

disgruntlement with its longtime leader John Fru Ndi. At the

moment, the opposition lacks a charismatic national figure

who could unify them or galvanize the masses.

Surveys Raise Concerns


3. (U) The recently published 2008 Failed States Index,

published for the fifth year by Foreign Policy Magazine and

the Washington-based Fund for Peace, ranks Cameroon 26 out of

176 countries on its index, with a score of 95.3 out of 120

points measuring stability (the lower the index score and

higher the number of points, the more unstable the country).

Cameroon’s score was sixth worst out of twenty states

identified by the index as being in danger of failing. The

survey looked at 12 key social, economic, political and

military indicators (Cameroon’s absolute scores are in

parentheses, with 0 being most stable and 10 being least

stable): demographic pressure (8), refugees/IDPs (7.5),

group grievances (7.2), human flight (8), uneven development

(8.9), economic decline (6.9), deligitimization of the state

(9.2), public services (8), human rights (8), security

apparatus (7.8), factionalized elites (8.7), and external

intervention (7.1). The Index cites riots and Chadian

refugees in 2008 and serious economic problems in Cameroon as

harbingers of future “street protests and homegrown


4. (SBU) When asked about the Foreign Policy survey,

Cameroonian analysts find it is credible, in part because it

conforms with other widely quoted surveys highlighting poor

governance. Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption

Perception Index ranks Cameroon 141 out of 180 most corrupt

countries in the world, and the World Bank’s 2009 Doing

Business report ranks Cameroon as 164 out of 181, in the

bottom quarter of the world’s business climates. Freedom

House’s 2009 Freedom in the World report scores Cameroon 6

out of 7 (7 representing the lowest level of freedom), in the

“not free” category. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2008

democracy index ranks Cameroon 126 out of 167 countries (the

higher the number, the worse the performance), putting it

among “authoritarian regimes.” Cameroon has shown little

overall improvement over the past several years on the

Millennium Challenge Corporation’s scorecards, reflecting 17

indicators of good governance, investing in people and

economic freedom. Standard and Poor’s gives Cameroon a

“B/stable/B” sovereign credit rating, citing increasing

political risk surrounding the succession after Biya. These

surveys are supported by worrying recent developments.

A Delegitimized State


5. (C) Political stability has been maintained at the cost

of an increasingly narrow political space. President Biya

has effectively co-opted the opposition and instilled public

fear with selective but decisive uses of force and

intimidation. In the flawed 2007 elections, the ruling

Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party

strengthened its majority in parliament and in city councils.

Political institutions across the board are weak, from

parliament (dominated by the ruling party) to the judiciary

(government controlled), from civil society (meek and largely

bought off) to the newly formed Electoral Commission, ELECAM

(largely discredited as politically biased). Biya’s

much-vaunted commitment to decentralization has so far meant

giving more power to central government officials in the

field rather than empowering local officials and elected


6. (C) Biya is in many ways a prisoner of his own system –

a system which keeps him in power but cannot perform well.

His regime is so centralized and hierarchical, so focused on

self-preservation, that the bureaucracy is largely paralyzed,

referring even minor decisions to the President (see ref F).

Social service delivery has declined over the past decade,

infrastructure projects have stalled, budget execution is

very poor. Biya and his regime are widely unpopular and in

many circles feared. There is a lively media but significant

self-censorship and concerns about press intimidation.

Growing public apathy toward politics is evident in low voter

turnouts in recent elections. Biya appears increasingly

isolated; he almost never travels within the country except

for trips to his village and he rarely meets people or makes

public appearances. In his most recent meeting with

Ambassador, Biya apparently did not even know his wife was

traveling to the U.S. a week later (ref G).

YAOUNDE 00000724 003 OF 005

Continued Political Uncertainty


7. (C) Transition Mechanism Not Viable: The lack of a

viable post-Biya transition scenario underlies a sense of

political nervousness. According to the 1996 constitution

and a 2008 amendment, if the President dies or is

incapacitated, the President of the Senate would become

interim President until elections are called within 120 days.

Because Biya has yet to create the Senate, the President of

the National Assembly would become interim President.

However, Biya has retained as President of the National

Assembly someone he is sure does not threaten him – Cavaye

Djibril, a northerner (and therefore probably not acceptable

to the ruling Beti clan) with a reputation for being poorly

educated, venal, and unpopular, even in his own region. At

76, Biya appears healthy; however, by intentionally casting a

shadow of uncertainty over what will happen when he leaves

the scene, he has paralyzed succession planning. The

post-Biya period will likely bring to the fore simmering

ethnic tensions (between Beti-Bulus, northerners and

Bamilekes), regional divisions (northerners, southerners and

Anglophones), and personal competition (between “elders”

loyal to Biya but ambitious in their own right and “upstarts”

lacking the same loyalty – see ref D).

8. (C) Election Timing: Political observers are split on

whether Biya will call early elections in 2010 and run again

or will keep to the scheduled 2011 election date. Biya has

fueled the speculation, possibly to keep opponents off guard.

He changed the constitution in 2008 to eliminate

presidential term limits, leaving open the option (we think

likelihood, cynics say certainty) that he will run again.

The government widely promoted (reportedly paid for) a new

Biya biography, “The Biya Code,” which paints a glowing

portrait of the President. Many interpreted Biya’s recent

trip to France and meeting with President Sarkozy as a purely

political move, and his return was greeted

uncharacteristically with a staged public welcome. All over

the country, activists from the CPDM have been calling for

Biya to run for President. A new presidential decree

mandating the transfer of funds for decentralization reflects

increasingly assertive demands from the regions but also

seems designed to help with electoral politics.

9. (C) ELECAM Not Ready: Cameroonians are worried about

preparations for an election. Biya not only packed ELECAM

with senior party cronies but he has still not signed off on

a decree needed to transfer the voter register and election

equipment from the Ministry of Territorial Administration

(MINAT) to ELECAM. The Minister of MINAT, Marafa Hamidou

Yaya, recently told Ambassador that, without an adequate

budget or legal standing, ELECAM cannot yet function. With

“no system in place” at the moment, Biya “is blind if he

doesn’t see the danger,” Marafa added. If ELECAM is not made

to work, the 2011 presidential election will not be possible,

which “could burn the country up,” Marafa feared.

10. (C) Corruption Nerves: An ongoing anti-corruption

campaign has also heightened anxiety among political elites.

Dubbed “Operation Sparrowhawk” (Epervier in French), Biya’s

anti-corruption efforts led to the arrests in 2008 of the

former ministers of Finance and Health, the former Secretary

General of the Presidency, and a number of other senior

officials. Over the past few months, anti-corruption efforts

have targeted the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of

Agriculture, the former head of CRTV, the former Ambassador

to the United States, and a member of parliament from the

CPDM. Despite these arrests, the general public remains

cynical. Many contacts see “Epervier” as politically

motivated and point to the continued pervasiveness of

corruption in Cameroonian society. The 2009 Transparency

International Global Corruption Barometer found that the

majority of Cameroonians report they have had to pay bribes

in the past year (Cameroon is among the four worst among 69

countries surveyed). In late June, a French NGO alleged that

Biya and his family had accumulated ill-gotten wealth,

leading to public calls for Biya to declare his assets, as

required by law.

Economic Malaise


11. (SBU) Even before the current global economic crisis,

Cameroon’s economic performance was lackluster. Some

macroeconomic indicators were reasonably good (low inflation,

low debt levels, a relatively diverse economy, strong forex

reserves) but the business climate was been ranked among the

worst in the world due to corruption, bureaucratic

YAOUNDE 00000724 004 OF 005

bottlenecks, lack of access to credit, and an inefficient

judiciary. Oil production has been slowly declining and

there has been little job creation over the years.

Cameroon’s economic strength – such as it is – relies largely

on good fortune (oil, access to the sea, fertile soil), with

very little developed economic activity to buttress it.

12. (SBU) According to the IMF, the population living below

the poverty line has remained virtually unchanged at 40%

since 2001 (many Cameroonians perceive that poverty has

worsened). The President’s failure to publish the 2005

census results makes it difficult to assess demographic

trends; sources indicate that the census points to little

overall population growth (from a total of around 17 to 18

million people) but they speculate that it indicates

substantial rural-urban migration, which has potential

political repercussions. Health indicators are also very

discouraging. Maternal mortality has worsened from 430 to

669 per 100,000 births from 1998 to 2004, while under-five

infant mortality has risen during the same period from 139 to

149 per 1,000 live births. Many experts believe the HIV/AIDS

prevalence rate is higher than the 2004 official estimated

rate of 5.5%. The health sector suffers from poor planning,

inadequate infrastructure, weak controls, and corruption,

leaving Cameroon unprepared to deal with a serious infectious

disease outbreak.

12. (SBU) The global economic crisis has significantly

worsened the economic outlook. The IMF estimates GDP growth

will slow by 1 percentage point to 2.4% in 2009; with 3%

population growth, Cameroon’s per capita income growth is

predicted to fall. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates

a much worse performance – negative 0.1% growth in real terms

in 2009. Given the unequal distribution of economic growth,

such a drop in performance means a larger net loss for most

households. Oil, timber, rubber, and cotton exports in

particular have been hurt, shedding thousands of jobs and

threatening hundreds of thousands more. Some major

infrastructure projects have been stalled. Despite recently

rising oil prices, total government revenues are expected to

decline in 2009-2010. The IMF’s medium-term outlook for

nonoil real GDP growth has been revised downward by 1.5

percentage points each year and is not predicted to return to

2008 levels for at least the next three years, with serious

negative implications for job growth.

13. (SBU) Biya recognizes the political pitfalls of poor

economic performance, especially in light of nationwide riots

in 2008 resulting at least in part from rising food and fuel

prices. Since the riots, the GRC has worked to control food

prices, froze gas prices at the pump, and slightly increased

public sector salaries. On July 3, following a minor Cabinet

shuffle, President Biya issued an unusual Special Communique

to his Cabinet, criticizing inertia and corruption as having

long held back economic development. Biya noted that energy,

roads, mining, and agriculture projects had lagged, and he

gave his Cabinet six months to improve performance. A source

in the Presidency commented to us that the June 30 Cabinet

shuffle was motivated largely by a desire to jump-start the

economy. A recent $140 million IMF Exogenous Shock Facility

disbursement should help the government cover balance of

payments shortfalls. Nonetheless, many observers are

skeptical that an IMF loan and presidential jawboning can

overcome vested interests in a system seemingly designed to

move slowly.



14. (C) The next few years will be critical for Cameroon.

It is possible that Biya will steer a transition that will be

acceptable to the country’s power brokers and face little

opposition. Biya has so far shown he can alter the

constitution and laws and manipulate the political system to

suit his plans. With more distance from a tumultuous 2008,

most political pundits are less dramatic and more resigned

about the country’s future than they were a year ago (ref e).

Recent controversies such as the constitutional change and

ELECAM have largely subsided, as have the heightened worries

about security we saw in 2008 (ref B).

15. (C) Nonetheless, Cameroon has many of the ingredients

of a failing state, and rising political and economic risks

bear close watching. Cameroon could be wracked again by

social unrest similar to the February 2008 riots, which some

analysts classified as a “wobble” in historically stable

Cameroon. Biya’s failure to shore up the foundations of his

regime’s legitimacy – in fact eroding many sources of

stability – will hinder his ability to bounce back from the

next wobble.

YAOUNDE 00000724 005 OF 005

16. (C) The next wobble could take many forms. The SDF and

some civil society activists say they are preparing for civic

action in the next few months which may raise the political

temperature. At some point, rising frustration among the

youth may tip the scale; we have noticed growing impatience

with the Biya regime among university students (ref A) and

within the younger generation of professionals and military

officials. Biya has warned about shadowy “sorcerer’s

apprentices” and a number of powerful, wealthy, disgruntled

people (some of whom are in prison facing corruption charges)

who could stir trouble. Cameroonian officials are also

worried about spillovers of conflicts from neighboring


17. (C) There is a great deal of good will toward the

United States in the government and among average

Cameroonians. Many Cameroonians who are afraid to speak up

look to the U.S. to publicly address sensitive political

issues, despite the Ambassador’s public statements that

Cameroonians should take more responsibility for their own

problems. The government is very sensitive to outside

criticism and is reportedly upset about the recent Foreign

Policy Failed States Index, which has been reported in the

local media and is perceived by some as a USG report. We are

in a position to influence political discussion and events on

the margins, but we should be prepared to see our interests

here threatened – both on a national and regional level –

during a possible future period of violent instability.


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