An investigation by Boris Bertolt
On Tuesday, July 7, 2020, an article was written in French by Boris Bertolt, a Political Journalist on exile, and Ph.D. researcher in criminology at the University of Kent, in the United Kingdom and sent to AmbaNews24 editorial office. The article is based on his investigation on meetings held by French Cameroun secret service agents in the USA with certain Ambazonian leaders. In the article, the names of Chris Anu, and Ebenezer Akwanga were mentioned as having met with Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui and received envelopes filled with cash. Also, the article talks of what transpired in the meetings that took place on two occasions at the home of the Catholic Bishop of Yaounde between jailed Ambazonian leaders, and Cameroun’s main negotiator. Below is the full translated version of the article
This is the political event at the start of the year. Open talks between the Cameroonian government and the Ambazonian separatists. Meanwhile, in a press release made public yesterday, July 7, 2020, the Minister of Communication, René Emmanuel affirms that the information regarding the start of negotiations with the separatists “is not entirely accurate” without however specifying what is true. This is because the regime which has opted since the beginning of the English-speaking crisis in 2016 for repression is embarrassed and does not want to lose face. But behind this political posture hides power struggles, network wars, and financial interests. The great investigation of Cash Investigation.
IN THE BEGINNING, WAS THE ARMY
Around the end of 2018, fighting intensified in the English-speaking area. There is a significant loss of life among the separatist troops and the army as well. In Yaoundé, two conflicting political lines at loggerheads: one that wants negotiations to be carried out for the sake of peace and another in support of the war. During these debates, the international community urges Biya Paul (who is already in the midst of a post-electoral crisis with the national resistance plan launched by Maurice Kamto who claims to have won the elections) to engage in a dialogue with the separatists.
It is the military who secretly makes the first decision to enter into discussions with leaders of the armed groups. After several weeks they get nothing because military security reports indicate that the new leaders of the Ambazonian movement are outside of the country. The Minister of Defense will seek authorization from Paul Biya to increase the number of missions abroad to discuss with the leaders of Ambazonia in exile. He’s going to obtain this authorization.
Beti Assomo assigns Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui, the head of military security to conduct these operations. Bamkoui sees in this new mission, entrusted to him by his boss with the authorization of Paul Biya a windfall. Because for several months, he secretly nurtured a rivalry with the boss of the Directorate General for External Research (DGRE), the Commissioner Leopold Eko Eko whom he dreams of replacing, after which he wants to become General. Getting him to start negotiations for a ceasefire is a dream for him.
The rivalry between Eko Eko and Émile Bamkoui was orchestrated by Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh the Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic who asked Paul Biya to replace Eko Eko with Emile Bamkoui. This is because Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh considers that the DGRE placed under his authority is not actually reporting to him. Eko Eko does not agree with the government’s crackdown. As early as 2003, as an intelligence officer, he was already writing notes to the attention of his hierarchy on the outbreak of the Anglophone crisis.
Financial and human resources are made available to him. Colonel Bamkoui will only make at least three trips to the United States. He knows that Paul Atanga Nji has been there and could not deliver. Bamkoui will meet with several Ambazonian leaders in hotels and restaurants. His guests will never come home empty-handed. Envelopes had been prepared from Cameroon for this mission. Among those received by Émile Bamkoui are Akwanga Ebenezer, Chris Anu, and others.
Six months later, the results of overseas trips and field discussions are flat. The mission is aborted.
DION NGUTE’S ENTRY IN THE STAGE
At the time when Bamkoui was negotiating, another man had just replaced Philémon Yang as Prime Minister: Dion Ngute. This career diplomat, reputed to be cordial and discreet, had the main mission of bringing peace to the English-speaking zone. He in turn engages contacts with English-speaking civil society and political actors for a cease-fire. Nothing. Meanwhile, international pressure kept growing stronger in the context where Maurice Kamto and 200 of his activists are detained in prison. The cocktail is heavy to bear because the English-speaking crisis was engrafted with a political crisis.
However, the state was facing pressure from its international partners who threaten to cut its financial resources if there was no political dialogue. Dion Ngute, who had gradually won Paul Biya’s confidence in the rivalry between him and Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, wins the organization of the Grand National Dialogue which will be boycotted by the leaders of Ambazonia. Meanwhile, Ngute will benefit from a rather strange combination of circumstances.
THE FRANCO – AMERICAN BATTLE
Prior to the Grand National Dialogue, Swiss mediation comes into play. On June 27, 2019, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) announced that it had secured the agreement of all the parties to conduct a dialogue around the Anglophone crisis. The initiative will be led by the Swiss organization, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue. The negotiations are funded to the tune of 20 million or approximately 11 billion CFA francs by Canada. Very quickly the initiative received warm international recognition. However, if the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Yves Le Drian saw it as a smooth step forward, the French in their heartfelt outsmarted by the Americans whom they accused of being behind this initiative. One more proof: it was Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic that they also suspected of being a pro-American who must have convinced Biya. On the French side, however, they favor an attempt at a Cameroonian solution, unlike the Americans, who campaign for the internationalization of the solution to the Anglophone problem. The Grand National encouraged by France constituted a first experiment which was a shambles for their approach. At the same time, the Swiss were working to launch their initiative, but they had not planned for a follow-up.
THE SWISS OUT – THIS ACTION BENEFITS THE DGRE
On September 23, the Swiss convened a meeting of Ambazonian separatists in Montreux, Switzerland. In Yaoundé, this event is perceived as being a ploy to prevent them from taking part in the Grand National Dialogue. To worsen matters, the Swiss ambassador meets Paul Biya regarding the Montreux meeting and requests that the government representative in the discussions be Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh. The Canadian money which finances the Swiss mediation begins to flow whereas on the ground nothing advances. In Lyon during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron, Paul Biya was invited by his French counterpart to find ways and means for opening a dialogue, while reiterating France’s support for him. Back in Cameroon, Paul Biya now has all the elements and involvement of his Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic in Swiss mediation and the problems that French companies face. He suspects those around him of wanting to alienate his best ally: France. In December 2019, Paul Biya asked Ngoh Ngoh himself to put out a press release that ends the government’s participation in the Swiss initiative. This was carried out by Ngoh Ngoh.
However, before putting an end to the Swiss mediation, Paul Biya secretly instructed his prime minister, Dion Ngute, and the boss of the DGRE, Leopold Eko Eko, to start discussions to bring the separatists back to the negotiating table. That is why, from this period, the Prime Minister has been conducting secret talks with the separatist leaders.
In the same light, Leopold Eko Eko will go ahead and organize on February 13, 2020, in Accra in Ghana a secret meeting with the English-speaking separatist leaders in exile. When he returned to Cameroon, the boss of the DGRE submits his report to Paul Biya and the Prime Minister. This is how he obtained permission from Paul Biya to speak openly with SISSUKU Ayuk TABE and his comrades detained in Kondengui.
THE FAILURE OF THE FIRST TALKS
On April 16, 2020, Leopold Eko Eko and 5 other officials of the DGRE met some of the Ambazonian leadership locked up in Kondengui. They are Ayuk Tabe, Pr Awasum, lawyer Eyambe, Shufai Blaise. The meeting took place at the Yaoundé Episcopal Conference Centre in Mvolye. This should not be seen as the church being a facilitator, but because they had to find a neutral place.
During this meeting, Eko Eko, who speaks fluent English, affirms that they must together be partners for peace. Ayuk TABE proposes that before anything: a complete demilitarization of the English-speaking area; the release of all English-speaking prisoners, including those arrested for acts of violence against the security forces, and the organization of discussions outside of the country.
Eko Eko opposes saying that the army cannot leave the English-speaking area given the presence of separatist armed groups; He says they cannot release everyone at the same time and that discussions outside of the country are nowhere on the agenda at the moment.
Ayuk TABE holds tight to his position. The meeting ends without common ground but the two parties promise to meet again.
THE MEETING OF JULY 2, 2020
Following the failure of the April talks, the underground negotiations for a return to the dialogue table got underway. The two parties finally agree to meet again in July. It is this meeting that took place on July 2, 2020, still at the Episcopal Conference Centre. Mgr Mbarga, the Archbishop of Yaoundé was not associated directly or indirectly, as was the case in April, neither was Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic.
On July 2, 2020, Eko Eko is present with 5 members of the DGRE. On the Ambazonian bench were: Sisiku AyukTabe, Shuffai Blaise Berinyuy, Prof Augustine Awasum, Bar Elias Eyambe (from the Prison Principale de Yaoundé) and Penn Terence, Mancho Bibixy, Tsi Conrad, Fritz Takang and Ngome Richard (from the Prison Centrale de Yaoundé). Tassang also detained in Kondengui refused to take part, arguing that he recognizes only the leadership of Christ Anu. No member of the government or Western diplomats was present. The Mvolye meeting took place from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The discussions commenced. Eko Eko let his interlocutors know that all of them are Cameroonians. Shuffai Blaise gets angry and says: “We are from Southern Cameroons. You don’t treat us like Cameroonians.” After a few minutes of verbal agitation, the tension subsides, and the discussions continue. Eko Eko insists that in the Cameroonian government and within the separatists there are people who do not want the return of peace. That it will interest both parties, therefore, to better get out of there with something.
After much debate, the Ambazonian separatists set out their revised conditions: the soldiers must return to the barracks and carry out security operations. They are ready to accept release in phases but they will come out last. They have no objection to engaging in discussions with the government.
On these advances, Eko Eko indicates that he is not the negotiator and therefore cannot give any guarantees. He came to prepare the ground for political actors to come on the scene to find a solution to the crisis. He said he will send his report as soon as possible to Paul Biya and Prime Minister Dion Ngute. The two parties left after a prayer, promising to meet again soon. The report of the meeting was indeed sent to Paul Biya and Dion Ngute.
It was the following morning that the Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic heard the news of a second meeting with the Ambazonian leaders. He is having a fit because he feels sidelined. He sees the Swiss mediation of 11 billion CFA francs soaring. In order not to lose face, he had René Emmanuel write a press release that tended to discredit the discussions. During this time Dion Ngute sips his coffee while smiling at the Prime Ministry. So goes the Republic!!