Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cameroun...nothing is quite as it seems - The role politics plays in daily life.

This is the outline of a presentation to be given for the Kane Rotary,

Monday January 25, 2010.

v Show PP presentation – Introduction to Cameroun (3 secs) 4:10 minutes

v What does every day look like? Presentation of slides of Dschang, Bafoussam and Yaounde, Cameroun (2 secs ) 8:00 minutes

v The reality of living in a country with a “pseudo-democracy”.

v What is poverty? What does it mean to be poor? How does one change that state? Answer: It is primarily a state of mind, a belief in what makes up reality. Change the mindset, you change the reality. Henry Ford said and I quote, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” Simply put but profound.

Cameroun is ranked among the top countries for corruption by Transparency International.


The Police – common to be driving and flagged down...told you have made an infraction. They hold your ID. If you don’t pay them a little money they can simply walk off with your ID – it has happened.

Police are paid a pittance. There was a story that Antoine was told by a policeman. His daughter needed medicine. He didn’t know how else to get money so he used this mechanism to extort money from drivers.

Corruption is from the top down. There was a report done by the United States – I saw this report – 2007-2008. Top 40 Millionaires. Maybe 5-10 were businessmen. The rest were bureaucrats. How does a bureaucrat who doesn’t make more than $1,000 - $1,500 (at the top) become millionaires?

It is permissible for government employees to actively be involved in business. So you know that when business people have to go to bureaucrats for licenses and other official documents, those in power will demand a piece of the business, or at least a bribe. Goes on all the time. If you do not, your business will stall, and you will not be able to operate until you have the required piece of paper or signature. It’s a way of life.

Often, you will go to a local government office, say a tax office for a form to file every month. Sometimes you will need a signature on a document. You go to the office at 10 am and the person you need to see is not there. “They’re in a meeting”. You might wait or come back 2 hours later. They may or may not be there and no one in the office knows if or when their boss will return. Typically they are attending to their “other business” and show up at their ‘paid government positions” occasionally.

Ministers typically receive money from Aid for projects, especially infrastructure projects. Why is it there is not sufficient infrastructure after 50 years of independence? Why is it some villages will not even receive electricity until 2015? Let alone roads or other types of infrastructure? Goes back to the list of top millionaires who have all the money stashed in bank accounts abroad.

v How does a business make money or an income if they are not employed by the biggest employer, the government of Cameroun?

v Answer: Contracts for goods and services. And how does one secure a government contract to supply goods and/or services?

Ø One pays off all the officials involved in the procurement process, i.e. bribes

Ø One is a member of CPDM political party.

Ø Otherwise, you’re usually just not lucky. SOCAPSSI Sarl prime example. We’ll discuss later in the presentation if we have time.

Here is an example I lived. The sale of the Power Plant – 180 mw used power plant.

v We were in Douala and had first hand experience with the inconsistent power generation. Brown outs any and all times of day or night. You never know how long they could go on for. We received an offer from one of my colleagues in the US for the sale of a used power plant. We thought ok, this is a real problem so we’ll see what we can do here. We wrote letters to the power distribution company, AES Sonel in Douala and also to the Ministry of Energy. We attempted to have couriered a letter to AES Sonel, but the person in charge was not there. So we decided as our time left in Cameroun was short, we would go to Yaounde and deliver the letter to the Minister ourselves. We met the secretary of the Director of Electricity who told us that the Director was traveling and would not be back for several days. He came to our hotel one evening, to tell us just how much he needed we gave him $10.00 or so as we felt sorry for him.

v Next day he told us the Director was due back and would be able to see us so we could present this offer for a power plant. We went several days in a row, but the Director was never available. Always “in a meeting” or “out to lunch”. We decided not to wait any longer and went back to Douala. After about a week, we were called by this little ‘pip squeak’ and told that the Director was willing to write us a letter of support to give our offer more weight. We were scheduled to fly back to the US the next day, so we took a chance, cancelled our flights (which were non refundable nor changeable) and instead traveled to Yaounde to meet with this Director.

v When we got there, Antoine went into the meeting and came back out to the car where I was waiting. He had an envelope in his hand. The secretary had given this envelope to Antoine. It was for a bribe. We were invited back into the Director’s office (both of us) and after brief introductions his phone rang. Antoine could tell from what was being said, that it was ‘pip squeak’ calling him to tell him that we had NOT left an envelope with money in it.

v His demeanor completely changed. Said he had another meeting to go to and showed us to the door.

v We understood very well what had happened. So we went back to Douala and managed to bamboozle our way into the offices at AES Sonel directly and as it was in the early evening, most of the workers were gone but senior staff was still there. As I am American, we were able to get into to see the Managing Director of AES Sonel. He listened to us, looked at the offer for the power plant, and referred us to the project manager of the power project being built in Kribi. We met with him, gave him our proposal. He asked many questions which we were to subsequently give him answers to and left his office.

v During these meetings we discovered that the Director of Electricity and the Minister of Energy had NOTHING whatsoever to do with the decision of purchasing the power plant or not. There was NO letter needed in support of the purchase of this power plant from the Ministry. In fact the decision rested solely in the hands of AES Sonel. Had we given any more money to ‘pip squeak’ or the Director of Electricity at the Ministry of Energy, we would have lost it completely. We would have been scammed. This goes on day in and day out 24/7, 365 days a year. It is a way of life for them.

v We not only lost our airline tickets but had to buy new tickets which then made the trip cost us double what it should have, all to be scammed by a small secretary who was out to scam us out of money.

v A few months later we were back in the US and we got a call from an engineer who worked with AES Sonel. He was a friend of Antoine’s brother and he wanted to know if we still had the power plant available for purchase. We said yes, it was available. He told us about the influence he had at AES Sonel and that he would make sure they bought this plant from us, for a mere 10% of the purchase price, which was $95,000,000. We had only negotiated 3 – 5% of the purchase price as our own commission so we had no where to go. He was adamant – he could get the job done, and he wouldn’t go any lower than 10%. It became a dead issue.

v We have taken donated medicines to the local hospital and blatantly told by the doctors there that they would NOT give these meds to those in need. They would only SELL these meds, period. Only if they received a profit would they then pass on these 100% donated meds to the people who really needed them.

v Customs:

Ø There are many NGO’s who have donations held up in Customs – even though these containers and shipments are for humanitarian aid. They will tell the NGO that the customs duty on the humanitarian donations can be $5,000 or more. We heard in one case as much as $12,000 for customs on humanitarian aid given freely for the “poor people of Cameroun”. Needless to say these local NGO’s don’t have money for such expenses, so the containers and shipments are routinely kept at the warehouses until the NGO’s just give up trying to claim them. The customs guys then just turn around and sell the contents and divvy up the cash amongst themselves. Again, happens day in and day out.

v We have had numerous donations given to Fondation Chantal BIYA, the current First Lady’s foundation. Here is what happened to two of them. The CROCS container was received in Douala, 13,000 pairs of shoes (40’ container) August 2008. I wrote 12 letters or more to ask for meetings to assist in planning the distribution of those shoes as had been promised to me in our first meets at FCB. The distribution of these shoes happened 13 months later, September 2009. In addition, when the container first got to Cameroun, the Executive Director’s personal assistant asked us if we wanted some of the shoes in Dschang, before the container arrived in Yaounde. We thought this was a strange request, and said, no of course not. We would wait for the official distribution and get them as they were given out from Yaounde to take back to Dschang. Little did we know.

Ø A couple of months later a second container of mixed goods arrived in the port of Douala and was claimed in Customs by FCB. We knew what was in the container as we had a copy of the Bill of Lading and packing list given to us by the freight forwarded in the US. For example there were 33 boxes of VitaFood. (High protein, rice, vitamins mixed with hot water.) When the contents of that shipment arrived, Antoine happened to be in Yaounde and sitting with the Executive Director at FCB when the truck arrived directly from Douala and they unloaded the shipment. Would you believe there were only 3 boxes which arrived in Yaounde? What happened to the other 30 boxes which we know were in that shipment? Probably with the many other boxes of items which simply disappeared into thin air enroute from Douala to Yaounde. It was then that we realized what Bem was suggesting to us about the CROCS container some 6 months prior.

v I was sitting in the living room of my brother-in-law’s house in Dschang where we lived, and met a man who was being entertained by my brother-in-law one weekend. The man knew who I was and asked me if we gave donations to FCB. Unsolicited, he asked me if we were able to make sure that all the things donated actually go to their destination. He said be very careful. I found out later he is a Senior Customs official in the port of Douala. He said no more. He didn’t need to.

v FCB makes a show of the distribution; once a year they take what they officially wish to distribute from donations, and make a huge show in Yaounde, inviting members of CPDM political party to give these donations to. If you aren’t a member of CPDM, well, don’t get your hopes up. We were an anomaly because I’m an American. At the time they didn’t yet know that we were political opposition leaders so they invited us to attend. We declined but sent a delegation on our behalf. By that time it was not safe for us to be in the “lion’s den”.

v I can tell you stories for days. Now your next question must be, so what can we do about it as a new Head of State? How do we put this into perspective?

v Mama Lucie's name is Ngouala which means “a new generation is coming” in Yemba.

v Antoine’s platform – the basics

Ø Zero tolerance for corruption

Ø National currency – unhooked from XAF. This is currently already under discussion by all heads of state of Central Africa.

Ø Social security benefits for all aged 55 for women and 57 for men as well as those disabled as part of the taxation for all those in the work force.

Ø New educational system emphasizing for primary school students. The five pillars are:

§ Mathematics – To develop logical, cognitive thinking. Develop the rational minds of young children.

§ Civism – How to behave in a civil society. What are the duties and responsibilities of people living in a democracy?

§ Languages – Learn to be proud of who they are. Embrace their on unique cultural identity through learning their mother language as well as 2-3 other mother tongues, in addition to French and English as national languages. (Cameroun is officially bi-lingual by law as determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroun.)

§ Religion – Foundation of the United States is God Bless America. It made our country a great nation. We all understand the importance of teaching children the role God plays in their lives.

§ Environment – In knowing what is in their environment, they will know the value of what is God given as natural resources. They will understand the value of what they have and know they are “rich” instead of knowing themselves to be “poor”.

v Quote from Mayer Amschel Rothschild – Godfather of the Rothschild banking cartel of Europe, born 1744 – 1812, quote, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation and I care not who makes its laws.”

Ø In 1960 the year of independence from France, 1 French franc = 50 fcfa (XAF).

Ø It was devalued at the Lomé Convention to – 1 French franc = 100 fcfa

Ø Today it is 1 Euro = 655.957 fixed rate XAF

Ø 1999 the French franc was set at parity of 1 Euro = 6.55957 French francs.

v Devaluation of the currency means the raw materials are worth less to Camerounians. It then becomes cheaper for developed nations who need the raw materials to produce goods – industrialized nations who buy raw materials in industry.

v Example for purposes of showing how the devaluation of a currency affects the real costs of goods and services.

Ø Cocoa –a major export cash crop. Spot price 1/21/10 = 2,548.18 euro/ tonne cocoa as determined by the ICCO (International Cocoa Organization). They fix the price of cocoa in international trade to the spot market daily.

Ø Parity at 655.957 XAF per euro

Ø 1 tonne cocoa = 1,671,378.44 XAF

Ø At a parity of 1 French franc = 100 XAF that would mean the price per tonne of cocoa at today’s price = 16,713.78 French francs.

Ø It would therefore cost 16,713.78 French francs divided by 6.55 = 2,551.60 euros in today’s value to buy 1 tonne of cocoa.

Ø At a parity of 1 French franc = 50 XAF, that would mean the price per tonne of cocoa at today’s price = 33,427.56 French francs. It would therefore cost 33,427.56 French francs divided by 6.55 = 5,103.40 euros in today’s value to buy 1 tonne of cocoa.

Ø That would mean 100% increase of the value in today’s XAF to Camerounians who export cocoa.

v Does everyone understand the mechanism of devaluating the currency and its effect on the real value of raw materials in price terms today?

Ø The XAF was originally tied to the French franc and now by default to the value of the Euro. Camerounians did NOT have any say in the valuation and devaluation of their own currency. The French made that decision on behalf of all their ‘former’ colonies in Africa.

Ø I go back to the statement of Mayer Amschel Rothschild. These examples show the significance and power in his statement.

Ø A change in the valuation of the currency, or a move towards an independent currency would significantly improve the daily life of every Camerounian. This can only be initiated by the President of the Republic, the Head of State as the power structure currently exists in Cameroun.

Ø Who is therefore benefiting and who is being taken advantage of?

Ø The problem is most finished goods have to be purchased from developing nations, typically Europe, USA or China. The purchasing power of the currency is diminished every time the “powers that be that control the value of the currency” decide to devalue said currency.

Ø Or, in other terms, the average wage being 35,000 fcfa (XAF)/month. At a parity of 1 French franc = 50 XAF, that salary would buy 700 French francs or 106.80 euros in today’s terms worth of goods and services imported into Cameroun.

Ø At a parity of 1 French franc = 100 XAF, that same salary would only buy 350 French francs or 53.4 euros worth of imported goods and services from Europe.

Ø Another way of describing this is at the current parity of 655.957 XAF = 1 euro, that same salary becomes 53 euros worth of imported goods and services brought into Cameroun.

Ø This is the plight of how undeveloped nations have systematically lost their purchasing power, have been kept in poverty by developed nations in order to buy their natural resources at significantly lower prices.

Ø I ask you, what do their raw materials buy in a nation where there are few industries internally which produce goods and services used by Camerounians every day? Where they have to depend on trade with other nations to pump money into their economy from the natural resources they own?

Ø Where the price of electricity for 1 month in Dschang for an average home with 1 TV, 1 refrigerator, lights and 1 small hot water heater on the wall will cost 17,000 XAF/month? Hardly the usage we waste on a daily basis.

Ø There are few large employers. In fact, 70 – 80% of the population is in the informal sector with only 5 – 10% at best of the population has a bank account. Money is therefore not in circulation – which restricts money available for projects and development internally, and hampers the growth of any economy.

Ø One of the reasons why our economy has been so strong, is that 95% of all Americans have a bank account, and therefore the currency is in circulation. Most all developed nations have 90% or better of the population keeps their money in the bank increasing the money in circulation.

Ø (If I have time I’ll go into SOCAPSSI Sarl. The UN has determined it is a human right to have social security benefits, particularly for those disabled or senior citizens.) This is why we initiated this company, SOciété Camerounaise de Prévoyance Social pour le Secteur Informal SARL.

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I could go on and on. There are many things which need to be addressed. We need to rebuild an entire nation and it has to be done with the will of the people. The only reason to even contemplate this is for the future generations. Perhaps seeds can be sewn for the future generations to have the basic foundation for a better life. Camerounians today are living in more poverty than they did in 1960 when they gained independence.

Camerounians all want change; all 18 million of them. They may be a nation at peace but millions suffer and go hungry every day. It is not for the rest of the world to solve the problems of Camerounians. It is for Camerounians, and thus all Africans to solve their own problems. But I ask you how can they when totalitarian dictatorships still remain?

The only hope for Cameroun is a new leader, one who is not afraid and one progressive enough to know what to do to tackle these issues. It has to happen from the top down. It is only at the level of Head of State can anything actually change. Otherwise, you become one with a corrupt system where the axiom comes into play “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” just to feed your family.

In that I give you the man for the job, the future president of Cameroun (God willing) Dr. Antoine De Padoue NDEMMANU!

Are there any questions?

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your time this afternoon.

Anita Lynne NDEMMANU