PAUL BIYA SHUFFLES THE PACK
By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 24th of August 2002, in reaction to a cabinet reshuffle President Paul Biya had just announced. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
Although the shuffle was expected, some of the changes it contained might not have been predictable. Prior to the exercise for instance, newspaper speculations had been rife with how some members of government were on their way out. These included the Prime Minister and Head of Government Peter Mafany Musonge and Higher Education Minister Jean Marie Atangana Mebara.
In the end, the person who mattered most in the decision, that is President Paul Biya, retained his Prime Minister and twice promoted the Higher Education Minister as Minister of State and Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic. Henceforth, both men will be the President’s closest collaborators on a daily basis. They will assist him in the day-to-day running of the country.
The choice of the two men, just like that of the rest of the cabinet, generally, was sound, politically speaking. Paul Biya can make such choices, for he has decades of experience as president and is aided by the rare tranquility which makes our country an island of peace in a sea of turbulence. Cameroon commands considerable respect among its peers in Africa and runs a security system – some say a `police state`- whose ruthless efficiency makes it one of the best in Africa.
Peter Mafany Musonge thus becomes President Biya’s longest serving Prime Minister , having been appointed 6 years previously. Contrary to what some observers may think, Musonge is getting a just reward for a job well done. An engineer by profession, he came to the Prime Ministership after eight years as General Manager of the Cameroon Development. Corporation (CDC), the country’s largest parastatal and the biggest employer after the State of Cameroon. The scientific rigour and precision with which he ran the CDC were the same he has so far applied as Prime Minister. Among his achievements for the country are an impressive economic growth rate, the curbing of inflation and the feeling that generally speaking, something is being done to turn around a once depressed economy. Perfectly at ease in English and French, he has won the respect of international donors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Paris Club. At home, there are no scandals haunting him. There are no skeletons in the cupboard. Mr Musonge can therefore be said to be a `Mr. Clean`.
From several points of view, Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara was the right man to succeed the long serving Marafa Hamidou Yaya as Secretary General at the Presidency. He scored high ratings at the Ministry of Higher Education, incidentally his first ministerial portfolio. He is perhaps the best higher education Minister we have ever had. Yet, he was not himself from the ranks of professors. He was, and remains an administrator and has always insisted on staying that way, even when a State university such as the University of Buea whose Pro-Chancellor he was, requested that he put on academic robes for a ceremony at the university.
In Atangana Mebara`s time as Higher Education minister, students, lecturers and auxiliary staff largely regained their moral. He has sanitized the higher education examinations system, even if a lot still remains to be done. He has dealt a deadly blow at bribery and corruption as a prerequisite for the passing of entrance examinations. He has laid down clear-cut guide lines for the promotion of lecturers. He has promoted inter-university solidarity and made members of the higher education group feel like one big and caring family. He is above all a man who listens. While at Higher Education, files were known to leave his office almost as soon as they got there. People who frequented him have testified that his table was usually bare, in testimony. He will no doubt need that skill at a place like the Presidency where many important files are treated.
Interestingly, Atangana Mebara as Secretary General is now the authority in charge of bilingualism, which is just as well, because of all the ministers in Paul Biya`s government, he was the one who made it a point to use both languages at the least opportunity. He must now make sure everyone else implements that cherished government policy.
The public service and the nation at large would be better places if all ministers emulated the examples of the re-appointed Prime Minister and Head of Government, and the new minister of State, Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic.