Akere...our president should not contest next year's election

When Cameroun ‘won’ the title of the most corrupt country as rated by Transparency International, many didn’t find it funny because occupying the top position two years consecutively did a lot of harm. In the quest for answers and solutions many clumsy advocates of the incumbent government in the process complicated matters not before Muna Tadeng Akere, an erudite Pan African lawyer, stepped in. He took time out as the lead speaker of the conference organised by the presidency on “combating Illicit financial flows” at the Banquet Hall of Aso Rock to talk with Stanley Nkwazema about Africa’s biggest problem, affinity with Nigeria and the rare privilege of being the first black child born in a whites only hospital, Park Lane Hospital in Enugu, Nigeria. Excerpts:

Why are you in Nigeria?
As you may have known, illicit financial flows are serious problems and handicap to Africa. Five years ago, African Ministers of Finance and Economy met. It was organised by the ECA. They looked at our continent and thought that a lot of resources are leaving our continent. The figure is put between $60 – $80 billion US Dollars a year. That is two to three times the amount of development aid we get from abroad; really Africa is a net creditor.

To be honest, all these funds that are leaving illegally, one way we can make the much needed change, to make sure that we get to this millennium development goals is to control illicit financial flows. I was on the High Level Panel led by the immediate past President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, created by the Council of Ministers, were we mandated to continue working by the Assembly of Heads of States. As a member of the panel, I am honoured to be in Nigeria

Illicit financial flow is not a one-way traffic, is it?
We have been looking at all the aspects of illicit financial flow into and out of Africa. We wrote the report under the chairmanship of Mbeki, we travelled all over Europe, the EU parliament, United States, White House and Treasury department, World Customs Union, to make sure it was a rounded picture. We picked countries in Africa that were typical and had boisterous Extractive Industry, mining, oil. Those were good examples on what they did right. We did work to make sure that our report was holistic. You cannot look at a report from only where the money is leaving without looking at where the money is coming from. That is why we chose the slogan ‘Track It, Stop it and Get it’

But why the deep interest in financial flows?
About 20 years ago, Transparency International ranked my country Cameroun as the most corrupt country in the World. Then I was the President of Cameroun Bar Association and there was so much outrage in Cameroun. Transparency International was insulted. I was intrigued about the classification. I called the founder of TI, Dr. Peter Eigen to come and explain to us the criteria he used. How can you name a country as being the most corrupt? He accepted and I organised a conference on Money Laundering and Corruption. When he was leaving, he appointed me to start the first chapter in Cameroun. That really captured my interest. As a lawyer in active practice, I never really understood the corrosive effect of corruption. At that point most African countries were in denial.

You cannot talk about corruption because nobody saw this. That really caught my fancy. If there is something that affects the poorest of the poor, it is corruption. There are three sectors that I consider key in a country. It is Biblical. As a Christian, Jesus taught. That is education. He healed. That is health and he judged. That is justice. These three parts capture the poorest of the poor.
The least the poorest and the weakest any country wants is fair justice, health taken care of. Regardless of his status there can be a better future for his child with education. These sectors can be ruined by corruption, by the fact that those who have the money ensure that their own siblings got better, school, and of course if they have cases, they have all the lawyers. The poorest of the poor are left behind.

If a country can make sure that it solves that problem, there is a chance. There was a statement the present Pope Francis made in Brazil; you judge a country by the way it treats the poorest. That attracted my attention. From then, I became the coordinator for the African Chapter of Transparency International. Afterwards, I got elected to the Board of Directors of T I. One year after, I was elected Vice Chair and was there for nine years, completing my three terms.

Now, I have been involved in the African Union, because I was the President of Pan African Lawyers Union. They created the economic and Financial Council of the African Union, which I was considered a civil society parliament of the AU. I went in from the Pan African lawyers Union as a representative at the ECOSOC. The Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai became the first chairperson of ECOSOC. She did it for three years before we went on an election process where I became the first elected President of ECOSOC.

While I was doing this, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Menes Zenawi, who was then the Chairperson of the African Union Peer review Mechanism proposed me to become a member of the eminent person’s panel, then a Nigerian I admire and respect so much, Dr. Adebayo Adedeji was the chair and I was brought in. I was able to be the Lead Head to review Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and presented the reports to the Heads of state in Ethiopia. I also did the audit under the leadership of Adedeji. All my work has been in Governance, transparency and fight against corruption and working with EITI. I admire what Nigeria did by pushing EITI to NEITI.

Even now, the former President of AfDB, Dr. Kabaruki invited me to be the first sanctions Commissioner of the AfDB. I was honoured by the current President, Dr. Adewumi Adesina. He invited me to do a second term. It has to do with adjudicating on matters that have to do with fraud in the contracts financed by AfDB. When I was invited on the High Level Panel on illicit financial flows, Thabo Mbeki called my attention to how much money that is leaving our continent and how much could be done with it. It was mind-boggling.

What has the experience been like travelling round Africa?
The most amazing things about our continent Africa is that we Africans – Nigerians, Cameroonians, Ivorian, South Africans etc know exactly what is wrong. We know what is wrong and what is right but there is a minority that is driven by greed and that is the most corrosive force we have on the continent, to the point where they have almost dehumanised our citizens to the point they don’t even care about what happens. I was travelling from Cameroun to Ivory Coast via Nigeria and was in transit at the airport in Lagos and I saw two Nigerians arguing after a Governor was caught in London and tried. I was just listening and after all, his friend just looked at him and said “Oga your money loss?”

To me that really betrayed how far these guys have driven us, when a citizen is not concerned or bothered by the fact that money is stolen in his country, to a point where he doesn’t feel that money in the state coffers belong to us all. There are civil servants that believe the budget of their ministry is theirs to share with their cronies and family members. That collective spirit is the bad aspect.
It goes through education and civics and the desperation of Africans in seeing to the rise of all manner of churches that feel salvation is to give 10 per cent of whatever you collect or by some kind magic our lot will improve for the better. If there is one thing we have to fight in our continent it is greed. We like deceiving ourselves with structures and commissions, organisations and conferences. It’s almost masturbating an effect, because we just feel good but we know that as soon as we leave there, there will be a commission to be drawn by our friends.

Some forms of democracy seem to have made matters worse, because the amount of money that you need to run and be elected makes you indebted to a few people to the point that it is almost borne into the process that you can do what you want and citizens are almost convinced that they will come back to roost after all the lofty speeches. They will come back and realise that is how the machine moves.
In Cameroun, it is paining the country and everybody is seeing; it has to come to a point where everybody will say you know we have to stop this. You know what General John Jerry Rawlings did in Ghana? It got so bad in Ghana you couldn’t get a bar of soap, you couldn’t get toothpaste. At some point, rice was a problem. When I used to go to Ghana, my friends will ask me to bring soap and things like that. Rawlings came and in a most drastic manner did what he did. Most Ghanaians’ agree that there are two turning points in the history of Ghana; Nkrumah and Rawlings.

If we can solve the problem of corruption in our country, it will become magical. I think the giant that your country is and the steps it is taking, regardless, shows that salvation is in the private sector. If you allow government to drive everything, then we will keep on wallowing in poverty. When the private sectors drive it, people will not only make profit, their companies survive to make sure that they offer services, which they are paid for. If the private sector is genuinely empowered, I think we have a chance.

What can you make of corruption and sit tight leadership?
First, Africans think so much about chiefs and chiefs don’t have terms and tenure of leadership. They can easily accommodate those who sit there for long, so long as they are benevolent. But when a country is suffering and the generation gap between those who govern and those governed starts increasing, then there is a problem. In my own country, the President is 84 years and has been there for more than 34 years. It is normal that the gentleman, who is 35, 28 and 35 years, struggles to find relevance in what the President is saying.
Many years ago, over 50 when I was in secondary school doing my O’levels, I was told that you; the youths are the future of tomorrow. Here I am in my 60s and those who made that speech or statement to me are still there. So, I don’t know which youth they were talking about? May be, those who will come after me! I think you are right; it is government that rotates through democratic means, not only because it is democracy but it is relevant to those ruling to be thinking as those they rule.

Look at the country France, the quantum change in that country is just because the youths found that these older guys were no longer relevant, so they go with the guy, who is 39 years old. Ireland just elected a guy who is 38 years old. He is not only that but a mixed Indian and Irish heritage, which really a mark of the times is. The World is going global, whether they want it or not. In my country, over 70 per cent of the citizens are 30 years and under. The average of those governing is over 50 years.

Cameroun is a particular example and therefore it is not difficult to understand countries like Zimbabwe. The thing in those countries is that the leaders, when they get to a certain point, they depend on others, who accompany them. They create an oligarchy that captures the country to the detriment of the rest. Should we limit terms or not, may be to force people to understand that there must be an institution of change? That is the only way you can guarantee that you don’t have sit-tight leaders, who feel they are God’s gift to man.

That is the only way of making sure there is a change. I think the guiding factor should still be that those, who govern have the welfare of the people at heart. In Europe, there are limitations and when you get old, then, the guys let you go. Or when they feel you have to go. Look at the recently concluded polls in England, the Prime Minister, who had a comfortable majority dropped and labour came up. I think that in our democracy, the issue of tenure is a good thing.

Regardless of how old you are, you have to understand that you are there for a while. I was in Panama for a meeting and I was intrigued by their system. They have only one term of office. You are there for one term and you go, no matter how brilliant you are. The longer you stay in power and people form this neck around you, they feed you with all sorts of rubbish and you start feeling that you are different and slowly you start figuring how your next term should be. There is this colony of oligarchs, who form around you and they have their benefits. Limitation is good because it makes us to understand that people will come and go.

How is Cameroun coping with bilingualism and development dichotomy?
The English speaking Camerounians are in the minority and they have a different colonial culture, be it judicial, education, even their view of politics; the way they debate, the openness and tolerance for discussions. The Francophone counterparts have a different culture, be it in judiciary, in understanding of politics. On a wider scale of Africa, if you look at dictatorships, they emerge mostly from Francophone countries with the exception of Benin while the Anglophone countries tend to look at terms.

If you look at Nigeria, the Anglophone has a different attitude. It is only normal when you have a country where there is a cultural majority, you always feel you can suppress the minority and that is a problem that has been in Cameroun for the past 50 odd years. That has come to turning point, where Anglophones feel they have been marginalised. I am an Anglophone Camerounian myself and it is clear that the marginalisation of Anglophone is a given in the 50 years we never had an Anglophone President.

The Francophone occupies all the positions, ambassadorial and all the big and important positions. They will tell you where there is an Anglophone Prime Minister, but really in a Presidential system the Prime Minister doesn’t count so much. The recent uprising of the teachers and the lawyers in Cameroun really highlighted the cultural differences in education and judiciary. The government was too slow to react to this. But they are now putting measures in place to see how they can bring down the temperature. But in the process, their first reaction was to oppress and suppress.

What with the internet shutdown?
It was not necessary. To shut it down in a specific part of the country that coincides with a certain cultural fact. The fact that people were arrested in hundreds and transported from the Anglophone part to the Francophone part is being judged and it has really caused to emerge a semblance of division. That has now caused Anglophone Camnerounians to be debating seriously between becoming a state and having a federal system which is what you have in Nigeria, where the different parts of the country can assert their own identity and manage their affairs.

I think if government in Cameroun was handled well, then maybe some of these issues would have been tempered. But the governance issue which is nationwide not only Anglophone or Francophone has exacerbated all these matters be it health, judiciary in the Anglophone minority, because of bad governance and that is what I think ironically is saving us, because since other parts of the country are suffering the same governance issue they think there must be a change.

In that change, the Anglophone issue has to be faced. As a matter of fact, the Anglophone is saying that for 50 years, we have had the Francophone. Maybe this is the time for us to try an Anglophone. May be they will look at things differently, that is the debate in the country. We have elections next year, 2018, if we go by the Constitution and that is going to be very determinant, I think that this time around, if an Anglophone were to win and there is suspicion out of it, it is going to be very dangerous for the unity of the country.

What is the state of security in Cameroun?
It has to do with leadership because many reports have shown the desperate economic situation in those parts are fuelled and made the inhabitants of those areas feel that that it is better under a different system. Certainly there are religious fanatics, who have profited from this as well as the banditry and the ransoms being paid. That kind of disorder has to do with the question of sound leadership.
I think an assertive leader, who is quick to act, who interacts very quickly and acts swiftly with his own citizens is better off to deal with issues like that. In the case of Cameroun, the cooperation with Nigeria is tremendous in trying to corner them. But I don’t understand why Nigeria on one side, Cameroun on the other and Chad on the top cannot get together and start working towards each other to squeeze these groups in the middle.

It is just because the citizens, those villages around have gotten to a point where they are getting more comfortable with those terrorists because they believe their lot is better. The first solution there is to look at the economics of those areas, open them up and strengthen Cameroun and Nigeria via road infrastructure, rail and others. That will bring a lot of mobility and development to those areas and I think that will take terrorism and this ugly movements out of this fanatics.

What is your take on the forthcoming national elections?
I think our President is not saying much but as usual, there is a chorus, a choir around him for the past one year saying that he is the biggest, brightest and the strongest, that he should run again; the country needs him; he has put the country up there. It is this pack of people he is listening to. But I think at the end of the day, it is between him and his conscience.
In France, our former colonial masters, the newly elected President, Emmanuel Macron, is just 39 years old and our incumbent president is 84 years old. Macron was just five years old when Paul Biya became President and he is still in office. There is a generational gap. If I was to advise President Biya, I will tell him that he has a unique chance to enter history by ensuring that there are democratic elections and that the best man wins.

That will be is biggest legacy. One legacy we have to grant him is that he has been in charge of a state without wars. Although he went to court over the long standing dispute between Nigeria and Cameroun and won the case, he sat down with President Olusegun Obasanjo, whom I respect and Kofi Anan over the signing of the Green Peace Agreement on the Bakassi Peninsula.
As a matter of fact, when I was the President of Pan African Lawyers Union, we gave a prize for the full and peaceful resolution of the conflict to Obasanjo, Anan and Biya. He has a unique chance again to walk into history by saying that “I am going to ensure that the best man wins so that this country can go on.” He knows the country and since 1962, he has been in the corridors of power. He became Prime Minister some 40 years ago, and for over 50 years, the guy knows what it means to do the right thing.

Quote
The least the poorest and the weakest any country wants is fair justice, health taken care of. Regardless of his status there can be a better future for his child with education. These sectors can be ruined by corruption, by the fact that those who have the money ensure that their own siblings got better, school, and of course if they have cases, they have all the lawyers. The poorest of the poor are left behind