Cameroonian Lawyer Looks to Unseat Africa's Longest-Ruling Leader

Aside from Cameroon's President Paul Biya and main opposition leader Joshua Osih, no candidate for the October election is creating as much hype as 66-year-old lawyer Akere Muna.

Muna, the former vice president of the anti-corruption group Transparency International, says he is the best candidate to fight the deep-rooted corruption that has hindered Cameroon's development, despite rich natural and human resources.

A 2015 Transparency International report labeled Cameroon as one of the most corrupt African nations, alongside Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa. Transparency said corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. It also said whistleblowing is key to fighting graft, but many people are afraid to come forward.

"Under my government, there will be zero tolerance for corruption," Muna said. "Absolutely zero tolerance. This country is tailor made for any type of corrupt practices. The World Bank report on public expenses of 18th May says so. Procurement — prices bloated; meetings — prices bloated; missions, travel — prices bloated. Every single way they have to spend money, they increase it by prices."

But Ngolle Ngolle Elvis, a close aid of President Biya, says Muna is wasting his time.

"A good policy such as the fight against corruption should not be manipulated upon or should not be distorted or should not be rendered a mockery by those who do not understand the moral foundations, the legitimacy of that policy," Ngolle said.

FILE - Cameroon President Paul Biya arrives at the Boulevard for National Day celebrations, in the Yaounde, Cameroon, May 20, 2018.

FILE - Cameroon President Paul Biya arrives at the Boulevard for National Day celebrations, in the Yaounde, Cameroon, May 20, 2018.

Ngolle says Biya has made the fight against corruption a public policy, and points to the arrests of scores of Biya's former colleagues, including former Prime Minister Inoni Ephraim.

However, Biya's critics say he uses corruption to go after political opponents, an allegation Ngolle refutes.

"There is nothing to tell me that it is politically motivated, and I think that the initiative is a deliberate public policy which is intended to make Cameroon a better country. If there are manipulators, we would know how to take care of those manipulators," Ngolle said.

Recovered funds

Cameroon has complained about lengthy judicial processes and difficulties tracing embezzled funds in foreign banks. In 2016, the government said it had recovered $4 million in stolen public funds. The state estimates more than $150 million has been stolen.

Muna says he already is working on what he calls an African platform to bring back the stolen money.

"I made a proposal, which was adopted by the heads of state of the African Union," Muna said. "It was my proposal. My proposal was that all the moneys that are found in foreign banks, which are frozen, should be transferred to African Development Bank, because what I am saying that those banks that are keeping that money are complicit with the kleptocrats who stole the money from Africa because they knew that they were taking this money illegally and they took it. So they are handling illegal goods."

Activist Edward Nfor praises Muna's lofty ideas, but says competing in Cameroon's politics will be more than a challenge for the anti-corruption campaigner.

"He has never come out on a public debate or on a political debate before. He has never been on any political platform," Nfor said. "So, I do not see how he can win elections in this country. In fact, he is well known at international circles. But politically speaking, in this country, Akere Muna is a non-figure in politics, and I know the English community is against his standing for elections, especially during this crisis."

Muna says his being from Southwest Cameroon — where insurgents are fighting for an English-speaking state — will help spur dialogue to end the simmering conflict.

Split opposition

But some argue the conflict has divided the population.

Political science student Joseph Foyong says the opposition is too split to challenge Biya.

"The Anglophone crisis has taken a good part of the population that might have voted in favor of Akere [Muna]. His percentage might have swollen if the situation in the northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon was stable," Foyong said. "If Akere and other prominent opposition candidates like Joshua Osih, Maurice Kamto came up with a single opposition candidate to face Paul Biya, Akere may have been having some hopes."

Cameroonian voters will get a better sense of the anti-corruption campaigner's chances as Muna and the other presidential candidates begin campaigning for the October election.

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