The cabinet reshuffle of April 23 was dramatic. For many, it came as a total surprise. No speculation by the press! No warning! Just a bombshell!
During the week, however, rumours were already circulating within top government circles that there was likely going to be a cabinet reshuffle by the end of the week. But there was nothing peculiar about these high level rumours. Similar rumours had circulated on several occasions, but nothing happened. According to the rumours, at least three Ministers were expected to go. Those mentioned included Maximin Nkoue Nkongo of Post and Telecommunications, Michel Meva’a m’Eboutou of Finance and the Budget and Bidoung Mkpatt of Youth and Sports. Nkongo’s "crime" was the public relations disaster for the government following his poor handling of the financial crisis of the Post Office Savings Bank. M’Eboutou, for his part, was said to be managing the budget poorly and putting some financial clogs in the wheel of government action. In the various Ministries, there have been complaints that, even after the 2004 budget went operational only in April, m’Eboutou was still sitting tight on money. Many projects have been put on hold. Many bills have not been paid. Yet, he survived. Bidoung’s problem was said to be his recent blunders, especially the Nations’ Cup debacle, the disgrace by the Olympic Lions and FIFA’s April 16 sanction on Cameroon. John Begheni Ndeh’s name was barely mentioned. Joseph Aoudou’s name hardly featured. When The Bell Tolls These rumours, however, did not perturb any Minister. On that April 23, Bidoung Mkpatt got up as usual and was driven to his office. It was an ebullient Bidoung Mkpatt who presided at two meetings that morning. He was scheduled to have another ceremony in the afternoon - the installation of newly appointed coaches of national teams. John Begheni Ndeh had also had a busy week. In his office, he continued receiving many people who had booked for audience and kept on making future plans. A call from the Director of Taxes now, a meeting with the Minister of Defence next. It was a busy itinerary. On April 22, Begheni held meetings relating to the April 24 maiden General Assembly of the Northwest Development Forum, NOWEDEP, which he founded. As President General of NOWEDEP (the most senior Minister of the province heads the partnership according to its constitution), John B. Ndeh was expected to travel to Bamenda. He had duly obtained permission from the Prime Minister to travel. That same day, some of his aides travelled to Bamenda to do the groundwork. On April 24, a delegation, including journalists, selected to accompany Mr. Ndeh to Bamenda, impatiently waited for him to give the marching orders that never came. At the Ministries of Post and Telecommunications as well as Mines, Water Resources and Energy, it was an ordinary working day. There were no ominous signs of an impending bombshell. Then, around midday, the Prime Minister called the hotlines of the various Ministers. They went to the Prime Minister’s Office where they were informed about the impending changes. Waiting For Presidential "Text" Bidoung Mkpatt’s itinerary changed. Denis Oumarou, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, was asked to proceed with the installation of the newly appointed national team coaches. Bidoung did not return to his office. The Post arrived at the CRTV National Station shortly before 1.00 p.m. that April 23. There was nothing amiss at CRTV. The atmosphere was calm. The 1.00 pm French newscast went on the air as usual. Then, suddenly, there was commotion at the National Station. The bigger-than-Life CRTV General Manager, Prof. Gervais Mendo Ze, had arrived at the station in pyjamas and slippers. He had been asked to be at the radio by the Presidency of the Republic for a very important message from the President himself. There was clearly something amiss. CRTV’s editorialists were all summoned. The excitement of a journalist on the verge of a scoop Was in the air. However, the Presidency delayed with the text of the "important message". The editorialists found themselves babbling on issues related to the World Book Day and other banalities. At around 3.20 pm, the bot Presidential package was handed to Mendo Ze. In his feeble voice, Mendo Ze announced three decrees: the first reshuffling government, the second creating the Cameroon Postal Services and the third appointing officers of the Cameroon Postal Services. He then handed the package to Michel Ndjock Abanda, who read the complete texts of the three decrees as if he had been practising to do just that for weeks. According to decree n0 2004/09623 of 23 April 2004, the following were appointed to government: Minister of Youth and Sports: Sigfried David Etame Massoma Minister of Post and Telecommunications: Antoine Zanga Minister of Mines, Water Resources and Energy: Henry Tume Kibuh Minister of Transport: Charles Sale Minister in charge of Special Duties at the Presidency: Ephraim Ngwafor Ndeh By implication, the following had been sacked: - Minister of Youth and Sports: Pierre Ismaël Bidoung Mkpatt - Minister of Post and Telecommunications: Maximin Nkoue Nkongo - Minister of Mines, Water Resources and Energy: Joseph Aoudou - Minister of Transport: John Begheni Ndeh Kibuh Henry was moved as Minister in Charge of Missions at the Presidency, to Minister of Mines, Water Resources and Energy. For the Cameroon Postal Services, Jean-Pierre Essam was appointed Board Chairman; Maurice Bayemi, General Manager; and Abraham Lene, Deputy General Manager. The Prime Minister installed the newly appointed Ministers on April 24, save for the Minister of Special Duties at the Presidency. That is a “no-go” area for the Prime Minister. REACTIONS TO CABINET RESHUFFLE Alex Owona: President of Renaissance of Ngoumou I am very happy with the decision taken by the President of the Republic to replace Bidoung Mkpatt as Minister of Youth and Sports with Etame Massoma. This is a wonderful decision especially at a period like this when soccer in Cameroon is facing a serious blow. The decision taken by FIFA recently has touched almost every Cameroonian negatively. I think the new Minister will effectively handle the situation of football since lie is coming with competence and new methods. I advise Bidoung Mpkatt that, though he has left so many problems behind, he should continue to serve the government in all perspectives. I am quite sure that Etame Massoma will be up to the task and will serve with administrative skills since he has once been a Governor. Micanno Enone, Teacher, Teachers’ Training School, Ngoumou We have been waiting for this opportunity to revive sports in the nation. Sports is actually where all Cameroonians feel united and relieved from all their problems. But, the defeat and confusion reigning within the Indomitable Lions and the recent sanctions slammed on FECAFOOT by FIFA are ail serious threats to peace and unity in the nation. I wish Etame Massoma all the best in his new office and we do hope that he will try to salve some of the problems left behind by his predecessor. I congratulate the President of the Republic, Paul Biya. for his decision. This shows that change is very necessary for any economic progress. Peter Celestine, Businessman The Ministry of Transport is a very sensitive Ministry and has been facing a lot of problems, which the Minister bas really found difficult to salve. And, when such situations exist, change is really necessary. We have serious problems with our road transport. The number of road accidents is on the increase daily, while air transport is the worst. Cameroon’s airports [are nothing] to reckon with when compared to those of other African countries. At least, we need to be progressing through change and this is just what the President bas done. But I want to remind the incoming Transport Minister not to lie on his laurels but to work effectively to make that Ministry the best in the nation. Martin Etonge: Journalist, BBC According to me, it is very normal for the President to reshuffle the Cabinet. But the point is that the fundamental problems of the nation remain unchanged because the problem of the nation comes from the system and not from individuals. Replacing one Minister with another will not change the corrupt and tribalistic system of the nation. Instead, the decision taken by the President will benefit only the individuals appointed and not the entire society. If the bad laws and system of the nation are overhauled, then we’ll give kudos to the President for attempting to bring about change in the nation. The President has never got up to personally fight corruption and, since he cannot bring about any change to the nations he should step down. Peter Mbengie- Ministry of Post and Telecommunications The shake-up was a good thing coming at the right time. Sa far, the Ministers who have been through the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications have been, as it were, an internship. I say internship because I didn’t quite see a lot of changes. I hope this one is not going to be an internship. He should came knowing what he has to do. Because, if you know what you have to do, you will not spend too much time learning. For the other Ministers, the learning process was usually too long. A lot of things are not moving well [in the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications]. We expect the Minister to react, especially in the postal sector, which is the reason why the former Minister was sacked. The President had to react to a situation, which was becoming catastrophic and created another parastatal to manage the situation. The details we don’t yet know but I believe when we will sec the organisational chart, we will understand better. Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi SDF Secretary General We in the Coalition are working to dislodge the entire government. These are changes in certain ministries. However, ordinary Cameroonians will take this as Mr. Biya’s demonstration of his laxity again. Because, the problems of the Post Office Savings Bank, have lasted for months. The problem of football has lasted for long. There are problems with his whole system. For 22 years Biya has solved no problem. And he wakes up one morning and changes those few to solve the problems? I don’t think that he cm salve problems in that way. He is unwilling to salve the problems of Cameroonians By changing the P&T Minister, I don’t think those who lost their money in the Post Office Savings Bank would go there tomorrow and find it, anyway. This is a dangerous government, it should be se. aside, ... that is the mission of the Coalition. By buying a plane, Mr. Biya can still afford to do for himself what he cannot do for poor Cameroonians. Anyway, he built a golf course in Mvomeka’a you know that was wasted money. He built the Nsimalen Airport, you can go to Nsimalen any day, you will see that it is under-utilised. That has been his behaviour for 22years. The sooner he goes the better for us all. David Chuye Bunyui - CRTV National Station I believe the Cabinet shake up was very timely. The Ministries that were touched are Ministries, which had a lot of problems. I think it was a surgical operation the Head of State has done. We just hope the incoming Ministers will redress the problems at stake and the Ministries will start functioning normally.