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Wikileaks Cable 20: ELECAM Is Irreversible 

This cable falls within the vein of the regime’s reaction to criticisms from Western diplomats that ELECAM was not independent. It was written by Ambassador Janet Garvey in November 2009.

CameroonPostline.com — Questions about the veritable chances for independence of ELECAM, the elections management organ in Cameroon, dominated public discourse throughout 2009. Public concern that the organ was unlikely to carry out its mission in total objectivity, neutrality and fairness had taken a sudden rise after President Paul Biya appointed a college of ruling CPDM apparatchiks to pilot affairs of the body. Western criticism of this state of affairs was particularly stern and frank. Western diplomats and chiefs of missions in Yaounde took turns to challenge the regime to show good faith and give ELECAM the real status and composition it deserves. The private press dwelled enormously on such criticism and incited public debate on the issue.
 
Evidently uncomfortable about the manner in which the foreign emissaries were tuning their voices on the issue and influencing public opinion, President Paul Biya instructed then External Relations minister Henri Eyebe Ayissi to summon the ‘talkative’ diplomats and warn them not to interfere in Cameroon’s domestic affairs. This cable relates the personal experience of then U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Janet Garvey, when she was summoned for lessons in November 2011 by Eyebe Ayissi.
 
As Janet Garvey recounts in this cable, the minister read a letter supposedly addressed by Mr Biya to Western diplomats. “We want to avoid manipulation of public opinion by diplomats,” the President’s letter cautioned emphasizing that “Cameroon is Cameroon”. The message expressly invited representatives of friendly nations to keep their thoughts about ELECAM to themselves and shun any comments and postures that could compromise the peace enjoyed in the country. After barking and chastising, President Biya then festooned and declared that U.S. assistance would be welcome.
 
The President’s message hit home. But in addition, the atmosphere in which the message was delivered caught Janet Garvey’s attention as remarkably odd. “The Foreign Minister appeared uncomfortable. He read with very little eye contact. He ended the meeting abruptly.” This observation got Ambassador Garvey to recommend a change of strategy in the way Washington courts with Yaounde on the ELECAM subject. She advocated essentially for “rethinking our [U.S.] relationship with Cameroon, with a harder hitting approach supported by Washington”.
 
Indeed, the position of the U.S. on the need for a free and fair election in 2011 in Cameroon remained unbending. This doctrinaire stance was evident in comments issued by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and in a message from President Barrack Obama following National Day festivities in May 2011; barely months before the 9 October 2011 polls that saw the re-election of Mr Biya. Following the poll, the serving U.S. Ambassador did not hesitate to issue strong “recommendations” on the future conduct of polls in Cameroon by ELECAM.
 
Please continue reading below for a full unedited version of the cable as published by Wikileaks.
 
 
Subject: President Biya’s Demarche to Ambassador: Friends Don’t Criticize
Classified: 11/24/2009
Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Scott Ticknor
 
Summary
On November 25, Cameroonian Foreign Minister Henri Eyebe Ayissi summoned Ambassador to his office to read her a message which he said was from President Paul Biya.  The statement, written in French, affirmed that diplomats should not interfere with Cameroon’s internal affairs, especially by publicly criticizing the Electoral Commission (ELECAM).  ELECAM was "irreversible" and would be independent.  U.S. assistance would be welcome.  Biya’s message took note of the Foreign Minister’s November 13 speech to the diplomatic corps, which also demanded that diplomats not publicly criticize the government.  Ambassador emphasized the importance of free and fair elections in 2011. We are trying to obtain a copy of Biya’s message (Ayissi did not provide us one).  Para 8 suggests possible next steps here and in Washington.  End summary.
 
Defining our Friendship
Biya’s message began by affirming "the Department of State had communicated that Cameroon is a friendly country." Cameroon was sensitive to diplomatic statements made to the domestic and international media, noting "we want to avoid manipulation of public opinion by diplomats."  Cameroon was in a delicate stage but there had been a misunderstanding of the government’s approach.  Diplomats should not interfere with internal affairs.  "Cameroon C’est le Cameroon" (Cameroon is Cameroon.  Note:  this is a common Cameroonian saying.  End note.) – it’s not the U.S. or other African states, the message went on, adding that its institutions and "collective temperament" need to be accepted for what they are.  This was essential for internal peace and to abide by the spirit of friendship between our countries.
 
With a Spotlight on ELECAM
This approach applied in particular to ELECAM, the message continued.  It was important for the government position to be understood and for diplomats to realize the impact their statements on ELECAM had on peace and national and international opinion.  ELECAM was entering a particularly sensitive, visible period heading into 2010. The message offered three specific points on ELECAM:
 
— ELECAM was created as part of a long electoral reform process.  ELECAM was created under an act of law; its officials are named and functions determined – this is "irreversible".  ELECAM offices were being established around the country "normally" and ELECAM was operating "responsibly".
 
— Friendly countries should keep opinions about ELECAM to themselves and judge the institution on what it does. They should not upset the process of creating ELECAM.  The USG had made declarations on ELECAM but should now observe developments.  USG logistical or other assistance to ELECAM would be welcome.
 
—  The President had instructed that ELECAM be independent and would monitor ELECAM to ensure this is the case. He demanded that international partners stop making critical declarations about the institution.
 
The November 13 Remarks
The message made note of the Foreign Minister’s remarks during a November 13 speech at an event for the dip corps to honor "diplomatic friendship and solidarity". (Note:  During this event, which Ambassador attended, the Foreign Minister delivered a similar message as this demarche, demanding that the diplomatic corps refrain from commenting on Cameroon’s internal affairs.  The speech came after the outgoing European Union Ambassador blasted the government in a press conference, criticizing the composition of ELECAM, the failure to release the 2005 census, and poor governance.  End note.)   The President’s message said that the November 13 message was not aimed specifically at the United States but at the whole diplomatic corps; nonetheless, the U.S. had made critical public comments before.  "In the interest of peace and friendship," foreign governments needed to keep within diplomatic norms of communication. Ambassador’s Response
 
Ambassador said we would take note of this message but that we have our point of view and want to share it at times.  She stressed the importance we place on democratic and transparent elections in 2011.
 
Comment
The Foreign Minister, who in the past has delivered tough messages with bluster and legalistic flair, this time appeared uncomfortable.  He read from the text with very little eye contact and seemed somewhat flustered when Ambassador later raised other obviously important international issues such as the Iran nuclear program and the Copenhagen summit.  He ended the meeting abruptly.  When Ambassador took media questions afterwards, the one question from journalists was "did you discuss elections?" – an obviously planted question since there was no particular reason to be raising elections with the minister at this time.
 
This demarche was odd on many levels.  It is the first time President Biya has delivered a formal message to the Ambassador.  We would not be surprised if similar messages are being delivered to other Ambassadors in a full-court effort to stifle diplomatic criticism, following similar efforts when the Foreign Minister lectured the entire dip corps about ELECAM on February 19 (ref A) and November ¶13.  This may reflect the lingering sting of the EU Ambassador’s criticism. (Ambassador Garvey has been publicly critical in the past over the composition of the commission, which is largely composed of CPDM insiders.  She has not made any statements on this matter in recent months.)  It may also portend some new political move from Biya, such as advancing elections, although Ayissi assured Ambassador that presidential elections would be in 2011.
 
In ref B, post argued for rethinking our relationship with Cameroon, with a harder hitting approach supported by Washington.  We will consult with other Ambassadors here to see how widely Biya’s message was delivered and whether there is scope for some kind of joint response.  We will also reach out to some contacts within the Presidency for insights into this demarche.  Post suggests that, as the Department considers the engagement recommended in ref B, our concerns about this presidential message and about the need for neutrality in ELECAM be included among the key points.
GARVEY
 

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