Cameroon: Who will Biya count on to ensure CAN takes place safely?

By Mathieu Olivier
Posted on Tuesday, 4 January 2022 15:22

Ahead of the African Cup of Nations (CAN) due to be held in Cameroon are threats from Boko Haram and, above all, the Ambazonian separatists. As such, President Paul Biya relies on long-standing loyalists who are well versed in intelligence, and experienced military personnel to ensure the country's security.

As of 9 January, all eyes will be on Cameroon, where – after several postponements – the African Cup of Nations (CAN) will finally take place. President Paul Biya is planning to attend the opening and closing ceremonies of this continental event. Even though he has never been a fan of football, one of his major priorities is to make sure this event materialises during his current seven-year term.

Therefore, Biya intends to, above all, respond to the security challenge posed by the 2021 CAN – which is paradoxically taking place in 2022. Faced with threats from Ambazonian separatists, who hope to take advantage of the event’s media coverage to strike during the gatherings, the cities and stadiums of Limbe (south west) and Douala (Littoral) appear to be in the front line. Even though no match will be held in the Far North, the danger posed by Boko Haram is also being taken into account.

Who is the Cameroonian president relying on to ensure that the competition takes place safely? We present Biya’s security personnel, ranging from the government to the governorates, the army and intelligence agencies.

Paul Atanga Nji

The minister of territorial administration is Biya’s armed wing and head of the National Security Council, which is attached to the presidency and in which all state security actors meet. Trained in intelligence by former Cameroonian spy chief Jean Fochivé, Paul Atanga Nji is also the president’s direct link with regional governors.

He is also from the North-West region, the most affected by attacks from Anglophone separatists.

Adolphe Lele Lafrique        Bernard Okalia Bilai 

As governors of the north-west and south-west, respectively, and rear bases of the Anglophone separatists, they are in the front line in the fight against the Ambazonians. They are in contact with the army and receive intelligence. Adolphe Lele Lafrique and Bernard Okalia Bilai are leading the field response on movements that could threaten the gatherings in Bafoussam (west), Limbe and Douala.

They work in collaboration with Samuel Ivaha Diboua and Awa Fonka Augustine, the governors of the Littoral and west. To a lesser extent, Abate Edi’i Jean, governor of the north, occupies the same key position as he is tackling the threat posed by Boko Haram to the Garoua site.

Martin Mbarga Nguele 

Délégué Général à la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN) since 2010, he is the head of the national police and general intelligence. His service is directly attached to the presidency of the republic. Martin Mbarga Nguele, who attended Yaoundé’s Ecole Normale Supérieure de Police, has been one of President Biya’s closest and most influential advisors for many years. He was DGSN from 1983 to 1984 and was wounded in the 1984 coup attempt.

A former ambassador to Brazil and then to Spain, he is now a minister within the Cameroonian apparatus, which means that few dare to criticise him, even behind his back.

Léopold Maxime Eko Eko

As the director-general of external intelligence since 2010, Biya’s former general intelligence and spy chief is responsible for collecting intelligence on external security threats. Like Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui, with whom he does not get along, he has been in contact with Ambazonian leaders on several occasions, for whom he is a moderate interlocutor.

Léopold Maxime Eko Eko is aware of the divisions that undermine the independence movement. This divisional commissioner is one of Biya’s most trusted men. As a matter of fact, the president has asked him to investigate several powerful people in Cameroon.

Joseph Beti Assomo

In office since 2015, the presidency’s minister delegate in charge of defence used to govern the Far North, and is aware of the threat posed by Boko Haram and the Littoral. He is a long-time friend of Adolphe Lele Lafrique, the current governor of the north west and also knows that he can count on his right-hand man Joël Emile Bamkoui.

This colonel is now the head of military security and has been in contact with Ambazonian leaders abroad, including Akwanga Ebenezer and Chris Anu, on several occasions in recent years. As a result, he has valuable networks within the Ambazonian apparatus. The defence minister also works with Galax Yves Landry Etoga, secretary of state for defence and head of the gendarmerie.

René Claude Meka

This discreet general has held the highest rank in the Cameroonian army for 20 years. René Claude Meka recently carried out an inspection tour in the regions plagued by Ambazonian separatist incursions. He will work primarily with General Bede Benoit Eba Eba, commander of the joint military region number two (Littoral and south west), and General Nka Valere, commander of the joint military region number five (north west and west).

Two other generals will also be essential to this operation. They are Bouba Dobekreo, commander of sector 1 of the Mixed Multinational Force (regional unit (Cameroon/Chad/Nigeria) deployed on the Nigerian and Chadian borders) and Saly Mohamadou, commander of Joint Military Region Number 4 (Far North).

Ivo Desancio Yenwo

The head of presidential security has been one of the president’s most trusted men since the 1984 failed coup. He chose to side with the loyalists and was one of the men who led Biya to safety from the mutineers. Ivo Desancio Yenwo has held his post since 2004.

Originally from the north-west, the region most affected by attacks from Ambazonian separatists, his networks are also important in the fight against Anglophone separatists. The general is in direct daily contact with President Biya and his aide-de-camp, General Joseph Fouda.

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