Returnees who moved back to their native states in southern Nigeria -- including Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Ondo and Bayela -- have largely been ... left to their own devices, as political maneuverings stall almost every opportunity to resettle and reintegrate the returnees.
Franck Biya has never run for political office and does not appear in any official organisation chart. However, he regularly finds himself on the front page of Cameroonian newspapers, which tend to view him as a potential successor to his father, 88-year-old Paul Biya, who has served as Cameroon’s president since 1982 and is the leader of the powerful Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC).
49-year-old Biya is nevertheless careful not to reveal any of his intentions. He is very discreet as he avoids the media and has never given an interview. Biya’s entourage is also careful to deny any rumours about his political ambitions.
A movement called the “Friends of Franck Biya” began in Cameroon and spread throughout the diaspora. What is its objective? To support the 2025 presidential candidacy of the eldest son of Paul and Jeanne Irene Biya (who died in July 1992).
Some view it as a test run, as a means of gauging public opinion. Others see it as a means of exerting pressure on this businessman who has so far shown little interest in public affairs.
In Central Africa, family successions are a regular occurrence. For example, in neighbouring Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba took over from his father, Omar.
And in Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the country’s vice-president and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Constancia Mangue Nsue Okomo’s son, is biding his time.
Although he has always stayed out of the spotlight, Biya has not hesitated to use his influence with his father to promote members of his mother’s family to prominent government positions.
Robert Nkili, who served as minister of labour and transport between 2002 and 2015, is his mother’s younger brother and Louis-Paul Motaze, the current finance minister, is his cousin. Both owe their positions to Biya.
The latter also serves as a gateway to the head of state. For instance, Biya invited Yannick Noah to the president’s birthday celebration on 13 February. The former tennis champion, whose real estate project – “La Cité des Cinquantenaires” in Yaoundé – is entangled in bureaucratic red tape, was able to plead his case in between glasses of orange juice.
One of the reasons why Biya has remained under the radar for so long is that he left Cameroon in the 1990s to study in Los Angeles. He then moved to South Africa and France, where he lived until March 2020, when he returned to Cameroon just before the country’s first Covid-19 lockdown.
In each of these countries, Biya has taken care to live in a tight-knit circle, surrounded by childhood friends and relatives who are mostly technocrats with an economist profile or working in finance.
For example, he met Modeste Mopa Fatoing, the director-general of the tax department, through Alamine Ousmane Mey, a mutual friend. In South Africa, he rubbed shoulders with Acha Leke, who has been a member of McKinsey’s Shareholders’ Council since May 2020.
Now based in Yaoundé, he is close to Samuel Mvondo Ayolo, the director of the head of state’s civil cabinet, and Paul Elung Che, the deputy secretary-general of the presidency. This 52-year-old English-speaking man, who trained at Enam and Harvard, was the head of the Caisse de Stabilisation des Produits Pétroliers et des Hydrocarbures (CSPH).
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After a stormy beginning, his relationship with his father’s wife, Chantal, has calmed down. On the other hand, relations with his cousin, Bonaventure Mvondo Assam, a former deputy and ex-partner in the Compagnie Forestière Assam (Cofa), have become more tenuous.
However, many people make up Biya’s inner circle. Listed below are some of the most prominent ones.
Ghislain Samou Nguewo
Aged 44, he is one of Biya’s closest collaborators. An economics graduate from the University of Yaoundé II, Ghislain Samou Nguewo took over the board of directors of Boissons Vins et Spiritueux (BVS) in February 2019. This agro-industry was launched by Guillaume Sarra and his wife Virginie Palu-Sarra, the latter whom is French industrialist Pierre Castel’s niece.
Based in Douala, the company is managed by Stéphane Soumahoro, former Ivorian president Robert Gueï’s son.
Christian Mataga is the son of Philippe Mataga, a former ambassador and ex-director of Paul Biya’s civil cabinet. Philippe Mataga also previously served as President Biya’s minister of labour and foreign affairs. The two men are so close that Paul Biya agreed to be Christian’s godfather.
Biya considers this finance graduate from the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne as his own brother. Mataga runs the Société Commerciale Industrielle et Forestière (Scifo), which specialises in the production, processing and marketing of tropical wood species from concessions granted by the Cameroonian Ministry of Forests.
Alamine Ousmane Mey
The current finance minister is a long-time friend of Ghislain Samou Nguewo, who introduced him to Biya. Alamine Ousmane Mey trained at the RWTH Aachen University in Aachen, Germany, served as director-general of Afriland First Bank, the second largest bank in the country, and then – on Franck Biya’s recommendation – became President Biya’s minister of finance.
In the latest government reshuffle, Mey moved from managing the finance portfolio to the economic one, swapping with Louis-Paul Motaze.
One of Biya’s childhood friends, Serge Akounou followed him to the US, where the president’s son pursued his university studies. He received an MBA in Finance from the UCLA Anderson School of Management in California and returned to Cameroon to work for the local branches of Standard Chartered Bank and City Bank before moving to Gauteng, in the Johannesburg region of South Africa.
However, their friendship is reportedly going through a rough patch. Perhaps this is because Akounou is the son of Gervais Mendo Ze, a former director-general of Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) and former minister of communication, who has been imprisoned since 12 November 2014.
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