As of January 17, 2023, the current events in Cameroon have been marked by the assassination of journalist Martinez Zogo, host of the famous program “Embouteillages” on Amplitude FM, an urban radio station in Yaoundé, Cameroon. In his program, he denounced daily the embezzlers of public wealth by mentioning them by name. His disappearance was announced at a time when he was investigating and denouncing the embezzlement of funds by the businessman Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga through fake contracts obtained at the presidential security directorate.
As soon as the disappearance was announced, public opinion immediately focused on the businessman involved in the case. On Saturday, January 28, the lifeless body of Martinez Zogo was found in Ebogo 3, a neighborhood of Yaoundé. Public opinion had discovered that the journalist had been subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. He had been completely mutilated by his torturers. The population and the media, in particular, were shocked.
An Investigation Initiated
Following a collective outrage over the circumstances of the death of this journalist, the State of Cameroon, through the Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic (SGPR), announced the opening of an inquiry instructed by the President of the Republic to arrest all those involved in this case. This investigation was entrusted to a joint police-gendarmerie commission.
A few days later, the SGPR announced the arrest of some individuals “strongly suspected” in the journalist’s murder. According to initial investigations, the crime against Martinez Zogo was perpetrated with the personnel and resources of Cameroon’s external intelligence services. Following social network whistle-blowers, the NGO, Reporters Without Borders released the names of the suspects, including the head of Cameroon’s counter-intelligence service, Maxime Eko Eko, and his director of operations, Justin Danwe, head of the commando that kidnapped and killed the journalist. The businessman Amougou Belinga, who was cited as the mastermind of the crime, was arrested on February 6, along with the media director of the Anecdote Group, which he heads, and several other collaborators.
Is the State in Insecurity?
The assassination of journalist Martinez Zogo showed that state security, and especially the security of the head of state, was not guaranteed in as much as the initial investigation revealed that the intelligence services were used for private purposes by individuals. Some believe that the involvement of the intelligence services in this assassination amounts to a state crime. The fragility of the intelligence services and their privatization for hidden purposes, as in this case, could lead to a coup de force against the institutions of the Republic. The question arises as to how counter-intelligence services can participate in such a crime on behalf of a private individual.
During a press briefing given by Amougou Belinga’s lawyers on Thursday, February 16, 2023, Barrister Charles Tchoungang, spokesman for the collective, said that Justin Danwe, head of the commando, met very often with his client to give him information on security at the borders of Cameroon with two neighboring countries, CAR and Equatorial Guinea. This statement demonstrates the fragility of the state’s intelligence services. How and why can a director of operations of intelligence services give such sensitive information to an individual who has no position in the government hierarchy? For what purpose did Mr. Amougou Belinga use this information?
The disclosure of information on Cameroon’s borders to an individual who is not a member of the security system could allow this person (intruder) to have information on security flaws at the borders. It is, therefore, not excluded that with this high-security information, he could lead an incursion of mercenaries to destabilize the country. Given all these, the state is obliged to seriously follow this case, which is not only limited to the assassination of a citizen but to the security of the state and the struggle for succession that seems to be going on in Cameroon.
The Struggle for Succession
The assassination of Martinez Zogo is part of a succession struggle at the head of political power in Yaoundé. In fact, the journalist Martinez Zogo was accusing Amougou Belinga of complicity in the embezzlement of public funds with the Minister of Finance, Louis Paul Motaze, and the Minister of Justice, Laurent Esso. They are seen by some public opinion as part of a faction engaged in the succession of President Paul Biya, who celebrated his 90th birthday on February 13, 2023. This faction is opposed to the one led by the Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, who is suspected of intensifying investigations into the death of Martinez Zogo in order to put in trouble the faction suspected of having murdered the journalist.
The investigation of Martinez Zogo’s murder is therefore interpreted by some Cameroonian opinion as an argument to remove challengers to Paul Biya’s succession. This interpretation of the Martinez Zogo affair brings back to the table the question of the longevity of President Paul Biya in power. He came to power in 1982 and amended the constitution in 2008 to run indefinitely for president as the ‘natural candidate’ of his party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM). He has spent 40 years in the presidency and continues to maintain ambiguity about his ambition to run again in 2025 for an eighth term.
Time for Justice
Beyond the issues of security, fragility, and succession struggles, the question of justice and the rule of law in Cameroon emerges in the background of the investigations opened in the Martinez Zogo case. Justice must be done to Martinez Zogo in order to appease the families and the corporation on the one hand and to reassure the people of the role of the state in enforcing justice. It is important to dispel the specter of impunity for the ‘delinquent elite’ in Cameroon.
After many arrests and initial investigations, the report of the auditions and the suspects were sent to the government commissioner (procurer de la République in military justice jargon) on February 14, 2023. They were referred by him to the mixed commission for ‘additional investigation.’ Throughout the investigation, the names of two ministers have been mentioned as alleged masterminds of the journalist’s murder. So far, they have not yet been questioned.
It is in the interest of preserving the rule of law that they are discharged from their posts and questioned in this assassination. As such, the possibility of a ministerial reshuffle remains plausible. Ultimately, it is imperative that justice be served in this case so that such a horrible assassination does not become a norm in the Republic.
Dr. Delmas Tsafack is a Senior Policy Analyst in Governance and Democracy at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in History of International Relations from the University of Dschang, Cameroon and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the International Relations Institute of Cameroon (IRIC).