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Cameroon’s government “beefs-up” surveillance on Marafa

Cameroon’s government has increased security surveillance over Marafa Hamidou Yaya, ex-Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. Marafa has been held in prison since 2012, where he is serving 25 years for corruption and embezzlement.

Jeune Afrique and other local news outlets have reported that top government sources directed penitentiary officers on 25 May 2018 to place Marafa under enhanced surveillance. Other sources have reported that in the past week, Marafa’s prison cell has been searched, his documents seized, and telephone jammers have been installed in his prison cell located at DGSN.

Why Marafa and why now?

Commentators have linked government attention on Marafa to his link with Americans. Marafa was born in 1952 in Garoua. A U.S.-trained petroleum engineer (University of Kansas, 1980), he also holds a BA in Geology from the University of Yaounde (1976).

Marafa leaving a court house in Yaounde

A US Ambassy report leaked by WikiLeaks described Marafa as “a dynamic, personable and energetic man, [who] has an excellent relationship with the U.S. Embassy — as well as the French, Japanese, British, and others.” The report also noted that Marafa was the only government official who had privately told the US ambassador of his dream to succeed Biya as the president of Cameroon.

However, this perception of Marafa as the “darling” of the west may seem to be haunting him.  In 2012 a sitting court in Yaoundé sentenced him to 25 years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars intended as a down payment on a presidential plane. Local news outlets and commentators, believed his ambition to succeed Biya contributed to his ousted from government, as Biya had began to see him as a threat.

As tensions between Yaounde and Washington increase it seems that the Cameroonian government is trying to increase its surveillance over Marafa, even in prison. On 17 May 2018, the current US Ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Henry Barlerin, suggested to Paul Biya to “think” about the image he would leave for future generations. Currently only Marafa’s children and lawyers are allowed to visit him and his is not allowed to receive or send any written documents.