If no one is suspecting anything beyond regular procedure in the recent decision by the Central African Banking Commission (COBAC) to place the Commercial Bank of Cameroon (CBC) under watch for possible liquidation, Yves Michel Fotso, proprietor of the bank, is crying foul.
While admitting that CBC is not faultless, Fotso is alleging that COBAC is being manipulated by Equatorial Guinea to settle scores after CBC won a case against the neigbhouring state, obtaining CFA40 billion as damages because Malabo illegally prohibited establishment of a CBC branch there.
Yet, even those accusations seem to be only part of the story. The paternalistic intervention by the Cameroon government to “bailout” the bank looks like a calculated first step towards embracing a rival to suffocate him – stepping into the Fotso Empire to eventually own it (seize it) or crumble it.
It has not been said how Yaounde and Malabo would have conspired to suffocate CBC. However, it can be conjectured that, just as it is possible Malabo is pulling its oil weight in COBAC, our government was also in a position to defend CBC if it had the will to. Apparently, it did not. Instead of chasing the hawk before chiding the chicks, our government seems to have let the hawk grab the chick before engaging wings to go to its rescue. All of that to look magnanimous and, while the public applauds, reap from Fotso family sweat.
There are precedents to show such victimization. Henri Sack who ran TV Max, the first private TV in Douala, had a taste of it when former CRTV GM, Gervais Mendo Ze, presented him as an anti-patriot simply because TV Max acquired exclusive rights for a Cameroon international match earlier this decade, and required CRTV to buy the images. Insisting national team matches are a matter of sovereignty, Mendo made CRTV broadcast the match in defiance of TV Max.
That was only the beginning of trouble for Sack. TV Max was thenceforth always put on the wrong side of the law. Its transmission pylons around Village on the Yaounde outlet from Douala were knocked down for “being too close to the airport and posing a risk to planes in flight”. Other pylons around were spared. TV Max eventually died slow death. In the early 1990s, Victor Fotso and Kadji Defosso turned coat from early support for the SDF, when government tax agents showed them red.
Now the son of Victor Fotso, a private sector personality who, in a rare government choice, became managing director of Cameroon Airlines, is swearing he will defend his property even with is life. Such statements are not often heard from people of Fotso’s stature. He believes COBAC is just a subterfuge for people with diabolic motives. “I’m sorry, but if it becomes an institution used to eliminate people, I’m ready to die. I’ll accept to be sacrificed,” said Fotso in a telephone intervention on an STV talkshow a fortnight ago.
So why would a “prince” put his life on the line like that?
And that was not Fotso’s first media outing on a burning issue. Late last year he came out strong in an interview broadcast simultaneously by three private TV channels telling his side of the story over the Albatross Affair considered a plot to kill the president. His approach, maximizing TV audience through the three channels, was so effective everyone was talking about it the next morning. Fotso’s smartness apparently vexed certain people in authority.
The Fotso heir, who has been on a travel ban, might have been saved from prison last year only by his father’s personal intervention when he was summoned to the Judicial Police in Yaounde. To protect him, his aging father accompanied him to Yaounde, spent the night in his hotel room for fear he could be abducted and the next morning, accompanied him for the police interrogation, as if to say “that’s my son, if you will take him, you’ll have to take me too.”
The younger Fotso walked free from there. But whether he can free the family empire from this suspected onslaught may take more than his father’s watchful eyes.
More from this writer: Frankly Speaking www.franklinbayern.blogspot.com