Press conference at U.S. Embassy
TFF lays the groundwork for formal launching in Cameroon

August 31, 200


Preparatory steps were taken towards the operational phase of The Fomunyoh Foundation's activities in Cameroon in September 2000, with the two week, in-country visit of founder Christopher Fomunyoh, which took him to the cities of Yaounde, Douala and Bamenda. Along with local TFF members Moses Fongang and Stateson Awah, Dr. Fomunyoh also visited some towns and villages in the his native North-West Province, including his hometown.

The TFF founder and his delegation met with government officials, ruling and opposition political party leaders, NGOs, religious bodies and traditional rulers, and were able to assess the needs of the people of Cameroon and explore the various ways the foundation can set about realizing its objectives.

During this visit, the American Embassy in Yaounde prevailed upon Dr. Fomunyoh, in his capacity as the Regional Director for East, Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs,to give two public talks on the United States presidential election that was just weeks away.

Dr. Fomunyoh acceded to their request, giving two conferences in the capital city, Yaounde and the country's commercial hub of Douala. The talks, of which we publish excerpts below, were delivered in both French and English, and turned out to be so prescient about the various possible outcomes of the 2000 poll that Cameroonians now believe firmly not only in Dr. Fomunyoh's expertise on the American electoral system, but also in his fairness and impartiality given what a local newspaper reporter described as his "dispassionate analysis of very partisan issues."

The TFF founder also discussed issues of democracy and change in Africa with various media during the past year, a sampling of which is provided in these pages.

Election 2000


Moderator: I would like to welcome you all here this afternoon and to thank you for taking time off your very busy schedules to be with us this afternoon. Our guest speaker is Dr. Chris Fomunyoh (CF), Regional Director for East, Central, and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Dr. Fomunyoh is I can say the elections person. I can tell you from having listened to him in Douala that he lives and breaths elections. So any questions you have on elections, through them at him and you'll get your correct answers. He has organized and advised international election observation missions to national elections practically all over Africa. He has also conceived and directed training programs for legislatures of national assemblies in certain African countries. He has also designed and supervised country specific democracy support programs for civic organizations, political parties, and legislative bodies in several African countries. He comes to us with very high credentials, in the course of this work Dr. Fomunyoh interacts regularly with heads of state and government, cabinet ministers, and prominent political figures. He is the principle liaison between the NDI and the U.S. Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. embassies in East, Central, and West Africa. He was recently in Nigeria where he ran a program for thirty-six state governors, and also took part in President Clinton's visit there. He has also been to Cote d'Ivoire recently, so he's got first hand information on the political situation in Cote d'Ivoire. You all have copies of his bio so I am not going to bore you with all the details, and you didn't come here to listen to me. So without any further ado, I would like to introduce to you Dr. Chris Fomunyoh and to thank him very sincerely on behalf of the public affairs section and the entire Embassy for taking time off his very precious vacation, to come and talk to us and to enlighten us on electoral process in the United States and its implications for Africa. Once again, welcome Chris, and to you our distinguished guests, welcome! I hope that you time here will be rewarding and informative. I can guarantee that you will get a lot more than you bargained for, welcome once again, and Chris we are all ears! Thank you for coming.

CF: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, I would have liked to stand up, but the logistical arrangements require that I sit before this microphone. Thank you very much Gladys for those very kind words, and for setting the bar so high that you know that I am not going to meet it. It's a difficult act to follow when you get introduced so nicely. I just want to thank Gladys and Jean Claude Nganfack, and their boss Tom Doughtey, as well as Ambassador John Gates and other members of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde for making it possible for me to be here today. And for giving me this possibility to discuss electoral politics with the distinguished ladies and gentlemen present here today. I saw from the invite list that this is part of the cream from Cameroonian society, and I am really delighted to have this opportunity. I also want to acknowledge the elected officials here present who have taken the time off to come meet with us, from both the ruling party as well as the main opposition parties of Cameroon. I recognize a lot friends including the Director of North American Affairs in the Ministry of External Relations and other Cameroonians who have served in the Cameroonian Embassy in Washington, who have had to see first hand the activities of NDI both in Washington as well as in discussions of our programs around the world. I look forward to a very enriching experience because I am hoping to share my thoughts with you but also even more importantly to learn from you all not just your views on the U.S. electoral process, but also your interest in democratization across the African continent.

I am going to try to make sure that everybody gets served in a way, and I am going to make my introductory remarks in French, and we will see a video clip I had prepared not knowing that I would be here myself, that will serve the purposes of our discussions in English, and I will take your questions in English and in French just so we can make this discussion extremely interactive.

1960 another presidential hopeful gave nomination acceptance speech at the Los Angeles Convention, his name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Mr. Gore has been the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for months, his choice of Senator Joseph Lieberman as a running mate the week before the convention eliminated the little suspense that remained, now the focus has shifted to whether the U.S. is ready for a Jewish vice president, especially whether this choice will cause Mr. Gore to loose votes in the South. But just as John F. Kennedy overcame the religious issue and became the first Catholic president, the Gore/Lieberman team hopes to follow President Kennedy's trail from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles to the White House. The first leg of the convention will focus on the nation's prosperity and progress.

Moderator: I want to thank Dr. Fomunyoh for a very elaborate overview of the electoral system in the United States. And we are going to welcome questions from you and this is the interactive part which is usually the most interesting part of these discussions. And for purposes of time we'll please request that we keep our questions to the point and that we don't monopolize so that many other people can get a chance to express their views and ask their questions. And on that we'll take questions and he'll answer either in French or in English as the questions come. We'll start off with four questions from this side of the hall and then we'll move to the other side of the hall. Okay, the floor is open, any questions from this side of the hall, should we start with you then? To my right, questions? Please introduce yourself as you ask you question, we'll start with Dr. Menang please.

Dr. Menang: Thank you very much, I am Thaddeus Menang , faculty member at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science of the University of Yaounde One, and I am also National Executive Secretary of the Cameroon Democratic Union Party. I would like to ask Dr. Fomunyoh a question concerning what he really thinks U.S. foreign policy whether it changes effectively depending on whether it's the Democrats who are ruling or it's the Republicans, because in my view the Americans are so inward looking that it doesn't seem to matter to them what goes on outside the U.S., and when you look at the various points you raised, the points of conversion between the Republicans and the Democrats, they are the main points, they remain constant. The other points where they may differ relate mostly to internal interest in the U.S., trying to grab the black votes and putting up arguments for that, and without that having any political impact on foreign policy, on the attitude of the United States towards African countries, due really think whether it's the Democrats or the Republicans who are in power?

CF: Thank you very much Dr. Menang for your question. Obviously you have raised a very pertinent issue because I believe that's issue on the minds of most Africans. Its true and its recognized that at the end of the Cold War, there was feeling in the United States that the government ought to be more inward looking. That the Cold War is over, and that the American electorate also wanted a peace dividend coming out of all the investments that had been put into defense in the years of the Cold War. You'd also agree that out of that sentiment emerged a group of people very activist and in some cases led by people such as Pat Buchanan, who at the time were in the Republican Party, and Ross Perot who is and Independent but a very wealthy gentleman from Texas who thought that the United States should not even engage in foreign policy. And even in matters of trade over which there is a lot of consensus across the board, the United States should not have even signed NFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). Fortunately, two things have happened:

1. The isolationists group has become very weak over the years.

2. And the second point, which is very related to the first, is that the American economy is doing very well. And when the economy is doing well, people tend to be more generous, and people tend to loose sight of those arguments that make them inward looking.

For this reason I am therefore optimistic that the people or the political leaders who want to be inward are going to, I mean the numbers will diminish with time. And the next administration will have a better chance of doing even more for Africa. I will be more specific on the issue of Congressional interference in international affairs. Some of you may be aware of the fact that as I said earlier, Congress funds policy. So it doesn't matter who is in the White House, if the need to get the approval of Congress, to get the funding needed to conduct policy in Africa. We've noted that in the last Congress the amount of funding available for foreign assistance around the world, be it in Africa or Asia has diminished because Congress has consistently cut the funding, the resources available for foreign assistance. Now if you have a Congress that is more favorable towards foreign assistance as a whole, that's more outward looking and more interested in international relations, then you are going to get more resources available for foreign assistance. And then the organizations that are interested in Africa and want to do work in Africa would be able to have the resources that they need to conduct their programs, and invariably Africa, and the African people would stand to benefit. That's why I started my introduction by saying I believe that the elections of November 2000 in the United States are extremely crucial not just for Americans and United States, but for the world and even more particularly for Africa.

Q. My name is Jean Pierre and I am part of the personnel of the house. I have very simple question: Is the fate of Africa part of the criteria on which African-Americans base themselves to choose a president? And if it is, to which extent is that, because that could also be important. Thanks.

CF: Thank you Jean Pierre. Thank you for your question. As I said earlier Tip O'Neil, the Former Speaker of the House Representative in the United States actually wrote on his political philosophy that 'All Politics Is Local.' He actually developed it into a book and said 'all politics is local'. To some extent you could make a good argument to say that in the United States all politics is local, and that even international politics is local. That you look at issues such as the Middle East, a very crucial conflict are, and look at U.S. policy and interest in Northern Ireland, and you can trace that back to the role that is being played in U.S. domestic politics by the constituencies that are most affected by these crises. Irish Americans for the case [in the case] of Northern Ireland, or Jewish Americans and Arab Americans or people who are sympathetic or very concerned or closely associated with the conflict area in the Middle East. That would lead you to the question of what impact the African American electorate has on the domestic politics of the United States. If you go back to the 1992, and I believe that's where the Clinton interest in Africa began, you have to keep in mind that Clinton was the governor of a small state Arkansas in the middle southern part of the country, and therefore not exposed to international affairs. But at the time that Clinton was being nominated as the candidate of the Democratic Party, the party was chaired by a gentleman unfortunately of precious memory called Ron Brown. Ron Brown for those of you who followed the 1992 elections was extremely instrumental in making sure that the Democrats won back the White House. And you must remember that the '92 elections came right after the Gulf War when the President George Bush came out with a very high popularity rating. His popularity rating after the Gulf War was in the ninetieth percentile, and no one ever thought that he would loose the elections a few months after that. But Ron Brown worked extremely hard to put together a broad coalition, reunite the Democratic Party to allow for Clinton to be elected President of the United States in 1992. That is why in recognition to Ron Brown's efforts he got appointed Secretary of Commerce. He was the first African American Secretary of Commerce in U.S. history. And I believe the Secretary of Commerce is the third portfolio after Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury. Ron Brown has been very instrumental in a lot of what is happening in Africa today. He planted the seeds very early on, it was Ron Brown who organized trade mission to Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire and who at those missions back in '94 and '95 stated very clearly that U.S. policy and U.S. businessmen and women were interested in competing in Africa on an equal footing. At the time that was viewed as a very courageous move, but he continued to push the envelope from the inside and I think in that spirit brought the administration (Clinton Administration) along, and once his interest peaked on Africa, especially with the arrival of Secretary Albright as Secretary of State, in replacement of Warren Christopher; given that Secretary Albright had herself shown an interest in Africa and had worked on democratization in Africa in the past, that combination of factors made it possible for President Clinton during his second administration to do all what he has been able to do in Africa. So it's been a long answer, but I thought it was appropriate to kind of layout it out, to give you a sense of domestic politics is played in the States. And how that can really impact on to which region gets affected and influenced over which other one gets left out. I can say for example that right now the demographic group in the United States that's growing the fastest is the group of Hispanic Americans. And everybody right now is courting the Hispanic vote be it in states such as Florida, Texas, New Mexico, California. And depending on how that electorate goes in November, that could also determine the amount of interest that could be focused on Latin America for example. And I believe that we will therefore have to wait to see how the campaigns evolve between now and November, we'll then have to wait to see how the new Congress gets constituted to then determine whether the plight of Africa and the fate of Africans will impact U.S. policy.

I should also say that on the Congressional side that if the Democrats win the Congress this November, that the chairman on the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Charles Rangle from New York, will be the first African-American to chair that committee. And basically that's the committee that rights tax laws, that's the committee that enacted or worked the African Growth and Opportunity Act. And if you have someone like Congressman Charles Rangle in that position, he can influence a lot of things that would get done onto Africa. There are a number of other African-Americans, Congressman Paine of New Jersey, who has been very active in the Africa subcommittee on International Relations. People like those who are very interested on the continent could eventually influence the outcome or the outlook of U.S. policy towards Africa.

Moderator: Thank you, one last question from this side, Orlando, and then we will move to other side of the hall; and then we can come back to you.

My name is Orlando Munjo, I am in the political scene in Cameroon. You are welcome Dr. Fomunyoh to Cameroon. My worry is that when Americans come and give us this good big talk we have hopes, yet our fellow citizens live in total misery. Misery because we have dictators that rule in Africa, we have military governments that are headed by civilians like in Cameroon. And we've been expecting that we can have good governance, the same good governance every day. Americans are on the spot and they don't do anything. You know very well to obtain good governance there should be a government that can responsible and that is accountable to its people. What can the American government, the Americans do to help us have free and fair elections which is the only way to have a government that in return will be accountable to its citizens? Secondly, I want to know, we have all the international financial institutions, most of them are based in America, they know very well how much Africans are suffering, we even get to wars, I'll take the case of Bakassi; I'll say something here which will shock everybody here in this hall: It happens that on the left of Bakassi is Cameroon, and on the right is Nigeria, these are two black brothers fighting, fighting for what? They are fighting for crude; they are fighting in order that they can ameliorate their lifestyle[s] in both countries. Why can America not talk to the French, the French who have taken everything both sides; yet America this great super power that we all look up to as our savior, why can America not talk to the French so that they can find an amicable solution? My last concern is about the first system. We always talk of democracy, America is a democratic country, yes! Most of us have lived in America, why is it that America cannot see to it when they talk of democracy in this global village that they initiated. Why can they not see to it that democracy be prerequisite to obtaining international loans? Thank you.

CF: Thank very much you Orlando. I think you touched on three very important points that I addressed earlier on in my presentation, probably unfortunately before you entered the room. In my introductory remarks I touched on almost all three of these points.

Let me first say that I do not speak for U.S. government obviously, and hopeful at the appropriate time, the appropriate individuals within the U.S. government would speak for the U.S. government. I speak on behalf of NDI which is a non-governmental organization, but I also speak as a keen observer of the U.S. political process, and I will share with you my thoughts in that regard. The first point about misery and dictatorships and military governments headed by civilians, I believe this point I touched upon when I said that increasingly democracy is being recognized as the bench mark for countries to be welcomed within the community of "civilized nations." I think that we are all cognizant of the fact that there is a law on the books in the United States, in fact its section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act of the United States stipulates that U.S. government must cease support to any government that has gotten to power through the use of force. That law is on the books and its been applied consistently in this decade especially with the Clinton Administration. That explains why countries such as Cote d'Ivoire are now getting the brunt as well as countries such as Nigeria under military rule. I also believe that increasingly we are seeing Africans themselves asking to be governed differently. And also an acknowledgement amongst political activists, political leaders as well as leaders of governments and countries that it is important to be able to govern. And the only way you can negotiate you legitimacy and govern peaceably and enjoyably in a way that has an impact on the well being of your citizens is to have an election that's viewed as credible and legitimate; the outcome of which is accepted by everybody. That's why we at NDI are pleased to see that even on the African continent, there's been a move to make sure that elections are better conducted, that institutions that are viewed as independent and credible are set up to conduct those elections so that the outcome can be accepted by all of the parties. With regards to the international financial institutions, I should say that looking at them from vantage point of being in Washington, I would venture to say that there's even a shift of mentality, of the thinking in some of the financial institutions. And I would give you one concrete example: A lot of you may read in the news about the demonstrations that took place in Seattle with the World Trade Organization, the impact that that demonstration had on the agreement that was going to be signed in Seattle, which ended up not being signed, the world attention that was brought to bear on plight of people in developing countries. You are also aware of the demonstrations that subsequently took place in Washington, D.C. around the annual meeting of the World Bank and the IMF that brought to light some of the hardship that's being suffered by people in developing countries. And I think this is changing the mind set within those institutions as well.

You may want to speak to some of the elected officials in this room who would tell you that when the World Bank and IMF missions to various countries, I may not have the precise details on Cameroon not being on the ground; but these missions now reach out to members of parliament, to representatives of civil society organizations, something that never happened five ten years ago. Ten years ago, when the World Bank or IMF mission came into a country, it dealt with the ministry of finance and economy, it dealt with the executive branch of government. Today, they have been sensitized to the fact the elected representatives of the people, members of parliament, representatives of civil society organizations have a say in the kind of policy, or the kinds of negotiations that need to take place between a state and the country. I will give you a very concrete example the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. A lot of you may have realized that the negotiations on this pipeline took a very long time because in part because civil society organizations in Chad were able to mobilize themselves in other countries to bring to light some of the hardships that people in Chad could be exposed to if certain conditions were not put in place. The outcome of this amount of pressure coming from civil society organizations is that the World Bank then had to set up a special structure in Chad to make sure that the resources from the Chad-Cameroon pipeline that will go to the government of Chad would be allocated in a way that will allow the ordinary people derive benefits from this project. This is a first in a annals of the World Bank, and believe and my hope is that increasingly as Africans stand and speak up for their rights, as Africans advocate for a better standard of living, as Africans advocate to be governed differently that all of these institutions are going to have to stand up and take notice. I think I have kind of covered the questions that you've asked. I would also want to caution that in many ways as African its probably easier for me to understand some of the dynamics on the continent, but sometimes things that happen on the continent are also very difficult to understand for American policy makers; the case of Bakassi that pointed to is one example. The second example which is even absurd in the war that we've seen between Eritrea and Ethiopia, over a piece of land that has no mineral resources, nothing, absolutely a barren piece of land. Countries that are poor and indebted, that cannot even service their foreign debt, but that are spending $50 million on a war that made no sense. Countries that were fighting famine, that were seeing their citizens die of famine, with donated food stopped at the ports because all of the resources were poured into a war effort that made no sense to anybody. It becomes very difficult for anybody as humanitarian as they may want to be to want to sacrifice a dollar so they could make someone else on the African continent under those circumstances get relief. So I think as we continue to advocate to be taken more seriously, we as a people, and our leaders have to begin to think twice about what they are dragging their citizens through. Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world. Its got tremendous resources, but look at what the military has done in a country such as Nigeria, and look a at the plight of Nigerian citizens. I just bring that up to say that there is dilemma out there we really can't understand, and hopefully as( [blank space, tape ran out] ) village, that while we ask our friends on the other side to think of ways of helping out, we too should be thinking differently and pushing our decision makers to think differently. Thank you.

Moderator: We'll swing this way now.

TS: I am Tata Seraphine, I'm a journalist. My question is actually a follow up to the response you gave to Jean Pierre and you also starting about it to Mr. Orlando. Now what should African countries and specifically the Cameroon government , what should they be doing to sustain the interest that the Americans have on the continent at this time? And secondly, the positive attitude that the government of America is showing to the continent is it really influencing the American electorate? And if it is can you please elaborate. Thank you.

CF: Thank you very much Seraphine. Let start with the second question, whether the show of interest in Africa is affecting the American electorate. As a general comment and this is probably a criticism of the American electorate, but it's a well known fact that the American electorate has got a very short attention span. People have a difficulty focusing on one subject for an extended period of time. That's one reason why even when you look at he poles on the presidential elections at this moment, two months from an election the percentage of undecided voters is still extremely high. And a lot of people are to make up their minds in the last two day, when they think, "oops, next Tuesday is election day I have to determine who I should vote for," and they start reading the platform and party papers or candidate positions. So I believe as a practical issue, as a tactical issue that interest on Africa gets focused on the burning issues of the day. But they don't get focused on those issues for an extended period of time. However, whenever these are a culmination of factors that allow for an issue to be brought to light, that the American electorate gets galvanized very quickly, and sometimes even in a way that supersedes the decision makers. I'll take a very concrete example, the case of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the mid '80's. In 1986 when the ANC and others who were fighting against apartheid in South Africa, a lot of right of center organizations in the United States branded them as terrorists and communist leaning groups because they received support from a number of other countries. At the time the apartheid regime in South Africa did business with western countries; but various constituencies within the United States began to get sensitized to the plight of Africans in South Africa. And a movement began in the United States to help bring sanctions against South Africa [South African apartheid government] , and these groups started with very small communities. African Americans, but also a lot of white Americans, academicians, and university institutions, elected officials at the local level in counties and in states. And then they began to lobby companies, target those corporations that were doing business in South Africa e.g. Coca-Cola, IBM and the rest. And people started demonstrating at the sites of those companies, sending out literature saying those that those companies were doing business in South Africa. And then secondly targeting the states that had investments - public bonds in those companies, asking that those public investments be redrawn if the companies didn't withdraw from South Africa. What happened was that they ended up creating a relationship that went all the way from left-wing leaning groups on the environment, pro-human rights organizations, labor movements all across to the right of center with business organizations who were supporting who were supporting the same cause probably for a different reason, but who were then brought to the table to support the fight against apartheid in South Africa. As states began to withdraw from South Africa, the businesses began to feel the pinch, and then elected officials began to take notice; so Congress then enacted bipartisan legislation to bring sanctions against U.S. companies doing business in South Africa. When this legislation was passed in both houses and went to President Reagan, he vetoed the legislation, he didn't want the sanctions to be put in place, his party the Republican Party had majority in both the House and the Senate and would have stood by their president; but the mobilization that was coming from the ground up [grassroots up] was so strong that even Republicans from the House of Representatives and in the Senate voted to override the veto of President Reagan. And that's how legislation was enacted in 1986 forbidding U.S. companies from doing business in South Africa. So that is one success story that you attribute to the American electorate in a way that manifested a genuine interest for Africa. Now hopefully as other issues come up, issues pertaining to the environment for example, that you could mobilize the same kind of coalition in a way that can then influence decision makers and policy makers to have to take a stand. What needs to be done which was your first question, I would just take you back to the summary of my presentation which I said in the end and this is my opinion, it wouldn't matter whether Gore gets elected or Bush; its going to be incumbent on African countries - African leaders to earn their place at the table. To make sure that they are taken into consideration: It has to do with embracing democracy, not just in words but in deeds because democracy is one of those things that you know when you see it, somebody doesn't even need to define for you, you kind of have a flair for it when its there. I talked about the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which is tremendous opportunity for African countries to be able to export freely into the U.S. market. We all now that export trade generates jobs, it generates industry; it has tremendous benefits, but it also has a catch, it has a list of criteria that countries would need to meet to be able to be short listed by the White as countries that could benefit from the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and I would just read them briefly to you: Section 104 of the Act states eligibility requirements: The President of the United States is authorized to a sub-Saharan African country as an eligible sub-Saharan African country if the President determines that country has established or is making continual progress towards establishing a market-based economy that protects private property rights, incorporates an open rules trading system, and minimizes government interference in the economy through measures such as price controls, subsides, and government ownership of economic assets, respects the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process - a fair trial, and equal protection under the law. It latter continues: A system to combat corruption and bribery such as signing and implementing The Convention On Combating Bribery Of Foreign Public Officials In International Business Transactions, protection of internationally recognized workers' rights including the right of association, the right to organize, and bargain collectively. A prohibition on the use of any form of force or compulsory labor, a minimum age for the employment of children, and acceptable conditions for work with respect to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. And does not engage in activities that undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interest; and finally does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, or provide support for acts of international terrorism and cooperates in international efforts to eliminate human rights violations and terrorist activities. So there is at least a check list that the president is going to have to look at, and would have to mark up African countries and then submit the list to the Congress and be willing to stand by that list of countries to say these countries should qualify to benefit from this huge advantage right now. That is one concrete example of mechanisms that are in place, but also of the work that would need to be done by African countries to take full advantage.

Moderator: Thank you.

The rest of the question and answer session was conducted in French!