David Ben Cohen always followed a unique pattern ever since his early days as a professional in the intelligence service. He would not act otherwise in Operation Clean Sweep.
That Friday afternoon, a day before the official launch of the operation, and barely minutes after Gavin and Irene began the drive to the south, David and another agent drove to the coastal town of Tiko, an angle of the Fako Triangle. He knew exactly where to go, based on information on the public leisure and recreational facilities Jacob Mbua frequented.
He found his target in the Senior Service Club in Tiko. Jacob Mbua was chatting with the barman and had a mug full of beer in front of him as he gestured with his hands. The target looked the same as the man in the photograph Pierre Dumas gave him to memorize.
David approached Jacob Mbua about five minutes after he sat down at the far corner of the bar. The Cameroonian was now engrossed in reading a newspaper that he was holding in both hands and hardly noticed the figure approaching him. David smiled warmly and actually looked charming as he greeted Jacob Mbua and took the table next to his. Then he went on to engage the Cameroonian in small talk, identifying himself as a Mexican businessman doing feasibility studies in the area for the construction of a bitumen factory in Limbe, in an area about fifteen miles away.
His line caught Jacob Mbua’s interest because the Cameroonian shoved aside the paper he was reading, turned around to the engaging David and invited him over to his table. The two men talked over the great prospects such a project held for the area, dawdled over the shortcomings of the corrupt Pablo-Nero regime, brooded over Africa’s plight and professed optimism that glasnost and perestroika would soon become an everyday influence in the lives of the African people. Jacob Mbua was impressed by the foreigner’s knowledge of Cameroon and Africa, and was especially moved when David agreed with his view that a new and committed force could easily make it to power and develop the country. The men drank two rounds of beer each before David offered to leave.
Jacob Mbua watched David get up, take out a cigar and ferret in his pockets for the lighter. He found it and was about to light the dried tightly-rolled bundle of fermented tobacco leaf when the lighter slipped from his fingers and dropped on the floor. With the cigar still held firmly between his lips as he bent down to pick up the lighter, the Albanian muttered muffled words of apology to Jacob Mbua.
Concealed by the table, David angled Jacob Mbua’s left foot, before releasing the pellet by a single puff from the cigar-shaped weapon. Jacob Mbua felt a sharp prick in his left foot, cursed under his breath and scratched it, assuming that it was a bite from a bug. It took just a couple of seconds for the pain to fade away. David picked up the lighter, straightened himself up, adjusted his tie, and then put the cigar back in his inner jacket pocket.
“I’ll suspend it for now and smoke later!” the Albanian offered, shook hands with Jacob Mbua, and with a promise to call around again the next day, he bowed, bade him goodbye and left.
David knew that his victim would kick the bucket within twenty-four hours. The pellet, unlike those used by the Bulgarians, was expected to get out of the victim’s body after four hours. By then, it would have completely released the poison that would instigate an overflow of adrenaline in the victim’s system, thereby inducing a heart attack.
The Albanian drove back to Limbe in high spirits. His section of Operation Clean Sweep was on good footing. He would have to work the next morning with the Israeli-trained men to salvage the Buea angle, and then complete the triangle by liquidating the Limbe-based men tagged as beyond salvage.
Even as he made the effort to be upbeat, the intelligence he got pointed to the likelihood of Limbe being a difficult fortress to overcome. The houses of his targets were heavily fortified—enclosed by high fences and other natural defenses that he could not ignore. One of the targets had a reputedly good night watch and two dogs—a flat-coated retriever and a German shepherd. The dogs were said to be the most vicious in town. The second target owned two vicious mongrels and a young bullmastiff that was still sharpening its teeth on the stray animals that ventured into its master’s yard. It spent most of its time in the house and had good protective instincts.
The Albanian decided to kill some time off in the bar that evening with the two local agents. The Cameroonians were not forthcoming, so little transpired between them for almost half an hour sitting there on the terrace. And even so, he barely drank the glass of beer that stood in front of him on the table. Instead, he occupied himself with a tourist guide provided by the hotel. The brief account of some of the country’s major ethnic groups piqued his interest. At length, he dropped the guide on the table and joined the others.
“We have a job to do and this is going to be my first major operation in Central Africa. Hmm! I have a few perceptions about Cameroon that you may be able to help me clarify. It says here that Cameroon has more than 250 tribes, language groups or ethnicities. It also says that it has the greatest amalgamation of diverse indigenous peoples of all the countries in Africa. Am I correct?” asked David Ben Cohen.
Gregoire Abena nodded. “That’s why our country is called Africa in miniature.”
“Its diverse characteristics make it unique in Africa. You can find any part of Africa here in Cameroon!” said Janvier Ayissi.
David smiled warmly. “That’s amazing! I also read about entities here that share some characteristics with alien people to Africa.”
Janvier Ayissi chuckled. “Any you can think of.”
“Good!” David said. “Who are the stingiest, like the Jews, they say?”
“The Bamileké people!” said Gregoire Abena.
“And the most hospitable?”
The two Cameroonians were thoughtful for a moment before Gregoire Abena perked up suddenly. “I think we, the different ethnic groups of the coastal region, are the most hospitable. I am taking about the Bantu people of Cameroon. That’s why we are being outpopulated by the ungrateful settlers from the interior.”
“Settlers? Do you mean the interior of Cameroon or Africa?” asked the Albanian.
“I mean the interior of Cameroon. And the settlers I am talking about are the northerners, the Bamileké people, and the Anglophones from the Bamenda area, otherwise known as the semi-Bantu people of the Northwest Province,” Gregoire Abena said, and then coughed lightly.
“Wow!” David muttered with a nod, "And who do you consider to be the most discriminatory?”
“All the different ethnicities discriminate to an extent. But the Beti and Bamileké peoples carry that much further,” Janvier Ayissi responded with a chortle.
“The people you consider to be the most dynamic?” the Albanian asked.
“The Bamileké people, undoubtedly. My God, they stand to control Cameroon if we fail to stop them. They stand to control this country in the same manner that the Jews dominated Europe early this century. The last thing Cameroonians should do is allow the Bamileké people to win political power. We are most likely to witness an overwhelming increase in their economic dominance if political power falls into their hands. My God, we all stand threatened to become second class citizens in this country if that ever happens.”
“Hmm!” David muttered.
“As a matter of fact, that’s why the Bamileké people had to be stopped under the guise of the UPC. And that’s also why we should stop them now, even if they try to grab power by hiding behind other political parties or ethnic groups,” said Gregoire Abena.
“I admit you have an interesting perspective with that one. And now, the people that constitute the cream of the learned class?”
“In absolute numbers, the Bamileké people excel in academic achievements as well. I don’t think they are the number one if our comparison is based on the percentage of each ethnic group’s total population,” Janvier Ayissi conceded.
“You keep saying the Bamileké people to most of my questions. Why?” asked the Albanian.
“The reasoning is simple. The Bamileké people are the most populous ethnicity in Cameroon. They constitute about a quarter of this country’s population. Their homeland, though, is only about three percent of the land surface of Cameroon. That’s why they are everywhere, with only a third of their population still residing in their ancestral homeland,” said Janvier Ayissi.
“The West Province you mean? Or are you talking about the Bamilekéland, if we need to be precise here?”
“Exactly!” intoned Janvier Ayissi.
“What do you mean?”
“I am talking about both the West Province and their homeland in general.”
“It appears the Bamileké people don’t have a good reputation at all,” David muttered with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“They are dirty! They are the cause of the filth in Douala and Yaoundé. Those are some of the reasons why our beautiful capital city of Yaoundé now has a reputation as the garbage capital city of Africa. Believe me, the Bamileké people swarm like vermin in all the places they find abode in. They dump garbage in the gutters, on the roads, everywhere. The disgusting thing is that they even sell and eat by the filth they create. The Bamileké people are the cause of most of the ills afflicting our country,” Gregoire Abena said with contempt in his voice that surprised David Ben Cohen.
“That’s a hard judgment you are making. The Jews also suffered from those preconceptions before the holocaust. Now, tell me. Who are the most discriminated against?”
Gregoire Abena shrugged, while Janvier Ayissi gasped in embarrassment. “That’s a difficult question to answer,” Janvier Ayissi offered.
David smiled wryly. “Perhaps the Bamileké people are the most discriminated against, after all!”
“I don’t think that’s right,” Gregoire Abena protested.
David nodded. “I’ve read much about political activities in Cameroon after its independence. A nationalist movement was crushed and the Bamileké people bore the brunt of that defeat. They and the Bassa people actually. But they survived economically because the country couldn’t do without them. Ahidjo never forgave them for resisting his rule. Even the present regime is sceptical of the Bamileké people. Their coyness is perhaps a survival reflex.”
“You are right, my friend. They can’t be trusted with anything. To them, self-interest dominates the national interest,” said Gregoire Abena.
David sighed. “I think you are wrong on that one. Aren’t most of their investments out of their homeland? I know the Bamileké people are despised everywhere, but I think they are Cameroon’s biggest asset in fulfilling its dream of genuine unity. Okay, I will proceed by asking another question. In your opinion, who are the most despised?”
Janvier Ayissi coughed uneasily. “All the people have been cheated in one way or another, by both regimes.”
David shook his head in mild exasperation. “That was an evasive answer.”
“And that was a hard judgment coming from you.”
“We are now in the Southwest Province. It is clear that the ethnicities from the Southwest Province, especially those of the administrative districts of Fako and Ndian, and more especially, the Bakweri people, have been cheated the most. The nation’s petroleum comes from their homeland, which is abundantly rich in cash crop and forest wood production as well. But where does the money generated from those commodities go to?”
“As you can see, I do not work in the ministry of economics or the ministry of finance,” Gregoire Abena said with a laugh.
“Of course, it goes to the central government. Look at Limbe, the former Victoria that is renowned for its exotic nature. It is now the petroleum city of Cameroon, but it lags behind in everything. Where does the central government channel the oil revenue to? I don’t think you and I can provide an answer to that question.”
“You aren’t fully aware of the situation in this country,” said Janvier Ayissi.
“I was concerned, that’s all. I think of your potential, I think of your mistakes, I think of your original dreams and what becomes obvious is the fact that you still have a long way to go.”
“We are like the Russian matryoshka. Any attempt to correct the past wrongs would lead to disintegration. That’s something Cameroon can’t afford. Believe me, there are already agitations from Anglophone Cameroonians for a return to the 1961 federation status of an English-speaking West Cameroon on the one hand and a French-speaking East Cameroun on the other hand. A return to that past would be the first step towards secession,” objected Gregoire Abena.
The Albanian shook his head, and then shrugged as if he was indifferent to Gregoire Abena’s opinion about him. “There is a saying in Eastern Europe that it is far easier to break an egg and make an omelet from it than it is to make an egg out of omelet, irrespective of the nostalgia one may have for the egg.”
“What does that mean?” Janvier Ayissi asked.
“What I am trying to say is that the drive for greater unity was erroneous, but a complete return to the past would be hazardous. All you have to do is redress the problems of the minorities, enforce equitable respect for the English and French cultures in Cameroon, build on the dynamic nature of Cameroonians and do a couple of other things as well. That is where your two leaders failed your people.”
“It looks like we are in for a lecture,” commented Gregoire Abena as he chortled.
“His words sound more like those of the opposition,” Janvier Ayissi responded in Ewondo.
David regarded the two men for a moment. “I’m a professional. We may see a right, know it is a right, yet go ahead and kill it because it is our job to do so for the interest of the master. Perhaps it is better for me to do just the job I have been assigned to do, then pack my bags and leave. However, a word or two can prepare my master against any future threat,” he said, emptied his glass of drink, rose to his feet, and then headed for his hotel room.
It would be seconds after he left the two Cameroonian agents that Irene, sitting at a silhouetted corner of the bar, got up too and walked outside into the dark Friday night. She stopped briefly at the bridge a couple of yards away from the entrance to the Limbe Botanic Garden, and then peered at the foaming waters of River Limbe with a brooding look on her face, until the blinking light and the hooting from an approaching taxi stirred her out of her rumination.
Irene took a deep breath and hailed the yellow sedan just as the croaking sound of a toad upstream corrupted the night. She sat in the back seat of the cab wondering whether the amphibian was biding her goodnight or whether it was an omen. She was so preoccupied with her plans that the five-minute drive to the Atlantic Beach Hotel seemed to have lasted less than a minute when the cab driver pulled to a stop in front of its gate.