Racism, Blackmail, Fraud, and Mercenaries, Rackets raid on a brothel.
For more than half a century, generations of Africans have endured the tyranny and oppression of Mr Béchir Ben Yahmed and his press group; and it is set to continue, because is offspring are hard at work, seeking to consolidate the colonisation of our minds and embezzlement the public purse. What has this press group done for Africans? One may well ask, such is the extent of the self-enrichment that this family has extorted from their fellow Africans. Françafrique’s hatchet man, once described by a Malian politician as a “shit-bag”, has always supported French neo-colonialist policies. Ben Yahmed and Jacques Foccart always stayed in close contact, and Foccart notes in his memoires that he made a point of having dinner with the owner of Jeune Afrique once a month without fail. Such was the complicity between the two men that at his death, Foccart named Ben Yahmed as sole executor of his estate. What can Africans expect from the executor of Foccart’s estate? What can he offer them, apart from keeping them bound to the old colonial structures for as long as possible.
According to Antoine Glaser, “Ben Yahmed became the guardian and, in fact, the commercial agent of the memoirs of the man who, apart from organising mercenary operations like the attempted coup in Benin in 1977, prolonged the French neo-colonial influence over its former colonies, enabling France to retain its interests whilst having officially pulled out.” The Jeune Afrique press group was very much part of Foccart’s network.
Has Ben Yahmed proved he is independent ?
Or has he just managed to convince people that he was a puppet of Françafrique, instructed and exploited, carrying out all kinds of operations, from media terror campaigns to executions, planned in backrooms by Foccart and those who came after him. This is the very source of Jeune Afrique’s power, the core of its power-base; a power that is seen most clearly in its ability to do harm, its determination to slander and insult leaders and heads of state of black African nations. For Ben Yahmed has never been known to accuse Arab heads of state of being dictators or killers, despite the fact that some have created monstrous regimes which are certainly no better than those ‘dictatorships’ that he continually denounces and vilifies in filthy racist language.
“Hand over your cash!” is the group’s motto. African leaders have to pay if they want to be spared, and those who refuse are given the treatment …. So for pity’s sake, pay up for a peaceful life, pay up so that they’ll suck up to you, rather than have them spit their bile at you. This is exactly what you can hear people saying in the corridors of many African presidential offices.
So, on top of this well-organised blackmail operation, every week a further fraud is committed, in that every week the paper is sold twice; first to the advertiser – head of state or politician – , then to us, the humble readers, who waste our time buying it, lining the pockets for over sixty years of a family which has no concern for us other than how best to empty the pockets of our leaders without the slightest misgiving.
Specific examples being the most convincing, let us delve into the sewers of the paper and shine a light on their questionable methods. From Cameroon to Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire to Senegal, everyone is in the same boat; only a ready willingness to dish out the cash to the commercial team at Jeune Afrique explains the difference in their treatment.
In this way, inflammatory reports intended to keep up the pressure rather than to inform, are followed by stories which are really info-mercials, just as the ‘investigative’ journalism is really just advertising sales. Today Jeune Afrique is facing a strong private African press which has become very courageous and dynamic, which is why this family’s venality has forced it into blackmail and threats as they struggle to keep up. As an outright propaganda machine, this weekly cannot accept competition or any refusal to comply with their commercial practices. For example:
A contract worth 650 million FCFA per year enabled Paul Biya’s regime to enjoy favourable treatment. The government paid for four years without complaining, then got fed up, not least because the positive effect of the Jeune Afrique articles was never clearly proven, and the PR benefits are simply a fraud which no-one believes in. Also, despite several attempts to communicate, Yaoundé turned a deaf ear. Meanwhile, in Paris, the Yahmed family was sharpening their knives, and published a report on the fifty key players in Africa, from which, of course, Paul Biya was omitted, and seriously criticised from every point of view.
Gabon has always been a cash cow, paying out some of the biggest sums to the Jeune Afrique group. According to former staff, Bongo kept the weekly paper financially stable on his own. It would be tedious to list forty years of fruitful collaboration, so let us simply mention some of the more recent scandals such as the one revealed in the Lettre du Continent. Through its advertising arm, Difcom, run by Danièle Ben Ahmed, the Jeune Afrique group issued a purchase order addressed to the Gabonese president’s office for an “Ecofinance” guide relating to “Gabon+”. But, according to the same journal, since this date there has been no reply from the Gabonese side. The editor, Marwane Ben Yahmed, son of Ben Yahmed, therefore acted the sales rep, reminding Gabon’s communications minister, Laure Olga Gondjout, of the “long-standing relationship” between Jeune Afrique and former president Omar Bongo Ondimba; a thinly veiled threat.
The Senegalese press regularly rails against the huge sums of money spent to keep Jeune Afrique’s mouth shut. The paper does not get a good press in Senegal, in spite of the fact that many Senegalese have worked for it. There were severe tensions between the Diouf regime and Ben Yahmed due to the coverage of the Senegal-Mauritania crisis in 1989. The early reports in Jeune Afrique constituted a media assassination. The Senegalese leaders got the message; Ben Yahmed had chosen to support the side of his Arab brothers. The Diouf regime panicked and sent a delegation to negotiate at a cost of millions, not for respect for the truth, or some kind of professional ethical code, but rather some balance in the presentation of events. Senegal was well aware of the racism of the weekly paper’s owner, but also of the granting of some fishing rights to some of the group’s executives by Ould Taya’s regime.
The case of Chad can be summed up in the person of President Habré, his battle against Khadafi and the position of Ben Yahmed. The way in which Ben Yahmed, an elderly man of 83, personally and with a fierce hatred, set about destroying the image of Hissein Habré, made even his own colleagues question his attitude.
To start with there was the contract which linked him to Khadafi, signed to accompany and disguise Libya’s expansionist policy towards Chad and the surrounding area. Nonetheless, the millions that the Ben Yahmed family were paid don’t entirely explain thirty years of ceaseless madness. On July 14th 1988, President HH was guest of honour at France’s Bastille Day celebrations, and during his stay in Paris, Ben Yahmed sent him an invitation to visit Jeune Afrique’s head offices. The president declined this invitation, to the great consternation of ‘King Béchir’, who, according to former colleagues, considered himself an equal with all these ‘excellencies’. A glimpse behind the curtain was given by one senior female Senegalese politician, a former minister, who gave an insight into understanding the hatred he felt for HH.
Ben Yahmed was deeply affected by the troubles between Chad and Libya. She explained that “When Ouadi-Doum fell, she was dining with Mr Ben Yahmed and his wife at their home. The French television stations were buzzing with the hot news of the moment which was the humiliating defeat of the powerful Libyan army. Thousands of Libyan soldiers had been taken prisoner by the Chadian national army, all of the Libyan chiefs of staff had been taken prisoner and a few moments later, the screen was filled with pictures of Libyan soldiers in handcuffs, some sitting, some on their knees.
There was a heavy, awkward silence, Ben Yahmed had gone very pale and was visibly shaken, pale and close to tears. Struggling to contain his emotion, indeed, his fury, he felt humiliated to the very depths of his being. In a muted voice, forgetting he was not alone, he stammered, “Blacks have never, never brought Arabs to their knees. How dare they? I will dedicate my life to making them bitterly regret it … “. And so President Hissein Habré has been paying for more than thirty years for having had the courage to stand up to Khadafi, mobilised his people and his army to put a stop to an indescribable barbarity.
Libyan troops spread terror, invaded the country, and committed terrible crimes, admittedly with the active complicity of some Chadian politicians. In spite of the awful reality which the Chadian people had lived through, the fevered, racist mind of Ben Yahmed only registered this last sequence of images, feeding and increasing his hatred and thirst for revenge which he passed on to his sons, already placed ready to continue to drain the money of Africans.
In addition to this racist sense of self-importance, it may be noted that he also does a lot of talking for this Françafrique to which he belongs, which explains his unswerving dedication in the HH affair which enabled him to demand funds from the now cash-rich Deby, who spread it generously among the various special envoys from Jeune Afrique. This seems to have been a waste of money, given his disastrous image both at home and abroad. Poor guy! With Chad’s catastrophic economic performance, bottom of the class in a number of areas, and the failure of Projet Pétrole, the vultures at Jeune Afrique will have plenty to write about for the next thirty years.
Mauritania is covered by François Soudan, who said, “We have roots in this country.” The Jeune Afrique team strongly backed Ould Taya, presenting a very flattering portrait of him, saying, “At sixty-two, Ould Taya is more skilful and more determined than ever,” and warning readers not to underestimate him. Then, when Mohammed El Vall took power in a coup d’etat, he initially rebuffed François Soudan, then changed his mind and got his cheque-book out. This is the kind of about-face described by Hugueux when he said, “when you analyse the content of Jeune Afrique you discover a flexibility of back-bone which would be the envy of the most talented contortionist.” (We recommend that you read the journalist’s work). So the coup d’etat in Mauritania is actually a heaven-sent surprise for Jeune Afrique (and €500,000 in the bank, according to press reports). As for poor Ould Taya, he is now seen as “retiring, distant, and curt, with a blinkered approach to security and heading for a crash.”
For a long time, Juvenal Habiarimana’s regime signed lucrative advertising contracts. Jeune Afrique did some excellent business with the orchestrators of the genocide. Now they are friends with Kagamé, and since a $350,000 contract was agreed, François Soudan heaps praise on Paul Kagamé, who he now describes as having transformed his country into a haven of safety, etc, etc.
So in the world of Jeune Afrique, the compass that guides editorial policy points in the direction that money draws it. Which explains why there are as many real stories that are kept quiet as there are non-stories that are constantly hammered out. It is a perfect illustration of the close relationship between the interests of dictatorships and those of news organisations, as has been so pertinently reported in the Cameroon press. Jeune Afrique journalists puff out their chests in arrogance, they like to think themselves powerful and build up the myth of their independence – nobody is fooled.
Some, however, may not believe that Ben Yahmed is a racist. To find out, let us listen to some of the black African journalists who have worked with him, in some cases for many years, and whom he has fired or forced to quit, or who have simply chosen to leave (Marie Roger BILOA or Blaise Pascal TALLA).
The journalist Jean Baptiste PLACCA clashed with Ben Yahmed over the subject of Nelson Mandela, and more specifically, when Mandela was freed, how the event of the century should be covered. Ben Yahmed refused to send a report to cover the story, which he said was a non-event. It can be covered from Paris, he insisted. His colleague was shocked. King Béchir was laid bare! His ugly side was suddenly exposed to the light of day and Mr Placca left the Jeune Afrique group.
Francis KPATINDE had been a journalist with Jeune Afrique for nineteen years when, one day in November 2004, he attended an editorial meeting at which former French journalist Henri Marque (RTL) was present as a friend and guest of Ben Yahmed who had asked him to sit in on his team’s discussions. Mr Marque announced, without a trace of irony, that “laziness is congenital among Africans.” Outraged, Kpatindé declared the comments to be unacceptable and denounced his boss’s old friend as a racist. The friend then threatened to leave the room if the impertinent black-man did not apologise. “Never!” replied Kpatindé when pressed by his boss, who wanted to keep his good relationship with Henri Marque. Ben Yahmed took up the whip and Kpatindé suffered a series of blows: reprimands, harassment, by-lines cancelled, until the Beninese journalist tendered his resignation.
“Your anger has been growing since the editorial meeting last November, and my reaction to the racist comments about Africans made by one of your colleagues. Instead of supporting me, you seemed to take the side of the offender. Clearly I cannot accept this behaviour and the constant harassment I have endured for the past few months. I therefore reserve the right to pursue the matter of this unacceptable behaviour within an organisation which makes an unbelievable amount of money from Africa.”
And what about the journalist SENNEN who, in the terminal phase of a devastating bowel cancer, was still receiving letters informing him that he was suspended due to prolonged absence!
Or the Senegalese journalist Elimane Fall, cast aside, taken back, rejected again, humiliated a hundred times over. Ben Yahmed’s infernal machine grinds on, and for him, blacks get nothing but the whip. That applies in the professional sphere with his African employees from whom he requires submissive obedience, carrying out orders and keeping their mouths shut and their eyes and heads down.
It’s the colonial concept of the black ‘boy’; manservant, not to say beast of burden. As an illustration: You are a qualified journalist, experienced and hard-working. But Ben Yahmed requires you to transform yourself into a sales rep, collecting purchase orders from African businesses and from politicians in the countries you are sent to report from. If need be, a ridiculously small commission may be offered to justify this substantial and unilateral change to your contract. But you’re not really interested in commissions – you didn’t train to be in sales. As Francis Pained says in his letter from which we quoted earlier: “Let me remind you of a letter in which you offered me a 5% commission, if, in the course of my travels, I brought you back sales contracts and investors. I can also quote from some strange correspondence, to which I never replied, from the manager of the business, asking me to send them a list of potential investors and bond buyers. I can of course provide proof of these allegations”.
Ben Yahmed’s extraordinary imagination
Articles that have been bought and payed for sit next to adverts for businesses and special offer subscriptions, not to mention investment opportunities in the group. Let us be clear that nearly all the African heads of state, many politicians, both opposition and not, and many business leaders have been approached with offers to buy shares – and of course, the deal is that they are not to considered as ordinary shareholders who receive regular profit reports and can legitimately expect to receive dividends from the Ben Yahmed empire. Oh no!
According to the Canard Enchainé, they have gone even further still. When a Tunisian businessman who had, on the instructions of the president, purchased shares in the group and expressed in writing his wish to sell them on in ten years, Ben Yahmed refused and replied, “As you know, the purchase of 263 shares was part of a purchase made by 41 Tunisian companies at the request of the Tunisian president. This purchase was co-ordinated and centralised by the two managing directors of the respective agencies, so for resale, you will have to follow the same procedure in reverse.”
Incredible! Not only do African dictatorships who are friendly towards Ben Yahmed force businesses to buy shares in the Jeune Afrique group to finance their operations, at a total loss because no dividends are ever paid out, but worse still, you can’t sell the shares, even for rock-bottom prices! Can anyone imagine a more dishonourable business practice?
And yet the group is thriving; an extremely profitable business – and how could it be otherwise with its unique managerial methods. This is shown in the fact that none of Ben Yahmed’s sons has considered working in any other sphere of activity – why look elsewhere when you are sitting on a gold-mine and all you have to do is make it into a family business to keep all the profits.
Consider for a second the shake-down that this newspaper is pulling on our poor states: a main item propaganda interview with a President costs around €800,000 depending on what the country can afford – €940,000 for Equatorial Guinea, plus the charges for advertising space at €10,000 per page, with every business in the country required to participate and Jeune Afrique’s special reporter overseeing the operation with the President’s office. Plus the compulsory special subscription for businesses and the purchase of shares which will never pay any dividends.
And then there’s the contender for the Guinness book of records world’s most fiendish idea, which is the life-time subscription to Jeune Afrique, with the special touch that the subscription can be passed on to your children. What next? And don’t forget the Atlases, tourist guides which cost at least €100,000, published in large numbers. Do the maths!
And that’s not all, sometimes Jeune Afrique experts hold your hand to write, for example when President Obiang Nguéma of Equatorial Guinea wrote his book “My Life for my People”!
You can see that our states are being bled dry by those who would teach us lessons. And what do the international institutions who are so concerned about good governance think about this inappropriate expenditure? All this money spent to butter up blackmailers could have been better spent! It is true that the group is just a redistribution of Françafrique, among friends who look after one-another.
What’s more, the weakness of state power in Africa makes PR campaigns more effective, as in a way it is fertile soil.
It is worth noting that Ben Yahmed visits the black continent only rarely, indicating the distance that he needs to keep in order to contain, far from himself, the African leaders he so despises and with whom he does not want to have any kind of familiarity, let alone friendship.
This is the attitude that means that he refuses their medals but accepts their cheques. It is out of the question for King Béchir to lower himself to the level of some negro chieftain. With a few exceptions: he has been known to go begging at the home of President Houphouet and President Bongo when times were hard. Recently, he considered abandoning his shareholder Ouattara to travel to Abidjan to seal a reconciliation with Gbagbo and get his hands on a jackpot payout, but Gbagbo’s demands were considered to be too stringent. In Senegal, he secured a bank loan to be paid into Jeune Afrique’s accounts with the agreement of President Diouf. The Senegalese press often point out to the owner of Jeune Afrique that he has never repaid the loan.
So this is how the media terror that he inspires, his connection with the Oxcart network and then Françafrique has enabled him, in spite of the frequent insults and multiple slanders perpetrated for over 60 years, to avoid any complaint being upheld against him. Astonishing. The only exception is the complaint raised by the lawyers of President Hissein Habré for gross fabrication – a fake interview which the former Chadian President supposedly granted them.
Ben Yahmed claimed that this initiative had been a daring coup, and that he must not let others follow the example. Which is why his lawyers made such a fuss asking other members of the Françafrique networks to make sure they looked after him, as a member of the brotherhood in view of the good and loyal service he had given to serve the interests of France. It is worth taking a moment to consider the ruling. The French judge declared that, “President Habré has not been able to prove that he did not give an interview to Jeune Afrique, and Ben Yahmed has not been able to prove that President Habré gave them an interview!” Everyone understood, because it was clearly down to Jeune Afrique to prove their claim that Hissein Habré had given them an interview. And, as all journalists know, in a case like this, there are letters, correspondence, audio recordings even for a newspaper interview. And Jeune Afrique and Ben Yahmed had nothing. To get them out of trouble, they called in some favours – but it did not go unnoticed.
It’s not the first time Ben Yahmed has had to seek help to get him out of trouble; according to the French press his group owed enormous sums in back-taxes. He asked French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur for a favour which was granted. Same story when he had legal disputes with his staff. It is true that the French press doesn’t take much interest in him, but don’t spare him when the opportunity arises. Nonetheless, the arrogant Ben Yahmed plays his cards close to his chest and adopts a low profile to avoid confrontation with the French press. As we say in Chad, frogs don’t jump in hot water.
Jeune Afrique’s contempt and lack of consideration was clearly shown when Deby coughed up 300 million FCFA to be interviewed and insulted the rebel Chadian forces outrageously, calling them mercenaries.
The rebels’ spokesman and representative Mr Acheikh Ibn Oumar wrote a right to reply, which, according to professional ethics, should have been published in the paper. Jeune Afrique categorically refused this, publishing the right to reply briefly on the paper’s website, and then taking it down again. No indignation on the part of the Ibn Oumar who made no complaint about this ill treatment, indeed, he seemed not to be concerned. It is quite understandable that Ben Yahmed should continue to hold the whip hand, if everyone bows their heads and averts their gaze.
Also relating to Chad and the refusal to publish right to reply sent by Habré’s lawyers, they denounced this attitude and got their right to reply pieces published in other media outlets, provoking the fury of Ben Yahmed and some insults for the editors of the papers which published the right to reply. Gangsterism, when it comes down to it. Apparently, Ben Yahmed believes nobody should be allowed to respond to these insults or exercise a right to reply, and especially not try to respond in some other media outlet. Is this the behaviour of someone who respects others, or someone who behaves like a master towards his servants?
Ben Yahmed’s racism also came out due to what happened with the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. Ben Yahmed is Tunisian, which was enough for him and his children to say “Don’t touch my country!” This is what Zyad Liman, the son of Ben Yahmed’s wife, said during a programme on TV5 regarding a constitutional amendment made by Ben Ali to ensure that he remained president for life: “Firstly, Ben Ali’s regime had the support of most Tunisians, who were not interested in other questions and had a better life than in many other countries. Furthermore, I will not speak poorly of a country which I consider to be my own, even if my mother is from Savoy.” These few words say it all. Ben Yahmed’s son has a strange idea of independent journalism! He is certainly his adoptive father’s son. But let us not be distracted by this diversion. There were also concrete financial ties between Ben Yahmed and Ben Ali.
In an article dated February 17th, French newspaper “Le Monde” accused Ben Yahmed and his team of having “made a considerable contribution to preventing people from finding out the truth about the Ben Ali regime. They never ran stories on him the way they did about Mobutu and Joseph Kabila.” How edifying!
Also from the French press, “Ben Yahmed was subjugated by Leila Ben Ali whom he described in 2009 as an energetic politician, determined and dynamic, she embodies discrete generosity, has a sharp mind, sense of humour and humanity.” In fact, the Canard Enchainé claimed, Jeune Afrique skilfully alternated between sycophantic toadying and a smokescreen of fake criticism. Describing Tunisia’s economic situation in 2009, Jeune Afrique wrote, “The country enjoys social peace. It has been said over and over for twenty years, the list of advances is ever increasing.” Excellent!
The story of Ben Yahmed has shown that a press group is an essential tool for winning contracts of all kinds. Unfortunately, many people have learnt from this, and there is a great deal of competition among businessmen, blackmailers, lawyers etc, hoping to emulate the Jeune Afrique team and get rich with their feet up. Should Ben Yahmed be imitated? The man who, in response to a comment about the lack of editorial policy in his magazine replied, “the graveyards are full of those that had one!” In 2010 the circulation was down to 60,000 copies in France and abroad (how many went unsold?), which constitutes plummeting sales and a consistent loss of readership and credibility. The rag is no longer selling, and it is about time!
Some former staff of the weekly have nicknamed Ben Yahmed ‘the guru’, comparing him with a king, with his own entourage of courtiers, jesters and slaves. Nonetheless, the man himself with his wrinkled skin covered in a million lines, carries the scars of so many years, so many abuses of power, compromises, betrayals, drawn indelibly on his skin.
It’s time to say ‘Stop – no more’. To stop spending our devalued CFA on enriching a family which has built a colossal fortune by exploiting us shamelessly, whilst showing its utter disdain. Its time for young Africans to ask themselves what they can expect from a man who, with all his political experience, publicly claimed that Nelson Mandela’s release from prison was not an event of sufficient importance to send a single reporter.
The best reaction to this racist attitude is to stop rewarding it. To recognise that his greed for our money has brought him power and made him arrogant, but also that our submissive attitude has degraded us.
As Lapham said, Ben Yahmed’s group “learns to react with the quick readiness of an English butler who brings the Prince of Wales his buttered toast.” Well, we are the princes! So, we can choose to fire or change our butlers, can’t we?
The Editors – Zoomtchad.com