Grégoire Owona (born 1950) is a Cameroonian politician who has served in the government of Cameroon as Minister of Labor and Social Security since December 2011. He previously served as Minister-Delegate at the Presidency for Relations with the Assemblies from 1997 to 2011, and he has also been Deputy Secretary-General of the Central Committee of the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (RDPC) since 1992.
Originally from Ngomezap in Centre Province, Owona was first elected as a municipal councillor in Douala in 1987. He was subsequently elected to the National Assembly in the 1988 parliamentary election as an RDPC candidate in Littoral Province, and he served in the National Assembly from 1988 to 1992; during that time, he was Rapporteur-General of the National Assembly's Finance Commission.
At the time of the March 1992 parliamentary election, Owona said that the RDPC's problem "lies in winning by too great a margin; we would be taken for cheats." He became Deputy Secretary-General of the RDPC Central Committee in July 1992. Following the October 1992 presidential election, in which President Paul Biya was re-elected, Owona criticized what he saw as the excesses of the press: "The current trend in Cameroon is to resort to invective ... and all those who slander and denounce would like the public to see them as heroes, threatened and persecuted." Owona was part of the delegation sent to the January 1993 inauguration of United States President Bill Clinton.
As President of the Technical Committee charged with drafting a new constitution, Owona was considered the architect of the draft. On 12 June 1993, he announced that the second draft had been completed. He was also Vice-President of the National Committee of Human Rights and Freedoms during the 1990s.
Owona was appointed as Minister-Delegate at the Presidency for Relations with the Assemblies on 7 December 1997. He remained on the National Committee of Human Rights and Freedoms after his appointment to the government, and some in the opposition pointed to that as evidence of the Committee's lack of impartiality.
Following Biya's appointment of the members of the National Elections Observatory (NEO) on 10 October 2001, Owona, speaking on behalf of the RDPC, praised Biya's choices as wise and called on the members of the NEO to justify the confidence that was placed in them.
Owona denied claims that the Anglophone population was politically marginalized in a January 2003 CNN report, arguing that Anglophones had appropriate representation in the nation's political structures and observing that the Prime Minister was an Anglophone. In March 2003, after Biya visited the United States and met with its President, George W. Bush, at the time of that country's invasion of Iraq, Owona defended the visit, stressing that Biya was working to advance Cameroon's interests. He said that the visit should not be perceived as marking a weakening of Cameroon's relationship with France and that it did not indicate an endorsement of the invasion.
Owona and RDPC Secretary-General Joseph Charles Doumba had a poor relationship; by 2003 they had reportedly not been on speaking terms for years, and Biya was said to primarily work with Owona, while largely ignoring Doumba, who was in poor health.
2006 defamation suit
After the newspapers L'Anecdote and Nouvelles d'Afrique—as part of an effort to identify prominent individuals guilty of "deviant behavior"—reported that Owona and about 50 others were homosexuals, he filed a defamation suit in February 2006, along with two doctors who were also identified as homosexual. Although homosexuality was illegal in Cameroon, President Biya said that the newspapers involved in "outing" were acting irresponsibly by basing their reports on rumors and invading the privacy of individuals.
Defending his newspaper in court on 28 February 2006, Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga, the editor of L'Anecdote, presented as evidence an audio recording in which an unidentified person asserted that Owona was guilty of homosexual acts and promised that further evidence was forthcoming. Owona's lawyers scorned the defense's evidence and argued that any responsible journalist would already have meaningful evidence prepared, as they would have used that same evidence in producing their reports. Amougou Belinga acknowledged under questioning that the evidence against Owona was not conclusive but said that his newspaper had only stated that Owona was suspected of homosexuality, rather than asserting it outright. Taking the stand, Owona denied that he had ever engaged in homosexuality and claimed that his reputation had suffered as a result of the newspaper's report. Emphasizing that Owona was interested in restoring his reputation and not in receiving monetary compensation, his lawyers requested only a single CFA franc in symbolic damages. In early March 2006, the judge ruled that Amougou Belinga was guilty of defamation and sentenced him to a four-month prison term; he also ordered Amougou Belinga to pay a fine of one million CFA francs, as well as a single CFA franc to Owona.
Events since 2006
Following the February 2006 arrest of several prominent officials—including Alphonse Siyam Siwé, the Minister of Energy and Water—for alleged corruption, Owona said that the arrests had caused some sadness but stressed the RDPC's firm support for Biya's actions.
In response to claims in the press that Biya's mandate as National President of the RDPC had expired, Owona dismissed the claims in an interview with CRTV in early July 2006; he said that Biya's mandate had already been renewed by the RDPC Political Bureau and that an extraordinary party congress would not necessarily be held for that purpose. However, Biya scheduled an extraordinary congress to be held on 21 July soon after Owona gave his interview, and Owona reportedly felt embarrassed that Biya had effectively contradicted his own argument. Due to RDPC Secretary-General Doumba's health problems, which became particularly evident when he spoke at the 2006 extraordinary congress, Owona largely managed party affairs until Biya appointed René Sadi to succeed Doumba on 4 April 2007. On that occasion, Biya also retained Owona in his post as Deputy Secretary-General.
In November 2007, Owona described the government's 2008 budget, which was only 1.1% larger than the 2007 budget, as "realistic", arguing that additional money should not be spent unless there were accomplishments to show that it would be put to good use. Owona chaired the RDPC commission responsible for overseeing events related to the RDPC's 24th anniversary celebrations in 2009.
- "Owona Grégoire", Cameroun: Les Hommes de Pouvoir, number 7, Africa Intelligence, 17 September 2002 (French).
- Kini Nsom, "Biya Overhauls CPDM Machinery, Appoints New SG", The Post (Cameroon), 10 April 2007.
- "Grégoire Owona : L'ambition technologique en mouvement", RDPC website (French).
- West Africa, volume 2,002 (1992), page 459.
- Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Africa's Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging (2005), page 187.
- Gerald Ndikum, "Gregoire Owona defends Biya’s White House visit, says it was in Cameroon’s best interests", The Herald (Cameroon), 29 March 2003.
- Africa Research Bulletin, Volume 30 (1993), page 11,034.
- Nantang Jua, "Problematizing a Transition: The Power Elite, the State, and Transition Politics in Cameroon", in Political Liberalization and Democratization in Africa (2003), ed. Julius Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere and John Mukum Mbaku, page 98.
- Protectors or Pretenders?: Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa (2001), Human Rights Watch, page 120.
- "Gouvernement du 07/12/1997", Cameroon government website (French).
- "Les membres de l'ONEL prêtent serment devant la cour suprême", Panapress, 26 October 2001 (French).
- Inside Africa, CNN transcript, 4 January 2003.
- Asong Ndifor, "CPDM in crisis: Has Charles Doumba resigned ?", The Herald (Cameroon), 25 May 2003.
- "Cameroon papers sued for 'outing'", BBC News, 15 February 2006.
- Clovis Atatah and Chantal-Fleur Skaehr, "Prosecution Turns The Heat On L'Anecdote Publisher", The Post (Cameroon), 2 March 2006.
- "Jail term for Cameroon gay libel", BBC News, 3 March 2006.
- "Paul Biya's anti-corruption drive gains support", Panapress, 28 February 2006.
- Kini Nsom, "Biya Derides CPDM Scribe, Convenes Congress", The Post (Cameroon), 10 July 2006.
- "Le gouvernement camerounais soumet à l’Assemlée un budget de 2.275 milliards de FCFA pour 2008", African Press Agency, 16 November 2007 (French).
- Ericien Pascal Nguiamba, "Cameroun: Le parti au pouvoir en fête", Journal du Cameroun website, 23 March 2009 (French).
- "Cameroun : liste des nouveaux membres du gouvernement", Xinhua, 10 December 2011 (French).