Recently, the government of Cameroon published the fifth volume of Paul Biya: The People’s Call, 470 pages of motions of support calling on incumbent Biya to run for elections again as the natural candidate. This is intriguing given that cumulatively Biya has been in power since 1975 when he served as Prime Minister before becoming President in 1982. Biya turned 78 last February and if he stays on, he will be 85 or 92 by the time he leaves office, if ever.
First, the CPDM dominated national assembly, struck out presidential term limits just to pave the way for Biya to stand again for presidential elections; then in act two of the same drama, motions of support from all nooks and crannies of Cameroon “begging” Biya not only to run again for presidential elections but in fact to be president for life. What a brilliant campaign strategy for at the end of the day, Biya will claim that he was ready to have a deserved rest but since the “voice of the ‘people’ is the voice of God,” he will in the days ahead, accept the ‘people’s nomination.
Good enough the catalogue of motions of support will serve as documentary evidence that shall be handy when the moment of reckoning comes. This heinous sycophancy should not go unpunished.In the face of such anomaly, the question becomes what is happening to Cameroon and Cameroonians?
Two years after his ascension to power, the Northerners staged a coup that flopped. To prevent such an attempt from happening again, Biya rewarded the coup botchers, “tribalized” the presidential guards and the military and formally privatized the military affording its members relatively comfortable salaries and benefits.
Then in the 1990s riding on the coattails of the tidal wave a vibrant opposition sprung up from the western part of Cameroon with the North West serving as the epicenter. Huge sacrifices were made as lives were lost, limbs broken all in a desperate attempt to initiate and bring about change. The birth of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) that came with messianic promises and failed to deliver not only on the much desired change but also soon became a poster child of the very practices they decried. SDF’s hierarchy resisted every form of opposition, silenced many, flip-flopped and today the SDF is a mere shadow of itself. Disappointment bred frustration and fueled apathy. The golden feature of Cameroon’s politics is widespread indifference and nonchalance.
What is more, elections have not proven to be the magic formula. Change in Cameroon given the prevailing circumstances cannot come through the ballot box. Elections in Cameroon have proven to be a charade as the government has repeatedly failed to demonstrate good faith and good will. Elections are a classical epitome of the decay inherent in the country’s fabric. The corruption and fraud so endemic in Cameroon is amply borne out in elections. Why participate in elections whose results are so obvious even to the unborn, many are wont to ask. Elections in Cameroon are a waste of time and scarce resources and just a smokescreen.
Then there is the psychological engineering going on now as many claim that even with free and fair elections in Cameroon today, Biya is going to win. The warmth with which the teeming crowd that greeted Biya last year when he traveled to Bamenda is touted as a clear indication of the tempo governing the country. The lion man is truly indomitable. After all, there is no viable challenger to beat Biya.
After the 1992 mafia that deprived the SDF of its victory, the SDF spent too much time brooding over this instead of strategizing on how to avoid the mistakes that led to this broad daylight robbery.
One of Biya’s greatest political machinations is his successful implementation of the divide-and-rule policy. He has exploited to great advantage some geographical accidents as that between the North West and South West regions, Bamis and Sawas/Doualas, Betis and Ewondos, Northerners and the Southerners and the list is on. But even more sinister is his auspicious liberalization that makes it easier to register a political party than get a business license. Today, there are more than 200 political parties and counting in Cameroon many of which are mere satellites of the ruling CPDM.
With their backs to the wall, a good number of Cameroonians have thus resigned to fate and destiny. They pray day in and day out for nature to come to their rescue. Many feel disenchanted, in fact powerless and having borne the brunt of the regime’s brutality, cowardice is a preferred option. Live and let live and time will take care of Biya and his cronies is the dominant mood.
It is easy to lay the blame of the current malaise on the footsteps of the Cameroon’s intellectuals. Two respectable university dons serving in the government namely Jacques fame Ndongo and Elvis Ngole Ngole are the official overseers of the mindless sycophancy that has gripped the entire country.
Yet one must take account of the fact that politics in Cameroon has degenerated to survival – a basic human instinct. One would imagine that in the minds of many current power brokers in Cameroon, it is a great risk to let an outsider take over the reins of power. It suffices to look at the anti-corruption charade that has netted some otherwise high-powered officials hitherto considered untouchables. If this can happen when the wood is green, then what will happen when the wood is dry? The oligarchy of septuagenarian and octogenarians who have taken Cameroon hostage live in perpetual fear of the unknown. If power leaves them and they are made to carry their own feces, it sure will be a disaster of epic proportions.
As usual, Cameroonian exceptionalism is part of the trump card Biya is banking on. The only problem with history is that it keeps repeating itself. Ben Ali went, then Mubarak and while Gaddafi fights his last and holds the fort, the rest of the old guards like Biya of Cameroon, Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Obieng Nguema of Equatorial Guinea are yet to get the message. In Cameroon for example, when the call came for Arab spring like revolution, it was vehemently rejected. Cameroonians at home many of whom depend on their daily bread from the Diaspora, lashed out at the Diaspora saying they cannot from the comfort of their safe havens call on innocent civilians to go out and be crushed by a ruthless regime. It was from Facebook to Tahrir Square in Egypt while in Tunisia it was the self-immolation of a frustrated young businessman that took his own life. Not even Facebook, could provide the magic bullet for the Cameroonian puzzle. Is Cameroon in need of cleansing?
Yet in all these, the political genius of Biya lies in what Mwenda Andrew recounts in his article: The Trouble with Democracy in Africa. Mwenda holds that:
“If President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya wants to win the vote of the Akamba, he does not do so by addressing their existential needs over land, jobs and taxes. He makes a deal with a powerful Akamba politician and a few elites. These mobilize their co-ethnics for him.
This deal making among elites has powerful implications on the evolution of functional states. Because if a politician can win votes by appeasing a few elites, that is certainly a more cost-effective strategy than building strong institutions and implementing sound policies to serve the public good.
Poor people attach great importance to expressions of kindness and generosity. To them a good leader is a man who gives gifts directly in form of money and goods like African chiefs of old.
Therefore what goes for democratic competition in most of Africa is a contest among elites to control power; not to change how it is organized, exercised and reproduced. Instead of representing the wishes of the population at large, democratic governments in Africa actually represent the interests of a few elites.”
Prime Minister Philemon Yang proved this right when according to The Post, he rallied his North West cronies and raised 225 million fcfa towards Biya’s reelection even before Biya declares he is running. Will Yang’s 20 million-fcfa guarantee him his position after the election? And for how long?
May be it is time for Cameroonians to borrow a leaf from U.S. President Obama’s 2008 election mantra: Yes we can. Paying lip service to change and waiting for others to do the hard work will only help consolidate the status quo. A prevailing sense of apathy has never served any relevant end. There is no excuse why one man should hold a nation hostage for this long.