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Presidential Elections in Cameroon: Panel discussion at Columbia University by Lambert Mbom.

Panelists:

Ahead of last Sunday’s presidential elections in Cameroon, Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies last week launched its series on elections in Africa with a panel discussion on Cameroon: Is change possible in Cameroon?

“Elections are becoming key moments in Africa – moments of conflict and also of opportunity. With crucial elections coming up in Cameroon, Senegal, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, it was critical to discuss the organization of power in Africa,” said Professor Mamadou Diouf, the head of the institute, in his opening remarks. “Beyond the process of democratization, the question inevitably remains: Which elections for Africa? Do we need direct universal suffrage for presidential elections or should we organize elections which are indirect? This is linked directly to decentralization – the question of the creation of local powers. The key element of all discussions going on is the big issue of the ‘big man.’ The idea of a big man is a constant of African history including moments of today when we talk of democratization”

Paul Biya, president of Cameroon is one of such big men.

The star-studded panel included two French citizens with expertise in Cameroon: Fanny Pigeuad, who is a journalist with Agence France-Presse and former correspondent for Cameroon, and Dominique Malaquias, a writer, scholar and currently senior researcher at the Centre d’Etudes des Mondes Africains. They were joined by two Cameroonian professors: Dickson Eyoh, political scientist and associate professor at the University of Toronto,Canada and Patrice Nganang, associate professor of comparative literary and cultural studies at Stonybrook University in New York.

The panel members concluded that elections are not the magic wand in the political process in Cameroon. Pigeaud, the journalist, was quite pessimistic about the possibility of change in Cameroon, noting that even though people are focused on ousting the current president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, the greater problem is with the political system which she thinks is difficult to change.

Malaquais, the senior researcher, borrowed President Biya’s “sans objet” response to Cameroonians’ demand for a national conference in the 1990s to describe Sunday’s elections. Many of her friends and acquaintances have told her that elections in Cameroon are pointless, useless and a big joke.

“It is a complete waste of time. Whether people come to vote or not, it will be rigged. The opposition is so fractured,” Malaquais said. “The whole thing is a farce. Unfortunately this farce is not amusing, and voting is a dangerous sport. Given that President Biya often acts with complete impunity, the elections are not only ‘sans objet’ but in fact a non-object.”

Nganang of Stonybrook University was more optimistic and saw in the Arab Spring, promises of a changing system especially with francophone Africa.“Cameroon is a tragedy with its own logic. Yet, just as with Tunisia in 2011, there are signs of hope,” he said.

Drawing from her newly published book, “Au Cameroun du Paul Biya,” which is unofficially banned in Cameroon, Pigeuad explained that Biya has stayed in power for close to 30 years thanks in large part to his extensive use of state violence. Biya inherited this crucial tool from Ahmadou Ahidjo, the first president of Cameroon, and has used it successfully to quell any form of opposition and to intimidate any prospective contenders to power, she said.

Elaborating on this, Malaquais pointed out that a clear sign of the regime’s use of violence and fear would be found in the sheer number of police officers and soldiers that would be deployed on the election day at polling stations.

“This would be a reminder of that bloody week in February 2008 when 100 people were killed and 1,500 jailed over an event intimately related to this election – constitutional amendment,” Malaquais added.

If officers and soldiers are ordered to turn out and use force, it will also be a painful reminder of the extrajudicial killings of more than 1,000 Cameroonians in Douala eight years ago by the infamous Operational Command – a special military squad created by the government and the intense violence of the 1990s during the “Villes Mortes.” – operation ghost towns launched by the opposition.

“These reminders of state violence are least pernicious. It is one thing to abstain from voting because one is legitimately concerned about process, and it is another thing to refuse to vote for fear of safety,” she said.

During the Q & A portion of the discussion, Professor Diouf, remarked that Cameroon has historically been seen as one of the most violent regimes in the history of Africa.”

A second reason for President Biya’s hegemony is the successful implementation of the French-colonial “divide-and-rule” policy, which Pigeuad expressed as “divisez pour mieux regner,” loosely translated as “divide in order to rule better.” Biya has effectively used ethnic identities to maintain his stranglehold on the people.

Pigeaud also said that Biya’s dominance is a result of a power vacuum deliberately created by Biya whereby critical institutions such as the senate and constitutional council, both mandated by Cameroon’s 1996 Constitution are yet to see the light of day.

Of course, talk of Cameroon politics is incomplete without referencing corruption. Pigeaud noted that Biya has been adept in fomenting corruption to enthrone himself.

“Fraud has a deeper context – electoral fraud is a manifestation of the normalization of corruption,” said Eyoh of the University of Toronto. He explained this in terms of the “intense privatization of the state” so much so that those who hold political office do so in an effective exchange for bringing their people along. “You can use corruption. You can eat from the state, but the cost is to bring your people along,” Eyoh added.

In Cameroon, since the state remains key to resources for both public and private sectors, there is enormous pressure on elites to toe the line. Breaking away from the regime is a kiss of death. With surging poverty rates, corruption is bound to loom large.

According to Eyoh, there is widespread disenchantment with the regime in Cameroon, yet this is not translated into any viable form of opposition because of corruption.

The French journalist, Pigeaud, without mincing words, laid the blame for the Cameroonian disaster on the feet of the French administration. According to her, Biya is a puppet of the French regime used to serve the economic interests of France.

Nganang amplified this role of the French by saying, “There is something wicked about the French Constitution that makes it difficult for opposition parties to break through.” This is the same constitution that Cameroon adopted in 1958.”

In seeking the causes of the Cameroonian dilemma, Eyoh pointed to the highly centralized nature of Cameroon’s political system exemplified by former President Ahidjo’s personal selection of Paul Biya for president.

He then indicated that a correct reading of the political situation in Cameroon must look to two watershed moments in the political history, namely the 1984 failed coup d’etat and the 1990 democratization process driven mainly by the opposition.

With the 1984 failed coup attempt, Biya’s sole priority became the protection of the incumbency at all costs. The key mechanism he used “is the growing politicization of bureaucracy and the careful manipulation of ethnic differences, such as Prime Ministry,” said Eyoh. Regime survival is intensified.

The development of mass political power in the 1990s led to the creation of the Social Democratic Front (SDF). This opposition party was a credible national alternative and injected fresh steam into the political system. Prior to this, one could get regional representation without being actively involved, but in the ‘90s all this changed. Now politicians needed to prove that they could broker regional support. The prominence of the SDF was short-lived and soon it began to self-destruct.

As a result, “Cameroonians are suffering from exhaustion,” Malaquias said. “State-sponsored repression, privatization of the state, disastrous unemployment and basic rights have been under attack for so long. This exhaustion is sought and encouraged; the complete sell-out of the opposition compounds the situation further.”

For Nganang then the question was what needs to be done to awaken the Cameroonian citizenry? Drawing from the Obama campaign with its historic grassroots mobilization in which he participated, Nganang revealed that in preparation for the elections, he had partnered with Cameroon Obosso a civil society organization in Cameroon together with some opposition parties to educate the masses. They had launched a campaign, titled, “9-10-11: Don’t Touch My Vote,” dedicated to educating Cameroonians on civic responsibility and training election monitors. The project which is more long term launched on Sept. 7 and had already taken place in six provinces in Cameroon.

In order to fight the blanket immunity president Paul Biya had been given by the new constitution, Nganang also indicated he had launched a campaign to have Biya indicted for crimes against humanity given all that brutality and killing he had orchestrated over the years.

With elections now over and the counting going on, one cannot help but appeal to every Cameroonian to take the challenge put forth by Malaquais: “It will be difficult to change the status quo given that Cameroon’s problems go deep in breadth and depth, and it will take decades to make a dent. But the opposition mantra, “Biya must go,” is spot-on. This is self-evident. Elections are just the tip of iceberg, and we need to be paying attention to the iceberg.”

Columbia University’s series on elections in Africa will continue throughout the year with talks on DRC, Senegal and Mali. It will focus on how to oust dictators in countries like Cameroon and DRC and how to build on gains made in burgeoning democracies like Senegal and Mali, according to organizers.

Etienne Smith, research scholar with Columbia University’s committee on Global Thought who moderated the panel gave a context to the discussion noting that “Cameroon presents an interesting paradigm for thinking and evaluating what democracy in post colonial Africa looks like. The analysis was fundamental for thinking through what will happen one month after in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

After going in as separate candidates, the opposition is surprisingly coming together to call for a complete annulment of the elections on grounds that they were fraught with irregularities. Results will be published by the Supreme Court whose members are appointed by the incumbent.

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Are Cameroonians politically cursed, under a spell or just naive? by Lambert Mbom

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.

Five Endearing Lessons from the Egyptian Revolution Indispensable to a Cameroonian styled liberation – Part II by Lambert Mbom.

The botched April 6, 1984 coup provides an essential key to unlock the mystery of a revolution in Cameroon. Cell phones were inexistent then in Cameroon. Even the common TV was a luxury very few could afford. Communication was mainly by radio and landlines (also a rare commodity).

Were any of those brutally executed 1984 coup plotters to rise up today, they would be shocked back into their graves by the sheer range of communications revolution that has occurred.

Let us return to the Egyptian paradigm. Many have pointed to the social media as a central piece of the revolution. Others have been quick to point out too that, these were tools put into effective use by change-hungry activists in Egypt. Facebook served as an enabling environment where months of planning on the virtual space empowered effective coordination necessary to transform national rage to national outrage, provide impetus and serve as a critical synergy point for strategy.

Even before Egypt, American politics was revolutionized by the 2008 Obama campaign with an aggressive online presence which translated into dollar amounts and votes – two crucial ingredients for the much trumpeted change.

Yet before we romanticize about the social media tools, one must repeat that Cameroon is not Egypt and in many ways Cameroonian exceptionalism is worth stressing even if ad nauseam. Egypt is quite a digitalized country with an impressive access to internet and the phone. Comparatively, Cameroon is still waking up to this reality. I was quite ecstatic, when a relation of mine, who is an attorney, sent me an email informing me that he was now “wired” as he was writing to me from the privacy of his living room, in Bambui – a village in the outskirts of Bamenda, the provincial capital of the North West.

There is no doubt that internet usage is popular in Cameroon in urban areas. One cannot fail to note that for a while now, young people have been very creative in their use of the internet, either to dupe unsuspecting westerners or amorous adventures: web dating. Some have found husbands and wives online.

The time has come for these personal gains to be transcended and translated into a national or if you prefer collective bonus.

One great communication asset is the cell phone. It is almost criminal, one could say, for anyone not to have a cell phone in Cameroon. If 60% of Cameroon’s population is youthful, what a bonus given the popularity of communication tools among this age bracket.

Having learnt the lessons from Egypt, any revolutionaries in Cameroon must be prepared to circumvent government’s Machiavellian style shut down of internet and cell phone communication in the event of an uprising.

Christophe Dongmo, in an article on The Army Wing of April 6, 1984 revealed that “The reason that was widely circulated to justify the failure of the coup in the public mindset was the failure of strategic telecommunications. In the early times of the coup, Major Benai Mpecke of the loyalist forces took control of the Mount Mbankolo radio transmission office. Though rebels managed to enter and seized the central office of Radio Cameroon and held its personnel hostage, their victory message to the nation did not go through the waves because a technician willingly disconnected transmission cables at the Soa highwaves station. As a result, the message was heard only in Yaounde. One wonders whether the outcome of the coup would have been different should the alleged message have gone through.”

One cannot fail to recognize that the recent move by the government of Cameroon to shut off twitter is a clear indicator of the challenges an Egyptian typed communication would face especially if you factor in the electricity quagmire with frequent power cuts the order of business. There is need for a social media formula for the Cameroonian equation.

The failure by social media enthusiasts to gain traction for their “Biya must go” campaign failed because of proper planning.

Planning: It must never be forgotten that the Egyptian revolution did not start in January but rather exploded it. January 2011 was rather a watershed moment.

One would agree that two extremes to be eschewed are represented in the sayings: Failing to plan is planning to fail and only fools rush where angels fear to tread; while one must with the same breath admit that it is by doing and daring that the Romans built Rome and not the cowardice some call caution. Many of us have become prophets after the event.

Wanting to ride on the coattails of the revolutions galore much in vogue is a smart move; yet one must figure the who, what, how to name but these. It is critical that with such a venture, the goal be clarified. In line with a celebrated saying, one must first of all determine where one is going to and then one will better determine the means.

One thing that is striking about the Egyptian Facebook experiment is that the administrators for this page were anonymous: Admin 1 & Admin 2. Even though largely to protect their identities, clearly in display was the selflessness of veritable leadership.

Some analysts have hinted that though not peculiar to the Cameroonian population, leadership or the want of it is the quintessential curse of many an African group. A primary issue worth pointing to is the mushrooming of different facebook for a similar cause. This in itself is not a bad idea given that if one is shut down then the others can continue. Yet this can only be so, if there is a proper coordination between the different fora which was clearly not the case. Unhealthy competition with each fighting to be in charge seems to have been an underlying craving.

Many more rulers than leaders suddenly emerge and given that many of us have not learnt to disagree without being disagreeable, schisms quickly emerge. It is either my way or the highway; Questions like who are you, what is your lineage? From which tribe are? What is your academic qualification? How much do you earn? Lie buried in our subconscious and play tricks with us or we consciously play them out and before we know it, such a salutary initiative dies even before it takes off.

One must admit that there are lots of challenges relative to the Cameroonian experiment. One which became annoyingly evident is that those at home look at those abroad with a lot of skepticism and I dare say envy. While those in the diaspora look at those back home at best condescendingly. Without the boots on the ground the project is sure to collapse. This applies also to the technological wherewithal and money from abroad. When we get these two to the drawing board, then the plan begins.

No one can deny that the failure of the April 6 coup hinged to a very large extent not on lack of planning but rather on poor planning. If history is anything to go by, then one has to look back at why other similar revolutions in Cameroon have failed. In the planning process, it becomes critical to seek answers to the questions: why did the April 6 coup fail? Why did the 1991 civil disobedience take off with so much steam and yet end in a fiasco? Or if you care, why has the vibrant SDF experiment lost its steam? One may want to borrow a leaf from the SCNC’s failed attempt to wean southern Cameroons from La Republique. Even just by limiting one’s self to the 2008 strikes, there would be enough to guide one to chart the course for a better action.

Or conversely, it is incumbent to “study” successful political ventures such as the bid for the GCE Board.
The value of such studies lies in the fact that it opens up vistas into the political maturity, peculiarities of the environment and affords one a rare insight into the political topography one needs to deal with. This is crucial in the development of a worthwhile strategy.

The point here is that any mindless attempt to replicate successful operations such as the Egyptian will not cut it. Political acculturation/inculturation is not only necessary but indispensable.

We must acknowledge that we are dealing with a very sophisticated opponent and need a lot of tact. Clearly, it is this failure to plan adequately that led to the lackluster performance last February. We can and must do better.

Daredevil Spirit:The spirit of commitment, courage and bravado led the Egyptians to success. The 30-year-old Ghonim, had a good job and a very promising future with two kids and a wife. He staked all these and was prepared to die to ensure the realization of the project. This spirit of sacrifice that has risen beyond personal ambitions and placed at the service of the common good is crucial. It is not enough to be disenchanted and enraged; unless this is translated into a sworn willingness to change the status quo which willingness is imbued with that sacrificial fervor it withers off as a pie in the sky. Given the recent outcome of the failed protests, it would be presumptuous to believe that Cameroonians truly want change. Cameroonians want change only if some other persons champion it or deliver it to them on a golden plate. It begs the question of whether Cameroonians are cowards or peace mongers.
Post Script:
On April 6, 1984, I was in primary school and hardly understood the meaning and the implications of this coup d’état. This coup changed the geopolitics of Cameroon in several ways. It is an unpardonable oversight to sweep this key event under the rug and fail to learn the lessons for future endeavors. Historical precedents serve as an entry point worth pondering. We cannot continue doing the same thing and expect different results.

The spirit of the Egyptian military in spite of its many drawbacks is one worth praising. The violence of the overzealous Egyptian police whose impunity and arrogance provided the impetus for the revolution was countered by a tempered Egyptian army which restrained itself even in the face of such provocation. This is a lesson for African armies.

The military in Cameroon are in the pockets of the commander-in-chief. This is why in spite of the general outcry by Cameroonians, they are comfortable. That a coup has not taken place in Cameroon is not the function of a disciplined military but rather because they are well catered for, you cannot bite the finger that feeds you.

The problems plaguing the military in Cameroon epitomize the Cameroonian pathology defined by indiscipline, celebrated tribalism, alcoholism and sycophancy. The Egyptian army for good reason broke its oath and instead of protecting one man against a nation, stood for the protection of national institutions and let the events run their course.

The daredevil spirit of the Egyptian revolutionaries was complemented by that of the Egyptian military. A Tiananmen Square-like bloodbath was averted thanks to the restraint of the military. The common good was protected against the whimsical and self-aggrandizing agenda of a despot. The Cameroonian military is not made up of some foreigners but our siblings.

Five Endearing Lessons from the Egyptian Revolution Indispensable to a Cameroonian styled liberation – Part 1. By Lambert Mbom

Cameroon is not Egypt in so many ways. One of these ways is evident in the history of Egypt vs. Cameroon soccer debacle which shows a dominance of the pharaohs over the now “domitable” lions. In 2006, the pharaohs of Egypt prevented the lions of Cameroon from clinching a berth at the World Cup. Then in 2008 they beat Cameroon at the African Nations’ Cup finals; a feat they repeated in 2010. The Lions must now ride on the shoulders of the Pharaohs.

Egypt’s recent classical epic in political change provides lessons that political pundits will be busy with for a long time. One could point to five pillars from Egypt’s newly constructed political pyramid, which one could loosely recommend as a recipe for any meaningful political change such as the momentous one that unfolded before our eyes. Propitious timing, Youthful exuberance, social media tools, planning and the daredevil cum resilient spirit are the hinges around which the revolution rotated.

Opportune Moment:
My supervisors have often asked me whether it is better just to get the work done or to get the work done on time. The concept of selling after the market, which translates, to coming to the market when it is closed, captures the point.

The ingredients for the Egyptian uprising include a crippling unemployment rate especially among the youth and a suffocating economy with a few rich growing richer and the majority of the poor scavenging and scouring for their daily bread. As someone once remarked, Egyptians no longer prayed for their daily bread but in fact prayed: Give us today. Bread became a luxury.

Political frustration loomed large with a brutal dictatorship that for 360 months repressed Egyptians to depressive levels. With no plans afoot to effect meaningful change and the stage rather being set for a Mubarakian dynasty with the son as heir to the throne, the time had come for Egyptians to take back their lives. These souped up the necessity for change. Egyptians had been stretched to breaking point.

In a recent interview with Cameroonian Presidential wannabe, Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, he talked about the “tipping point” noting that many African countries often miss to take advantage of the tipping point.

Egypt had undoubtedly reached its tipping point. Egyptians had come to the point when they simply said enough is enough. It is the point that stokes love of change to levels of paroxysm. Their anger had morphed into rage. The engine had been gathering steam and like the space shuttle, countdown was already in session. The Tunisian revolt provided the example and requisite catalyst.

It is significantly revealing that Muslims with such huge doses of stoicism broke out of their cocoons and are making history with the revolutionary fervor.

Cameroon missed its opportunity in 1992 with the power to the people wave; again in 2008 with those strikes. Cameroon it would seem has another opportunity in 2011. Calls for “Biya must go” made the rounds online and failed to be translated into reality on the grounds. There are many reasons for this but one that I find compelling is in the following analysis a fellow alumnus made on one of our online fora:

Our families and friends back home are suffering but they are not yet desperate. They want political change but they can still eat, chase skirts at random, consume beer, whiskey, champagne and worst of all…Western Union and Moneygram transactions are helping to ease life back home. We all know that desperate situations call for desperate actions and to me, there is suffering in Cameroon but the people are not yet desperate because there are still too many distractions. If you take away some of those things that make them forget the “temporary” suffering, believe me they will react differently. In Cameroon it is all about instant gratification and people do NOT even want to think about the concrete stuff which will engender and perpetuate a better society.

Cameroon might share with Egypt hegemonic dictatorship of a ruthless despot 28 years and counting but with those bars, “circuits” still in business and thriving, change remains a pie in the sky. Anger, frustration and desperation have not reached boiling pots and the desired deluge is delusional at best.

Or could it rather be that Cameroonians are just simply peace mongers? I find it very hard to make this claim and would rather contend that we are bunch of cowards and toothless bull dogs ranting under our pillows and talking to ourselves.

Riding on the tidal waves of the Egyptian blitzkrieg is mandatory if meaningful change in Cameroon to cease being a dream Cameroonians only pay lip service to. The wind of change blowing from the North should not pass us by.

Should Cameroonians wait until elections when the seeds will be ripe or do we strike now with the raging tidal wave is a dilemma we need to consult the national witchdoctor to unravel. Cameroonians must read the signs of the times and join the train before it leaves the stations. Is this not the endearing lesson of the saying:let the dead bury the dead?

Youth in Transition:
That the Egyptian revolution was a skillful mastermind of the youth of Egypt is unquestionable. As to who a youth is, depends on whom you are talking to. I am reminded of my 59 years’ old friend who takes offence at me when I remind him, he will soon be a senior citizen at 60. “I’m young,” he charges back.

When in our teens, we often craved after the stentorian voice, hairy chin and chest as proof we are aging. We longed for the time we will be 30 and 40. Now in our “tees”, we do all in our power to look young from birth certificate mutations, through hair growing and hair darkening gels to name but these. Little wonder then that society constantly fights to push up the age of youthfulness. Some of us have aged and instead of leveraging childlikeness are painfully stuck on childish ways and so there is some truth to the fact that we have become a nation of “overgrown babies.”

No matter where you fall, one thing is clear: the bunch of old vanguards with the responsibility of managing state business have institutionalized lunacy and senility as the order of business. Fifty years post independence, Cameroonian politicians and leaders have successfully shut young people out. One will not be wrong to surmise there has been in place a systematic process of brainwashing.

Have we not heard that age is just a number and youthfulness is a quality of the mind? Ask any woman how old she is and if you get a straight answer then you are lucky.

From here, it became fashionable to hear eligible retirees shout that today’s youths are tomorrow’s leaders while at the same time maintaining that procrastination is the thief of time. How to reconcile this with the charge to “make hay while the sun shines” is just mind-boggling.

The third step in this massive fraud by fraudulent leaders is their of the magic formula of respect for elders. This culture so jealously guarded served as a smokescreen. Hence, any attempt to question the system is viewed as insubordination and such an individual tagged as disrespectful. It is an abomination for a young person to question the workings of the system given that the young are only to be seen and never heard.

Then the annoying issue of experience that has left many underemployed or unemployed. How often have we been told that what an old man can see seating down, a young man on top of the highest mountains cannot. Blindly, we have been led down one dark alley and today are on the cusp of a disaster.

Another sorry tale is in the “first come, first serve” principle which became standard practice at parties. One imagined that the old given their supposed measured appetites would think of those coming after them and eat with respect. This was not the case as they descended with rapacious and gluttonous appetites that by the time the young people get to the table, the waiters are already cleaning the dishes with no crumbs even.

Cameroonian youth rightfully respected their leaders keeping quiet and shying away from holding their feet to the fire. We have let them eat first and they have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that they are “chop broke pot.” Sworn to depleting the treasury, these diaper-wearing politicians marked out politics as the exclusive turf for the old “retired or retiring.” Cameroon like most African countries is under the spell of the “cult of the old” bent on robbing the young of any future.

Many cringe at drawing examples especially in politics from Western democracies that are at the source of most of the woes of the African system. Current US Vice President, Joe Biden became Senator at the age of 29. This was in 1972. Imagine the gerontocrats in Africa at the beck and call of 45 years’ old David Cameron of the UK, 46 years’ old Medvedev of Russia, 50 years’ old President Barack Obama of the US, and 56 years’ old Sarkozy of France. How old is the youngest minister in Cameroon and how young is the oldest Cameroonian minister? The average age of Cameroonian ministers is sadly above the retirement age in Cameroon.

The revolution in Egypt was micromanaged by an exuberant youthful population under the inspiration aegis of Wael Ghonim, 30 years old Google exec and father of two children. The self-immolation by the 27 year old Tunisian Bouazizi, the graduate vegetable seller set off the revolution. In Fareed Zakaria’s words, “The central, underlying feature of the Middle East’s crisis is a massive youth bulge.” The question in the Cameroonian setting is then who is our own Ghonim? At 30, I must personally confess that I was so strung to my parents’ apron strings with no signs of being weaned in sight. Given the preceding circumstances, it is difficult to say any would rise up.

Permit me highlight here two other problems with Cameroonian youth. We live under the spell of the “bush falling syndrome.” The grass looks greener outside the fence and I am guilty of this myself. The reigning philosophy is that change can and will only come from outside. This is why the lines at European and US embassies continue to be long. We have become a bunch of cowards who have surrendered our destiny to a bunch of monsters.

It has not always been this way. The heydays of the famous “Parlement” of then University of Yaounde most of whose leaders are today crying wolf from Europe and America; the students’ union of the university of Buea that has been anathematized and in its place God knows what, a bunch of timid hand clappers and praise singers enthroned. Well with the history of recriminations and deaths in the university community, a true culture of education has finally been imbibed where graduation at all cost is supreme even with the soaring rate of unemployment.

The time has come when like the biblical prodigal son we the youth must wake up and make a demand of our own share of the inheritance. We must take the lead or perish.

Dr Christopher Fomunyoh’s Perspectives on a Host of Issues. By Lambert Mbom.

Where were you when news broke of the military takeover of Egypt and the ouster of Mubarak on Friday Feb 11, 2011? Or rather, where did you celebrate when the curtain closed over the Mubarak drama?

I had the rare privilege to get two hours of quality time with political guru – Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, of the National Democratic Institute. It took me at least two months to get this time given the busy nature of Dr Fomunyoh’s schedule. He is one heck of a busy man. If he is not training election observers, he is monitoring elections, or honoring speaking engagements and you can add your own item to the list. Yet he still had time to pick up his son from a basketball game after this conversation. “He who has been found worthy of little things can be entrusted greater treasures.”

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 24th President of Liberia is Harvard alum. Barack Obama, 44th President of the USA is Harvard alum. After five decades of lackluster leadership from an alum of ENA Paris, is it time for Africa in general and Cameroon in particular to savor the brilliance of another Harvard alum? Chris, by some accident or by some design happens to be from the same law school that gave America its first African American President. Will it give Cameroon, its first Anglophone President?

May I hasten to add here that the systemic collapse in Cameroon has in fact largely, been orchestrated by those eggheads who had the rare privilege of walking the academic groves of the best schools in Cameroon.

If time is money, then the time I spent with Dr. Fomunyoh is only measurable in terms of gold. It was more a conversation around the fireside during which time he broached a number of issues which I have divided into four sections namely on Egypt, on Cote D’Ivoire, Elections in Africa and Cameroon.
An Evening Chat with Presidential wannabe – Dr Christopher Fomunyoh Pt 1

Chia Innocent’s reveries and fairytales on forthcoming elections in Cameroon. By Lambert Mbom

Chicago based citizen journalist Innocent Chia lit up the blogosphere with two of his latest entries: “Paul Biya: I will not run for re-election in October 2011” and “Cleaning up after Biya’s mess.” The first reminded me of a replay of Ahidjo’s resignation speech during one of those rare episodes on the famous radio talk show program “Cameroon Calling.” J’ai demissionne – I have resigned which sent change-hungry mongers into celebration frenzy.

The coarse voice bellowed like Biya’s; after all, these Presidents are known to be perpetually in drunken stupor steeped in exotic French wines. How else can one explain their numbness or is it dumbness in the face of such despicable suffering.

The second made me chuckle to the point of near choking and led me to one conclusion: There is a way in which the comfort of advanced democracies blinds some of us to the realities of politics on the continent of Africa. If wishes were horses, French owned Paris Must Use Cameroon (PMUC) would sure be out of business by now.

For one thing, there is no denying it that were the author of these article in Cameroon, he would have been playing tennis with Mendouga(former Cameroon ambassador to USA), Zacchaeus Fonjindam(Chantier naval) to name but these in Kondengui. Embezzlement will not be his crime; rather it would be divulging state secrets but even more for engaging in salacious mind reading and vain speculations of the President’s plans.

Yet for another thing, I was just elated that I have a brother who is privy to Presidential secrets, or said otherwise one who has friends in high quarters. Only problem is we are starving to death under the plum tree.

One cannot deny the fact that in display here is a characteristic major trait of the Southern Cameroonian sellouts (Do not want to split hairs here with who is a Southern Cameroonian). A few have been brought to the master’s dining table awash with exotic dishes but there is no corn fufu, no eru, no achu, no kwakoko and banga soup. So overwhelmed by these dishes, they daze around and end up leaving the banquet very hungry. They eaves drop conversations in a language they do not master and are so fascinated just that they had dinner with the president. They forget that the real meal and the real conversations take place in the thick of the night while they are busy reveling in their daytime experience.

I do not doubt the author’s “unimpeachable sources” given his background in journalism. I rather contend that any such discussion would be a ploy to distract folks. Biya is reading from Mubarak’s playbook; after all, they are contemporaries having ascended to power almost at the same time.

The key to Biya’s tenacious grip on power is the fact that Biya is a roman catholic at least in public. As the son of a catechist, he knows his doctrine especially marriage doctrine very well. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to divorce. His wedding formula would be something like this:
I, Paul Barthelemy Bi Mvondo Biya, take you, Presidency of Cameroon to be my wife, from this day November 6, 1982 forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. The last part “until death do us part” is central here. This is why according to the national rumor mill, he is said to have killed Jeanne Irene in order to get Chantal.
Faithful to his marital promise then, only death will deprive Biya of his spouse, the Presidency of Cameroon. Unfortunately, the spouse endures to perpetuity.

Chia’s second entry sounded more like a leaked script for a debate for presidential candidates, which he would love to manage. Unfortunately, he lost his microphone when he bolted out of CRTV Sports desk over a decade ago. Even if he were still there, he is not oblivious of the fact that only Eric Chinje, himself once threatened with a head butt by Biya or veteran Peter Essoka had the sublime task of interviewing Biya with questions screened or handed to them by management albeit.

The charade CRTV bandies of airtime for political parties which mirrors a Presidential debate during election years is disingenuous. Political parties talk at each other, across or over each other but never to each other and worse still never with each other. Chia presents a platform for Presidential “wannabes” to lay out their agenda. This is a laudable initiative.

Yet we seem to have forgotten too soon that politics is so much about vain promises. Promises to build seaports in deserts, draw blood from rocks and make human beings from laboratories are common enough. And with the uncritical masses ready to wear out their palms cheering the litany of promises, there certainly will be an avalanche of these promises.

As usual, these messianic-like claimants always cloak their real intents. The long and short if it is that politics is a path to self-aggrandizement. Cameroonians have become so inured to this deception that the greatest deceiver carries the day. Can anybody beat Biya in this game?

Bouba Bello Maigari and his Northern ilk played smart politics as through their regional victories became power brokers with the administration picking up a few ministries depleting the national treasury. How much is Fru Ndi worth today?

The CPDM candidate will surely not respond to Chia’s invitation not out of bad will which he has in abundance albeit but rather because he has it all laid out in Biya’s Communal liberalism. This blueprint which Biya himself is definitely oblivious of (and I suggest an audio recording be made of it in Chantal’s voice to lull him to sleep) is a master piece. Yet its realization is far from even getting off the ground.

This culture of “talkocracy” in the name of democracy is a sham. Cleaning 30 years of real mess is a herculean task. The entrenched culture of corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, reckless abandon are the hallmarks of Biya’s legacy.

What Cameroon needs now so badly is a culture of civic responsibility and accountability. It is not some cosmetic overhaul but one that changes the dynamic. Service of the commonweal is cardinal and the lynchpin of progress. We need to rediscover the true and real meaning of the “civis” and what it means to be a citizen. This is the litmus test for any potential Presidential candidate in Cameroon.

The game changer in Cameroonian politics, I believe strongly will not come through policies. All snakes lie prostrate and so you cannot tell which is suffering from belly ache.

While we are at it let us pause and reflect on the forthcoming elections. I believe very strongly that Cameroonians are not ready for any elections. With the last Parliamentary elections, Cameroon officially reverted to a one party system.

Two of my friends spent last Christmas in Cameroon. When they got back, interestingly enough, they professed rather glibly that Biya will win elections anytime. This, not through electoral fraud but rather because he has won the “hearts and minds” of the people. They pointed to the warm reception he received in the bastion of political opposition – Bamenda an indication of the national tenor.

For one thing, there is high level of fragmentation in Cameroon. This is why Biya would prefer to borrow from Mubarak “ If I leave there will be chaos” than “I will not stand for elections in October 2011” Think of the Northerners, the Betis who have enjoyed the reins of power, then the Sawas, the disgruntled business barons Bamilekes, and the self –determining nation seeking Southern Cameroonians. There is no denying it that it is on this French principle of divide and rule that Biya has been able to perform the outstanding feat of privatizing the presidency of Cameroon.

The opposition is in such disparate ranks that today Cameroon boasts of a large battery of political parties. It is easier to register a political party in Cameroon than to register a business. It has been impossible for opposition leaders to put their egos aside and unite to unseat the “lion man” in Yaounde. Clearly, they have ulterior motives and elections do not really matter in Cameroon within this climate.

In the face of such tantalizing reality, many Cameroonians are so disillusioned that they find it a waste of time to participate in the process. Voter apathy is aplenty. What would elections change? The results are in already.

The situation is further complicated by those sycophants who today profess that “it is better to deal with the devil you know than the angel you do not know.” They parade the streets and public airways chanting dimabola. How can he go away when he is insulated by this band?

The history of the recent past is a warning to all those cronies. They shall be held accountable for such despicable sycophancy in due time. Let them not forget that the old order changeth making way for the new lest one good culture corrupts the whole world.

Is it worthwhile then calling for a forum for potential presidential wannabes to define their platforms? What would it change?

I agree that rather than beg or borrow so much money to spend for elections in Cameroon, let Biya and his cronies share the booty or if they care distribute to the over two hundred political parties as recompense for their political smartness. To paraphrase Egypt’s Suleiman, Cameroon is not ready for elections. Do we lack the political sophistication.

Why is Biya against handing over to his son, Frank Biya? Having fulfilled one of the conditions for a monarchy which is ruling in perpetuity that is ruling for as long as your bones can carry, why not bring it to full circle by propping your own blood?

As Fon of Fons, Biya can be sure there will be no foul cries or rather should not be any from the grassfields. The institution of the Fon is one that is hereditary and there is no disputing that. This curse of inheritance has been heaped on the presidency of Cameroon and yet we cry for change? Whom are we kidding?

By the way, which political party has changed its leader since its formation? What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
I am still digesting Jeanne KirkPatrick’s theory that mankind be careful with unseating dictators for “Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception, and rigged elections to stay in power or to advance an agenda of extremism.” This notwithstanding, I hope the chickens come home to roost.

One of Mr. Chia’s concerns of all concerns is the Southern Cameroons case. Have we not heard that this hydra-headed monster for want of a better term is propagated more from abroad than at home? The average Southern Cameroonian at home cares more for the bread and butter issues which are more pressing or so they claim. Why should an issue pushed more by those “politically infantile” rabble-rousers of the North West be dignified on the national stage? Should a struggle whose major battleground is the internet with cyber “warfarism” the full employment of many enjoy such a high stage? Who really cares about this issue if it could even be so addressed?

For all its bashing and divisions, clearly, as Mr. Chia forcefully says, there is no wishing away the matter of Southern Cameroons.

It may be mere coincidence that Mubarak was forced out of office on Friday 11 February 2011 – feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the revisionist celebration of Youth day instead of that 1961 plebiscite. It was also two days short of Biya’s 78th birthday (though I look older than Biya) and it was 21 years since Mandela’s propitious release from prison. There is something foreboding about this day for Cameroon dedicated to Mary, patroness of peace. Egypt has so many lessons for Cameroon. There is a clear challenge to the youth of Cameroon to lead the charge.

All this whining will not help. For too long we have been complaint psalmists. Herewith our opportunity to initiate the change we need. We are the people we have been waiting for. I do not intend to be prescriptive. If necessity is the mother of invention, it is my belief that let our suffering necessitate a thoughtful trajectory towards a meaningful change.

The Role of Africa’s Regional Organizations in Conflict Prevention and Resolution: A Resume by Lambert Mbom

From L to R: Kimenyi, Hoover and Dr Rugunda.

On Tuesday November 23 2010, Brookings institution hosted a conversation between Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda and US State Department’s John Hoover, Director, Office of Regional and Security Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs.

In his prefatory remarks, Mwangi Kimenyi director of Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) of the Brookings Institute set the tone for the discussion within the backdrop of the mission of the AGI, which seeks to address the issue of how to deal with the problem of economic growth in Africa. The AGI seeks to transform economies in Africa, create jobs and improve the quality of life.

He noted pathetically albeit that despite the fact that Africa’s resources bank is exceedingly rich, paradoxically, Africa is still very poor. One of the most important ingredients of wealth creation namely peace is sadly absent. It is only within an environment of peace that wealth creation is possible. This event sought to highlight continental initiatives to achieve peace and stability.

In his two-part presentation, Dr. Rugunda harped in the first instance on a description of the whys and wherefores of conflicts in Africa before proceeding to show how the African Union (AU) and other regional economic blocs have been instrumental in preventing and resolving conflicts in the continent.

There is no denying it that Africa has had the lion’s share of conflicts especially within the last fifty years. Economic, political and social factors account for why conflicts arise exacerbated by poverty, bad governance and weak states clearly epitomized in the case of Somalia.
Then the expert described the topography of conflicts in Africa. Dr Rugunda walked the audience down the historical trajectory of the types of conflicts that have bedeviled Africa.

First, there is the resistance against colonial occupation with the emergence of such groups as the Mao Mao of Kenya.
Then, Africa had actual struggles for independence prominent among which are the revolt of the Portuguese colonies such as Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and Zimbabwe.

Next, were the proxy wars common during the Cold War competition between the East and the West. For example, in Angola, there was the MPLA a pro government group supported by the Soviet Union and the Socialist Communist bloc while UNITA had the blessing of the West.

Additionally, wars for liberation – e.g. Uganda in 1981 fought for the liberation from the despotic Idi Amin and Milton Obote. This is the post independence era where some countries experienced turmoil in a bid to free themselves from the shackles and dictatorship of their own ilk.
Lastly, Inter-national conflicts with land disputes such as that between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

These have had enormous consequences: In terms of lives lost, in Sudan alone estimates run to 2 million dead; when extrapolated to the entire continent, the numbers are astonishing; then there are the injured, internally displaced with Africa alone accounting for at least 30% of the entire number and the disturbing sky rocketing number of refugees.

Economically, Oxfam estimates that 18 billion dollars per annum is what Africa loses because of conflicts. Dr Rugunda considers these figures conservative and proposed Brookings should crunch the numbers for a more realistic statistics.

Other consequences of conflict include the destruction of infrastructure, investment cost as nobody wants to invest in a politically volatile environment and the inevitable complete paralysis of economic activity.
In terms of responsibility for containing, controlling, preventing and resolving conflicts, the speaker, pointed to the global mechanism of the UN Security Council.

At the continental level, the African Union has the solemn mandate to provide this.

Dr Rugunda made a bold and contentious assertion that African leaders have put in place parameters that guarantee a conducive environment for economic activities and subsequent prosperity for the community. This, by pledging they want their countries to be stable; they want their countries to be guided by the rule of law, democratically governed, characterized by respect of human rights of people, and ensure no unconstitutional changes of government.

The second part of his discourse focused on describing the instruments available to prevent and resolve conflicts in Africa. The two most prominent instruments within African Peace and Security architecture (framework to help Africa resolve conflicts) are the African Peace and Security Council based in Addis Ababa and the Panel of the Wise currently led by President Thabo Mbeki.

Africa is also mobilizing forces to deploy as and when it becomes necessary.

The African Union works in synergy with regional economic groups. These are essentially regional economic groups, which also have in-built mechanisms for preventing and resolving conflicts. These blocs are a great asset to peace initiatives on the continent. These include:
ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States
SADC – Southern African Development Community
IGAD – Intergovernmental Authority on Development
ECCAS – Economic Community of Central African states
COMESA – Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
International Conference on the Great Lakes
The basic philosophy underlying this cooperation is the fact that unless there is peace and stability, talk of economic growth and prosperity is useless. These have become major instruments to ensure peace and stability in their regions.

These regional economic communities are able to forge peace because of the following reasons:
a) Geographical and political proximity – In the case of Sudan for example, the countries of IGAD are better place to intervene given their geographical proximity
b) These groups also have the capacity to respond quickly
c) They also understand better the dynamics at play
Yet one must not lose sight of the fact some of these regional communities may have stakes in a particular conflict and in intervening end up rather complicating it.

A case in point is Democratic Republic of Congo where you had Rwanda and Uganda supporting the rebels while Namibia and Zimbabwe were supporting the government. The Lusaka Accord of 1999 ended the stalemate and resolved the conflict.

Two instances of regional interventions worth mentioning are ECOWAS’ intervention in Sierra Leone in 1997 that stabilized the country before the UN stepped in. In 1999, thanks once more to ECOWAS, the situation in Liberia came under control.
The East African community under the leadership of Uganda and in cooperation with SADC helped Burundi which has emerged today from the doldrums.

Sudan is another case in point whereby through the work of IGAD, the over fifty years’ old war ended and a deal brokered now known as the Comprehensive Peace Accord.

Apart from these regional economic communities, the African Union has worked hand-in-glove with the United Nations with AU increasingly owning the mechanisms.

In Darfur, there are UN troops, which are under UNAMID the UN-AU hybrid under the command of Dr Gambari.

There are also UN troops in Southern Sudan and Sudan overseeing the implementation of the CPA.

In order to ensure that relations between the UN and the AU are smooth intimate and mutually beneficial, the UN has appointed Kenyan Ambassador Zachary Muburi-Muita as UN Assistant Secretary-General, Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.

These relations have paradoxically also seen some drawbacks. First with reference to the Western Sahara recognized by the African Union as a separate state while, the UN and International community are still dragging their legs recognizing Morocco as legitimate first.

Another case in point is Somalia while the International community is concentrating on piracy, than dealing with the source of the piracy from mainland Somaliland. The African Union thinks a holistic approach fighting in the mainland will pacify and eradicate the piracy.

One issue complicating Africa’s search for peace is drugs. With the US waging a virulent attack against drugs in Latin America, the drug merchants found a new and easier route through West Africa taking advantage of weak institutions, weak borders and weak security. The deaths in Guinea Bissau may not have been just political but also drug-related.

Conclusion: Dr Rugunda was quite upbeat stating categorically that Africa has adequate capacity and mechanisms and Africa needs support and reinforcements in terms of resources and capacity. A stable and peaceful Africa will enhance sustained economic development resulting in prosperity not only for Africa but also for humanity.
There has been enormous progress made in conflict resolution and prevention, as there has been a move from 20 conflicts brewing on the continent within the last decade to just about four on the continent.

Part II:
John Hoover then mounted the rostrum. The lynchpin of his presentation was portraiture of what the US is doing to help Africa in its conflict prevention and resolution ideals. He quoted lengthily from President Obama’s speech in Accra Ghana in July 2009.
“We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans. All of us must strive for the peace and security… Africans are standing up for this future…. We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, keep the peace, and support those in need…And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational forces to bear when needed.
America has a responsibility to work with you as a partner, advance this vision, not just with words, but with support, that strengthens African capacity. …we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support…”

He proceeded then to analyze these providing evidence of US engagements with Africa in its desperate search for peace.

In all of our countries, there is often a gap with what leaders say and what actually obtains on the ground, in terms of what governments actually do. This is not the case with the foregoing words of President Obama.

There is no gap between the above words of President Obama and what we actually do on the ground, intimated Mr. Hoover. These are not just inspirational words of a charismatic leader and not much else.
These words infuse and inform what we do daily not just at US State department but also throughout the US government. It really informs what we are doing with African governments and regional organizations to promote peace and security in the continent.

Africa’s future is up to them. Africans have the will and capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts on the continent. Our business is to support Africa to help prevent conflicts.

Engagement with the AU has become a priority under the Obama administration. Since 2006, the US established an independent diplomatic mission to the AU. The US is the only non-African government to have established this bilateral relation.

There is also an American Peace and Security advisor embedded at the AU.

The AU has also recently accepted to have another civilian disaster-planning expert embedded at the peace and security division at the AU.

Secondly, the US is stepping up its engagements to support the regional African Peace and Security architecture. Among the many programs, activities and policies the US government is providing Africa highlights include:
– The US has invested 700 million dollars to equip, train and provide support to AU missions in Burundi, Darfur and AU mission to Somalia AMESOM. Without this AMESOM mission, Somalia would be run by El Shabbab;
– There is 4 million dollars project funded by the State department to help AU upgrade its Command and Control Communications Network as part of support to African standby force;
– USAID provides support to ECOWARN & CWARN, which are early warning systems for conflict prevention in West and East Africa respectively.
– Since 2001, the US has provided 2 million dollars yearly to construct and maintain the military supply depot in Freetown and currently working to transfer complete ownership to ECOWAS;
Thirdly, there is the US African command engaged in all kinds of capacity building activities; they recently sponsored an exercise called African endeavor that brought together civilian and military leaders from 25 countries in Africa the issue of interruptability of communications network cropped up.
Peace keeping training is the bread and butter of the US capacity building efforts on the continent. This focuses on national forces and still supports regional efforts like the standby brigades and Africa standby forces. These are the building blocks to the standby brigades.
Since 2005, the US has provided training and equipment and in some cases logistical support to 125 000 African peacekeeping troops from 25 partner nations.

This is primarily under the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program – ACOTA. ACOTA program costs about 50 million dollars annual program. This is fantastic investment. This is so because of the following reasons:

It is providing the peacekeepers on UN and AU missions with the resources they need. As of June 2010, there were 34.000 African peacekeepers on mission deployed in Africa.

When these get home, they have become more competent and professional and so are an integral part of the modernization and professionalization of Africa’s national armed forces.

When the time comes and the African Standby brigades are organized, the peacekeepers who have returned home will be ideal candidates.
ACOTA is also engaging in a transitional phase where African groups should be able to provide peacekeeping training on a sustainable basis. Hence, the US is providing more resources to training centers around the continent.

The US is here to stay and to help, concluded Mr. Hoover.
This session was followed by a Q & A.

From L to R:Tien of DIWDC, Dr Emma Osong of Catholic University of America, Balemesa of the Peace Corps

Participants discussing after the event.

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