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.