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From Ecclesia in Africa to Munus Africae: Rome 2004 – Benin 2011. By Lambert Mbom

Two years after his maiden visit to Cameroon, Africa in March 2009 where he presented to the Church family of Africa the agenda of the synod, Pope Benedict XVI returned to Africa on an apostolic visit to Benin from Nov. 18 –20, 2011 to deliver the post-synodal exhortation Munus Africae following discussions at the African synod in October 2009.

At the Opening Mass of the synod in 2009, the Holy Father remarked that: “The Synod is not primarily a study session. Rather, it is God’s initiative, calling us to listen: listen to God, to one another and to the world around us, in an atmosphere of prayer and reflection.”

And as Fr Henriot rightly affirms “It is very important to appreciate that this Synod is not simply an event that occurred for three weeks in Rome. It is indeed a process that has been moving through three phases or moments: preparation, meeting and implementation.”

It has taken 7 years then for this process to come to its implementation stage which is what Pope Benedict launched in Benin with the signing of Munus Africae – The commitment of Africa.

Preparatory Phase:
It was on November 13, 2004 during an audience with the Bishops of Europe(CCEE) and Africa (SCEAM) that His Holiness Pope John Paul II announced his intention to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.

One cannot fail to draw out the significance of this announcement at this joint audience given that Africa was both colonized and evangelized by Europe and today in its debt of gratitude Africa is in many ways re-evangelizing Europe. John Paul II would not live long enough to bring this to reality.

On June 22nd 2005, a few months after his ascension to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI convoked the synod for October 4th to the 25th 2009.

Entre-temps, the Church in Africa and the universal church prepared for the momentous occasion. After a series of preparatory meetings, the first document called the lineamenta was released on June 27, 2006.

The document raised questions and encouraged a shared search for solutions from the vantage point of the synodal process, beginning from the First Special Assembly.

“According to accustomed practice, the Lineamenta, meant to foster extensive discussion on the synodal topic.”

There were 32 questions at the end of it that required dioceses to discuss, brainstorm, meditate and respond according to their local needs. Responses were submitted by October 2008.

Laurenti Magesa, saw the lineamenta as having a strong potential for moving forward a most necessary agenda of effective engagement of the African Church in the “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties” of the people of this beautiful but troubled continent.

For Raymond Olusesan Aina (MSP), a Nigerian theologian, the lineamenta is a foundation in terms of being a springboard. Aina believes though that the document’s narrative on Africa’s socio-economic state was merely symptomatic and failed to tackle core causes such as “anthropological pauperisation – in the crisis of identity and dislocation,” caused by colonialism, “incompatibility & indivisibility in Primordial Conflicts,” “trade liberalization leading to food insecurity and environmental problems in Africa,” “Postmodern depthlessness & economic injustice,” and “disaster/shock capitalism amongst others.”

Instrumentum Laboris – Working document of the synod
The Instrumentum Laboris, the working document was “a summary of the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta, submitted by the 36 episcopal conferences and 2 Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris on the African continent, as well as those of the 25 Departments of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General. Its content also included observations from various ecclesial institutions and Christ’s faithful, responsible for evangelization and human promotion in Africa.”

In March 2009, Pope Benedict traveled to Cameroon where he released the Instrumentum laboris, the working document for the synod.

To show continuity with Ecclesia in Africa, Pope Benedict XV1 handed over the Instrumentum laboris to heads of the different episcopal conferences in the same Apostolic nunciature in Yaounde where his predecessor, John Paul II 14 years earlier on 14 Sept. 1995 had signed the post synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa.

And like Archbishop Nikola Eterovik, General Secretary of the synod of Bishops said on that occasion, “Ecclesia in Africa is an important document for the Church on pilgrimage in the great continent of Africa and an authoritative point of reference for the next Special Assembly for Africa.”

The Instrumentum Laboris was made up of four chapters. The first begins with a brief overview of contemporary African society in the period since the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (1994). It then considers the implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa and concludes by examining the theological aspects of the topic of the Second Assembly.

“Treating the three aspects of socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural life and recounting experiences within the Church, the second chapter describes the “openings” and, above all, the “obstacles” encountered by the Church and society on the road to reconciliation, justice and peace.”

“The third chapter sets forth the characteristics of the Church as Family of God in her desire to serve as a force opening paths to reconciliation, justice and peace.”

“Finally, the fourth chapter is an account of what the Church’s members and institutions have already undertaken to promote reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa.”
From March 2009 – October 2009, the synod fathers perused the instrumentum laboris and prepared themselves for the great event.

Phase Two: Synod Proper
From Oct. 4 – 25, 2009, 244 delegates gathered for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the synod of Bishops, of whom 78 participated by reason of their office, 129 as elected members and 36 as papal appointments. There were 29 experts and 49 auditors.

It was truly Catholic in nature as there were delegates of the different episcopates from the various continents of the world. For three weeks, they examined the Instrumentum laboris, synchronized thoughts and proposed an agenda for the task ahead. At the end of this meeting, the synod fathers issued a final message which was divided into 7 parts.

One of the highlights of this message was the synod’s message to African leaders
“Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office. The Synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havo to the people and giving the Church a bad name.”

And paraphrasing John’s gospel, the Synod Fathers signed off thus: “Africa, rise up, take up you pallet, and walk! (Jn.5:8)

The synod fathers also submitted 57 propositions to the Holy Father essentially recommendations for consideration in setting the agenda for the Church in Africa. It is worth noting that Benedict was personally present during most of the deliberations and is no stranger to most of the propositions.

One way of reading the Pope’s document then would be to evaluate how much of the recommendations did the Pope include in his exhortation.

Phase Three: Implementation
This phase has three distinctive levels. First, immediately after the Synod, 15 Bishops were appointed members of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
Their mission was to organize “the proposals from October’s Synod into a workable outline for the creation of a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.”

This special council first met in January 2010 and many times thereafter. They submitted their suggestions to the Holy Father who then uses them to write the post synodal exhortation.

One must reference the fact that in anticipation of the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, 134 delegates from 46 countries met in Mumeme, Maputo, Mozambique from 23-26 May 2010 to reflect and discuss the message and propositions generated by the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

On Saturday November 19, the third phase of the implementation kicked off with the Holy Father’s publication of Munus Africae. Many have felt that a real fault of the First African Synod was the failure to put in place effective implementation measures to draw out the power and beauty of that event.

One can only hope and pray that the Second Synod will not suffer a similar fate. The Church in Africa would then get to work with giving flesh to this document by putting in place the recommendations made.

As experts read through and analyze the Pope’s exhortation, the question remains: What fresh perspective does Munus Africae offer us? What don’t we know that the exhortation offers us on why there is so little economic justice and sustainable just peace in Africa? (To paraphrase Fr Aina’s comments on the Lineamenta.)

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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.

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

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