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Pope Benedict XVI ‘s decision to step down – A Blessing to the Catholic Church and the World. Lambert Mbom

Pope_Benedict_XVI_2_Credit_Mazur_CNA340x269_World_Catholic_News_11_19_11There has been a mixed flurry of reactions amongst Catholics to Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement on Monday Feb. 11, 2013 that he will be stepping down from his office as Bishop of Rome and Successor of St Peter. Some believe the negative press the Vatican already enjoys will gain impetus from this. Why did Benedict not spare us this negative PR some have been heard to ask? Others, rightfully, celebrate the wisdom of the Pope’s decision for his humility, his courage and his commitment to the Church.

For one thing, one is grateful that there was no butler and so there were no scoops even from the corridors of the papal chamber.

First, it is important to get the correct description of the Pope’s action. It is inaccurate to refer to it either as retirement or as resignation, at least not in the American sense.

In American political parlance, resignation is generally a euphemism for dismissal. Public officials resign when they are mired in scandal. The revered American General, David Petraeus, was forced to hand in his resignation when the sex scandal broke out. Now former Congressman, Rep. Jesse L Jackson (D-IL) also recently resigned in what turns out to be fraudulent management of campaign finances.To resign presumes a higher authority to whom one submits a letter and often linked to a scandal of one form or another.

Pope Benedict’s action is far from any of these. As he himself says: For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005,

It is a renunciation of the office he assumed in 2005. Some conspiracy theorists think that there is something amiss, which shall come to the limelight some day. We can only wish them good luck with that.

Our appreciation of the Pope’s decision says something about our psyche. Contemporary society has become so scandal prone and crisis-ridden that it has adopted a one-size-fits-all standard for evaluating actions, namely scandal.

The Genius of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision lies in his own words: After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. (emphasis mine)

Two words that encapsulate the Pope’s position are “Strength”(which appears three times) and “adequately” (which appears twice). Both are the operative reasons for the Pope’s decision. The enormity and sublimity of the tasks of the office require a certain alertness of the mind and physical strengths, which age has robbed the Holy Father of.

One cannot avoid but reference the words of the Delphic Oracle – “Man know thyself and you shall know the gods,” which find classical fulfillment in Pope Benedict’s decision.

Ola Rotimi, in his play, The Gods are not to blame, says of Odewale the protagonist, “The butterfly thinks itself a bird.” And because of this misconstrued and bloated ego, Odewale meets his demise.

Humanity must learn to acknowledge the limits of being. There are no supermen no matter how much the movie superman wants us to believe its reality. There are limits.  Pope Benedict’s decision is a great lesson in humility.

There is a greater lesson even for those with political power. Clinging tenaciously to power is a disservice both to the institution and to those served. The Pope could go on till his demise but seeing the enormity of the tasks at hand, believes the institution would be able to wade off the buffeting tides, with a stronger and ‘younger’ person in office. Out of deep love for the Church and the flock he has shepherded, Pope Benedict XVI has so graciously considered that the best course of action is to relinquish power.

In a very real way, Pope Benedict’s XVI decision makes the Church a beacon of hope and an example even in the face of the crises that have stormed the Church sapping her of her moral authority. Today, one can ask Biya of Cameroon, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the other Octogenarians to follow the example of Pope Benedict XVI and leave power before power leaves them.

Pope Benedict has thought hard about this for a long time and so the question becomes why did he choose to relay his decision on Monday 11 Feb. 2013? The coincidences are just too many and all give us a clue. First, the Catholic Church celebrates February as a Marian month. In fact, it was on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes that the Holy Father made the announcement. On this day, the Church celebrates World day of the Sick. And all of these at the time the Church is celebrating the year of the Faith.

The Pope has discerned that this is God’s will for him and the Church. Like Mary, the Pope is not doing his will but rather God’s will. The Pope’s decision is intimately Marian in character.

The Pope is well aware of the signs of the times and he mentions this in his announcement saying: However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith…What better gift could the Pope give to the Church in this year of the faith than to step down and make way for one with a younger mind? Like Alfred Lord Tennyson expresses in his poem:  The Old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

There is no doubt that Pope Benedict would have been emboldened to take this decision from the experience of his predecessor. The last forty days of John Paul II were days of tremendous suffering as John Paul II shuttled between the Gemelli hospital and his residence until he finally passed on. That this had a toll on the administration of the Church at the time is anyone’s guess.

Even then, John Paul II died like many of his predecessors. There is no denying it that the administration of the Church suffered at this time. In the face of the visible suffering, then Cardinal Ratzinger said, “The example of a suffering Pope is very important. It is another way of preaching that suffering can be beautiful when we share it with the Lord.” It is fitting then that Pope Benedict XVI who does not cite health reasons as necessitating  his decision, relinquishes power on this world day of the sick.
Let us take consolation in the words of Pope John Paul II: Be Not Afraid. May we not be afraid for as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us of Yahweh’s promise, “I will give you pastors after my own heart who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer.3:15). May the words of Christ Himself when he commissioned the first Pope Peter enlighten us: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against you,” (Mtt.16:18) “for I am with you always to the end of time.” (Mtt.28:20)

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.

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