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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)

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.)

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


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.

CNN and the promotion of African journalism (1995 – 2011) Hip, Hip Hurray. By Lambert Mbom.

It was veteran Cameroonian journalist, Charly Ndichia who cast a damper on my thirst and taste for news spewed by government run Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) when in one of the usual intros to the newscast, he boldly proclaimed: and now lies from CRTV.

When Nigerian movies made their debut, they became an instant hit and safe for the fact that CRTV is funded by taxes, it should have been something of the past now outclassed by competition.

News junkies heaved a great sigh of relief when with the liberalization of media, vistas to the outside world were opened and CNN became a luxury many guarded jealously and consumed lavishly.

Thanks to CNN, I had the rare privilege of staying up late to watch “Operation Desert Storm” commissioned by President George W. H. Bush. One lived the grim events of September 11, 2001 vividly from far away Cameroon thanks to the live feed on CNN. I will never forget how I pulled an all-nighter just to watch live President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address live. Again, thanks to CNN. One would not be exaggerating to say that CNN is the most watched American channel in Africa.

My first cultural shock then came when I got to the US and discovered that CNN is not that global media juggernaut or enfant cheri of the American population. Yet, I was consoled by the fact that of all major TV networks in the US, CNN is the only network that since 1995 has sought to groom African talent in this elite profession of journalism through its African journalist of the year award.

It would be interesting to conduct a survey on which is the most popular cable TV network among African immigrants in the US. Given that many African immigrants lean towards the Democrats, MSNBC will surely win. This is even more so with an African in the White House and FOX News is often seen wrongfully albeit to be spinning an anti-Obama rhetoric. In this “feud” between MSNBC and FOX, CNN seems to enjoy a comfortable middle ground.

Within the last 16 years, CNN has been in the frontlines grooming African journalists through its African journalist of the year award. Alarmed by the lack of respect for African journalists, Edward Boateng, then regional director of Turner Broadcasting (CNN’s parent company) launched this prestigious award “to try and help them gain recognition for their hard work and commitment.” The competition also aims at “reinforcing the importance of attaining and maintaining high quality journalism while rewarding, recognizing and encouraging journalistic talent across all media disciplines in Africa.

The competition’s history reveals that Kenya and South Africa are the power houses of journalism in Africa having produced six winners each. Kenyan Fatuma Noor last June 25th was named CNN MultiChoice African journalist for the year 2011. With Kenya as the silicon valley of Africa and South Africa’s famous South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) such spectacular feats could not be otherwise. South Africa has produced 49 finalists and Kenya 19 while in the individual categories, South Africa still leads with 24 winners, Kenya 21, Nigeria 3, Zimbabwe 2 and Ghana 1.

One cannot resist the urge to ask where Cameroonian journalists are especially given the fact that one of the reasons often touted to support the union between Southern Cameroons and East Cameroon is the fact that Cameroon was meant to be an epitome of bilingualism in Africa. This is yet another proof of the systemic failure of this experiment.

If this competition is the barometer of journalism in Africa,, then one cannot but lament the fact that Cameroon continues to lag behind. Even though one may argue that it is myopic to measure the true state of journalism in Cameroon by one competition, yet the fact that just two Cameroonian journalists of French extraction have won in the individual category in this competition is a grave call for concern. Originally limited to the English entries, later expanded to Francophone Africa in 2002 and to Portuguese speaking category in 2005, it is shocking to find that Cameroon with Portuguese roots and English and French as national languages has not featured prominently in this competition.

And back to CNN, it is worth noting that this is also the only network with an African – a Sierra Leonean of British background with a mellifluous British accent who appears on cable TV. Isha Sessay who anchors on AC360 and hosts Inside Africa was just the right person to emcee the 2011 CNN MultiChoice award.

While the NAACP last July 6 critiqued CNN for failing to include any African American journalists in primetime news, it would be disingenuous for one not to laud the network for programs like Inside Africa, Marketplace Africa, African Voices that it broadcasts to Africa.

Even though one would have loved to see African faces and hear African voices within the elite division of CNN, CNN must be commended for eschewing the temptation of depriving Africa of its rich talent. CNN could have used this competition to feed itself but rather has sought to groom for local consumption and spared Africa from brain-drain. It is fitting to say congratulations CNN and thank you.

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.

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