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A Rejoinder to Cameroon’s Foreign Minister’s Address to the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations. By Lambert Mbom

 

On Thursday September 27th2018, La Republique du Cameroun’s Minister of External Relations Lejeune Mbella Mbella addressed the 73rd session of United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA). The minister spent 19 of the 25 minutes he spoke skirting around the real issues and in the remainder of the six minutes addressed the hydra-headed foreign affairs monster namely the Ambazonia quagmire. It was a shameful outing filled with lies, historical aberrations and fallacies.

In his opening words, Mbella Mbella hailed this moment as historic given that the UNGA current President is a woman only the fourth to accede to this position in the institution’s 73-year history. While this is quite symbolic, it pales in comparison to the fact that Paul Biya, Mbella’s boss and the colonial dictator of Cameroon has been President for half of the years of the existence of the United Nations. And could not show up at this year’s meeting due to the fact that he was launching a campaign ahead of presidential elections whose results have already been well packaged and he prepares to declare himself winner for another seven-year mandate.

No wonder then that H.E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa is only the fourth woman to become president of the General assembly in the over seven decades of the U.N.’s existence. Octogenarian and nonagenarian strongmen like Paul Biya have not only held their people hostage but also cast a spell on the international order by surrounding and shielding themselves with strong old men and soothsayers like Mbella Mbella. It may be of interest to note that Cameroon currently has only one female ambassador and she is only the third in history.

Mbella shamelessly opines that “The corporatist claims of the teachers’ and lawyers’ unions which lie at the heart of the situation have continued to be subject to negotiations with these social and professional groups.” This is so pathetic to note that the Minister and Cameroon’s government are still stuck in 2016 when the current crisis began as concerns of trade unions. It is this ostrich-like mentality and myopia of the barbaric regime of Biya that feels compelled to conveniently circumscribe the problems to being an issue of teachers and lawyers that has led it to be dogged in its heels. This regime is so moronic that it cannot make the distinction and relationship between symptoms and malady. They could not see or have failed to acknowledge that the problems raised by teachers and lawyers were symptomatic of deep seated simmering and systemic issues. Those corporatist claims morphed and exposed the systemic issues that had plagued an ill-fated “union” with the entire people of former United Nations trustee territory of British Southern Cameroons.

And for the Minister to claim that negotiations have continued with these unions is a lie. Has the minister forgotten that they jailed leaders of the consortium forced others into exile and later extradited them with the complicity of Nigeria?

“Unfortunately, Mr. President which is unfortunate to say from this rostrum, some individuals that are ruthless and lawless have tried to transform these socio professional concerns into demands for secession which aim to break up the state without any regard for constitutional and democratic mechanisms.” This is truly unfortunate that a minister would tell such brazen lies from the sacred rostrum on such a global stage. La Republique is bandying around the term secessionists in the hope that with this tag, the people will back down and chicken out. A cursory look at the history of Cameroon will challenge this characterization. We must remind the minister that the union between Southern Cameroons and French Cameroon is a constitutional monstrosity. With hindsight, it is worth stating that there has always been a grand scheme from the get-go for La Republique to annex and recolonize Southern Cameroons. Cameroon is built on a lie. No wonder the custodians of that patrimony continue to peddle more lies to defend it. But soon the deluge! In the context of the constitutional malpractice and the constitutional illegalities that define the Cameroon experiment, it would be instructive for the minister and his cronies to read the Buea Declaration of April 1993. This landmark document paints the contours of the constitutional rape which began in April 1960 even before the union came into force and declares forcefully that “No valid constitutional or other legal basis has ever existed for the reunification of the two Cameroons and for the common governance of the two territories.”

While this annexation project kicked off in April 1960 with the discovery of oil in Southern Cameroons, the recolonization project was fast tracked and in abrogation of the terms of the union, then President Ahidjo unilaterally imposed a referendum with the majority of citizens of La Republique partaking and invariably overwhelming the minority Southern Cameroonians. The supposed “Union” was designed to be two federated states. In flagrant disregard, a bogus referendum in 1972 led to the dissolution of the two states federation. This led to the chimera called United Republic of Cameroon.

And barely 12 years later, Emperor Paul Biya sealed the deal whereby with a stroke of the pen changed the name of the country from the United Republic of Cameroon to The Republic of Cameroon which is the name former United Nations trustee territory French Cameroon adopted when it gained independence on 1st of January 1960. It is worth noting that a name change is a very significant development in the life of any person and in the life of any nation. Mr. Minister lets state the facts clearly: La Republique already seceded from the botched union. This is a clear instance of the pot calling the kettle black. When you look into the mirror if you have the courage to, all you see is your face.

There was a golden opportunity for the government of La Republique to correct the constitutional gaffe and that was in 1996 when the constitution was revised. Ahead of this, the aggrieved people of Southern Cameroons got together and first in 1993 called for a return to the two states federation. When this request fell on deaf ears, a second conclave held in Bamenda in 1994 and came up with a Proclamation. The Bamenda Proclamation warned the government of La Republique that if she failed to take action the people of Southern Cameroons would be forced to “proclaim the revival of the independence and sovereignty of the Anglophone territory of the Southern Cameroons and take all measures necessary to secure, defend and preserve the independence, sovereignty and integrity of the said territory.” The government’s response was characteristic and predictable: wanton arrests and detention, brutal use of naked force to railroad the people of Southern Cameroons to accept the lie of a unitary state.

It is quite ludicrous that the minister talks of constitutionality when strangely the crisis of the North West and South West regions has never ever been addressed by the Parliament and Senate in Cameroon.

Talking of democratic mechanisms, Southern Cameroonians have availed of different avenues such as the African Union, the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the International Court of Justice and lodged complaints but given the international conspiracy, they have been treated like orphans. But the world must remember that no matter how long the night is, day must dawn. And Lejeune and his cronies must note that the thief has 99 days but one day the owner will repossess his property. We seem to be on the 98th day!

What is more, the minister further intimates that “the government welcomes the fact that the entire people of Cameroon and above all the populations of these two regions have rejected any attempts at secession.”This is quite a laughable tale. Clearly the minister is under the illusion that lackeys, stooges and crumb gatherers like Atanga Nji, Philemon Yang, Ngole Ngole speak for any people but themselves. Mr. Minister when and how did the people of Ambazonia reject their independence? I hope you have watched some of the videos of the celebrations last October 1st when Ambazonians came out to celebrate Independence Day. Are you insinuating that those fighting for the restoration of independence are foreigners? Yes, we are foreigners in La Republique. It is wishful thinking to continue this parody in the pious hope that someday beggars would ride. We understand that you have an aversion for numbers and so any figment of your imagination such as your current claim is what you package and sell. If you are courageous enough why not ask the UN to come and supervise a referendum on this question and let’s see who is living a fool’s paradise? Don’t be fooled: even those you think and believe are with you share the aspirations and spirit of the Ambazonia revolution. They just lack the moral courage and political wherewithal to manifest this. On this I can dare you that over three quarters of Ambazonians want an independent state.

 Shamelessly the minister maintains that “In light of the aforementioned the government is working to restore peace and security in the two regions with respect for human rights and rules and laws of the Republic.” These are mere words that even the person uttering them does not believe in. Your Excellency, there can be no peace without justice. And justice in its most common and basic meaning is giving to each what is their due…For the people of Ambazonia, it is simply the restoration of the independence. Peace is not just the absence of war. And did I hear mention of human rights? The world knows or should know by now that using La Republique and human rights in the same sentence is not just a linguistic aberration but also an anomaly in reality. Everybody has seen the videos of the military junta executing women and children at close range after labeling them Boko Haram terrorists.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg. When the world will wake up to the atrocities of la Republique du Cameroun against the people of Ambazonia, even the corpses of the perpetrators would be exhumed for trial and condemnation. The government of Cameroun is after an elusive peace. Coercing the people into a doomed and damned union is just a recipe for disaster. Biya and his ilk should have gotten the message by now: a union is not forced and is not even possible!

Once more being sensitive to the fate of the concerned population, the President of the Republic has decided to implement an emergency humanitarian plan with a provisional budget of 12.7 billion fcfa.” This is the most ludicrous pronouncement. Biya declares war on the people of Ambazonia and turns around with an emergency humanitarian plan? This is a smokescreen. The kleptocratic despot just created a cash cow to satisfy the insatiable corrupt appetites of the governing mafia. After razing villages with your scorched earth policy, then sending armed thugs in name of military to shoot and destroy innocent civilians whose only crime is them activating their inalienable right to self-determination. The most egregious violation of human rights is the annexation and recolonization of the people of Ambazonia. And to add salt to injury, killing these innocent people for standing up for this right.

The Minister then proceeds to disgrace his master by claiming that they “…have shown our openness to dialogue but in strict respect of the institution and laws of the Republic.” When you label people as terrorists, how do you dialogue with them? Recently, the US had talks with the Talibans they had been combatting in Afghanistan over the last two decades. This should be a lesson to the warlords of La Republique. You can never win in a guerilla warfare. The time for dialogues has long passed. Ambazonians begged and pleaded with you but in characteristic Machiavellian fashion displayed a masochistic bravado and swore that Ambazonia will rise only over your corpse.

No doubt Mr. Minister you claim that “Robust measures have already been taken to remedy the situation. For example, the creation of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism as well as a fully-fledged ministry responsible for decentralization.” One would have expected you to show that your commission is working and for once address this noble assembly in English and French. What is more, you proved the point: with the wrong diagnosis, you could only get such out of target and lack of focus solution, as decentralization. It is worth stating for the umpteenth time: the independence of Ambazonia is non-negotiable. It is not a matter of if but rather when.

The minister tops off his lies “To conclude, Cameroon whose independence was conducted and guided by the UN will like to restate its faith in our organization but also its attachment to peace and stability basic resources without which no development is possible.” Mr. Minister, the country you represent had its independence on January 1st 1960 while Ambazonia gained its independence on October 1st 1961. Yes the UN supervised both but did not complete the latter. This is why it is the UN’s responsibility to listen and address the recriminations of its former Trustee territory. It is unconscionable for the UN to claim that the destiny of the people of Ambazonia was foreclosed with the union with La Republique.

The UN General Assembly adopted as its theme for this session: “Making the United Nations relevant to all people: global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies.” The people of Ambazonia need the UN to become relevant to them. In the Political document signed at the Nelson Mandela Peace summit, the UN pledged to move beyond words in the promotion of peaceful, just, inclusive and non-discriminatory societies…for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” The current crisis presents a unique opportunity for the UN to deliver on that promise. The UN must stand up to bullies like La Repubqlique du Cameroun. The crisis is not a domestic conflict or an internal matter. Even if it were it is not by merely wishing it that peace will reign. One wonders if the UN has learnt any lessons from the past? The time to act is now! The UN cannot trust the words of an abusive partner hoping that he will do the right thing. This problem was created by the UN and it is the UN’s to fix!

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

Panelists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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