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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.

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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