“Cameroon is Cameroon” President Paul Biya is on record as saying. In power for circa 29 years now, safe for a miracle the Presidential elections will from most indications make him a life President. A life President not by the will of the people but because the electoral process for all intents and purposes has been designed in a way that will land him and the ruling CPDM victory. He has the treasury at his disposal, he has the military at his beck and call, he has the entire administrative machinery working for him, he has a civil society that seems to have given up and the opposition seems to consciously or unconsciously be doing his bidding. Many Cameroonians have given up hope that the elections will bring in the change they have been longing for multiple decades.
Under normal circumstances President Biya ought not be a candidate, having exhausted the second of the two mandates per the 2006 constitution. The constitution changed in 2008 amidst bloodshed was exactly when the floodgates of a life Presidency were opened for Mr Biya. It may provoke laughter in some when President Biya says “Cameroon is Cameroon”, but sober reflection will indicate that indeed, Mr Biya is right, Cameroon is Cameroon – a country where anything goes. President Biya seems to have taken the pains to understand his people more than his people understand him, hence the fact that he continues to have the upper hand in the political games.
Cameroon is the only country which has two constitutions in operation, no one can say with certainty which of the constitutions is in operation. In Nigeria late President Yar’Adua goes AWOL for a month and the country quakes, in Cameroon President Biya is gone for months without telling his countrymen his precise destination and no one misses his absence or blinks an eye. In Algeria the price of bread is augmented by a few pennies and there is chaos in the streets, whereas in Cameroon salaries of public workers are slashed and re-slashed and no reaction is produced.
The country has been to six world cups, won four nations cups, produced some of the best names in the world of football and today the world’s highest paid soccer player Samuel Eto’o fils comes from there, yet it does not have a single stadium worthy of international standards.
For a country endowed with abundant talent from a broad range of fields, the absence of leadership both on the side of the ruling party, the opposition ,the civil society and the Diaspora can only lead the country to the junction it is approaching – a life Presidency for Biya with a future hard to predict. The biggest beneficiary of the cacophony is Mr. Biya, who knows that ‘Cameroon is Cameroon’. It is no Ivory Coast, neither is it Egypt or Tunisia. In case the Sarkozies, Camerons and Obamas donot get it, he has a message for them: Cameroonians jealously guard their independence, he sounded off at the recent congress of the ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Party, the first in about fourteen years. This sounds like a man waking up from a deep slumber , well if slumber he was in, he did not have to bother because ‘Cameroon is Cameroon’ and he will wake up to find everything as he left it.
President Biya does not need to bother to have primaries within his party. At the recent congress of the ruling CPDM, former Minister Rene Ze Nguele – who mustered enough courage to voice out the frustration that many party faithful harbour in silence – argued that Biya cannot effectively serve as Head of State and Party Chairman and was accordingly ridiculed. Instead of elections by ballot to elect the party Chairman, the Speaker of the National Assembly simply asked all those who want Biya to continue as party Chair to stand up and after that he asked those who want Ze Nguele to head the party to do same.
What exactly do folks like Joachim Tabi Owono (who has run for three elections with a combined score of one percentage point) hope to achieve? What about Jean Njeunga, who on a programme for Equinox TV could barely articulate what his party stands for or offer a single tangible reason why he is running? Or what about those other candidates, even the ones with a modicum of influence, who have spent time bickering with Journalists instead of providing answers to probing questions?
The opposition has done more to help keep Biya in power than make sustained efforts to get him out. A coalition in 2004 collapsed over the choice of candidate, today, no one is even talking about a coalition again. Yet one of the only ways to absolve themselves of blame would be to designate a single candidate and show the world that they can shelve selfish egos in the interest of Cameroonians. By not getting their act together, the opposition should be ready to share the blame for whatever fortunes befall the country.
Dr Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa for the Washington DC based National Democratic Institute declined to give legitimacy to the charade by contesting. Widely expected by many to run, Dr Fomunyoh opined that the entire electoral process as it stands today makes it quasi impossible for the incumbent to lose. The Biya regime runs the risk of fomenting chaotic political change with worthless elections he cautioned in an interview with Pan African Visions. And civil society? At the pace at which it functions, it will be hard for to live up to its potential as a formidable force. Apart from the work of a few stalwarts such as Cardinal Tumi, Dr Nguini Owona, Prof T Asonganyi, Mwalimu George Ngwane, Bernard Njonga, and a few others, little is heard about their activities. Whereas Lawyers, intellectuals and concerned citizens like Wole Soyinka are always putting pressure on the government in Nigeria to speed up reforms, intellectuals in Cameroon excel with motions of support and fallacious arguments on why the status quo must continue.
Le Cameroon c’est Le Cameroon, Cameroon is Cameroon so says President Biya, and as confident as he and his folks may think they have everything in control, it is this confidence and don’t care attitude that may end up been their undoing. Patience can be a double edge sword especially when it is taken as a weakness or a blank check to govern with the kind of impunity that has been the trade mark of the CPDM government. The opposition may have no fangs, the civil society may have no bite, but there is the element of the unknown that should make everyone jittery about the path the country is taking. The country needs a change in direction, it needs a radical generational shift and sooner or later, one way or the other, the present bubble is going to burst. It may be the luck of the status quo that Cameroon is Cameroon to their favour today, they should be ready to accept that Cameroon is Cameroon when things ultimately in one way or the other fail to go their way. That Cameroonians have been fooled many times does not mean they will be fooled all the time. That after 29 years in power Biya and the CNU-CPDM led government still need the help of flawed elections to hang on to power is pathetic to say the least.