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Opinions of Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Journaliste: Tikum Azonga

The problem with Paul Biya


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About a week ago, on the 13th of February, President Paul Biya of Cameroon celebrated his 82nd birthday. It was not a national event but a family affair. Even so, it carried some significance.

A political dinosaur

Firstly, that anniversary was an indication that rightly or wrongly, he had outlived the “three score and ten” years stated in the bible.

Interestingly, when the late American President Ronald Reagan hit a similar age, he remarked that he was now “living on borrowed time”, which meant that the added years were a bonus from God and not an attribution of his by any right.

A close look at Biya leads one to the conclusion he is a contradiction in terms in the sense that for someone his age, he still looks quite fit and although it is not necessarily anyone`s wish, he could still carry on as President of the Republic for another ten years, if he wishes.

By all indications, he can still ride his bicycle (a favourite sport of his), he can spend hours standing receiving dignitaries and delivering speeches. He does not use a walking stick and does not appear to have memory lapses.

An overstayed welcome

Even so, the fact remains that he has ruled the country for “too long”. He acceded to the presidency of the republic in 1982 when his predecessor, Cameroon`s pioneer president, Ahmadou Ahidjo stepped down. That means Biya has been in power for a record 32 years, in fact, 33, come May of this year. That makes him one of the longest-serving presidents on the African continent.

He has by far outlived Ahidjo`s 24 years in power. Yet, in Ahidjo`s days, Cameroon and the world were alarmed that a single president could have been in power for so long, a little short of a quarter of a century. Biya`s grandchildren

As might be expected, not every Cameroonian approves of Biya`s extended rule over the nation, which lends credence to the argument that familiarity breeds contempt. The truth is that people born at the time he became president are now big grown-up adults with perhaps some of them becoming grandparents.

What is even more acute is the fact that Biya had the constitution amended in order to remove the clause that limited the presidential tenure.

Acts of disapproval

Those who disapprove of his perpetuated stay in power have made it known in many ways. Some have insulted him. In fact, Fru Ferdinand who used to be Section President of the CPDM in the United Kingdom once described Biya as “the most insulted president in the world”.

Volumes of published criticisms have been leveled at Biya nationally and internationally. Ni John Fru Ndi, leader of Cameroon`s main opposition party, the SDF once described him as “a thief who stole my victory” (an obvious reference to the 1992 presidential election which Fru Ndi is widely believed to have won but in which the Supreme Court declared Biya as the victor).

Attempts have been made by Biya`s detractors to have him tried in courts abroad for alleged corruption. Demonstrations have been held to protest against his visits to foreign countries such as the United States.

Members of the Tekumbeng women`s secret society who parade the streets stark naked when they are in action appeared on the streets of Bamenda to “denounce and curse Biya”.

Opposition demonstrations carried posters of him with blood oozing from his mouth and visible on his hands to show that he was a killer. Writers on social media have given him all kinds of names such “Satan Biya”. All of that has happened. Yet he is still firmly in power.

What is Biya`s trump card?

The question now is for how much longer? Well, normally until the next presidential election in three years` time. But then again he could surprise everyone and step down before that time. He could easily call early elections and run or not run as a candidate. If that were to happen, would his opponents be ready for the match?

Right now, despite Biya`s “sins”, he still has the backing of foreign countries. None of the major countries of the West has withdrawn its ambassador as a measure of protest. Instead, they are all stepping up aid and assistance to Cameroon.

A few years ago, when the new purpose-built American embassy in Yaounde was being formally opened, the then American Ambassador said that the fact that they had decided to build their own compound in Cameroon was a sign that American had “come to stay.” It is interesting that quite close to the embassy, is a home that Biya said to have been built by Biya for his retirement.

The crux of the matter Inherently, the problem is not only Paul Biya. It is also us Cameroonians. It is Cameroonians who despite his numerous shortcomings, have failed to remove him from power. By so doing, the Cameroonian people have robbed themselves of the opportunity of change. Yet change is refreshing and brings about new ways of thinking and doing things.

An uncoordinated attack

The opposition that could have done it through the ballot box has failed because it contains too many political parties, the reason being that each party leader wants to be the next president of the Republic. The media has failed because media moguls do not pay their employees well and thus drive them to unorthodox alternative methods of earning a living. The media has also failed because media organs accept grants from the very regime they are meant to put in the hot seat.

Such a relationship strongly compromises the independence and objectivity of the media. The elite has failed because it has been using a counter-productive weapon which is that of insults and denigration directed at Paul Biya - and in some cases - the country, Cameroon. They do not seem to realize that the anger they have fueled has not solved the problem.

The missed opportunities

Yet there exist a considerable number of avenues these groups could use to get Paul Biya out, if they were really strong. A typical example is the time of crisis such as now when the entire nation stands threatened by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram. This is a time when Cameroonians – regardless of their political leanings – should have stood together in denouncing the “enemy”.

Perhaps some of them are hoping that through the weakening of the state by the external attack, Paul Biya may be swept out. That may be so. But what if that does not happen? Again they are missing a golden opportunity to endear the Cameroonian people to themselves because no one likes to live in an insecure country.

Picking up the wrong end of the stick

Angry critics argue – and not without justification – that after such a long period in office, Biya should go. There is even a “Biya Must Go” campaign being waged on the internet. To substantiate the claim the examples of other leaders who left “before it was too late” such as Pope Benedict the 6th and Nelson Mandela are cited. Even so, the truth is that not every leader is a Pope Benedict or a Nelson Mandela. Besides, the counter argument is that there are other presidents who have refused to go and have even died in power.

Another bone of contention is that of the issue of the Southern Cameroons whose proponents basically contend that Anglophones were tricked and have been subjected to the role of second class citizens. So far, the movement has stopped short of becoming a political party, perhaps because it feels that if it did so it would be playing into the hands of the enemy.

One of the fundamental flaws of the movement is that it is not only divided but poorly organized. It seems to lack a clear-cut vision and most of the time, when it states its case, it spends at least 75 per cent of the time analyzing and re-analyzing the problem rather than looking at how to get out of it. One of its hopes is that the UN will get up one day and declare that the Southern Cameroons are “free and independent”.

Strictly speaking, that is wishful thinking because the UN is not in the business of breaking up “countries”. However, when a territory fights its way to independence and freedom, then the UN can recognize it. Some of the decisions of the movement are arbitrary, one of which is the justification for the cut-off point they have chosen.

Why go back to the “distant’ days of the Southern Cameroons and not the more recent times when there existed an Anglophone State of West Cameroon that enjoyed equality with the Francophone State of East Cameroon? Anglophones who ran the affairs of their state at the time proved that they could govern a country well.

In fact, some of the national policies at the time have now been espoused by the current Republic that includes both the Anglophone and the Francophone. One of them is the shift from the typically Francophone two-shift system of work to the typically Anglophone one-shift.

Another question is why the cut-off point has not been the highly productive period Cameroon as a whole spent under German colonial rule. There was then no division between Anglophone and Francophone. What`s more, the Germans left behind a considerable number of development landmarks. So, why not yearn for that period?

Although the Southern Cameroons lobby group claims to be championing the cause of the Anglophone, it is also a fact that on that very issue, there are divisions among Anglophones.

Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that contrary to the above group that wants “separation’’, other members of the Anglophone community have opted to work with the Francophone, examples being the several Anglophone candidates who ran against Paul Biya at the 2011 presidential election, as well as Anglophone members in the Senate and the National Assembly, to name those.

So, frankly, the Southern Cameroons adherents ought to rethink their position. Interestingly, in all of this debate, one opinion leader, Mola Njoh Litumbe states that talk about a “union” between the two peoples is unacceptable because according to him, “there was never any such union”.

The way forward

There are a number of ways in which the desired change can be made to happen. Nonetheless, the first step in that direction must consist of those driving for change to admit that the methods they have used so far have not worked. So they must pull back, like a football team that at half time is being led by the other side, in order to rethink their strategy. So far, Biya has defied them and is still standing tall.

By all accounts, the ballot box remains the most credible way in which to bring about change. For this to happen, the opposition must unite. It must have a single vision and act on it. There is need to refrain from attacking Paul Biya as a person and instead focus on telling the electorate how things will be done better if they came to power. Cameroonians in the Diaspora must realize that so far their antagonistic method of opposition has failed. It would be better for them to team up with the opposition and empower it so that it gets to power.

Advocates of the Southern Cameroons must decide what they want. But they must realize that far from being handed on a platter of gold, power is fought for and captured. That approach calls for sacrifice. But they must be careful not to turn sacrifice into suicide like did the people of the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra that declared its independence from the Federation of Nigeria but then lost and was forced to return and live in the status quo.

To dethrone Paul Biya is not a day`s job, neither is it a cup of tea. Anyone who is thinking seriously of doing it must come up with a game plan that is feasible.

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